On a day like today where I spent the afternoon with my two good friends hiking the Olomana trail, better known as the the Three Peaks hike, its hard to imagine a more beautiful land. After a grueling two hour hike to the first peak, I was blessed to find myself more than a mile high with grand views of the lush windward valley to my east and the coastline of Lanikai, Kailua, and Kaneohe to my west. The sun was at its peak, and in every direction a swirling of different shades of green and blue sparkled below. And even through the slight haziness of today, if you looked in just the right spot of the ocean you could see the outline of the mountains from neighboring islands.
In such a beautiful land, where being carefree is presumed the motto for many of the residents, its also hard to imagine that problems are present in this paradise. However, even these small islands in the middle of the pacific do not escape the complexity of the real world. Coming here my expectations were to go to the beach as much as possible, meet some new friends, and maybe learn to surf along the way. However living in Manoa, on the outskirts of urban Honolulu, I have seen a great deal of the beauty and growing problems of such a melting pot of cultures. Coming from Minnesota, where almost all of my hometown was white and had lived there their entire life, it is such a beautifully unique experience to make friends spanning from the east coast of the mainland to Asia. However, I noticed that this mixture of people has also lead to problems unknown to those unfamiliar with the island. The tension that residents have for the military, the bitterness the natives have for the mainlanders who reside on their island, and the large number of homeless who are often being pushed out my the upscale neighborhoods and resort communities, all greatly effect the culture here and the lives all who reside here.
This week at a nearby cafe and art lounge they had, as they do every ‘First Thursday’, a slam poetry event where people, poets and non poets alike, go up in front of about two hundred people and ‘Slam’ about issues, good and bad, in their life. This week a student went up front and started talking about the word Ha. In the Hawaiian language the word Ha means breath. However this student did not slam about how Hawaii gave him breath, but the breath we take away because of the racism and discrimination that takes place here for others who we believe do not belong here. In opposite to breath, the term Haole means without breath, breathless. That term is often used by the locals for the mainlanders, or any white people that come to the island. Although it is sometimes used to vaguely describe Caucasian people, it is often used in a racist and deeming way, a bold way of saying you don’t belong here.
I don’t mean to suggest that certain people are right or wrong, or to say that all islander are against mainlanders–as a whole, Oahu has opened my eyes to some of the most friendly and loving people I have ever met. However beautiful coastlines and valleys cannot solve the problems that are present in society. In my case, although there are some that would refer to me as having no breath, with a simple glance out my window I am reminded that I am in a land that, in the best way possible, takes my breath away. And if nothing else, this gives me joy