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  • Writer's pictureOscar Amos

Hectic to Harmonious: An Exclusive Interview with Profé Feeney

Updated: Feb 3

(Get to Know Pt. 10)


Amidst the concrete jungles of Manhattan, New York are Profé Feeney’s roots, stretching across the nation, almost 5,000 miles, to the Island of Hawai’i. She journeys through a plethora of unexpected turns of life, which take her from the bustling streets of Manhattan to the idyllic environment of Hawai’i. Profé takes her diverse educational background to the classroom, sharing her bubbly personality and captivating Spanish lessons with those lucky enough to experience her classes. This interview explores Profé Feeney’s background, leading us through the various stages of her life that have become facets of her identity and day-to-day life.


1. Growing up in Manhattan, did you ever think you would end up in Hawai’i?


Profé Feeney: No, never. One of my cousins came on vacation to Hawai’i, and I remember thinking, wow, she's so lucky, she got to go to Hawai'i! But I never thought I would end up here.


2. Did moving to such a contrasting place from Manhattan change your perspective on anything?


Profé Feeney: Yeah, in New York, I liked the anonymity. If I left my neighborhood, I would most likely never run into someone I knew otherwise it would be really random and felt like a big deal. Whereas here I run into people I know all the time. When I first moved here, that was very uncomfortable and weirded me out because I felt like I didn't have any real privacy because of that. Now I'm just used to it and it's nice to run into former students and former parents.


3. What inspired your decision to move to Hawai’i?


Profé Feeney: My husband (then boyfriend) was living with me in New York when I was finishing my teaching program and he was tired of being in New York so I figured we'd just try to come to Hawai'i and Hawai'i's not too hard of a sell. We had come out before, I'd come out to visit him various times. My husband was born and raised here. He grew up on the wet side and went to HPA and Punahou. I never thought I would live in Hawai'i up until that moment. It just seemed too different. 


4. What sparked your interest in teaching Spanish?


Profé Feeney: Because I could speak Spanish and when we were looking to move to Hawai'i, there was a Spanish teacher job, but I was a bilingual early childhood education teacher in New York. So I worked with kids pre-K to six and they would be kids who were primarily native Spanish speakers who would be learning English.


5. When comparing your child-self raised in a fast-paced, city environment to your children currently being raised in Hawai’i, what are the main differences you see?


Profé Feeney: My children don't know how to cross a street and that's a basic survival trait in New York. They're very used to people being kind to them, and in a city, not everyone’s kind to you. It's like that book Country Mouse, City Mouse. Like I'm a city mouse and they are the country mouse, but it's also really beautiful. They know people. A lot of the places we go to, they call people Auntie and Uncle, and it's just a very safe place to live.


6. Can you share some aspects of your Dominican heritage that you cherish and actively incorporate into your life in Hawai'i?


Profé Feeney: Food. I used to go to New York twice a year, over the holidays and the summer, before I had kids. When I stopped being able to do that, I started really missing the food. I started having to actually learn how to cook the food. So we do a traditional Dominican dinner for Christmas Eve, which is a roasted pork shoulder, rice with beans together which is something called Moro, and this potato salad that's pink because you add beets which is how my mom always made it. That's one thing. Another thing I think is just being close to family, I guess some things that maybe aren't Dominican, but when my mother-in-law passed away, talking about heaven, which is something that was very comforting for me as a child when people passed away. So I think that also is a part of it. Also being happy and not being too serious.


7. How do you actively foster a sense of safety and respect within your classroom?


Profé Feeney: I try to make sure that students know that I really care about what they're doing. But also try to make sure that there are some boundaries. Like, I'm not trying to be anyone's friend, but I am trying to be someone that if students need to talk to an adult, they feel like they can talk to me. For me, school was always a safe place. I didn't feel very similar to my peers so teachers were a big part of me feeling safe at school. I knew they'd look out for me. I knew that if I needed them I could talk to them and be myself without feeling pressure from other people.


8. With a background in history and early childhood bilingual education, how do you integrate historical perspectives into your Spanish language classes?


Profé Feeney: I try to explain movements, for example in our Advanced Spanish Topics class, we're discussing magical realism. We'll talk more about what inspired that movement, where it comes from, and try to give context to things so that the material doesn't seem random, and make sense. 


9. Are there any aspects from your life in New York that you miss, and attempt to implement in your life in Hawai’i?


Profé Feeney: Yes, but I can't implement them. I can't take a cab. I can't take the subway. I can't go to a museum whenever I want to, I can't go to a restaurant whenever I want to, and I can't order food whenever I want to. I miss that and I can't implement it here–it’s just too different. I can't even get dominoes delivered to my house. That's a big deal! 


10. Finally, is there anything you want to share with anyone reading this article?


Profé Feeney: I'd say that I hope that school feels safe and I hope that you don't feel too much pressure to actually make all of your wildest dreams come true because life has its own paths and things happen a certain way for a reason. If you're not open to deviating from your plan, it can be really disappointing and you can feel like a failure. I think that life is about seeing what's available and going for it–not just holding yourself on this path because it's your life to live, and it's not supposed to be exactly what you imagined it to be otherwise it would be really predictable and boring.

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