Thursday, January 29, 2009
“There must be both the fight and the surrender in every woman’s life”---Kristal Brent Zook
Last week, I finished a book that satisfied the soul and twisted my emotions a bit (in a great way though) -- the book is “Black Women’s Lives: Stories of Power & Pain” by Kristal Brent Zook.
The women in Zook’s text are of either two types of Women. One on hand, she presented Women who have moved from places of fear to carving out places in their community where they have yielded resources and wisdom to other Black Women; there was the activist Sandra Anderson who worked to inform her small community of Quincy, Florida about the rapid rate HIV/AIDS in their small town to Sarah White and the Sistahs of the UFCW of the Delta who fought against inhumane work conditions in catfish and poultry plants. Then there were the other extreme, where some of the Women in Zook’s text have fallen victim to the pessimisms (i.e. drugs, prostitutions, HIV/AIDS) of society and now as adult Women they had to come face to face with their demons or Women whom the community let down like the young transgendered Lesbian Sakia Gunn. Whatever the story may have been and the life that they lived, what Zook went about doing in these essays, was to have all of these Women (whether living or dead) tell their story.
While I have yet to be on either extreme, heroine and feeling hopeless and I have not quite figure myself nor life out yet, I do know that I have a story to tell, every Sista has one and has the right to have her story be heard…. So I encourage Sistas and all Women of Color to write their stories and speak themselves into existence, because if we don’t know one will.
“We need only to look to each other to find the missing, hurt, and neglected pats of ourselves”
---Kristal Brent Zook
More than 30 years later we are still working through what it means to create community and transformation through a radical understanding of love. Join BrokenBeautiful Press and SpiritHouse for a discussion of this important essay!
In Durham we will be gathering at 1pm on Saturday February 7th.
The essay is available for free download at :http://blackfeministmind.wordpress.com/2009/01/29/where-is-the-love-session-ii/
Feel free to read along and gather wherever you are!
Monday, January 12, 2009
Posted by Bossip Staff
For those of you who believe that music is a reflection of what’s going on in society, your suspicions may be confirmed. Peep what Beyonce’s newest hit may indicate:
Beyoncé’s worldwide hit, Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It), is not just catchy – it may spell doom for international finance. According to findings by Phil Maymin, professor of finance and risk engineering at New York University, the more regular the beat on Billboard’s top singles, the more volatile the American markets. After studying decades of Billboard’s Hot 100 hits, Maymin found that songs with low “beat variance” had an inverse correlation with market turbulence. Which is to say, the more regular the song, the crazier the stock market.
And Single Ladies is very regular. “If it’s a steady beat, the same beat, no matter if it’s fast or slow, that’s a low beat variance song,” Maymin explained to PRI Radio. These are the songs that signal market volatility. “[But] if [the song] starts off slow and becomes fast and comes back down, that’s a high beat variance.” And it means the markets will be steady.
Some of history’s steadiest hits – such as A-Ha’s Take On Me – were released at times of market crash. Whereas complex songs, “with all these beat changes and stuff”, seem to catch on when the markets are sedate.
“The correlation is pretty strong,” Maymin argued. Weirder still, the beat variance of songs seems to predict the markets - not the other way around. According to his research, the market becomes unstable only after the charts are full of steady tunes - almost as if certain hits can cause market shake-ups. “The turbulence of the music predicts the steadiness of the market,” Maymin explained. And Beyoncé’s chart dominance? Well, it may not mean good things for your pension.
If there’s even a shred of truth to this theory, these heffahs better get out there and record some classic, dynamic music for a change - ASAP. Unfortunately, given the short list of Billboard chart toppers, we may very well be f*cked.
Saturday, January 10, 2009
> To: email@example.com
> *** Please forward far and wide! ***
> Race Revolt, a zine addressing issues of race, ethnicity and identity
> with a queer, feminist and diy focus, needs contributions for its 4th
> The theme of this issue will be 'Whiteness', this can be approached
> however you want.
> [Possible topics could be: migration, visibility, white privilege,
> passing, and more...]
> Looking for articles, scribbles, art, images and so on...
> Deadline has been set for January 30th but please get in touch with
> your ideas for contributions even if you cannot make this deadline...
artistic expression of folks involved in progressive movement. I,
WRITE will take the form of an anthology. Any submission that tackles
the question: why do I, as a progressive activist, use art as a form
of expression be it in my personal, professional or activist life? is
most welcome! Submissions can take the form of written poetry or prose
or any type of artwork that can be presented on a single page
(including photography of three dimensional objects). I look forward
to reading your submission!
Want more info?
Contact Adrienne Wallace: firstname.lastname@example.org
Submission Deadline: February 1st!!!
All Submission should be sent to: email@example.com
Please spread the word and thanks to those who have already submitted!
To: The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
This petition has been launched to object to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' announcement that it will give Jerry Lewis its Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award at the Oscar Awards ceremony on February 22, 2009.
During his decades of hosting the Labor Day Telethon, Jerry Lewis has helped to perpetuate negative, stereotypical attitudes toward people with muscular dystrophy and other disabilities. Jerry Lewis and the Telethon actively promote pity as a fundraising strategy. Disabled people want RESPECT and RIGHTS, not pity and charity.
In 1990, Lewis wrote that if he had muscular dystrophy and had to use a wheelchair, he would "just have to learn to try to be good at being a half a person." During the 1992 Telethon, he said that people with MD, whom he always insists on calling "my kids," "cannot go into the workplace. There's nothing they can do." Comments like these have led disability activists and our allies to protest against Jerry Lewis. We've argued that he uses the Telethon to promote pity, a counterproductive emotion which undermines our social equality. Here's how Lewis responded to the Telethon protesters during a 2001 television interview: "Pity? You don't want to be pitied because you're a cripple in a wheelchair? Stay in your house!"
Jerry Lewis has also made derogatory comments about women and gay men. His outdated attitudes and crude remarks are dehumanizing, not humanitarian.
Therefore, we the undersigned support the actions and arguments of the coalition group The Trouble with Jerry. We protest the Academy's characterization of Jerry Lewis as a "humanitarian." And we ask that the Academy cancel its plans to give Lewis the Hersholt Humanitarian Award.
View Current Signatures
Friday, January 9, 2009
Columnist, London Independent
Posted January 7, 2009 | 07:58 PM (EST)
Below the headlines about rocketing food prices and rocking governments, there lays a largely unnoticed fact: bananas are dying. The foodstuff, more heavily consumed even than rice or potatoes, has its own form of cancer. It is a fungus called Panama Disease, and it turns bananas brick-red and inedible.
There is no cure. They all die as it spreads, and it spreads quickly. Soon - in five, 10 or 30 years - the yellow creamy fruit as we know it will not exist. The story of how the banana rose and fell can be seen a strange parable about the corporations that increasingly dominate the world - and where they are leading us.
Bananas seem at first like a lush product of nature, but this is a sweet illusion. In their current form, bananas were quite consciously created. Until 150 ago, a vast array of bananas grew in the world's jungles and they were invariably consumed nearby. Some were sweet; some were sour. They were green or purple or yellow.
A corporation called United Fruit took one particular type - the Gros Michael - out of the jungle and decided to mass produce it on vast plantations, shipping it on refrigerated boats across the globe. The banana was standardised into one friendly model: yellow and creamy and handy for your lunchbox.
There was an entrepreneurial spark of genius there - but United Fruit developed a cruel business model to deliver it. As the writer Dan Koeppel explains in his brilliant history Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World, it worked like this. Find a poor, weak country. Make sure the government will serve your interests. If it won't, topple it and replace it with one that will.
Burn down its rainforests and build banana plantations. Make the locals dependent on you. Crush any flicker of trade unionism. Then, alas, you may have to watch as the banana fields die from the strange disease that stalks bananas across the globe. If this happens, dump tonnes of chemicals on them to see if it makes a difference. If that doesn't work, move on to the next country. Begin again.
This sounds like hyperbole until you study what actually happened. In 1911, the banana magnate Samuel Zemurray decided to seize the country of Honduras as a private plantation. He gathered together some international gangsters like Guy "Machine Gun" Maloney, drummed up a private army, and invaded, installing an amigo as president.
The term "banana republic" was invented to describe the servile dictatorships that were created to please the banana companies. In the early 1950s, the Guatemalan people elected a science teacher named Jacobo Arbenz, because he promised to redistribute some of the banana companies' land among the millions of landless peasants.
President Eisenhower and the CIA (headed by a former United Fruit employee) issued instructions that these "communists" should be killed, and noted that good methods were "a hammer, axe, wrench, screw driver, fire poker or kitchen knife". The tyranny they replaced it with went on to kill more than 200,000 people.
But how does this relate to the disease now scything through the world's bananas? The evidence suggests even when they peddle something as innocuous as bananas, corporations are structured to do one thing only: maximise their shareholders' profits. As part of a highly regulated mixed economy, that's a good thing, because it helps to generate wealth or churn out ideas. But if the corporations aren't subject to tight regulations, they will do anything to maximise short-term profit. This will lead them to seemingly unhinged behaviour - like destroying the environment on which they depend.
Not long after Panama Disease first began to kill bananas in the early 20th century, United Fruit's scientists warned the corporation was making two errors. They were building a gigantic monoculture. If every banana is from one homogenous species, a disease entering the chain anywhere on earth will soon spread. The solution? Diversify into a broad range of banana types.
The company's quarantine standards were also dire. Even the people who were supposed to prevent infection were trudging into healthy fields with disease-carrying soil on their boots. But both of these solutions cost money - and United Front didn't want to pay. They decided to maximise their profit today, reckoning they would get out of the banana business if it all went wrong.
So by the 1960s, the Gros Michel that United Fruit had packaged as The One True Banana was dead. They scrambled to find a replacement that was immune to the fungus, and eventually stumbled upon the Cavendish. It was smaller and less creamy and bruised easily, but it would have to do.
But like in a horror movie sequel, the killer came back. In the 1980s, the Cavendish too became sick. Now it too is dying, its immunity a myth. In many parts of Africa, the crop is down 60 percent. There is a consensus among scientists that the fungus will eventually infect all Cavendish bananas everywhere. There are bananas we could adopt as Banana 3.0 - but they are so different to the bananas that we know now that they feel like a totally different and far less appetising fruit. The most likely contender is the Goldfinger, which is crunchier and tangier: it is know as "the acid banana."
Thanks to bad corporate behaviour and physical limits, we seem to be at a dead end. The only possible glimmer of hope is a genetically modified banana that can resist Panama Disease. But that is a distant prospect, and it is resisted by many people: would you like a banana split made from a banana split with fish genes?
When we hit up against a natural limit like Panama disease, we are bemused, and then affronted. It seems instinctively bizarre to me that lush yellow bananas could vanish from the global food supply, because I have grown up in a culture without any idea of physical limits to what we can buy and eat.
Is there a parable for our times in this odd milkshake of banana, blood and fungus? For a hundred years, a handful of corporations were given a gorgeous fruit, set free from regulation, and allowed to do what they wanted with it. What happened? They had one good entrepreneurial idea - and to squeeze every tiny drop of profit from it, they destroyed democracies, burned down rainforests, and ended up killing the fruit itself.
But have we learned? Across the world, politicians like George Bush and David Cameron are telling us the regulation of corporations is "a menace" to be "rolled back"; they even say we should leave the planet's climate in their hands. Now that's bananas.
To learn more about the banana crisis, read the terrific book 'Banana: the Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World.'
Wednesday, January 7, 2009
I don’t wish to argue about whether or not black women are having children without being married, or whether or not it is occurring at a rate that is disproportionate to white women. I’m also not concerned about the supposed increased happiness and longer life spans of married people, or whatever.
I’d like to dialogue about what I perceive to be the problem of discussing black politics and “black issues” as though black people are one homogenous group with identical desires, family structures, and ideals. Black politics are not white politics in blackface. The old habit of acting as though black life is a poorer colored version of middle class white life has never been appropriate and it certainly is not now. The thing is, the American family is becoming increasingly queer. And this applies not only to the black family — although that’s primarily what I’ll be referring to in this post — but to families across racial groups. We are still having conversations about issues as though the Eurocentric “ideal” of the nuclear family is the norm and the model, and it is not. We have to accept that different family structures exist, are prevalent, and do work, and confront the fact that the discourse and policy propagated by the nation-state make it extremely difficult for queer families to survive.
Queerness in the black community — black folks are gay, not all black people are married, there are many multi-generational black households, and so on — is either ignored as though it doesn’t exist or referred to only as deviant. Why are we blaming single black mothers for the problems of a failing educational system and poorly designed social welfare programs that are supposed to act as some kind of end-all? Why do we have so much trouble turning to the state and looking at its role in perpetuating structural violence against non married (non heterosexual) households?
The 2000 census showed that the nuclear family now makes up just less than 24 percent of families in the United States. While in 1960, when nuclear families made up 45 percent of all households, the lie that the average American family was nuclear may have been closer to the truth, it is now merely unabashed rhetoric intended to generate a perceived norm and inspire conformity. What is more, the number of households that consist of people living alone or with people who are not related (which are curiously being called “nonfamily households”) make up about one-third of all households.
I want to point out that nuclear black families do exist, and have in the past, alongside other family arrangements. Before Moynihan declared in 1965 that the problem with black america was that “nearly one-quarter of negro births are… illegitimate,” and “almost one-fourth of negro families are headed by females,” 74 percent of all black families were maintained by a husband and wife, and 22 percent were headed by women. Interestingly, by 1982, almost two decades after the implementation of policy that followed his report, black families maintained by married couples had dropped down to 55 percent, and single mother households rose to 41 percent. (Check Survival of the Black Family by K. Sue Jewell.)
The principal problem with the argument that intergenerational crime and poverty are due to the prevalence of single black mother households (aside from its sexist undertones) is that it centers blame on the family structure itself — which is queer — as opposed to the state-sponsored hostility that incriminates that family structure and makes it so difficult for single-mother households to survive. The fact of the matter is, through policy, the nation-state systematically discriminates against single-mother households and other queer domesticities that are not husband-wife-child. There are federal and state policies that not only encourage marriage, but also actively discourage other forms of love and commitment by granting multiple economic and legal privileges to married couples. These privileges include sick leave to care for a loved one, crime victims’ recovery benefits, and estate tax benefits . Because single mothers are excluded from such benefits, and left only with the prospect of becoming entangled in the cobwebs of the U.S. welfare system, their families end up suffering more severely from substandard economic conditions than ones that mirror the nuclear mold.
The same is true for other queer domesticities that do not reflect the heterosexual patriarchal norm. The United States government’s pro-marriage policies are similarly hostile towards people who cohabitate, but are unmarried (be they heterosexual or not), and towards people of queer sexualities. In all but five states, queer couples are outlawed from sharing a union that is recognized by the state. And of course for the couples that do acquire such a union, their rights are only recognized within the boundaries of that state. If you’re a gay married couple in Massachusetts, you’re fine, but as soon as you drive into New Hampshire your marriage is no longer recognized by, nor protected under, the law.
Unmarried couples and their children are at an extreme economic, social, and legal disadvantage as a sheer result of their supposedly aberrant family structure. In such families, children do not have automatic access to the resources, benefits, and entitlements of both parents, such as employer-provided dependent health care; couples and their children are not protected by social security against a variety of risks such as survivor benefits in the case of death of a spouse; and partners are not acknowledged as next-of-kin in the case of medical emergencies. Through its unfair treatment of queer sexualities and domesticities, the nation-state has essentially transformed civil rights into privileges, granted to citizens based on the assumption of performed heterosexuality. It is an assumption of heterosexuality because while heterosexuality is inferred from marriage, similar to love, it is not a necessary component of marriage. There are marriages that exist for convenience, and for the sole purpose of receiving the multiple benefits conferred upon spouses by the state and federal governments
All of this being said, it is important to acknowledge that black people have queer domesticities and sexualities. In terms of queer domesticities, single-mother households are just one form of black queer familial organizaiton. K. Sue Jewell writes about “serial families,” which is the movement from one family structure to another. Examples of this would be a black female and her children returning to her family of orientation following a divorce, or black men and women traveling from town to town establishing temporary living arrangements with various black families during the mass migration of blacks to the North. There are also what have been called “familial constellations that exist as autonomous units or within families” such as a single-parent family that exists within a nuclear or extended family structure. Furthermore, there are multigenerational houesholds in which the grandmother is the primary caretaker of the children, or where there is a group of sisters raising children together, etc
Re: sexuality - not all black people are heterosexual. I’ll assume I don’t have to cite examples to prove that.
My point is that queering the black agenda (and the national agenda) is necessary. There are privileges that many queer American families are being excluded from, and like it or not this includes black families. The right to see your loved one in the hospital should not be contingent on sexual preference nor marriage status. The partners of single (black) mothers should be able to claim the child on their employer health insurance. Households headed by uncles and grandmothers should be able to file joint tax returns. If one partner dies, the other should be granted automatic inheritance in the absence of a will. These are rights that are kept not only from queer people of all colors, but also from nonqueer people who do not reap the benefits of acting as a nuclear family.
I’m not trying to say that queer family structures are invariably functional, just as I don’t believe the nuclear family is. I’m also not trying to belittle wife-husband-child (nor “husband”/man on his own, since I’m sure I’ll be accused of that as well). I’m trying to reconsider and rephrase some popular arguments. We talk about absent fathers without mentioning the prison-industrial complex. We talk about single-black mothers more than we talk about anti-queer federal policy.
The problem is not that people are different. The problem is not that girls aren’t marrying. The problem is not that black women are reproducing. The problem is that the dominant ideology governing what is socially acceptable and legally rewarding works to systematically discriminate against queer ways of life, including unmarried lifestyles, living without a pronounced male head of household, or being a single parent.
No, the black family does not always resemble the patriarchal nuclear family that has been deemed the most successful and productive. Yes, black single mother households have increased over the last four decades, and yes, a number of black children come from single-parent households. We should use these realities to question the formation of exclusionary norms, rather than to lambaste black morality with underlying aspirations to assimilate. Discourses around proper sex and family structures have regarded black families as violating social and moral code, while social welfare policies and pro-heterosexual marriage policies have cunningly made maintaining queer family structures particularly economically onerous. In order to constructively organize (and queer!) black politics, we cannot ignore the presence of black sexualities and domesticities on the periphery of dominant discourse, and the role of nation-state in perpetuating and punishing this queer positionality. We have to affirm our family structures, and redirect our criticisms towards the nation-state and its undeniable role in policing sex through criminalization of the black queer.
Monday, January 5, 2009
Read the book, purchase it from our online store.
In September 2008, ku'ualoha ho'omanawanui, PhD, sat down with Lurline Wailana McGregor to talk story about McGregor’s first novel, Between the Deep Blue Sea and Me. Dr. ho'omanawanui is currently assistant professor in the English department at the University of Hawai'i–Mānoa and serves as chief editor of 'Ōiwi: A Native Hawaiian Journal. Buy the novel here.
Tell us a little about yourself.
My late father, Calvin C. McGregor, was born to Daniel P. and Louise A'oe McGregor of Hau'ula and later Kalihi, O'ahu. Daniel’s mother was Kaloaokalani, the daughter of a Hau'ula konohiki. His father was a sea captain. From my father’s side, I am one-quarter Hawaiian, one-quarter Scottish and one-eighth Chinese. My mother is Madeleine Fauvre McGregor, from Indianapolis, Indiana. Her ancestors came to the United States from Germany. My mother came to Hawai'i on a tour after high school on the S. S. Lurline, where she met my father aboard the ship. They stayed in touch and got married after she finished college several years later ... so yes, I am named after the ship! I am the fourth of five children and the only girl. I grew up in Honolulu and attended Punahou School. I went to the Mainland for college and stayed on after that, living in various parts of the country before returning home for good in 1992. A two-minute video of my life is posted online at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JoqSSsMBC0c.
As a side note, the Louise A'oe McGregor Award for best song leader at the annual Kamehameha School Song Contest was named after my grandmother, who was in Kamehameha’s first graduating class of girls in 1897 and as valedictorian, was the first girl to receive her diploma!
What inspired you to write this novel?It is a story contextualized by the connectedness between generations, land, culture and spiritual guardianship-all drawn together in a 'now' time.
My inspiration started with the movie Whale Rider, based on the novel by Māori writer Witi Ihimaera. The movie is authentic in its portrayal of Māori people yet the story transcends culture and is able to resonate with a worldwide audience. It made me think about all the stories in my own Hawaiian community that could speak to and inspire a worldwide audience, and that a story told through a feature film would have the reach to do it.
As far as why this particular story, it came to me as I was sitting at Kaimana Beach one morning writing in my journal. At that time, there was almost daily news coverage about how members of Hui Mālama I Nā Kūpuna O Hawai'i Nei had repatriated items removed from the Forbes cave. The Bishop Museum had “loaned” them the items and now wanted them back, and Hui Mālama members were refusing to return them. Since I had been involved with iwi repatriation and passage of the Native American Graves Protection Act of 1990, I had very strong opinions about the controversy. I didn’t consciously set out to write a plot about taking artifacts from a museum, the story just started coming out when I began writing.
That was the inspiration for the movie script, which I spent two years writing. I started moving into the next phase of putting the script out to investors and producers but still felt that it wasn’t completely where I wanted it to be. I started thinking about writing it into a novel to help fill in what I thought were still gaps. At the same time, a friend told me about Kamehameha Publishing. I spoke with Matthew Corry, the managing editor, who thought my story sounded interesting and told me the next deadline for submission was in a couple of months. That became my real inspiration for actually sitting down and writing the novel—the deadline!
This moolelo is about the dilemmas we face in making choices that ultimately assure our survival.
You have a lot of experience with nonfiction and script writing. This is your first creative work of fiction. What do you see as some of the differences in the writing process between these genres?
I was very fortunate to have a writing partner for the film script project, Joy Harjo, a very accomplished American Indian poet, musician and writer, who also has had experience writing narrative film scripts. She led me through the process of writing fiction. I first had to know the characters. With nonfiction characters, whether they are historical figures or contemporary people, there is a lot of research involved to understand their personalities, what drives them, so that you can accurately portray them. In fiction, you make all that up and it has to be believable! It’s a different challenge, giving characters personality traits that will make them likeable or unlikeable and make their actions plausible. Same with the plot—it has to make sense so the viewer or reader can follow it yet have twists and turns so it’s not completely predictable. With both fiction and nonfiction there needs to be a story arc with a beginning, a middle and an end. Sometimes for nonfiction the story arc can be more challenging to create because history or a person’s life is ongoing, unless they’ve passed on or it’s about a specific event.
What do you see as some of the relationships between nonfiction and fiction? While this is a fictional story, it certainly resonates with real life experiences for Native Hawaiians and other indigenous people. It will strike the hearts of all readers, Indigenous and non-Indigenous alike.
Nonfiction and fiction writing are both forms of storytelling. I was always more interested in the nonfiction genre because true stories are more powerful than fiction, and there are so many mo'olelo that have lessons and morals, why not draw on history and real people? At the same time, I love reading fiction stories! Writing a fiction story, and more specifically a story rooted in my own Native Hawaiian culture, meant I would have to be accurate in the aspects of the culture and the community that I was portraying. I did as much research as I would do for a nonfiction piece. As a member of the Native Hawaiian community, I also had my own life experience to draw on. This story will probably resonate most closely with Native Hawaiians and other indigenous
people who have similar life experiences.
Could you give an example of where fiction crosses over to nonfiction?
The environmental issues affecting Hawai'i and government corruption is an example of where the story specifically crosses over to nonfiction. Lei is an environmentalist, and I wanted to go much further with cruise ship pollution, the beach cleanup, government protection of industry but instead I just touch on it. I even had the Superferry in the story at one point and the current governor’s real-life decision to waive environmental protection laws on their behalf, but it was starting to distract from the plot.
Will there be another book, perhaps?
I would like to write both Lei’s and Albert’s stories and have been thinking about them and what the plots and arcs would be. Albert would probably be a little easier to write because he has lived his life. Lei is still a work in progress.
I’ve noticed in Witi Ihimaera’s work, each novel focuses on a different family member or branch of the family; they are all related in their family genealogy, but the novels don’t necessarily intersect, they each tell their own story; that’s very fascinating.
In my case, Lei’s and Albert’s stories have already intersected, so Between the Deep Blue Sea and Me could be a taking off point for their stories or it could just be an episode in their very different lives.
Yes, Albert was interesting; I recognize him, but I don’t understand him. I think it’s a generational difference/attitude.
When my cousin Davianna read one of the earlier drafts of the movie script, she said she didn’t understand how the father could sell his family land. That was good feedback, and I hope I’ve made the rationale behind his actions clearer! Albert’s story characterizes many Hawaiian men of his generation and perhaps the previous generation. I look at my own father’s generation, who’s a full generation before Albert, and it was the same story. He was raised Hawaiian, but his life became mainstream American. The downtown Honolulu environment created the values against which he measured his success. Occasionally my mother would tell me it was sometimes hard for him because he felt that he had to choose [between being Hawaiian and being American], and it led to confusing and sometimes contradictory choices. Colonization didn’t happen all at once. It is an ongoing struggle, and Albert is a very complicated character.
A riveting and provocative look at the gifts we pass on ... This story is a gift.Davianna’s question is an appropriate one, especially for many of us in the younger generations who were born into a time of more cultural and political activism, like the Protect Kaho'olawe 'Ohana (PKO) movement. I have students now who don’t even blink an eye about Hawaiian language immersion schools, because they’ve been raised with—and are products of—those schools. So as readers, we don’t understand Albert as well, because we have cultural freedoms or access and aren’t faced with the same pressures and choices as previous generations.
Everyone has heard stories about how their grandparents or great-grandparents were forced to speak English in school and were punished for speaking Hawaiian. Our culture was not in very good shape by the time members of my generation, who came of age during the 1960s and 1970s, started protesting the bombing of Kaho'olawe, started Hawaiian language immersion schools, started the Hawaiian music renaissance, and built and sailed Hōkūle'a using the navigation system of our ancestors. My generation recognized that it would be up to us to carry on our ancestors’ traditions as a living culture. As a generation, we had to overcome negative stereotypes about our people to become truly proud to be Hawaiian. There are different pressures on the next generation, but pressures nonetheless.
I found the part of the novel that deals with the cruise ship pollution absolutely shocking, not because it seems unauthentic, but because it’s not discussed very often. We hear about Kaho'olawe, Mākua Valley, and the Superferry, but I’ve heard that the environmental damage and problems that happen with the Superferry pale in comparison with the cruise ships. I couldn't put it down until I finished. It's wonderful!
Lei showing Charlie the pictures that the lifeguard took was based on an actual event. Archie Kalepa, a big wave surfer and lifeguard, was the one who was on the Jet Ski who saw it all. He saw the quarter-mile of garbage bags floating behind the ship, well within the three-mile limit of land. I started reading up on cruise ship pollution and the environmental groups trying to deal with it. It’s all right there on the web! The cruise ships pollute knowingly and purposefully, then they pay the fines when they are caught. It’s only a few million compared to the billions they make. The federal government and Congress won’t do anything.
The cruise ship issue almost took the spotlight away from the main focus of the novel, the repatriation of the pōhaku manō. It is such a big issue, calling for its own story to be told in another novel, perhaps Lei’s novel.
I hope I’ve piqued readers’ interest to start learning about cruise ship pollution. It’s destroying the ocean and reefs and beaches worldwide, yet it’s rarely discussed. People have no idea. It’s not the only cause of ocean pollution, but it is a big one.
Who is your favorite character in the novel?
Lei is probably my favorite. She’s the most interesting, mostly because of everything she has had to overcome to get to where she is. Lei appears to be the antagonist at first, but she is not, she is actually a second protagonist. I had in mind the Pele and Hi'iakaikapoliopele relationship. Lei and Moana were close when they were young, then separated by jealousy when they got older. Moana’s character is not as fiery as Pele’s, and Lei’s personality is a little wilder than Hi'iaka’s, but she is still the healer.
Do you see this project shifting you away from documentary filmmaking?
No, it’s more of an opening up for future projects. Now I want to write more novels in addition to making a feature film and more documentaries!
From an indigenous perspective, how do you see filmmaking as a modern expression of oral tradition?
People use the tools that they have and in the old days, memory and leo were the most readily available tools. Then came print. Today, film is a useful means for indigenous storytelling and passing on knowledge. The biggest difference is that through film, the knowledge becomes accessible to everyone. There are cultural practitioners who don’t want to share their mana’o with just anyone or have it taken out of context and for that reason, will not allow themselves to be filmed.
Before Whale Rider, there were a number of indigenous filmmakers in other parts of the Pacific who made films that tell very compelling stories, Māori films like Barry Barclay’s Te Rua, or works by Aboriginal film maker Tracy Moffat. Why do you think there really haven’t been Native Hawaiian films outside of documentaries? What are some of the challenges to this kind of filmmaking?
A journey of self-realizatoin and expanded cultural consciousnessThere are film commissions in Aotearoa and Australia to which anyone can apply for funds and support. There is also the Aboriginal film commission in Australia and the Treaty of Waitangi in Aotearoa, both of which create some equity in providing government money specifically for indigenous filmmaking. Our option is Hollywood, which is economically driven and caters to mass audiences. Hence, indigenous stories—and indigenous filmmakers—are largely ignored. When indigenous narrative films are made in this country, they are usually low budget, which can affect production quality and certainly marketing.
Good production quality can be an issue with novels as well.
Integrity and caring about details is probably the most important ingredient to good production quality. It has been a blessing to work with members of the Kamehameha Publishing staff who are all sensitive to cultural issues and who take so much pride in their work and in the products they put out.
Unfortunately, that is a problem for Hawai'i writers who are published on the continent or by publishers who lack cultural knowledge about Hawai'i. The result is basically good novels, but issues like inaccurate language use slip through. If there was at least one editor with knowledge of these things on those projects, they would have turned out better, with less criticism and a bigger readership.
I’ve heard horror stories about Hawai'i writers and their experiences with Mainland editors and publishers. That’s another reason I’m so grateful to everyone at Kamehameha Publishing! Everything I was concerned about in my manuscript we addressed together. They made suggestions that made the story even stronger and better than the original manuscript. They brought their own cultural expertise to the story, as well as an outside eye, going through it carefully, catching things that didn’t work.
Details of place and specifics are the “'ono” of story and literature for our kūpuna, and these things are culturally important to us.
Yes. That’s why it means so much to me that Kiele Akana-Gooch at Kamehameha Publishing created oli for Moana and her 'ohana. I originally had generic oli in the book, but now the chants speak specifically to family and place, which will give Hawaiian language readers insights into the plot before others figure out what’s going on.
I like Kahi'u’s character, how he just pops up. He’s charming and funny, and he reminds me of the local boys catching a ride to the beach, who jump in and out of the back of my truck, going, “Tanks Aunty!” with a shaka and a smile. His role is important. He’s like a little figure, but he’s really not.
He’s another character I enjoyed writing. I wanted to develop him more, but since he’s a shark, he simply doesn’t have the same human complexities as the others. At the same time, he had to be likeable and endearing enough to Moana that she was compelled to come back home to help him.
Haunani Trask often quotes Toni Morrison’s statement, “The best art is political.” Politics meaning, too, that you’re keeping something cultural alive that the colonizers didn’t or don’t want to be kept alive (like Hawaiian language, or hula). Do you see the process of telling your story—such as working with a Hawaiian publisher, wanting a Hawaiian film crew and actors being involved, and Hawaiian control of the projects—as being even more important, in some respects, than the story itself?
Everything is always political. From the writing to the publisher to the film crew to the actors, it is very important to me that everything be as Hawaiian and authentic as possible. I hate to qualify by saying “as possible” rather than just saying everything must be Hawaiian, but when it comes down to it, if it means getting the movie made versus not getting it made, I will have to see what the offer is and if I can live with it. After all, politics is also the art of compromise.
You’ve mentioned that you envisioned this as a movie, and then wrote the novel. What are some of the differences in the writing process between the two?
In writing the movie scenes that take place in the ocean, for example, I was always aware of budget. It’s very expensive to film on the water, whether it’s the canoe shots or underwater or swimming. It was very liberating not to have to think about how I was going to write a scene without it costing hundreds of thousands of dollars. Another example is that in the book all I had to write was, “Moana was thinking about ... as she was driving.” In the movie script I had to figure out how I was going to show what she was thinking without having her calling her friends all the time. That’s why writing the novel was an opportunity to really flesh out the characters, because I could go so much deeper into what they were thinking without having to do it through dialogue or voice-over.
Hawaiian students tell me, “We’re not into reading and writing because we come from an oral culture.” How would you respond to them?
I would first want to know what they are into and how television, internet and filmmaking fit into their paradigm. They’re not making a political statement unless they can demonstrate that they are using some other non-Western influenced means to develop and express their intellect. When reading and writing came to the islands almost two hundred years ago, our kūpuna became highly literate. The amount of intellectual discourse in the many Hawaiian language newspapers speaks for itself. There is as much power in the printed word as there is in the spoken word.
Who are some of your favorite writers?
Ever since I discovered Māori author Patricia Grace in the early 1990s, I have read everything by her. I would be remiss if I also didn’t mention Kurt Vonnegut (my second cousin on my mother’s side). I try to read most of what is locally written and written by Pacific Island writers as well as others, both fiction and nonfiction. I like a lot of writers, too many to name here!
What do you find appealing about work by other writers?
Good writing is paramount. After that I love intelligent thinking and good storytelling, like with Patricia Grace’s work. Her stories are rooted in Māori culture, but they transcend to a worldwide audience. You don’t have to be Māori to appreciate and understand her stories, or Witi Ihimaera’s.
Who do you visualize as your primary audience?
I have written this book first and foremost for my own Native Hawaiian community, living here and outside Hawai'i. Next, it is for the Hawai'i community and everyone who embraces our culture. I also hope this book resonates with other indigenous cultures of the world, from the Pacific Islands to North and South Americas and beyond. After that, I hope all people who care about the earth will read this and connect with the story.
There’s the stereotype that Hawai'i is a paradise in the middle of the ocean and is thus immune to environmental issues and other problems, like illegal, toxic dumping on the continent.
The garbage that gets dumped at sea has to go somewhere. People are fooling themselves if they believe we are immune to environmental pollution.
What are some of the influences along the way that have inspired the work you do?
Since the 1980s, my work has mostly had to do with perpetuating Hawaiian culture. When I was staff for Hawaiian issues on the Senate Select Committee on Indian Affairs in Washington, D.C., my staff colleagues were mostly American Indians. I learned a lot about their issues, from water rights to health care to sovereignty. After I came home I was the executive director of Pacific Islanders in Communications, a broadcast consortium dedicated to empowering indigenous Pacific Islanders to tell their own stories through the medium of television. This job allowed me to travel around the Pacific and meet other indigenous Pacific Islanders and experience their cultures. I saw how television has become a colonizing tool for traditional Island cultures. I was also involved with Hui Na'auao, a Hawaiian sovereignty education organization in the early 1990s, through which I met and talked with many Native Hawaiians throughout the islands about what sovereignty meant to them. At the same time I was involved with Hui Mālama I Nā Kūpuna O Hawai'i Nei and participated in some of the iwi reburials. All of these experiences have helped to shape my thinking and inspire my work.
Do you expect criticism of the novel?
There are many opinions about Hawaiian culture: what’s right, what’s authentic, what’s politically correct. I’ve done my research, I’ve consulted with cultural experts whom I respect and trust, and I’ve asked permission.
Is there any pressure because people might expect the novel to represent every aspect and perspective of Hawaiian culture?
Since this book has been my own idea and my own project, I don’t think anyone besides me has expectations.
Similar things have happened in real life—the disappearance of the kā'ai from Bishop Museum, and the controversy over the Forbes cave artifacts.
Even the earthquakes off 'Ewa in the novel have a basis in real life. I’ve talked with cultural experts, geologists, legal experts—everything in the novel is based on real incidences. I’m just reporting facts in a fiction framework.
As a writer, I’m always interested in how other writers do this—intersect reality and fiction. How did you determine what to accurately represent and what to fictionalize?
For the cultural aspects of the novel, it was critical that everything be accurate. When it came to the characters and their scenarios, I was concerned about consistency and believability. Events have to happen so the story can advance, and there has to be a beginning, middle, and a conclusion. The fictional plot moves the story forward, but within that the cultural descriptions are accurate.
What other kinds of influences do you see on this novel?
The story of Pele and Hi'iaka and Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey are my most important literary influences.
What do you hope people get out of the novel?
I hope people will think about how every action they take—whether as individuals or as a community—does matter. I hope people also will reflect on how change starts with taking personal responsibility. Mostly, I hope the novel will convey that it is everyone’s responsibility to mālama i ka 'āina, that our role as humans is to be the protectors, not exploiters of the earth, and that we are connected to all things.
What do you see as a challenge for Hawaiians today?
Identity is our biggest challenge, as Hawaiians and as Americans. Where does one begin and the other one end? We live in a capitalistic, not a subsistence economy. Each of us needs to decide how we will keep the gifts of our ancestors alive in the twenty-first century while earning a living within the construct of mainstream American culture.
Much of that begins with the overthrow, when the difference between a national identity and an ethnic/cultural identity becomes split. It’s different in other parts of the Pacific, where the blood quantum issue we deal with is laughed at.
Blood quantum is a tool of the colonizers to divide us.
What do you think are some of the successes of Hawaiian culture today?
Our language, which was near extinction forty years ago, is thriving today. Hula, chant and music are flourishing. For the last three decades, Hawaiians have been sailing Hōkūle'a all around the Pacific, using only the navigational tools of our ancestors. Now there are many sailing canoes and students learning ancient navigation. These are all tremendous cultural accomplishments.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
No matter who we are or where we come from, we all have ancestors. Sometimes knowing their stories can help us to understand who we are and can even guide us in our daily lives. As a Hawaiian, I feel very enriched by my ancestry and what I’ve inherited from my culture. It’s a blessing and a responsibility.
Story is my way to give back to my culture, to help move it forward, and to encourage other Hawaiians, especially young Hawaiians, to believe in themselves, believe in our culture, and to have confidence that we can be all the things we want to be. It is important to know ourselves as Hawaiians.
And knowing that these things transcend time—our ancestors love to travel. They did it on canoes, my grandfather was a bus driver, my sister and I love to go cruising—
I look at my own seafaring ancestors and my love of the ocean and I smile at the title of my book, Between The Deep Blue Sea and Me. We carry our ancestors’ DNA. These gifts have always been relevant, we just need to understand them in a contemporary context.
Mai'a Williams and Alexis Pauline Gumbs invite you to participate in a new website documenting and continuting the solidarity of women of color in the United States with the people of Palestine.
email firstname.lastname@example.org with any statements of solidarity or documentations of solidarity in action that you would like to share. below is an a excerpt from the site.
we still are here
with our words and with our actions.
on January 3rd, 2009 UBUNTU a women of color/survivor led coalition in Durham North Carolina organized a vigil in solidarity with the people of Gaza. Here are some captioned images from the event.
(photos by Ajamu Dillahunt)
other coverage of the Durham event