It’s strange how much the environment changes just 10min drive across the city. I spent an hour or so at the Samoan Church parking lot in Palama where a group of young people in a mission school ran a food bank for a more economically insecure community. The crowd gathered was mostly of Polynesian and Asian cultural descent and both English and Chinese were used by the team of majority white young people coordinating the event. The environment was crowded, hot , and loud, poised alongside a busy road and a busier highway running overhead.
I wanted to get to know my surroundings and found it easiest to connect with a young woman in her twenties, affectionately rubbing her pregnant belly. Our conversation started with her expected little girl who already has a Hawaiian middle name and meandered its way through Hawaiian immersion school, land-right issues, and her life as a wife of an American Marine from Virginia.
Turns out she’s at the food bank on behalf of her ailing grandparents. My new friend is a beautiful young woman and expectant mother; in many ways, she represents the Hawai’i of today. Mixed Hawaiian, Asian, and European heritage; married to a military guy; expecting a hapa (mixed) baby. She wants to raise her daughter to speak fluent ‘olelo (Hawaiian language), but knows she needs to speak English to function in society. She lives in a world of tensions—land sovereignty and military occupation, speaking Hawaiian and English, trying to make a living in an expensive slice of paradise, and carrying in her womb a child of many colors like the rainbows that grace the mountains and seascapes daily.
I thanked her for her stories, expressed hope of seeing her again on our “small island” and meeting her daughter, and hugged her goodbye. As I returned to my car, I passed by folks with bulging carts and boxes with the food bank produce the mission youth had piled into their open baskets. As I jumped into my car and turned on the AC, I wondered how long their walk home would be, balancing the bread, pumpkin, and boxes of rice meal. I pulled on the highway and zoomed across town, pulling into a classy business building cooled by AC and stepped into the healthy hipster coffee shop where I now sit, sipping my garlic-infused kombucha and typing my story.
Around me are a lot of white folks and some Asians in conversations, consultations, highlighting thick books from academic pursuits, or working on laptops and iphones. Just 10 minutes away, it’s a different world… so different, I could be in a different country, but in fact I’m right across town.
How does this happen? How do certain people land in economically prosperous circumstances where they can spend hundreds of dollars on a juice cleanse diet while others wait 2-4 hours every week in the crowded heat for handouts of highly processed packaged food? Why do the white people and Asians get to maneuver the economy of an island archipelago named after the people who’ve dwelt here for hundreds and thousands of years—the Hawaiians. How is it that an island nation once home to upwards of one million indigenous Hawaiian people now counts only 15-20% (approx. 250,000) of people as being of Hawaiian descent? A glance at Hawai’i presents a pretty postcard picture, but a longer look reveals a history of pain and tension behind the rainbow people of today’s Hawai’i.