Tag Archives: Through My Eyes

THROUGH MY EYES: ‘MAHÅLANGNESS – THE FUEL THAT FED MY WRITING FIRE’ BY PAULA QUINENE

‘How long have you been away from home?’ I asked an army friend.

‘Thirteen years,’ he replied.

And to myself, I said, How could anyone be away from Guam for 13 years? It’s simple really. When was the last time you checked on ticket prices to an island half way around the world? Imagine the expense for a college student from the lower end of the middle class.

So it began, the winter of 1993. I started college at the University of Oregon, away from my family, away from Guam, and very mahȧlang. In Chamorro, mahȧlang means homesick. My parents bent over backwards to bring me home in the summers of 1993 and 1994. During my second full year of school, I decided that I would wait to go home. I didn’t want to ask my parents for another $1,800 ticket. And even with my multiple jobs as a college student, I couldn’t afford that ticket, not after paying for rent, books, and food. I could wait three years to go home. Truth was, I was very mahȧlang listening to JD Crutch, and cooking Guam food. I almost left college in 1995 without graduating. But I realized how hard my parents were working to send their oldest child to school. So I stopped listening to Chamorro music, and focused even more on my studies.

It was the summer of 1996, and low and behold, I had only one year of college left – then I fell in love with a Chamorro boy in the army, got married, graduated, and was whisked away to Germany. I cried almost every day my first year overseas. What did I do? I was supposed to go home!

In the span of 20 years, I had been to Guam only three times – 1999, 2006, and 2013. The pain in my heart, in my very being, gave life to my cookbooks, ‘A Taste of Guam’ and ‘Remember Guam’, and my novel, ‘Conquered’. My mahȧlangness was the fuel that fed my writing fire.

During my sophomore year at Simon Sanchez High School, I felt I had a destiny with my island. It was in 2006, while I was working on my cookbooks and my novel that I realized exactly what I was meant to do. And that was to write about Guam. If I had returned to Guam, I wouldn’t have been mahȧlang, and I wouldn’t have written my books.

Over the last 10 years, I’ve built my website, Paulaq.com, and my supporting social media presence, because I am very mahȧlang. Denial works sometimes – that I’m OK being away from home. However, writing about Guam keeps me connected to the land and the family that raised me. Writing has proven to be more productive and useful than hiding from the pain.

Fortunately, I’ve been home twice within the past three years, and am now able to continue that trend. I’m still homesick, but the pain is more bearable.

While I’ve been working on another Guam food book on and off since 2012, I thought I was done writing novels. Yet she calls to me. Her plight. Her fight. Her struggle to reclaim what was taken by colonizing forces, ‘Write for me. Let your love now feed your writing fire.’

From whatever island you are from, embrace your love and your homesickness. Allow it to help you share and preserve the richness of your heritage.

THROUGH MY EYES: ‘HEROINE OF MY OWN WORLD’ BY LYNN PULOU-ALAIMALO

My frantic schedule as a tina (mother) compels certainty that I am a heroine of my own kind. A heroine of my own world. Not the mother who wakes up to the sound of birds in her garden with violin playing in the background. Or one who would snap her finger and the kids would form a formation while singing Do-Re-Mi before single filing out to the car for school. As a heroine of my own world, I persevere through the opposite of that.

When I reflect back to legendary myths about heroines across the Pasifika, I marvel at their strength, preservation, and dauntless examples as warlords. Like Ka wahine ‘ai Honua, or the goddess of fire Pele – she shaped and sheltered the Hawaiian lands. In Samoa, I admire the Siamese twin sisters Taema and Tilafaiga’s journey that procured titles and proverbs presently used by the Samoan people. They profusely left behind tales which not only contributed to histories of lands and the ocean, but also influenced the growing mana of the tina in the family.

As a mother, I find strength to cope with every responsibility through the eyes of my family. My mom has. Grandmothers, great grandmothers and every woman in our lineage of ancestors did. My gratitude extends far out to pillars who appraised the value of culture and family. I wouldn’t be embracing much now, without the restless mothers and goddesses who instilled courage into the feats I now battle with as, “Mom, mommy, ma, Momma, Mummy, Momsy…mummified!”

I remember the tale of the Siamese twin sisters Taema and Tilafaiga, whose breeding voyage knitted a foundation of the Samoan culture. They are known in real stories as the sisters who sailed between Fiji, Tutuila (American Samoa), Manu’a, Savaii and Samoa. Tilafaiga is the mother of a mighty war goddess by the name of Nafanua. Nafanua’s supernatural powers have no equal. Her immortal influences crafted systems currently embraced by the Independent Samoan government.

In the course of an endless hardship in Falelatai village, Nafanua sailed out to save her people from slavery. When Nafanua arrived unaccompanied with her war clubs, there wasn’t a presumption that she’ll drive a force of warriors away from her village. She didn’t have an army. However, her scorching powers formed an army of dragonflies and insects that fought beside her. Although men outnumbered her, Nafanua killed a numerous count during battle. At the wake of dawn, a breeze swept her upper apparel, exposing her breasts to the men. The Warriors were embarrassed and immediately fled out into the forest.

Relatively, my contemporary dream is some sort of power that’ll someday lure my imaginary Edward Scissorhands to organize plates, spoons and laundry around the house. Or perhaps a wand gadget devised to hold all the chores while the other arm is sitting at the drive-thru of Starbucks awaiting a Venti-sized caramel macchiato with two shots of espresso and less foam.

Every tina, or mother is a heroine in many ways. A tina is a representation of her own kind, a legend of her own story and a descendant of heroine ancestors. I am a heroine in my own world who still wakes up to the sound of the fire alarm because my better half has left the toaster notch at 5. A mother who is always relieved to be the first at the school drop off zone, and in the latter discovers a peanut butter face with a missing pair of shoe. Echoing in the hallway some mornings are numerous complaints to start my day: Mommy, the dog ate my science project! Mommy what am I going to wear? Where’s my catcher’s mitt? These mind-boggling occasions happen so often that all I can reminisce about are the days when there was no Starbucks, no toaster or a car; but a dear mother who wakes up before sunrise to grind the Koko Samoa (Samoan cocoa beans) and gather pandanus leaves to weave a fine mat for my family.

THROUGH MY EYES: ‘HAWAIIAN ON THE INSIDE’ BY LEHUA PARKER

I was walking through Dick’s Sporting Goods in Salt Lake City, Utah when I saw it hanging on the back wall: a ski jacket with the same bird of paradise print my tutu had on her couch cushions in the ‘70s. Like a teri beef plate lunch special it called to me. My daughter was appalled. ‘You are NOT wearing that, Mom. No way!’

‘It’s reversible, right?’ my son asked.

My husband shrugged. ‘At least we’ll be able to find you in a crowd.’

I bought it.

And I wore it. For about a week it clashed with everything and everyone, as out of place as an aloha shirt at – well, a ski slope. When you’re an ex-pat Hawaiian living near world-class winter sporting grounds it can be hard to find the aloha spirit in the middle of January.

I tried not to care. I ignored the stares and snickers and carried my childhood wrapped around me like a blanket. But one day I caved and reversed it.

‘What’s up with your coat?’ my son asked.

‘It’s like me. I’m wearing my Hawaiian on my inside.’

He tilted his head. ‘Yeah, but unlike your coat you’re not even brown on the outside.’

Ouch.

Through a genetic quirk my youngest sister and I inherited our mother’s super fair northern European coloring while my other sister and brother have our father’s mixed Hawaiian heritage of medium brown hair, eyes, and skin.

I’m not going to lie to you. As the only blond, blue-eyed kid in the entire school district in Kahului, Maui it was rough. Unlike every other Hawaiian family I’ve known, my dad was an only child from a family of only children – and from Oahu. I didn’t have a huge ohana of cousins calabash or otherwise on Maui to vouch for me. It was easy to be the target from the teachers and principal on down.

No lie. People go to jail now for what they did to me in elementary school. But Maui was a different time and place back then. At least I like to think so.

There’s a disconnect that happens in your head when you’re beaten for being an outsider by kids who are descendants of sugarcane and pineapple workers from Asia when your ancestors farmed taro in those same fields for hundreds of years. But on the playground nobody cares about those kinds of distinctions. It’s all about freckles and the need for sunscreen.

For a year or two after school while waiting for my mom to get off work, I went to a house where the father carved traditional ki‘i – tiki statues – and the grandmother spoke beautiful Hawaiian with her friends under the shade of mango trees. They were patient with me – the gangly haole girl who watched with big eyes and listened to the melodious voices rolling like water over her head. Sometimes they would tell me stories about Hawaiian history, culture, legends, and traditions. I soaked them up like a sponge.

After my family moved back to Oahu, I was accepted into The Kamehameha Schools and that changed my life. I didn’t have to fight so hard to belong because everyone knew I wouldn’t be there if I didn’t. At Kamehameha I learned more about what it means to be a modern Hawaiian, and like my classmates, promised to perpetuate our culture in positive ways. Our princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop had given us the precious gift of an education; we therefore have an obligation to be her hands and pass aloha along.

I write the Niuhi Shark Saga and other stories for island kids who never see themselves or their families in popular literature. So much about Hawaii has been rewritten by Hollywood and that’s tragic. There is a need for authentic Pasifika voices to tell our stories, and I hope to add to the conversation in my small way.

When people read the words, they hear a Hawaiian voice. But when I show up at a book signing or appearance that disconnect happens again. ‘You’re Lehua? From The Kamehameha Schools? No way!’ I don’t think anyone ever gets used to being called a liar within the first few minutes of meeting a stranger, but I smile and roll with it. I’ve thought about putting my dark-haired sister’s photo on the back of my books and sending her to out into the world as Lehua, but I know that wouldn’t be pono. And for a Hawaiian, living a life that’s pono – a life in harmony with what is good, noble, and true in thought, action, and deed – is our deepest aspiration.

Like many of my classmates, I went to the mainland for college and stayed to raise a family – a family of towheads like me with looooong Hawaiian middle names. And I worry about that.

Every year I grind my teeth when the local grocery store hosts its Hawaiian days with samba music from Brazil, masks from Papua New Guinea, paper flowers from India, and calls anything with pineapple Hawaiian. In the summer neighbors are keen to throw luaus where they wear cellophane grass skirts, fake coconut bras, and serve Hawaiian haystacks – a truly vile concoction of shredded chicken, raw veggies, coconut chips, long-grained rice, and Campbell’s cream of chicken soup. About the time they bring out the limbo stick and form a conga line is when I sneak home. I know I should be more gracious, but it’s hard.

I insist my kids call flip-flops slippahs, snow cones shave ice, and understand that true aloha is colorblind. I wonder if I’m going to be the last generation in my family that remembers how Maui captured the sun, when the makahiki season starts, and why haloa is the staff of life. But then I hear about how my son called out his AP World Geography teacher about comments he found derogatory and inappropriate about Polynesians – and insisted on an apology. When the teacher balked and called him a poser, my son told his teacher to look at his middle name and offered to have his mother come in and explain real Hawaiian history to the class.

Pono.

Maybe I won’t be the last after all.

THROUGH MY EYES: ‘I AM DIVERGENT’ BY TANYA TAIMANGLO

Okay, let me explain how a 40 year old Asian Pacific Islander who now lives in the Pacific Northwest can be anything like the heroine, Tris from the bestselling trilogy by Veronica Roth.

I was born into a faction of sorts. Two if you want to be exact. If you were to peg me into the two Roth defined factions, it would be Erudite (The Intelligent) and Abnegation (The Selfless). Being raised by a Korean mother and a Chamorro father on Guam had its limitations, and blessings of course. I love my heritages, don’t get me wrong and have spoken of and written about it many times. However, I was bound by rules and regulations of the cultures which affected the adult I became. It is only in the last five years or so, perhaps factored by my father’s passing in 2007 that I have become freer. I have changed factions so to speak.

Focusing on being a Chamorro female, I was told many times that school came first. I was restricted from dating (my first kiss was at the age of 21 – but, don’t weep for me). I was pushed into a college degree that wasn’t my first choice. Vanity, like in Tris’s world, was frowned upon. I wasn’t allowed to feel pretty, or to focus on my looks. My father, the practical one, knew that these things fade. Any time I strayed too far from my set boundaries, I was yanked back by an invisible leash of obligation. In many ways, these restrictions saved me from risky behavior, but I have always wondered what kind of super woman I would be today, had these restraints not been placed on me. I probably wouldn’t cringe when someone pays me a compliment, especially regarding how I look.

I was scolded when at 18, I wanted a tattoo (it was all the rage with my girlfriends). Side note, it took another 18 years to get my first one. A tiger on my back with many hidden symbols (again, much like the Divergent characters).

I married a childhood friend, who is also Chamorro, when we were 30. When we were set to leave the island, I was struck by fear and excitement. I was scared to leave the tiny sanctuary of home and all that I knew for California. But, I was excited at the ripe age of 30 to start my life. I wanted to jump into and off that moving train. And in these last ten years of living in California, and now Washington State, the result of being a Navy wife; I have never felt more liberated. Now, is this a slap to the Chamorro childhood and upbringing I sprouted from? I would hope not. My Chamorro and Korean culture seeps into my everyday being. In my interactions with my new community, I am a culmination of all my experiences. I haven’t immersed myself so deep into the traditional American life that I have lost all that I was originally. But once in a while, I’m reminded that I don’t do things like we do ‘on the island’.

We celebrated my birthday and my daughter’s this past weekend. A friend from Guam was here. She overheard me tell my son to grab his ‘flip flops’ to go outside. I was scolded on the spot and then flushed red in the face. I got it. I didn’t use the term for slippers we use on Guam, ‘zoris’. I then had to explain to the two Navy wife buddies of mine why I was being chastised. In one sentence, I explained Guam terminology and the word origin being Japanese. This small oversight on my part made me question whether I was bringing my children up properly, my very Divergent children. But I dismissed my doubt quickly and enjoyed the rest of the party.

In many ways, we are all Divergent and it’s when people judge you for liking something outside of your cultural norms that my feathers get ruffled. I know who I am, where I’m from and where I’m going. Just because I’ve switched from a life of coconut trees and balmy weather to a life of chill winds and evergreens, it doesn’t make me less. It makes me Divergent. It makes me greater. And, I continued to evolve.