Heed The Poets When Thinking Of Hawaii’s Most Needy
Originally published in Honolulu Civil Beat, April 4, 2019
As someone who recently testified in support of a living wage of $17 an hour at hearings at the state Capitol, I wish that as they decide on policies that could make a difference in people’s lives, our lawmakers could have heard what we heard from two poets.
The poets visited my honors class at the University of Hawaii Manoa earlier this year.
Christy Passion is a critical care nurse and she often ties her experiences as a nurse into her poetry. Many are quite dark, and show the true struggles that people in Hawaii face in order to survive.
My favorite of her poems is titled “Sand Island.” This poem talks about a community which is very tight-knit and everyone looks out for one another regardless if they are blood related.
One day, bulldozers come and force everyone out of Sand Island and the community is forced to leave. This poem was very powerful and reminded me of the housing and homelessness issue we face on Oahu.
Local families who can’t afford a place to live even with working one or multiple jobs are often forced to move if they are on the streets. They have nowhere to go because housing is so expensive. Even though Sand Island is talking about a specific instance in the past, this pattern is reoccurring in Hawaii, and local mothers, fathers and children are paying the price.
Ann Inoshita is a local poet of Japanese ancestry, with many of her poems drawing from this identity. She read us poems mostly from a child’s perspective which was an interesting approach. One of her poems she read to us was called “TV.” This poem was about a child watching TV and learning things about her culture and about Hawaii she never realized.
On TV, Hawaii is shown as paradise with palm trees, spotless beaches and hula dancers. However, what isn’t seen is the homelessness, the multiple jobs families need to get by, and people struggling to make ends meet.
The child in the poem had no idea that she lives in Hawaii because it is portrayed so differently than it actually is. The families on TV were rich without a worry in the world, while the child saw families struggling to make enough money to afford food and a place to live.
Inoshita also talked about her Japanese-American culture and how she is considered Oriental. This poem does a good job at showing how differently Hawaii is portrayed to the rest of the world versus how it actually is from a child’s point of view.
While both poets have their differences, one of the biggest similarities is their use of Pidgin in their work. Passion spoke about Pidgin as a way to break down barriers in relationships and to create a feeling of safety and security. She connected Pidgin to her work as a nurse, saying that speaking Pidgin helps local people at the hospital feel welcome and not alienated and alone.
Inoshita had a different experience with Pidgin, as she stopped speaking it at a young age because of bullying and feeling different from others. Over time, Inoshita slowly regained her Pidgin voice and uses it in her poetry.
Both Passion and Inoshita identify the importance of Pidgin language, but Passion has had a more positive association with it while Inoshita’s association is more complex with both positive and negative aspects to it.
Passion and Inoshita helped me to see a different side of issues in Hawaii and the struggles of finding affordable housing. Passion touched on homelessness and what life is like for homeless communities, while Inoshita talked about how Hawaii is perceived in a very different light than it actually is.
Passion and Inoshita helped me to understand how difficult it can be to get by from a local person’s perspective and what it’s like to have a family in Hawaii. I learned about the many impacts on the family: financial, social and psychological impacts that affect one’s life and prospects for success.
These poets really gave me an inside look into Hawaii, and I have so much respect for the families here as they go through so much just to support themselves and their loved ones. While it isn’t always easy, Passion and Inoshita also described what makes Hawaii beautiful and unique, which is what makes the struggle worthwhile, and why issues like homelessness and the need for a living wage need to be addressed more effectively than it has been to date.
Perhaps our lawmakers should invite these poets to read at the Capitol? It could change minds, move hearts and make for better public policies.
Caroline Cech is an environmental science major at the University of Hawaii Manoa.