SBS 301 Cultural Diversity/Prof. Koptiuch         Fall 2012       Personal Memory Ethnographies

Alyson Rickard

Pacific Borderland: My Experience as an Island

It was a hot, sticky day; there was thick moisture in the air. I pulled up to Our Lady of Perpetual Help High School (OLPH) in Ewa Beach to pick up my brother James. We had been living in Hawaii for a couple of years at that point, and he was getting used to being teased and tormented by the “locals.” A lot had taken place in Hawai’i to perpetuate the racism that existed at that time. The Kingdom of Hawai’i had been overthrown in 1893. Native Hawaiians were forced to change their names, give up their homes, and prostitute their culture. Up until 1990, the island of Kaho’olawe was still being used for bombing practice by the American military. One young man in particular was seething with resentment and misplaced anger, and that day, he was propelled to release some of the hatred inside.

OLPH was a small Catholic school situated right next to one of the worst public high schools in the state, Campbell. They shared a fence. Campbell was predominantly Hawaiian and OLPH had a mixed bag of races from middle class homes. Overall, Asians were accepted by the locals much more than whites – “haoles” as they called us. James was waiting for me in his class room; he did not feel safe standing outside in the parking lot because the students from Campbell were getting out at the same time. Boys and girls were standing around laughing and yelling boisterously in varying degrees of pidgin. Teenagers were walking in every direction. The faces were Asian, Hawaiian, mostly dark brown and smiling.

Ewa Beach always felt dry, hot and unwelcoming to me. It was flat, and there was more dirt than grass. The heat really radiated in that town and the air was full of dust and moisture. People were dressed minimally, in cheap clothes, because the heat overpowers the desire to be stylish. “Locals” made up the majority of people and the culture of the town was laid-back, “braddah” this and “braddah” that. A faint smell of grease hung in the air from the multiple fast-food restaurants that line Ft. Weaver Road. I had a sense of removal and distance from the crowd because I did not feel connected to the culture of my surroundings. We lived in the next town over, where white people are more abundant and accepted.

When I drove in to pick up James in my run-down Mitsubishi Mirage, I made my way slowly through the school zone but there was a sense of urgency as I passed in front of Campbell. I made a left into the parking lot of Our Lady of Perpetual Help; I hoped I appeared as low key as I desired to be. The little green school sat in the shadows of the big, sprawling campus next door. The children loitering outside were wearing dark green plaid skirts or slacks. They stuck close to the building as the Campbell students spread out around the premises.

The angry boy mentioned earlier was standing outside. His buddies were standing by a classmate’s new car at the far end of the lawn and he headed over to check ‘em out. Dust and dirt pillowed into the air, kicked up by tires. Reggae music was playing from a car stereo, a slow, rhythmic, jammin’ beat that matched the lethargy the weather brought. When he got to the car he was distracted by the two haole kids hanging out a few feet away. They had on green ties and slacks, the OLPH uniform. He knew they were not even paying attention to him standing there. They didn’t give a shit about anything. They did not belong there, in Ewa Beach, on this island, in his home. Someone was talking to him but he was not listening, he was staring at over at the haoles and his heart was starting to beat faster.

Campbell did not have enough books for everyone in the class that year. They did not have enough desks for each kid to get their own. In the heat of the afternoon, the boy knew the white kids in the school next door were sitting in the A/C with no worries at all. They did not know anything about his world. They did not care about him, his family, his life. His mom was recently laid off from her job because her stupid haole boss told her it was “just not working out anymore.” She said that the whole time she was working there he had never let go of a white person. She knew the truth, he was a racist. His grandfather used to tell him stories about the disrespectful things white people would do. They plowed over his grandfather’s grave and forced his family to move further west so they could build a military base. He watched as his homeland was taken over slowly with no regard for their ancestors, their ‘Aina. He could do nothing to help his grandfather, his mother, his sisters and brother. He could not go to college because his mom needed him to work. He blamed the haoles for what his family has had to endure. He wanted them to know all the pain they caused his family. He wanted them to know how much he hated them and he wanted them to go back to where they belonged. He needed to show them how he felt and there was only one way he knew how.

Without even thinking he squatted down and grabbed a handful of gravel. His heart was beating so fast. In one motion he stood up and flung the gravel as hard as he could at the two haoles standing in front of the school. They dropped their books, turned and ran into the nearest open door without even looking in his direction. He heard his friends laughing in the distance and his anger began to subside. He bent over and picked up another handful and threw it at the same spot, “fucking haoles” he murmured under his breath. The release eased his mind, slowed his heart, and brought him back to the moment. His classmate went in for a high five and he smiled and smacked his hand. The white kids ran back towards the other side of the building and then I saw James come running out to my car. When he got in I told him what I just saw and he said “yeah, so…that happens every day.” And he reclined his seat and closed his eyes for the ride home.

I sat there for a few minutes feeling really angry because I was worried about my brother - he was a tall, skinny, freckled, white boy who was not trying to prove anything to anyone. I had been out of high school for a few years already and my first instinct was to get out of the car and tell those bullies to fuck off! But I was seriously outnumbered and I knew there was really nothing I could do to change their minds anyway. They had been raised that way. There was anger passed down from generation to generation and I had an idea where the anger came from. Having taken a Hawaiian Studies class as a student in Hawai’i, I could see why there were feelings of distrust, pain and resentment directed at people that are not native to Hawai’i. Just as I felt a sense of loss, grief, and disgust at the way that white people had treated black people throughout the history of America, I empathized with the native Hawaiian people for what they had endured. It was hard to hear about the cruelty that took place, but it was something that I felt was important to face, absorb and digest.

As racial profiling continues to exist and undermine the ethnic backgrounds of so many Americans, the racial divide across America is enforced over and over again. The efforts being taken to heal the wounds of the past, such as the devastation caused to the sacred ‘aina (land) in Hawai’i caused by military ordnance, takes steps in the right direction but the racism taking place in the rest of the country overshadows and even retracts the progress made. Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders did not have their own category on the American census until 1990, yet America declared Hawai’i as a state in 1959. It is a way to deny a person’s ethnic heritage to not acknowledge their race and ethnicity on a federal document that is supposed to account for all American people. I am not Hawaiian, but I can empathize with the anger the Hawaiian boy was experiencing. His anger was just displaced and without proper education and an outlet for his passion and rage, he will continue to lash out in an inappropriate manner and perpetuate racist behavior, even as he protests it.

I had been over to the west side of Oahu earlier that day with a friend and my car had been vandalized with sand. There was a parking block down by Yokes beach that was spray painted in red, “FUCK HAOLES.” I understood that there were places I could go and places I could not go around the island, but I was still more concerned about my brother – I wanted to protect him but there was only so much I could do. I wondered if it would have been best for us to leave Hawaii so we would not have to be harassed by people because we were white. Unfortunately, if we were to leave and move somewhere else, there was a good chance that we would become part of the problem wherever we ended up. In Hawai’i there was a chance for me to experience first-hand what it was like think of myself as a racial minority. I was being educated to understand that race existed, it was real; despite what biologists say, that race does not exist. Here, in this context, it was not something that could be turned away from, ignored, rationalized. We would stay and gain a deeper understanding of what racism means to people, what it means to us. We would learn how we could actively NOT participate in the perpetuation of racism. The situation we experienced was a blatant act of anger, but most often, racism is inconspicuous, it slides by under the radar, and if we do not know what we are looking for, we might miss it.

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