April 26, 2015
Prof. Kati Lewis
"'Is getting to the top worth it? What if I fall and die?' As these questions continue in my mind, I look up and see the flag majestically flying in the wind. I feel hope so I continue on my way. The questions continued to come, but as I look up, I see my end goal in sight beckoning me. As we make it to the top of the mountain peak I am able to look over the west coast of Oahu. The beauty that can be seen is something of a facade. I can’t accept what I see because I know what’s down there. I know about the lives of the people.
Throughout this semester, I have continually reflected upon my time spent among the Native Hawaiians as I researched my topic of oppression of Native people and the basic human right of being able to attend to the need of food. It’s something that Native People struggle with and I was able to witness it firsthand. On the Big Island of Hawaii in the Hawaiian Island chain I saw the effects of poverty among natives. Paved roads are sparse there. Most roads are gravel and rough with pot holes. We had an appointment to give aid to a family one day which took us down one of these roads. We drove two miles down an unpaved, gravel road until finally reaching our destination where we had to go up a red lava rock driveway. As we approached the top of the driveway we could see a shanty home. The state of poverty was apparent; the home was put together with pieces of wooden pallets, plastic tarps, and scrap metal. Two broken down vehicles which stood next to the house also were used as places of residence. The family I met had to live in the place because it was all that they could afford. It was off the grid and their only power source was a generator given to them by a local charity organization. They were a family of seven living in a house of 120 sq. ft. Life for them was definitely a daily struggle.
The Father of the home said to me, “Come in, we don’t have much but we are willing to give what we have”. “Thank so much”, I replied. I was confused though. I was there to help, yet he offered me help. He continued “It’s the Polynesian way to give, that’s the way I was raised”. The culture is one of giving and caring for one another, but still 20 percent of the population lived in poverty and 18 percent lived below the poverty line (White House Initiative on Asian American & Pacific Islanders). I understood why he wanted to give. My mother is Tongan, which is another race among the pacific islands in Polynesia, but I was still taken back by his invitation. As I thought about this experience while doing my research I thought about how this hospitality was taken advantage of by American businessmen which has led to Native Hawaiians to their current state of poverty.
During the Awareness Campaign we passed out a flyer with a blacked out poem on it. That document we blacked out was the Declaration of Independence. We left unmarked at the end the phrase all men are created equal, certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The man I met that day in Hawaii was entitled to these things but was halted by his current state of living. He had his life and freedom but to pursue happiness was something he could not think about. Food, shelter, and safety of his family placed priorities over his life that he could not find happiness. The basic necessities of life that I take for granted with no thought were stressors in that man’s life. I could see his face throughout our public awareness campaign on human rights. It was clear as the day I met him. I could see the dirt stains on his checks, unkempt beard, his afro hair, and his hard gray eyes that pierced your soul with sadness. The face would appear throughout the day but was most clear when I spoke with a woman during our awareness campaign who mentioned that she was concerned with children starving in our own country. It was to me that day my holy cause to overcome my fear of talking with people and it worked.
No struggle I have had compares to the daily struggle Natives who live in poverty go through. I think back to that day I climbed that mountain. When I struggled and thought I would never make it. But that flag, my destination seemed to encourage me and give me courage to continue on. That flag is the Hawaiian sovereignty flag. It’s a symbol of hope among the islands and shows that there is still unification among Native Hawaiians despite the tragedies and oppressive acts which were put upon them by their invaders. It’s a sign of hope that they will obtain some rights back and be able to not worry where their next meal will come from. I now can see now hope is what sustains them.
"WHITE HOUSE INITIATIVE ON ASIAN AMERICANS & PACIFIC ISLANDERS (WHIAAPI) ." United States Dept of Education. United States Dept of Education. Web. 27 Apr. 2015. <https://www2.ed.gov/about/inits/list/asian-americans-initiative/what-you-should-know.pdf>.