Optimistic About a Better World: Meet Falisha

Falisha stands in the sun wearing a graduation gown and holding her cap. She is smiling off to the side.

Minerva is pleased to welcome our new intern, Falisha Hola (she/her)! Her identity as a Pasifika woman has allowed her to understand firsthand the misrepresentation and the erasure of indigenous and BIPOC voices from the conversations around social issues. I was privileged to speak with Falisha to learn more about her Tongan community in Seattle, how her studies help her connect with others, and how her optimism for a more just future motivates her to use communications for social good.

Tell me about you–where have you called home in the past, and where is home now? 

Home is Seattle. I was born in California, but I’ve been in Seattle all my life. My family immigrated to the States in the 90s and early 2000s from a small island in the South Pacific—Tonga. Though I haven’t visited the island, I am still very rooted in my community. We have family on the island, and a big Tongan community is in Seattle. Whether in church, local sports, or school, there are Pacific Islanders everywhere, and we celebrate our traditions. I’ve been lucky to be surrounded by community in that way. I didn’t know what it was like to be “the only” in a space until I left for college. I wanted to explore a new place away from family, but I missed home once I was gone. 

I hear you. Leaving home and living in a new place can come with a lot of “firsts.” Knowing how much community means to you, how was the community in Rochester, New York where you studied? 

I wanted to leave home for school. To have a true learning experience, I wanted to do something different and uncomfortable—that’s how we grow. But I am the youngest in my family and a girl; I have been very protected throughout my life. It’s not typical for people in my community to leave home unless someone was accepted into a well-known school or recruited for sports. Even then, those who left Washington were usually males. My choice broke stereotypes. I wanted to see how far I could go if I chose a different path than the one I had seen others take—it just so happens that path took me across the country to upstate New York. 

So, I left and became part of the less than one percent of Pacific Islanders at the University of Rochester. I didn’t have a community anymore, which made me more independent. It was important for me to build up my own network at school. I saw every interaction as an opportunity to build relationships. 

Falisha and the DEI committee at her college smile. Falisha and four others stand while two people squat below them.
Falisha and the DEI committee she led at the Students’ Association first Cultural Fair!

You made a bold choice! Speaking about the relationships you built, I know you studied anthropology and political science—how have your studies influenced how you connect and communicate with others?   

Political science helped me understand how political systems work, and anthropology gave me the human context to understand who these systems impact and how. My studies helped me become more empathetic and understanding of others. Political science and anthropology are both about context; there is rarely a purely black-and-white situation with a simple solution. People are the same way. The issues they care about aren’t easy, but we learn their context by genuinely listening and understanding. Without that, we risk missing opportunities for genuine conversations and connections. 

At Minerva, the stories we tell are rarely simple or easy, so listening to those we work with is very important. In this internship, you’ll also learn from many of our clients. What drew you to want to work for Minerva Strategies in the first place? 

It’s a funny story about how I found Minerva. I am part of the Rainier Scholars program in Seattle, which helps students of color, first-generation students, and low-income students access education. The program has a career and internship hub with various professional opportunities, and a few years back, they shared Minerva’s internship, but I missed the deadline! When the opportunity presented itself again this time, I did not let it pass me by. 

I like that Minerva believes in using smart communications for social good and is mindful about who they work with and serve. Working in a place where I would not have to put my morals or ethics aside is important to me, and I don’t think I’ll have to do that here.  

What Minerva principle resonates with you? 

There’s two. Move with real-life ambition is all about balance. I’m optimistic about what I can accomplish and what I want to do, and I also know to balance my optimism with reality. At Minerva, I see people willing to do the work to create a better world without sacrificing their authenticity, morals, or boundaries. 

I also connect with build the world you want to live in because it keeps the end goal in mind. I want to create an environment that is better for others, and that starts by doing the work now. This principle reminds me to be hopeful about my work because, hopefully, it’s moving us closer to justice.  

If your livelihood did not depend on your income, what kind of work would you like to do? 

Funny enough, I would still do what I’m doing now. I would still want to be in the social good realm, likely working in nonprofits or communications doing advocacy work. I know there are others who cannot say the same, so I recognize the privilege I have in saying I am doing work I believe in and enjoy. 

If I had to consider something else, I would want to travel and maybe be a food critic—I’m a big foodie. I love exploring different cultures through food and stories. So, I’d probably still want to write and explore the world. 

Falisha stands in a field of yellow dandelions with her hands in her pockets.
Falisha at a Senior Week event.

Speaking about your passion, what social cause is near and dear to your heart? Why? 

Climate change. I am a Pacific Islander. I’m Tongan. I have family that still live on the island in the South Pacific. I know island nations will be some of the most directly impacted by climate change and rising sea levels—how climate change will force climate migrations will impact people I know and love, and I worry for them and the inevitable displacement they will face. Even though I was born in the U.S., my roots are tied to my island. Because they are some of the first people facing the devastating effects of climate change, they are also the ones leading what climate justice can look like. For example, another island nation, Tuvalu, has declared themselves the first digital nation and Pasifika youth are organizing across the South Pacific to protect their homelands. Island nations will not wait for the world to respond to this ongoing crisis.  

About The Author

Gaby España

Gaby España

Senior Associate

Gaby puts people first, whether as an educator, researcher, or, now, as a senior associate at Minerva Strategies. In their various roles, Gaby learned clear communication is not only kind, but powerful. When our message is easy to understand and meets the needs of our audience, we empower people and encourage change! Learn more about Gaby.