Settling in....Elsewhere.

When I made this blog about 8 years ago, I was living in a one-room ohana apartment attached to a farmhouse on Hawaiian Homelands in Waimea, Big Island. I was thinking hard-- learning hard-- trying to understand the things I saw-- the dusty thorny beaches studded with hidden black petroglyphs in the shadow of a walled resort where you could pet pink dolphins. I was trying to figure out my place in a culture that defined me differently than I had ever been defined. Later I learned the word for that-- as a white girl in American, my whiteness had never been a marker. I was marked by other things, but never race or culture. In Hawaii, I was able to perceive for the first time the existence of my whiteness, and my fluency in white American culture. This is an ungainly process-- and the reason so many white Americans kind of freak out when they move to Hawaii-- something they didn't even know about themselves is in fact a thing that defines them-- every thing they do, and how they perceive reality.

I thought a lot about race. I thought about American whiteness, and about my husband's biracial identity that was so rich and so challenging. He was a bridge for me into Hawaii culture and history-- my kids are 5th generation Hawaii born on his mother's side. He had Japanese and Okinawan and British ancestry, and generations of difficult and beautiful family history in Hawaii. His grandparents were the first people of Japanese descent to be married in the Hawaii Mormon temple. His great grandparents were plantation workers, sailors, and Japanese sandal makers. His grandmother Joyce Teruya, who we named our oldest daughter after, could make the most ono chicken katsu you could imagine, and my husband as a little kid would take it to the beach wrapped in wide ti leaves and eat it with salty fingers after throwing himself hard into the waves. His race put people at ease, allowed him access to the Hawaiian Paniolo culture he served as an ag extension agent, bought him a measure of grace while people got to know him. My race was an obstacle for me-- something I had to push through in order for people to get to know ME, rather than whatever assumptions they had about me. A good lesson for a well-meaning white girl.

Race in Hawaii went from something that seemed pretty clear: transplants vs. locals-- to something much more nuanced. Hawaii-born Japanese vs Native Hawaiian, Haole vs. Portuguese, Filipino vs. Puerto Rican, Haole transplant vs. tourist-- it turned out that all these roles and labels are actually permeable. I know people who identify as Hawaiian without a drop of Hawaiian blood. I know Hawaiians who define other ethnic Hawaiians as un-Hawaiian because of how they act, where they live, where they went to school. It's a muddle, but a fertile one. And in the end, not that crucial since everybody still marries each other, makes gorgeous children, passes on or drops tradition, and the days spin on.

Things that had simple at first became more complex-- as they would for anybody moving from their mid twenties to mid thirties. Parenting babies with a few clear needs became parenting kids with a myriad of challenging ones. Friends went from folks we ran into at playgroups to surrogate family, with lifelong love and unbelievable heartbreak. Our religion went from a source of strength to a source of pain. Our jobs went from post-college entry level to full time and promotions and tenure. My husband reinvented himself constantly, searched for meaning and scrabbling for relief from his depression.

He didn't find it. He just passed it along, exploded his pain on me and my girls who he left behind.

And now we're in Utah-- the land of my ancestors. I met strangers the other day on my walk back from the girls' school bus stop-- I had to stop and pat their dog. It turns out they are my step-mom's cousins. I've got a boomerang history here and ambivalent feelings about it.

I feel like a stranger in a familiar land, and I vacillate between wanting so settle in and get cozy and be easy and comfortable for the rest of my life, and wanting to run for it-- get someplace where I fit in better, where things feel less familiar but more safe.


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