Sunday, January 29, 2012

This is the Life!

Saturday in Hawai'i and I've decided to do what thousands of islanders do every Saturday-no, not go swap meet-but hit the b-e-a-c-h! Though born and raised on what is arguably the most beautiful set of islands in the world, surrounded by pristine beaches and the glorious warm Pacific ocean, I'm ashamed to say that I've never really been a beach goer. Don't get me wrong, I love our beaches and I've always felt the ocean was sacred and beautiful. But alas, I've spent more evenings on the beach, playing a guitar and cruising with my friends, than I have days baking in the sun and ripping a wave.

I mean, there's so much pre and post work that goes into a family beach day-packing, prepping the food, slathering on the sun screen, pulling out the boogie board, finding a parking space. And then there's afterwards-the sand in the car, the sand in your. . .everywhere, the salt in your hair, the wet clothes and towels that need to be washed right away, the unpacking. . .*sighs*. I must admit that my laziness has contributed to my absence from our white sandy shores. But not this day! I reckoned that it was time to buck up and live like a true island family, and so, to the East Shore Hubby, Sonny and I went.

The sign reads "Waimanalo Bay" but the locals call it Sherwood Forest. In Hawaii, we have an interesting phenomena of mini forests that grow right near the ocean. Upon arriving, my little ohana excitedly unloaded and dragged our10x10 tent, cooler, blanket and back packs through the pine needles and cones. As we cleared the trees, I caught my breath. What lay before me was the stuff of postcards-white sand stretching as far as the eye could see, hues of green and blue ocean, rabbit island to the right and the mountains behind us. Yes, this is why people save up for a lifetime to step foot on these sands and swim in our waters and I was touched by the sheer beauty of God's handiwork.

We pitched our tent, lay down the blanket and all our stuff and my son ran off towards the water with his boogie board (while refusing to take off his shirt because he's in this weird "I don't wanna show my body" phase. Wait til you get older, buddy!). It was a windy day and the water was rough. To top it off, there were warning signs with bright orange flags down the beach that read "Beware: Man-o-War". Great, the one day we come and we have to worry about Portuguese man-o-war. No childhood would be complete on this island without a sting from one of those bubbly creatures, followed by a cousin or sibling making shi shi on it to get the poison out. I think of yelling after my child, but see that he's decided on a quick dip and has resorted to playing on the shore, waves are too rough. You can tell we don't frequent the beach because little girls younger than him are braving the shore break to ride the waves, but he doesn't seem to mind.

I have a confession to make: I've only been in the ocean ONCE in almost 7 years! This would be my second time. The thought of traipsing around in a bathing suit had been enough of a deterrent to keep me in the shade all these years, but it was a new day, a new year! "Are you going swimming, hon?", asked Hubby with a hint of incredulity in his voice. Me: "Yes, I am!" Hubby: "Are you planning to wear your pants in the water?". Hmmm, tempting. I moved quickly before I could change my mind, and walked out into the sunlight with nothing but a bathing suit and lava lava on. I tried to ignore the fact that I was whiter than the haole people on the beach. Heck, the old haole man to my left in his speedos was darker than my husband! What started out as a little self-consciousness soon led to a long overdue revelation-I LIKED the beach! It was a gorgeous sunny day and as I dipped in the water (and got pummeled on the shore by the waves, while I attempted to get my bearings, all the while pretending I was in control and my son shouting, "isn't this fun, mom!?", but I digress) and lay in the hole that my son and I dug together, sunglasses on, face tilted towards the azure sky, I thought to myself, "This is the life!".

While I got a much needed tan, I took a moment to reflect on how a beach day in Hawaii is a wonderful tribute to the way we live here and why I love my island home. 1) It's freakin' gorgeous! Enough said. 2) Family comes first. One has only to view the dozens of family groups, multiple generations coming together to enjoy a family day to know that doing things as a family is how we do things in Hawaii.   3) Locals love to grind! Food is an integral part of our lives here-one has only to look around at the locals with their hibachi grills-kalbi ribs, teriyaki chicken, poke, spam musubi, noodles, mac salad, rice and manapua to appreciate our diverse cuisine and appetite for food and life. 4) We no care how you look! You got your range of body types on the beach-from the wispy blonde and Asian girls to the BGs (Big Girls) rockin' their bikinis or board shorts. Braddahs with ripped abs shredding the surf, or big blalahs with their opu hanging over their shorts. Tattoos, shades, slippahs, ehu hair, no hair, we got it all and you can look like you want and not worry about being judged or ridiculed.  5) We get ALOHA! You see it in people's smiles, you hear it in the greetings, you taste it in the shared food, witness it when you see all the keiki playing together on the beach (Hawaiian, Filipino, Japanese, Chinese, Haole, Samoan, Micronesian, etc.).

Ah yes, just another beach Saturday in Hawaii. . .think I'll do it again, soon.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Leaving a Legacy. . .

They came, from Oahu and the Big Island, 13 young men and women, with the same passion, the same mission. Though not bound by blood, they were brothers and sisters, raised altogether in dozens of homes, some never meeting until that day on the North Shore. They were children of the foster care system, housed by many and loved by few. Varying in age, gender, size, personality, ethnicity-and yet, these young adults lived similar nightmares, shared the same experiences. The neglect, the abuse, the abandonment, the poverty, the ongoing struggles-traumatized first by biological family and then, repeatedly, by a system of state care: foster families, many who took them in as a means to earn a paycheck, some because they genuinely cared.

These young survivors, resilient adolescent warriors, came together to share, to strengthen one another, to strategize, for one amazing weekend.  They came together to take up arms for their fellow foster brothers and sisters, to fight with their voices, their stories. To advocate for change, for help, to bring awareness to those who would hear, to those who didn't know better and to those who refused to hear. These heroes, bound by HI HOPES, bound by duty and honor and a vow that future generations would not share the same song. Their words, their tales, their struggles would provide an impetus, a fire within them to forge ahead and build on the work of others, as well as to break unbroken ground, pioneers of change, pioneers of HOPE.

As the last moments of their time together waned, we all stood together in a sacred circle-on the sands of our ancestors, with the ocean in our ears and the sun in our eyes. We held hands-young and old-those who grew up in the system and those dedicated to improve the system.  Tears flowed, words were spoken, hearts were filled and our resolve strengthened. One young woman spoke out, her voice clear and strong; "One day our foster brothers and sisters will not know what it is to use garbage bags to carry their belongings. . .our work now will impact future generations. We stand here today to say that they will not be forgotten. Our legacy starts here and now. . .".

What a legacy to build, what a legacy to be a part of. . .what is your legacy?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Reflections from a Native Daughter. . .119 years later

Today marks 119 years since the illegal "overthrow" of Hawai'i by the United States government. Hawai'i, an independent and sovereign country succumbed to the greed of business men and a government which viewed the strategically placed island nation as a pawn, a necessary acquirement to establish U.S. power in the Pacific.  As with any instance of colonization throughout history, the indigenous people suffer greatly and it has been no different for our kanaka maoli (native people).  By all accounts, Native Hawaiians were industrious people, advanced in many ways, with a rich history and culture. While it is true that several cultural groups populated the islands in1893, the effects of colonization and the subsequent loss of lands, language and traditional cultural practices had the greatest effects on the native people of Hawai'i. 

Today, Hawaiians make up less than 30% of the state's inhabitants and yet we are over-represented in the following areas: incarceration, homelessness, domestic violence, reliance on public assistance, high school dropout rate, teenage pregnancy, drug and alcohol abuse, children in foster care, poverty, low college attendance and post-high education and high rates of diabetes, obesity, heart disease and overall poor health.  This begs the questions of "why?" and "what can be done about it?".  In recent years, we've seen a cultural renaissance of sorts, a movement towards embracing and encouraging native practices: 'olelo Hawai'i (Hawaiian language), hula, la'au lapa'au (native healing), music, gathering practices, Hawaiian history and preservation, the art of the lua, lo'i kalo and other native plants, Hawaiian crafts and a growing, albeit divided, sovereignty movement-for the indigenous people of Hawai'i to exert some form of self-governance and self-determination over lands, industry and native practices. 

Although I'm a Native Hawaiian, born and raised in Hawaii and a graduate of the Kamehameha Schools, I didn't truly embrace my culture until I chose to learn more about the history of my land, my people and my culture.  I took 'olelo Hawai'i and Hawaiian history in college and it was under the tutelage of kumu (teachers) at BYU-Hawai'i and studying Native Hawaiian rights at U.H. law school that I truly developed an appreciation, love and passion for my heritage and understood that I had a stewardship to my people-to educate, malama and serve.

Whatever your take is on native issues in Hawai'i: the Overthrow, the Akaka Bill, keeping Kamehameha Hawaiian and wherever you stand on the sovereignty spectrum- whether you are Hawaiian or non-Hawaiian, patriot, cultural warrior, opposition, new to the subject matter, Hawaii resident or world observer. . .most people agree on one thing. Hawai'i is a special place. What makes it special, however, is what is referred to the world over as 'the aloha spirit'. One of my favorite bumper stickers reads, "No Hawaiians. No Aloha." Think about that.

Look, here's my take as a Hawaiian, an advocate for native rights and sideline activist. If I want to contribute to my people, to my society, I have to take care of the following kuleana (responsibilities): 1) take care of myself-make sure I live a 'pono' (good/right) lifestyle, 2) take care of my 'ohana, 3) contribute to my community (Hawaiian and non-Hawaiian). Like it or not, this is our homeland and we have to malama (take care) of it and one another. Kanaka Maoli or not, you can do something-get educated, listen, be open-minded, learn the language, take a history class, learn a craft, work in the lo'i kalo, take hula, learn from the kupuna (elders), teach your keiki. . .the future of our lahui (nation) is the responsibility of us all. What are you willing to contribute?

Monday, January 16, 2012

Surgery is Sexy. . .and Fruitful!

I spent my Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday in surgery. Mind you, it was minor surgery-but I enjoyed the full surgical experience, nonetheless. It started with a 6:30am call time, 2 hours of prep and a stylish ensemble complete with a fetching hair net and couture-like purple dressing gown which, thanks to my poi-fed figure, didn't close in the back. That meant my trips to the restroom had me wrapping my tush with a blanket and shuffling across the floor with darling purple 'bairpaw' socks (which I asked to take home, thank you!).  Because the nature of the procedure was quick and highly routine, I assured my Hubby that he and Sonny needn't wait for me, I'd be fine and would call to be picked up after surgery.  One hour into my prep, images of a minor procedure gone awry flooded my head and given my vivid imagination, what started out as self-talk; "this is gonna be a breeze" soon led to; "I just might die on the table" and hence, the panic set in.  That led to a tearful and panicked phone call to already sleeping Hubby who didn't pick up his phone and me leaving a lengthy instructional message. . ."hon, in case things don't go right, my last wishes are in the office, in one of the plastic drawers next to the fax machine and the life insurance papers are somewhere on the ground (ask brother Austin, he's our insurance agent) and our list of debts are saved somewhere on the computer. . .i love you guys." As I hung up, I promised myself that should I make it through the 15-minute procedure, I would organize my crap better.  As they wheeled me into the OR, I tried not to think of the medical students who'd be observing my woo-woo that day and was soon sent into a blissful drug-induced reverie.  I awoke to a cheerful nurse, and started to ask my typical 50 million questions while still feeling quite fine, thank you. As I rambled on like an idiot, I recall saying something about the drugs being great, a new experience to my sterile Mormon lifestyle. As she handed me over to nurse Jared, she mentioned, "you'll like this one, she's a chatty Matty" after which I proceeded to tell him that if I had my glasses on, I'd assess whether or not he was hot like one of the doctors on Grey's Anatomy (seriously, Delia!). After a couple of hours in recovery, excellent care by the doctors and nurses of Kapi'olani Women's and Children's Hospital and instructions that I couldn't have *what!* for *how long?* (sorry Hubby), I was wheeled up to my awaiting carriage, where my two soles took me home. And so, being the strong Hawaiian woman that I am, I basically milked my post-surgery caretakers for all I could. . .that meant a trip for Hubby to Zippy's for my plate lunch, a trip to Foodland for Ben & Jerry's chocolate fudge brownie, another trip to Barnes and Noble to purchase the entire "Hunger Games" trilogy (I've been suffering from withdrawals since I finished "Telesa" by Lani Wendt Young last week-READ IT PEOPLE!), a day of rest and Sonny's "you ok mom, feeling good?" every hour or so.  Wow. . .if I knew this is what minor surgery would yield. . .any-who, I'm on the mend, with Motrin at hand, back to back episodes of the "Golden Girls", canine comfort, books and ice cream and dear friends who check up on me (thanks Belz, Aussie and Saber!), I should be fully recovered by work tomorrow. . . and if not, there's always sick leave. . .