Grief, fear, rage, exhaustion—a relevant vocabulary, yet it falls short of the emotions we are holding.
It's been nearly three weeks since George Floyd was killed by the Minneapolis Police, and his name is one among too many. Protests have blossomed across the United States and the world. This past Saturday, 10,000 people turned out in Honolulu speaking out against police brutality and the larger political, economic, and educational systems of racial subjugation that haunt our present and our past. Speakers at the rally echoed the words of scholars like Audre Lorde, Angela Davis, James Baldwin, Fred Moten, Sonia Sanchez, Teresia Teaiwa and W. E. B. Du Bois—humanities scholars that have marked racism and violence as ingrained into the very foundation of our society. Racism is not an accident. It is not incidental. It is not isolated. It is a long integrated thread we must all work together to weave out of the fabric of our future.
As part of HIHumanities' response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we started reaching out to various writers, thinkers, scholars in our islands to build a body of Love Letters to Our Community. It's been slow work. Our culture trains us to be instant, but love is a long deliberative lasting act of commitment and compassion.
Today, our Love Letters contributor is artist, activist, humanities scholar Joy Enomoto. We asked her to write about her life and her art in the wake of the pandemic and in these long moments of social distancing and physical isolation. She gifted us with “Necessary Gestures,” a beautiful litany naming her kūpuna back to another moment of enforced isolation when people who contracted Hansen’s disease were exiled to Kalaupapa on Molokaʻi. She writes about how our current pandemic helps her draw connections to the experiences of her ancestors. She also writes about the experience of violence and trauma and the steep cost of these experiences yesterday and today. Joy wrote "Necessary Gestures" before May 25, 2020, yet her story of loss and resilience resonates today, because this story reminds us of our history and our present and the ways societal justice has faltered and failed us.
The Hawaiʻi Council for Humanities believes the promise of the humanities lies in its capacity to help us find, imagine, create, nourish, and sustain the best versions of ourselves and our society. In this time, in this place, we hear you; we see you. We stand together.
Necessary Gestures by Joy Enomoto
This is a letter of aloha and kanikau for my kupuna kualua, Keohokalole and my kupuna kuakahi, Annie Keoho and all of my kūpuna whose lives were forever changed by the maʻi ho‘oka‘awale ‘ohana.
Sometime before 1879, Keohokalole contracted Hansen’s disease and was sent to live in Kalaupapa with her kōkua, David Poʻai. I do not know where Keohokalole was originally from, but David was from Hamakuapoko, Maui where they lived together. David was allowed to stay with Keohokalole all the remaining days of her life. I take solace in knowing that she did not live or die alone in Kalaupapa. But all of their children born in Kalaupapa, were taken away from them and sent to live as orphans in Oʻahu.
Sadly, this is all we know of Keohokalole. My aunties have returned to Kalaupapa several times to find some trace of her, but it seems she was buried among the many unmarked graves. I search for her in the Papakilo Database and the nupepa and I turn to scholars like Noelani Arista and her work on kanikau, to map the winds and rains that she would have known. Keohokalole would have been among those who greeted Queen Liliʻuokalani when she came to visit in 1881 but beyond the stitching together of a few fragments of moʻolelo, I cannot know what life was like for her or how it felt as her children were taken from her arms, knowing she would never see them again. Keohokalole, e lei no au i ko aloha. I find myself thinking about what it means to be born in the time of a pandemic into a world were those who are ill cannot touch those they love. What does that mean for parents and what does that mean for their children?
As a mother and educator, history matters to me because it helps us understand our personal worldviews, as well how we conduct ourselves in our families, our community, and our society. The more we know our history, the more we broaden our understanding and become more empathetic and compassionate to ourselves and those around us. Not just history, but histories--US, World, Hawaiian, Black, Filipino, Japanese, Chinese, Micronesian, and the list goes on. My hope is that by knowing our histories we can be better at coming together to break the different barriers of exclusion, inequality, and racism that have plagued our society for far too long.
These 2020 Hawaiʻi History Day projects on racial injustice were created by students ranging from fourth to twelfth grade, from across the state. These projects researching histories of struggle, hope, and empowerment are a testament to our brave and amazing social studies teachers and youth ready to look to the past to break racist barriers today. We will continue to shine the light on our youth, and may these examples educate and empower all of us.
Director of Hawaiʻi History Day and K-12 Humanities Programs
Courage for (Im)Possible Futures
*The photo above captures a lei, made by Aiko Yamashiro, for your protection, for grieving and for fighting.
What happened among us instead were courageous and forthright interactions across very real differences, where people kept reaching toward each other even when connection got hard. As our Director of Hawai‘i History Day and K-12 Programming, Shannon Cristobal, said, “lots of growing and learning ahead for all of us...if we remain open.”
The horrible violence and intergenerational trauma Black, Brown, and Indigenous bodies experience in this country is nothing new. What feels new in these past two weeks is the outpouring of support and recognition and commitment from so many parts of our local and national community. “We stand with Black Lives Matter,” I have read, over and over, in expressions of grief and anger and care, in statement after statement from libraries and schools and museums and businesses and art spaces. From community organizations and political leaders and our friends on social media. Commitments of resources and time and humility and the desire to learn more to do the huge work of antiracism. Thousands of people putting these words into their bodies and voices, moving across pavement together, led by youth, led by ancestors. This vibrant surge of human love across our differences feels new, and world-making. In this collective call for justice and dignity, futures that once felt impossible are getting closer every day.How sacred is each and every life. How deeply, soul-stirringly stunning human beings can be.
We cannot achieve broad antiracist change in one conversation or one program or in this statement. Let’s stay open. For the hard personal and public conversations across difference, for the real redistribution of resources, for courageous policy, for true listening and learning about how the violence of racism and cultural barriers operate in Hawai‘i, past and present. As grantmakers, as educators, as an organization that believes in the life-changing power of human connection, we are here together with you for the tough and the tender and the unfinished, in the months and years ahead.
Opening and Unfolding:
Some Inspiration for Necessary Conversations
HIHumanities is committed to making a difference and building towards a better future where antiracism is a reality.
In the coming months and years, we will be taking part in educational opportunities that will help make us better listeners, better learners, better teachers, and better organizers. We will also be creating programming and digital spaces that expand and develop our ability to have difficult productive conversations that strengthen our communities and build more resilient connections.
So this is just a step in a long line of steps.
A community organization at the forefront of gathering and sharing complex stories of Blackness in Hawaiʻi is The Pōpolo Project, “a Hawai‘i-based nonprofit organization that redefines what it means to be Black in Hawai‘i and in the world through cultivating radical reconnection to ourselves, our community, our ancestors, and the land, changing what we commonly think of as Local and highlighting the vivid, complex diversity of Blackness.” The Pōpolo Project commentary page, contains a wealth of rich humanities posts discussing race in Hawaiʻi and Blackness in the Pacific. The Pōpolo Project also offers a course on Understanding Race and Belonging in Hawaiʻi and you can find wide ranging resources through #PopoloSyllabus.
HIHumanities is also committed to continue building and adding resources that substantively and productively contribute to these important conversations in Hawaiʻi and our broader society.
Here are a few more links that can serve as conversation starters:
We are the Radical Monarchs, featured in our last year’s Film For ThoughtCHANGE MAKERS series in partnership with Hawaiʻi International Film Festival (link takes you to our series booklet that includes and essay by Vera Zambonelli). Set in Oakland, a city with a deep history of social justice movements, this film documents the Radical Monarchs, which provides an alternative to the Scouts for girls of color between the ages of 8-13.
For nearly 40 years, slam poetry has left an indelible mark on how our culture relates to poetry. Slam poetry has had a substantial impact on the youth literary community in Hawaiʻi and its spaces have served as important venues for our community to begin to address tough subjects. These two poems are explosive and dynamic and analyze race in America in smart and interesting ways:
You can also read, Killing Poetry: Blackness and the Making of Slam and Spoken Word Communitiesby Javon Johnson, who is an Assistant Professor and Director of African American & African Diaspora Studies at University of Nevada, Las Vegas. This is an important work that offers a reminder (of particular relevance today) that sometimes we replicate the problems of our larger society within our smaller communities to the detriment of all of us.
In 2017, HIHumanities facilitated The Legacy of Race, a series of public programs designed to explore how race and culture shapes our relationships and the ways we see each other and treat each other. This resource includes several reading lists and the text from a public lecture by Dr. Lois E. Horton, "If It’s So Hard, Why Talk About It? American Slavery in History and Memory," given in honor of the memory of James Oliver Horton.
Hawaiʻi Council for the Humanities is a private nonprofit public humanities programming organization We are generously supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this newsletter do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.