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State Honoree

Kaiya Laguardia

Portland, Oregon

Kaiya Laguardia, 17, of Portland, Oregon, a senior at Roosevelt High School, produced a 16-minute documentary film to raise awareness of the planned construction of a military base in Okinawa and the movement opposing the project on the Japanese island. Kaiya’s mother was born on Okinawa, and from a very young age, Kaiya has felt a deep connection to the island. So when she learned that many islanders were protesting the building of a new U.S. military base on landfill in Henoko Bay, “I had to see it for myself,” she said. “When I got to Henoko, elders were lying in the streets blocking bulldozers.” She said she also learned that the bay is the second-most biodiverse ocean habitat in the world, and that construction of the proposed base would have a profound impact on its ecosystem and the fishing lifestyle of Okinawans.

When Kaiya returned to Portland, she sold cookies to raise funds to make a documentary that would raise awareness of the project’s impact on the ocean, she said. Then, with video camera in hand, she spent weeks interviewing student and community activists, war survivors and politicians, and shooting scenes in Okinawa. She edited hundreds of hours of video footage in her school’s computer lab, added subtitles and played a song over the closing credits. Kaiya released the final product, titled “Our Island’s Treasure,” last June, and promoted it through news media interviews, social media and film screenings. Noting that it’s been viewed thousands of times around the world, Kaiya said “I hope it will help spread awareness of the true urgency of this crisis for our people."