Monday, October 19, 2009

Natural disasters and migration

Yet another typhoon is closing in on the Philippines.

I can't help wondering, with all the horrible typhoons and hurricanes that hit that region of the world -- an area that is widely believed to be launching pad for migration to the Pacific -- if natural disasters were a major reason for exploration.

Maybe the Pacific would've been explored no matter what. That's human nature. But if you're in a place, say 2,000 years ago, that gets hit by natural disasters five times in two years, wouldn't that be impetus to find a safe new home?

Factor in war, battle for fertile land, clean water ... and people would move further and further until they found someplace tolerable. Peaceful.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Harrowing migration

Friday, July 3, 2009
The history of migration, to me, is about people searching for a better life. The route out of North Korea, though, goes beyond the norm.

The story of Myong Hui Eom puts it into perspective. How else does a teacher go from one extreme to the other, from the "utopia," as she puts it, of her home country to realizing that it's not what she thought.

Breaks the heart again and again

Thursday, July 2, 2009
If it seems odd that one of the most Christianized nations in the world is South Korea, consider the peninsula's crisis.

I used to wonder, how and why did South Korea become so strongly Christian? This goes back to my teens, when I went to church with one of my best friends. The kal bi was excellent! But it was much more than that. It was my first real experience being around Christians young, old and in between.

I always wondered later, how Christ came to be such a focal point in a part of the world that is otherwise Buddhist, Shinto and, further south and southwest, Hindu. The how part isn't on my mind these days. The why part, though, is clear now. The faith required to help North Koreans escape the tumult of Kim Il-Jong's regime is enormously deep. Nobody else but missionaries are willing to risk their lives to help North Koreans get across the Tumen River, then through China, all the way down to Thailand, before they can reach freedom in South Korea.

It's something I'm watching on a recent episode of Wide Angle on PBS. Crossing Heaven's Border is a mirror of the reality, the risk, the sacrifice that continues on. While some people get their kicks watching a bunch of spoiled brats act stupid on programs like The Real World, folks in places like North Korea simply want freedom so bad they'll risk being killed. It's enough to make a cynic want to cheer for the underdogs again.

It's not white and black, never was

Monday, June 22, 2009
It's all a blur these days.

Pretty cool. Some geeks might call it a fusion culture. I think it's a no-B.S. culture. Information is a real currency and it's available cheap or free. If kids like something -- classical, jazz, whatever -- they have access to learn and master it regardless of color lines.

Technology and the Internet have changed a lot of things. Black kids mastering Guitar Hero. Spanish kids becoming NBA stars. Kids in Beijing getting into hip-hop. In the 1980s, academians called it a Global Village. In 2009, it's more like a Global Block Party sometimes. Twitter is abuzz with updates, opinions and information about the uprising in Iran (rigged balloting). The Iran page picks up updated posts from the public constantly, by the second.

For better or worse, information precedes cultural crossover and always has. Trade leads to sharing of goods -- and goodies. That's how the chili pepper made it from South America to Korea. Made it big around the world. Sometimes I miss the age of secrets, but that doesn't matter anymore.

They wear shirts and pants

Monday, June 15, 2009
Everything I've read and seen about Iran in recent months has been surprising.

Folks there can be rather, um, rebellious? Contrarian. What little I know is that there's a large population of college-educated people there, even Westernized to a large scale. Even in the face of steep religious extremism in the past, Iran has its share of civil unrest today. The photos paint quite a picture. From the New York Times site.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Do we hate those closest to us?

How else could be explain the border wars and fatalities between people who look so much alike, share so many customs? Who can explain the mostly ridiculous reasons for any civil war? I always think, "When the aliens arrive, they are not going to understand how we can be so freaking violent toward each other as a species." They may want to tinker with us like lab animals, but mostly I think they're trying to prevent us from destroying our planet. Or maybe they just stay the hell away from us and our destructive ways.

Over the centuries, it's always been our own neighbors that we go to war with. Few people on the other side of the world, say Romania, can differentiate between Japanese and Okinawans, or Tongans and Samoans, or Tahitians and Marquesans. Yet there were wars galore between so many cultures and societies from the beginning of time. Really, ask a kindergartener about the physical difference between Jews and Palestinians, and almost all of them will be stumped.

Hawaii is only a bit different. The original settlers, arguably the Menehune (among other tribes) were pushed out by the Tahitians and Marquesans. "Native" religion imported from a Tongan priest. The benefit of Hawaii is that way back then, and today, intermarriage was destined. The place was and still is much to small for a "pure" ethnic group to stay that way. It's harder and harder to find anyone who is of 100% ethnicity in one group.

I'm part Japanese and part Chinese, descending from Kumamoto, Kyushu Island, Japan, and Guangdong (formerly Canton), China. My ancestors arrived in Hawaii not long after the turn of the century, 1910 or so. Yet, by the 1960s, it was still borderline taboo for Chinese- and Japanese-Americans to intermarry. The onslaught of war and violence by the Emperor-era Japanese military had a lot to do with that. Naturally, any family of Chinese, Korean, or even Vietnamese or Filipino descent had problems with the concept of marrying Japanese back then -- even though local Nissei had absolutely nothing to do with the insane emperor and his blood-lusting generals.

Fortunately, we're in the new millennium and mixed blood isn't the exception at all in the islands. In fact, that's one of the many facets of our culture that is beautiful and brilliant. There are definitely problems here, but almost none of them have to do with race wars or loyalties embedded in color. Hawaii is, and always will be, about where you come from -- more so in the past, but still in the present.

I see my nephew play Call of Duty 4 every day and night, addicted beyond help, headset on and directing his fellow "soldiers". He's interacting with people online, mostly other teens, from all over the globe. That's so far out. He has no real sense of his own neighborhood "gang" like I did growing up, playing at the park all summer long. Football, baseball, basketball. It's cool, though. He's a great student and so much more focused than I was at his age. He's going far, and his grasp of a global village isn't just theory. It's a normal part of his life.

As our tiny hub in the middle of the Pacific gets more connected to the world, I hate to see us lose local traditions and flavor. It's a matter of time, though, before most things change or disappear. Maybe that's why I miss Varsity Theater and the old Honolulu Stadium. They weren't, by definition, Hawaiian. But they were part of my roots, my world as a child. It didn't matter if you were Chinese-Japanese or Portuguese-Hawaiian or Samoan-Tongan ... we all went there to enjoy the Hawaii Islanders, the WFL Hawaiians, and long before that, great high school football.

There is, no doubt, still some whispering and murmuring among old-timers -- particularly in somewhat recent arrivals from other cultures -- when it comes to intermarrying. There are Illocanos who say out loud that they're not the ones who eat black dog -- it's the Tagalogs! There are elder Samoans who take issue about the family having a trace of Tongan blood -- that's what centuries of servitude under a conquering kingdom will do, understandably.

But there are folks like the Azoreans, who are a mix of mostly Portuguese with Dutch, French and other European ethnicities, who are proudly distinct from the mainland Portuguese. But there was no military conflict ever. The Azoreans arrived in Hawaii to work the plantations and never left -- unlike other groups (Chinese, particularly) that made their coin and went back to the homeland rich enough to buy land and home.

I hear about older Filipinos working hard here for decades, then retiring and returning to the P.I. to live in luxury. More power to them. Koreans, too -- though that's more of a dream than reality from what I've seen in my friends' parents and grandparents.

What I've noticed more and more over the years is what we all see: Brain Drain. So many talented, educated people settling on the continent for higher wages and lower cost of living. That's one way to curtail the inevitable overpopulation of O'ahu, but it's still sad to be apart from the people we grew up with. I suppose that's one of the glorious things about becoming rich: you can travel anywhere, any time, and see any friends you'd like without concern about costs or missing work.

I wonder, which adventure is grander: Traveling out of necessity -- to find higher pay and make a better life -- or traveling mostly for fun. Pure fun. I'd like to try the latter one day.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

A battle cry against modern technology

It was during the state boys basketball tournament that the war cry, basically the tomahawk chant, of Kahuku fans drew me into conversation with a former player and coach (OIA) about the politics of the whole thing.

It was during the state boys basketball tournament that the war cry, basically the tomahawk chant, of Kahuku fans drew me into conversation with a former player and coach (OIA) about the politics of the whole thing. After all, when fans on the mainland use the same chant, they're decried and ripped for being politically incorrect.

But Kahuku has done it for years. And in more recent years, I've started to wonder more and more about where that line rests between school history and sensitivity to Native American tribes. This is my theory.

Because the Mormon church is entrenched on the North Shore, particularly La'ie, doing the tomahawk chant isn't just something that goes along with Kahuku's longtime nickname, "Red Raiders." Though that name came by chance when 'Iolani donated uniforms to Kahuku decades ago (and has more recently dropped the "Red" from its nickname), I started to realize there's more to it.

See, for those of us (including myself), there's very little knowledge about what the history of the LDS is all about. Like any religion, there's good (lots) and bad (sad but true). When it comes to lineage, though, the Mormon church takes it to a really interesting, some say creative, new level. When I hear talk about a Western culture/faith deriving from a "lost tribe" of Israel, I think of Bob Marley, the Rasafarians and their insistence that former Ethiopian president Hallie Selassie was the descendant and king of that tribe, which eventually found its way to Jamaica, etc.

Well, the Church of Latter-Day Saints has used similar historical rewriting to say that Native Americans are descendants of the lost tribe, and from there, they migrated to Polynesia and South America. I don't hear it directly from friends who are Mormon, but it interests me to know more about migration and history, all the good and bad.

DNA in recent years has proven that South Americans descended from travelers who crossed from Siberia to Alaska -- NOT from Israel. There is no Hebrew DNA in Polynesians, either. For literalists of the LDS church, it has to be a stiff blow. But it doesn't really change my perspective of people and their chosen faith. Why?

I believe there's something within us that transcends the name of our religion and church. Being raised a certain way doesn't necessarily limit us to possibilities and realities. America was born out of religious tyranny, among other things, so the right to follow one's path was well-earned by our forefathers.

But I'm sure there are older Mormons who will never trust the technology that has changed our lives, just as I am content to use a freebie cellphone rather than buy a pricey iPhone, just as there are still some folks who refuse to use a computer, let alone e-mail. DNA has reversed the wrongful convictions of more than 200 people and freed them from prisons.

Trying to explain that Polynesians are not genetically linked to the lost tribe of Israel will fall on some deaf ears.

Does it matter? Depends on who you are. For me, I'm gotten old enough to get over literalism. I don't care if God created the universe in 7 days or 7 millennia or 7 seconds. When I meet someone, especially for the first time, it's that person and me talking and sharing a brief moment. There's an imprint left behind, and all I can hope is that the one I leave is positive.

My curiosity about migration will never cease, I guess. Cultures evolve and change, and so do religions. But those of us who would pound another person, culture or nation just because we "know" we're right and they're wrong ... I would implore you to remember how quickly we are all humbled by life. If the tomahawk chant irritates you, let it be solely for competitive reasons when your school is playing Kahuku.

If it makes you smile, know that I'm smiling along with you. There is a unity and spirit within and around Kahuku's athletic program that is unique. Special. I say chant forever, 'til kingdom come.