I was so fortunate to have the opportunity to present at the annual American Studies Association earlier this month. I presented a paper about Janet Cardiff and her soundwalk Her Long Black Hair and how shifting the focus of analysis from the meaning of the soundwalk to the artistic practice of the work can create space to engage political praxis through the act of listening. I got lots of great feedback and learned so much from my fellow panel mates and the other sessions I attended. Of course I bought more books than I can read this year, but oh well. I loved ASA and visiting Honolulu and am looking forward to coming back.
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There is an oli (chant) that people who are protectors of the mauna sing that ends with e hū e which means (to my understanding) a motion of rising forth and overflowing like the motion of a wave.
While I was in Honolulu people kept saying welcome to paradise and it was true in a way. But it was so complicated, I was so disgusted and sad walking around Waikiki early one morning seeing bloated tourists juxtapose the number of homeless people who were mostly people of color and I don't know for sure but I'm sure a number were native Hawaiians. I didn't want to stay in that part of town but I'm glad that I did so that I could witness these different realities mixing.
And then at the same time feeling immense swelling of pride touring UH's campus and learning about the history of student activism and seeing the students currently organizing to stop the TMT project on Mauna Kea.
Then another day I was wandering around town floating in and out of shops and was taken aback by peoples kindness and not being seen as threatening. It's hard to describe but even in our "progressive" "liberal" cities like my hometown of Los Angeles people make a split second judgement about whether you are worth their time and whether you are a threat or not. I'm not saying Hawaii is perfect and that there aren't issues with over-policing people of color, because I know otherwise.
What I am saying was that I got to taste what it feels like to be unremarkable.
I didn't feel like an other. (even though I totally am)
And that was paradise.
I don't think the idea of paradise can exist without imagination.
I was in paradise because I got to grieve and imagine an alternative version of what my ancestors might have felt arriving to a foreign island and that place becoming home. Again this is all imagining but I felt something seeing banana, coconut, and breadfruit trees and remembering stories I've heard about my great grandmother or even my grandfather interacting with these life forms that I had no context of understanding growing up in California. My mom got me a children's book about the Caribbean when I was little but I had no understanding of what those kinds of places felt like.
Being in Hawai'i wasn't coming home because those aren't my islands but it did nurture and make whole a space in my heart reserved for home that felt unmoored that now feels rooted and I have so much gratitude for that.
The day I had to return to New York I went body surfing with my stepdad and I finally had a connection to what Hū feels likes... It feels like surrender, being enveloped in a force greater than yourself, being held and carried forward, like being right on time.