Hawaii 2013. Keohi's first Hawaiian summer. Above is a picture when the kids had a day out at Bellows Beach. This is the site of numerous family picnics and BBQs over the years. There is part of the beach that is open to the public on the weekends, but in order to get inside further--where this is, you have to have a military pass. Not sure if that is reason to join the U.S. military, but there are enough of the older generation in my family who have this pass, the beach is beautiful, and hence, we see have enjoyed this place immensely throughout the years.
He met up with his cousins Kalei and Christopher, my cousin Sharon's children. It made both Sharon and I nostalgic for the time when we were young during those summer days in Hawaii when we would squeeze eight kids in my grandma's Pinto (circa 1971) and my mom would drive us around the Island to beaches and a shave ice after. Times have changed. Honolulu is a congested city. It's noisy. But when you look out at the ocean there is little to do other than to laugh and exclaim at the raw extraordinary beauty of the Islands.
Hawaii forever tainted my vision of what an ocean could be. I love the California coastline, having spent the majority of my adulthood there, and I have seen many many coastlines since, and we live on one here...but few match the beautiful blue, in memory and in reality of Hawaii. Hawaii was the home of my mother, Oahu, the gathering place, as it is called, the place where we flew from the Mainland to see family, to experience a feeling of belonging.
Lately, I think of questions of home. What constitutes how we see ourselves as people who belong to a nation? Where is this place we belong to? How does memory work in our idea of who we are, where we belong, and what we think of as home? What does it mean to move countries and to live unmarked and marked by borders?
Going to Hawaii as a child, it was a place that reaffirmed my Asian Pacific American identity. I learned to sew flower leis from my uncle's plumeria tree, watched Japanese cartoons in translation, ate spam musubi, kimchi hotdogs and stacks of kalbi. I hit the beach, snorkeled, boogie boarded and picked liliquoi from Grandma's vine, and learned hula songs. I swang from the banyan tree and laughed with family. I learned to play blackjack, watched the aunties play mah-jong, and went for malasada runs certain that it was the most delicious thing ever made.
For Keohi, growing up in Asia, and in a former British colony, Hawaii is a place to be American. From what I can gather it meant eating a hamburger from as many different places as he could (I have never in my entire life ordered two burgers at one meal and watched my 6 year old son do so), marvel at the yellow school buses, swim in clean ocean water, shout at the air quality (MOM it is NOT POLLUTED!), note how the elevator buttons looked different, and plant himself in front of his grandmother's enormous television (no TV at our house). He fished, went to a nature camp, and swam-swam-swam. Grandma's highrise garbage chute was a thrill, as was tetherball at his great aunt's. I had to explain to him how TV commercials worked as he kept screaming PAUSE PAUSE! He saw many men with long hair (though in emulation of his older cousin, just got his hair cut short for the first time ever) which he noted to me, and many overweight people ("Mom are those people big?" "Yes, they are. Don't stare, it might hurt their feelings.") As a child I screamed to my mother with excitement: "Look at the Orientals!" so I suppose observation of difference is the main lesson here. He learned to boogie board, made a few local friends, and cried when we left: "Mom, I'm sad to leave Hawaii."
I said, "I'm sad to leave Hawaii too, but we'll be back. We're going home to Mui Wo."
Looking at him at the airport giving me the hang ten wave with his hands I realized that he too will need this place to belong to. He's hapa, of two nationalities, the son of rather transient parents, and part of the reason we gave him the name Keohi was so that he could feel there was a place where he could belong and could fit in, and giving him a Hawaiian name was part of this. I am not Hawaiian, but I know the aloha people hold in their hearts in the Islands is intrinsic to the Hawaiian cultural sense of possibility of love, forgiveness and possibility.
I remembered when I would leave at the end of those childhood summers my cousins saying a casual goodbye masking their own sadness, presenting my sisters and I with leis for our journey home. What was home? Where is it? I left so many as a child and as an adult, now see there are few places that I will ever return to. Hawaii is definitely a place to go back to. Traffic and highrises, increasing crime and people squeezed out of a living to make way for tourists from the U.S., Japan, Korea, China, and everywhere else rushing to the malls to buy the latest Louis Vuitton bag (go figure, don't you have one of those stores everywhere?). The aloha feeling is going, my relatives said. They worry, their way of life has disappeared. Honolulu is a big city. It is no longer the place from which to run from the plantation, but an American city with all of its complicated issues. But cities hold pockets of open-space memory, and this is what makes Oahu different for me.
How does memory make a place? Who are we, if not defined by nations and groups? Where is it that we truly feel we are home? And why do we run or return to this?
A good trip back.