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.