Kama‘āina

I’m not sure what mechanism of time it is that has provoked in me a profound change. I am from Hawai‘i. As with most places that were colonized, there exists a complex mixture of assimilation, independence, hostility, and acceptance. People still take offense when outsiders refer to non-Hawaiian residents of the islands as Hawaiians. Hawaiian is an ethnicity; the nomenclature for a non-ethnic resident of Hawai‘i is, “local.” The Hawaiian word is kama‘āina (native born). Born, but not blood.

I used to be fervent. I used to bristle at the naming of a person as Hawaiian who wasn’t so. I went to Kamehameha (the lonely one), a school named for the man who united the islands as one entity. Funded by crown lands controlled by his granddaughter, Bernice Pauahi (the star of kaulua), the schools sought and seek to educate children of Hawaiian ancestry. As with most institutions, even those with the best of intentions, people get in the way of being human.

I vacillated. I struggled with the question that my fervent embrace of Hawai‘i was, perhaps, also misguided. Why was it important to be defensive, to forward an agenda based on race. The fact that there was clear trespass against the nation of Hawai‘i made it easier to justify the anger, the lashing out.

But then, I began to question. And to see this rage as just the opposite side of the same coin. The culture and its manifestation is beautiful, often sublime. But any identification with an ethnicity? How far is that, really, from racism? What about being Hawaiian makes a person inherently better, or more grounded, or more human than anybody else? I realized the answer was nothing.

There is good behavior and there is bad behavior. There is calm and there is violence. There is wisdom and stupidity. And it crosses every culture, every person. We are who we are. Where we were born is an arbitrary circumstance. You want to be Hawaiian? Celebrate the culture, mālama the ‘āina. Respect what was there before you were, what will be there when you’re gone. That is Hawai‘i. That is anywhere. That is human. That is what is.