***NB: This post was originally an E-mail I wrote to one of my friends after going back home and finding myself a stranger. Despite the melancholic, frustrated, and defeatist tone in the E-mail, I have now thankfully come to a sense of peace...and empowerment. Yes, hope may fade fast, but it can never truly be gone so long as the last person who gives a damn about changing the status quo still stands.
The Hawai'i I left behind was a paradise. In my memory, at least. It was one of innocence and joy, despite it being where my da died. How naive. Everything is so different now. Or is it that I was blind before and now my eyes are wide open? Were some people I used to know always that concerned about image and class distinction? Has my friend [redacted] always believed that all Muslims are terrorists or terrorists-in-training? Is it an exaggeration to feel upset when I see my Hawaiians--people who look like me--serve me at the country club, where most of the members are White? Is it weird to feel a lump in my throat to see my Native people languishing in poverty while the people with whom I (used to) belong are driving around in expensive cars or have haircuts that are the equivalent of a whole week's paycheck for minimum wage workers? Is it foolish to care so much about the pain of others, their hardships, and the injustices they've experienced? Is it better to be selfish, avert my eyes, and stand up only for my own well-being? Is it possible to turn off the compassion in your heart when it is so much a part of you?
My Hawai'i may be a salad, but it certainly has its rotten parts. The income disparity is so jarring. In Kahala, houses cost millions of dollars and have climate-controlled pools, manicured lawns, and winding driveways. On the other side of the island, broken pavements and ramshackle houses crookedly line the horizon. This is the other side of my island paradise, past the plastic glamour of Waikiki and beyond Maui's exclusive gold courses. It's an all-too-real Hawai'i, where impoverished men take out their anger on the haoles--they who stole Hawaiian lands--by beating their wives and children or resorting to an all-too-common escape--drugs and alcohol. The cycle continues. Sometimes this anger and violence become an inheritance of sorts, a tradition passed down through the generations like a quilt your tutu made lovingly. I see it in the rage of unemployed men who feel emasculated by a society that judges masculinity in proportion to bank account balances. I feel it in their wives' resignation to their fate. I hear it in their children's silent shame. A similar truth is screamed at AmerIndian reservations, Pinoy shanties, or Brazilian favelas. Perhaps it's not one culture's or one people's truth: it is a universal truth, one that the world dares not speak of, but inwardly scream. It is our collective cross to bear.
Luv, my Hawaiians and my AmerIndians are on the verge of becoming caricatures. Some are forced to sell out and exoticize our culture for money. Some of my brothers and sisters dress up in our ancestral garb, then dance and perform for tourists. Sometimes it is not the truth of our culture or traditions that they share. Grass shirts have become cheap, dyed straw skirts and hula chants have given way to the easily understood "Tiny Bubbles." Of course, tourists don't know differently. And because of this economic crises, my people allow these tourists to keep believing this image. Lies become truths as long as the money flows.
I do not judge my people for doing what they have to do in order to survive. Nor do I pity them--not really--because that would imply that I am better than them, which I am not. What I feel is a loss. Loss and loneliness. And fear. I fear that perhaps one day, my cultures and traditions will be lost.
And with it, our pride as a people who have already endured so much.