A Different Experience Second Time Around
Discovering My Roots Led Me Back to Holton
by Diona Kakinohana ’92
This essay appears in the Summer 2021 issue of Doorways magazine. To read the rest of the magazine online, click here.
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My Holton journey began in the fall of 1983 as a fourth grader. Holton was a haunting place for me where I experienced immense joy, nostalgia, happiness, pain, and failure. I stepped into a world completely different from the one I left behind— the D.C. public system, where I felt I never fit in. As I walked through Holton’s doors for the first time, I entered a world full of diversity, though I did not recognize that diversity at the time.
I did not “see” the Asian, Latina, Middle Eastern, and Jewish faces in the classroom with me. What I saw was that many of my classmates had a socioeconomic background that I did not. To put it bluntly, I was a “black” outsider coming from Southeast D.C., living in a one-bedroom apartment with a single mother (my grandmother, actually).
On top of it all, I struggled academically from year one and my stay at Holton ended in 1990 at the end of tenth grade when I lost my full scholarship due to a failing grade. I left Holton lost, deflated, and embarrassed. On the flip side, my fondest memories were the friends I made in Lower and Middle School. We represented a fun, eclectic mix of fun and funny girls who loved the goofy and the weird. These girls helped me through my struggles with laughter and jokes that remain with me as I’ve walked the hallways of Holton in the past recent years.
I never thought that I would ever return to the Holton campus, and never as a Holton parent. But this past fall, my daughter started her Holton journey in third grade as the Class of 2030. My daughter’s experience is everything I wished for her.
I reconnected with Holton through my children’s involvement with the Creative Summer program. My daughter Kitty fell in love with the place and when she expressed her desire to make Holton her home year-round, I was completely surprised and scared because there were so many doors to open to fulfill her dream.
Completing her first year as a second-generation Holton girl, Kitty could not be happier. This past year was the best school year of her life. My daughter came home every day with a smile.
The school emphasizes diversity, learning about other cultures, as well as self. I asked my daughter about her friends’ inquiry into her identity. She tells me that her friends thought she was Chinese and were surprised that she spoke perfect English. When I asked her about her self-identity, at first she responded, “I am a person.” When I probed deeper, Kitty responded, “I am mixed. I am Piscataway and Okinawan.”
I only learned about my own identity as a Piscataway after I left Holton. I’d always been curious but when I asked my grandmother about her roots, her answer was, “I have none.”
This spurred me into doing some genealogical research. Through studying census records and digging through archives, I realized I was American Indian. I attended my first powwow right after graduating high school and it changed my life because there I found some of mom’s people. They looked like us. Some years later, I became an enrolled member of the Piscataway-Conoy tribe.
It’s interesting that Holton is right within the Piscataway Homelands, a large tract of land from Washington, D.C., through Northern Virginia and Maryland that the Piscataway called home for at least 13,000 years. Think of the local place names: Potomac, Anacostia, Patuxent, Chesapeake, and Accokeek. All Indian names. In 2012, the Piscataway people were granted official “Maryland Indian Status, ” the first state-recognized tribe in the state of Maryland.
How does coming out as Piscataway Indian intersect with my Holton experience? Holton compelled me to search for my identity. Holton taught me how to stand alone with confidence. Holton taught me to think for myself and to not enslave myself with labels and colorized safe spaces. Holton inspired me to travel, explore, and become a geographer.
I am glad that my daughter chose the Holton path.
Diona Kakinohana ’92 is an aeronautical information specialist (cartographer) at the Federal Aviation Administration. She makes radar-displayed maps for Air Traffic Control. She lives in Washington D.C., with her husband and two children, Kitty (9) and Shoza (15).