Changing Hawaii

By Diane Yukihiro Chang

Monday, February 15, 1999

Transformation of a
lady named ‘Sabrina’

THIS weekend, local Filipina author Jovita Rodas Zimmerman threw a book-launching party for her newest work, "Hawaii's Filipino Americans." One of the chapters in her soft-cover collection of plays, essays and short stories is titled, "Sabrina's transformations."

The two main characters -- Sabrina and her husband, who is never named in this "fictional" tale -- seem familiar. Very familiar. Here are excerpts:

"When a woman is married to a husband whose macho instincts are practically inborn and permanent, it is not difficult to assume the relationship is or eventually will be stormy. Before the husband became a politician, Sabrina seemed inclined to play a shadowy role, the type who was a pretty ornament to a man determined to carve a career that would yield him respect, prestige and the public's recognition, if not applause.

"If one were to compare husband and wife, Sabrina's image was fair, tender and delicate. His dark looks -- eyes which seldom smiled; hair, a thick black growth matching his moustache, and brown skin -- were a contrast. She struck me, the first time we met, as a wife who loved her husband deeply, in a very feminine way. And he liked it that way.

"Because he is a Filipino, it seemed logical (admittedly a stereotype) he would marry somebody who would kowtow to his masculine and authoritative role. That means the wife must be subservient, loyal, meek, faithful and willing to accept the demands his career would impose.

"Sabrina's husband is considered a very important man, having achieved the highest political post the state could offer. Nevertheless, it is her story -- rather than his -- which shall be given significance here.

"Having two little ones to support, and her husband unable to enjoy promotion as a draftsman, despite examination requirements he topped, the couple embarked on a trip to the U.S. mainland, determined to leave behind them a state whose government was prone to engage in discriminatory practices.

"(On returning to Hawaii) her husband's legal practice...turned prosperous. The Porsche was a good indicator, but why (her) flamboyant transformation? It was an accidental encounter in a grocery store...where we chatted briefly. 'I'm talking college courses now...,' she explained. There was a lilt in her voice, and her face showed excitement... Brief as the encounter was, it was the first time I saw the spark in a woman whose will had bent too long to suit her husband...

"Education and feminist ideas had done the job. A transformed Sabrina possibly was not to her husband's liking. A wife with a mind of her own was something he would not tolerate... He failed to take into account that where she had been strong and supportive in building his career, protective and giving to their children, as she was to him...she was, in fact, developing the strength of character that education would build on and produce the independent spirit she was showing.

"A neighbor and close friend of Sabrina revealed she would have none of the social obligations attached to her husband's position... Having buried her real person for so long, her husband could not cope with her newly found independence.

"When a newspaper photo showed her standing right next to the mayoral candidate her husband was not supporting...she had crossed the line; her open defiance was clear. A salvo was fired from her husband's office. An announcement was published in a week's time. He, without fanfare, filed for divorce."

Diane Yukihiro Chang's column runs Monday and Friday.
She can be reached by phone at 525-8607, via e-mail at, or by fax at 523-7863.

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