Star-Bulletin Features

Patchwork of voices

By Craig T. Kojima, Star-Bulletin
Candace Fujikane, an assistant professor at UH-Manoa, examines racial stereotypes as part of her "voice."

Exploring the women's experience in a cultural melting pot

Stories By Nadine Kam
Assistant Features Editor

The whole truth and nothing but the truth is not necessarily the stuff of history books. History is most often buffed and polished to match the ideologies of the writer.

If any lesson can be learned from this, it's start making notes now, or the history your grandchildren read 200 years from now may not be your own.

In the case of Hawaiian history, we're just beginning to heed the voices of the native Hawaiians tucked into archives, in the pages of some 70 Hawaiian-language newspapers - the bulked published between 1860 and 1900, immediately before and after Hawaii's annexation to the United States.

Noenoe K. Silva first came across the papers while studying for her B.A. in Hawaiian language at the University of Hawaii.

She found that the Hawaiian view of events leading up to Hawaii's annexation didn't match the history taught in schools.

"For a while, it didn't seem like a problem. I was just trying to read it," she said. "It was only when I took up political science that it occurred to me that it was quite strange. There was this whole world that the Hawaiians had written down that few historians had bothered to read."

Now Silva is speaking out as one of 12 women scholars whose writing is featured in "Women in Hawai'i: Sites, Identities, and Voices."

The book is Vol. 38 of the "Social Process in Hawai'i" series published by the University of Hawai'i Press. It is the first in the series' 60-year history that has been written entirely by women.

Managing editor Ida Yoshinaga said, "It's way past due."

The interdisciplinary volume is the first of its kind to express the experiences, past and present, of women in multi-ethnic Hawaii. Laurie Mengel examines the phenomenon of divorce among issei women and picture brides between 1885 and 1908, while Candace Fujikane takes issue with portrayals of Asian-Americans in literature.

Many of the authors have gone out of their way to avoid the stodgy speak of academia, instead offering up humorous personal essays tinged with pathos, such as Judy Rohrer's reflections on being haole and Donna Tsuyuko Tanigawa's take on what it's been like growing up Donna.

The book takes an accessible approach to feminist issues, unlike what Yoshinaga calls "1970s haole feminism, which had this bad reputation for being kind of loud and outrageous.

"This book shows that feminism can be useful," Yoshinaga said. "It can be personal. It can relate to women of color."

By studying the old Hawaiian newspapers, Silva, for example, was able to get into the mind of 19th century Hawaiian women as they tried to salvage their culture from "salvation" by missionaries.

Missionaries such as Richard Armstrong tried to domesticate Hawaiian women - accustomed to the freedoms of swimming, surfing, dancing and card playing - by remaking them in the mode of the missionary wife.

In one of his newspapers, Ka Hae Hawaii, Armstrong ran articles in 1856 that instructed, "The wife's job is to keep the house clean." His writers wrote of ali'i Kapiolani as being the model woman who kept her house "clean and furnished just like a haole. Her body and her hair are also neat and clean. She attends church every Sunday as well. If every woman were like her, the land would be blessed."

Resistance papers published by native Hawaiians countered by running legends of volcano goddess Pele and her sister Hi'iaka to offer strong female role models. In 1893, Ka Leo o ka Lahui reminded women that in a time of war, England's Queen Elizabeth had said, "My dear Nation, you all know that I have the body of a woman, but my heart is the heart of a brave soldier."

The hui advised women to "work bravely for the benefit of your native land; do not retreat, do not be undecided ... this is a very honorable thing for women."

This history might have been lost if not for the renewed interest in the Hawaiian language that only surfaced in the past 20 years.

Silva, who is now working toward her Ph.D. in political science, said, "As a result from outside pressure my grandmother was not allowed to learn Hawaiian, and she was deprived of the knowledge that came with the language.

"There's this attitude that my children are going to be better off if they speak really good English, and it's only been recently that my mother and grandmother have gotten with it. I was 37 when I got my bachelor's degree and they were so proud of me. I think the tide has changed for them, too."

In another essay, "Reimagining Development and the Local in Lois-Ann Yamanaka's 'Saturday Night at Pahala Theatre,' " Candace Fujikane, an assistant professor of English at the UH, examines racial stereotypes in the work of the popular author.

She cites the poem "Kala Gave Me Anykine Advice Especially About Filipinos When I Moved to Pahala," in which Kala warns: "No whistle in the dark/or you call the Filipino man/from the old folks home across your house ... (H)e going drag you to his house,/tie you to the vinyl chair ..."

Fujikane, whose stepfather and half-brothers are of Filipino ancestry, said, "Because my family is Filipino I see things. I see the way people treat my family, and I see it more than if my family had been Japanese."

At times, Fujikane has felt alone in her criticism of Yamanaka's work. "Everything written about this writer has been positive and celebratory. We're so excited to see our experiences in print.

"She gets at relationships between people of different ethnic groups, but I don't feel the examination is helpful in some ways; it's hurtful in others," said Fujikane.

"At times I felt I was being so unlocal, so disrespectful," Fujikane said. "I do not want to silence this wonderful writer, but I did not want to be like a local person who runs away from issues."

Yamanaka answers that "Criticism is part of writing. As much as I don't like to be censored, Ms. Fujikane has the right to her opinion of my work and I don't wish to censor her in any way."

Fujikane said she does not believe in censorship, but says that while it is important for writers to be critical of their own group, "it is another thing for a writer to be critical of another group more disempowered than her own."

And she doesn't let readers off the hook, saying, "Both readers and writers need to think about their responsibilities."

By Craig T. Kojima, Star-Bulletin
"Whether it's good or bad, it's something that is valid," says Donna Tanigawa of getting women to look at their experience.

"Local style is 'don't talk about it' "

In the study of women's plight, Donna Tsuyuko Tanigawa turned to a most obvious subject, one she had been familiar with all her life - herself. As far as marginalized characters go, her credentials were impeccable: A Japanese-

American lesbian from Waipahu and a childhood victim of sexual molestation.

All this is discussed in her essay in "Women in Hawai'i: Sites, Identities and Voices." She characterizes her piece, "Trying Fo' Do Anykine to Donna: Fragments of a Prose Work," as a yosegire, or Japanese crazy quilt, in words.

Tanigawa pieces her quilt knowingly with fragments of memory, bits of literature, and scraps of humor and angst, in hope that the whole will add up to a picture of women's plight that no one can ignore. And the last thing she wanted to do was sound like an academic.

"I was interested in using the everydayness of life as commentary on larger issues.

"Local style is 'don't talk about it. You're gonna make people feel uncomfortable.' I had done work in a rape crisis center and found that it helps people to talk about things they are not comfortable with," she said.

"I try to do the same in the classroom, to get women to look at their experience. Whether it's good or bad, it's something that is valid and they can draw strength from that.

"It's more important than reciting the statistic that one in four women get raped, or saying that women are oppressed. So what? After that's said, what are we going to do about it? Statistics don't give hope."

Dwelling on statistics, Tanigawa said, enforces the "poor-me" approach in which people end up feeling victimized and powerless.

"The fact that so many women go through rape and survive is hope. There are ways - not necessarily to prevent rape, but - to teach women to be aware of it, learn from others' experience and remove themselves from situations in which they might be at risk."

Tanigawa started her academic career as a reluctant feminist. Although she teaches an introductory course to Women's Studies at Leeward Community College, she has never taken such a class.

"When I was an undergraduate, I thought of Women's Studies as a white feminist thing. I thought they were crazy women who hate men. I thought I would be forced to take political stances I didn't agree with. In some ways they were alienating to women."

What she did take were cross-

listed classes such as the sociology department's "Women and Crime," and she started reading literature by women of color. "They were works that crossed the boundary between the academic and community activism. They brought me in a more grounded way to Women's Studies."

Tanigawa started writing in pidgin about eight years ago to reclaim an identity she felt was being wiped out simply by attending the University of Hawaii, which she characterizes as being "so white."

"At UH, more and more now, local students are very proud that they don't speak pidgin. That is shocking to me, that they can say it with pride. It gives validity to the dominant culture at the expense of another that is just as valid.

"That says a lot about how we're educated and it raises issues of colonialism. There's a belief that you're smart if you can manipulate the language.

"To this day I don't like to talk in class, and it's not out of shyness, but I often feel that what I have to say doesn't sound as good as a mainland student."

That there is much work ahead in terms of same-sex relationships is also reflected in Tanigawa's life.

Her family knows she's a lesbian but has yet to acknowledge her sexual preference. Just like the reality, her conversation at this point is full of innuendo. "Most families have 'cousins' they know are 'da kine,' who might bring a 'friend' over for New Year's or other occasions. These 'friends' are accepted as long as no one says anything.

"For me, I'm happy, so I wondered, 'why wouldn't everyone else be happy?' At first I thought we should all talk about it, but now, I don't know. Part of (my reluctance) is to respect other generations."

So the work continues on her crazy quilt.


Tomorrow, from noon, at Borders Ward Centre: Haunani-Kay Trask poems; Noenoe Silva on Hawaiian women who organized against U.S. Annexation of Hawaii in the 1890s; Phyllis Turnbull shares her (and Kathy Ferguson's) study on the influence of missionaries and military forces; and Hediana Utarti-Miller on tells what it's like to be an "alien" from Indonesia in Hawaii.

Sunday, from noon, at Borders Waikele: Candace Fujikane explores links between pidgin literature, local identity, and sovereignty; Gaye Chan on images and themes behind artwork for "Women in Hawaii," Susan Hippensteele shares her work on forms of harassment at the UH-Manoa; Kathy Ferguson (see Phyllis Turnbull above); and Donna Tanigawa talks about her experience as a yonsei lesbian from Waipahu.

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