Written on July 6, 2017
Today I return to my home in Honolulu, after three and a half months of traveling. That’s 105 days to be exact. I am so ready to go back! July 4 marked 3 years since I made the move across the Pacific and let my heart grow roots in a new land, like the roots of the plumeria tree I planted last year in front of our rental house, a symbol of permanence in the soil of continuous change (once again, the owner is selling and I need to look for a new place to live). On this third anniversary, I am celebrating the ways I have grown and developed in this host nation of Hawai’i.
When I packed my life into several storage boxes to leave behind in California and pulled 3 suitcases with me for the ride, I knew this new home would both cradle and reshape me in ways I could not yet imagine. I was leaving behind a way of life and a culture I knew well, one I’d mastered after ten years of living among the 90% white population in Redding, CA. This girl raised in Hong Kong and Taiwan had learned what it meant to a white American in white America. Now it was time to cross half-way across the Pacific to unlearn certain norms and perspectives and re-learn new ones from a people and culture who would undoubtedly leave a mark on me forever.
I did not come for the plastic Hawai’i of Waikiki, resorts, cruises, off-beat hula, and Americanized luaus. Nor did I come for a local life of surfing, enterprising, pineapple-eating, pigeon-English-imitating, and getting way darker than a white girl should ever be. I came for the heart of Hawai’i, desiring to know the deep roots of spirituality, culture, and lilting language of the Hawaiian people who give names to every mountain, valley, beach and tiny island, and have chanted their sacred stories since time immemorial.
I came as a foreigner, aware that I am a stranger in this land, knowing my skin, eyes, and hair would evoke memories people have tried to suppress for generations. I came as a guest in the land to listen and learn in the hope that I would be welcomed in by a people whose hospitality has too long been ungraciously trampled. I am grateful to have a Hawaiian ‘ohana who welcome me to learn with them ma ka hana ka ‘ike (by doing we learn) as we sing mele (songs) of times past, dig our toes into the soft mud of the lo’i (taro fields) to pull weeds, listen to the stories of kupuna (elders) and ku’e activists, and laugh while the kai (ocean) waves encroach upon us pranking one or two shore-facing friends with a mouthful of salt water!
I came as a learner and was met with gentleness. I am grateful Hawaiians are gentle. Certainly they are courageous and fierce warriors like their other Polynesian cousins, but they carry a fragrant welcoming presence that has drawn in many (too many) a settler to their palm-speckled islands. As I come to learn, I have been both welcomed in and gently rebuked. Though I have come to seek healing from the colonial past, I have needed to recognize the way the colonizer still lives in me and be healed of my own twisted patterns of thinking.
When crossing oceans and cultures, there is always going to be misunderstanding and conflict. I am grateful for my ‘ohana’s (family’s/community’s) willingness to do the hard work of pointing out my mistakes and taking time to explain a better way to honor the host culture. It is not hard to receive this correction because it is done in such love and kindness while not compromising truth.
Mahalo nui (thank you so much) to all of you who have given timely gentle correction! I wouldn’t have come nearly as far as I have in sensitivity and understanding if it wasn’t for you. Mahalo for welcoming me home after all of my exhilarating travels. There’s no place I’d rather be than with you in Hawai’i.
And let the learning continue…