Saturday, August 24, 2013

Monsanto's in Hawaii (and it's here to stay?)

I went to college in San Francisco and wrote for the university's paper. It was not uncommon to see activists of all stripes.
Bike messengers wanted equal rights with automotive commuters. Students were driving military recruiters off campus. The pole dancers' union (Local 790) wanted a better contract. You name it, we saw it.
Then there was Monsanto. It didn't seem real. My friend from Santa Cruz provided the perfect catchphrase for the anti-Monsanto movement: "Blame it on Monsanto."
It was rumored that Monsanto's corn seeds were spreading uncontrollably in Mexico. Monsanto seeds supposedly spread to fields and farms that nobody wanted, and started contaminating the indigenous strains of corn.
I was skeptical. That was preposterous, I thought. It had to be another fable made up by neo-hippie activists that need to get out of the Bay Area every now and again.
In law school, Monsanto came up again, but only in passing. I learned that ultraconservative Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas worked for Monsanto as a young lawyer soon after graduating from Yale Law School in the 1970s. By then, I was living in Kansas, where the only protesters were for the right.
I never thought Monsanto would find its way to the islands, but I was wrong. Monsanto's here. The fields along Piilani Highway at the entrance to Kihei are Monsanto products. There is an even more visible presence on Molokai and in Central Oahu. Kamehameha Schools has been leasing land on Oahu to Monsanto since 1999. The Monsanto seed company brings in more money to the state than sugar and pineapple. This industrial giant is a new player in the islands and is considered a rising star in the business community.
The protesters came here too. On the north shore, anti-Monsanto graffiti appears on stop signs, the bunker-turned-message-board next to Maliko Gulch, and even on that bike path between Paia Bay and Baldwin Beach Park. This year, there have been two large protests in Kahului in which folks gathered to march against the company.
A lot of the anti-Monsanto folks on Maui are cousins of the Northern Californians. In fact, some are former Northern Californians. But before we just wipe off the graffiti and marginalize the protesters as bourgeois Mainlanders, consider Vernon Bowman.
Bowman is not your average anti-Monsantonian. He would most definitely stand out in the vitamin room at Mana Foods. He's a 75-year-old soybean farmer from Indiana. Bowman bought Monsanto's soybean seeds that were resistant to Roundup and other herbicides. Monsanto products like this one are limited to a single harvest and require purchasing new seeds every year. Bowman bought Monsanto seeds secondhand at a grain elevator and used them late in the planting season. He even considered them subpar seeds.
Monsanto sued for patent infringement and won around $84,000. The case went up to the United States Supreme Court earlier this year. Justice Thomas did not recuse himself, but it didn't matter. The high court ruled unanimously for Monsanto. When it handed down the ruling in May, Monsanto had already sued 466 farmers and smaller agriculture businesses in 2013 alone. So maybe Monsanto protesters aren't just wackos.
On the other hand, Monsanto says that their fears are misguided. Monsanto products are not going to hurt organic farmers. They will not cross-pollinate with indigenous and native plants, and they are safe to consume.
In fact, Monsanto likes to point to the papaya case to show that genetically modified foods have a place here. Local farmers have fought against the papaya ringspot virus since the 1940s. By the 1990s, it threatened the very existence of papayas in the islands. To combat the problem, the government introduced a genetically modified and virus-resistant papaya.
The "rainbow" papaya created a buffer zone that allowed farmers to harvest an organic, nongenetically modified strain of papaya. It was a perfect example of organic farmers and agribusiness working together for the benefit of the community.
Now it seems that the Big Island may be banning even that papaya.
On top of its attempts to allay such fears, Monsanto is giving back to the community. It awards public schools thousands of dollars to fund science programs and horticulture. The company also provides much-needed jobs on Molokai and has helped to diversify our state's tourist-based economy. State and local governments are happy with the revenues and support, and they like relying on something other than the tourist industry.
Genetically modified foods and tampering with the building blocks of our food will never sit well with us. It's a new frontier. On the other hand, science is about exploring the unknown to make life better. The more involved Monsanto becomes in Hawaii, the more people will want to know about it and its seeds.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Many Different Hawaii Supreme Courts

This month, the Hawaii Supreme Court heard arguments for a case at Baldwin High School. This was the first time the court ever left Oahu. It's part of a community outreach program from the Judiciary designed to show students what the justices actually do.
This was a big deal. After all, from a lawyer's perspective, Maui is one of the Neighbor Islands. (The phrase itself is new and politically correct. When I was younger, we were simply known as the "outer islands." The old term always reminded me of the outer rings of Saturn or Outer Mongolia.)
This newspaper, and other media, ran a story about it and noted that this was the first time the court had convened on Maui since the middle of the 19th century. These reports of an earlier instance, however, are wrong.
It's a common misunderstanding. The Supreme Court drapes itself in a lot of tradition. Look at the building. Ali'iolani Hale is a sandy-colored palatial building with columns, a large clock, and massive bricks straddling King and Queen streets in downtown Honolulu. It serves as the stately backdrop for the famous statue of King Kamehameha I and is in thousands of snapshots by tourists from around the world.
That's where the Hawaii Supreme Court usually hears arguments. Inside there are white-with-marble floors and staircases, a museum, and official oil portraits of the chief justices from the recently retired Ronald Moon to William Little Lee, the New Yorker who was appointed to the Supreme Court of the Hawaiian Kingdom in 1857. Every session begins with a strange cry: Oyez! Oyez! Oyez!
But don't be fooled by ancient French, white marble steps, or 19th-century oil portraits. The Supreme Court that sits on King Street today isn't all that old. The Hawaii Supreme Court is only as old as the state itself. It was created by the Hawaii Constitution in 1959. The court that came out here in the 1800s was very different institution with a similar name. The difference is far from technical.
The various constitutions for the Hawaiian Kingdom created a Hawaii Supreme Court. So did the brief, oligarchic Republic of Hawaii. These courts are very different institutions with the same name.
This is exactly what caused the problem and scandal with the Bishop Estate. Bernice Pauahi Bishop's will expressly states that trustees are to be appointed by the "Justices of the Supreme Court." The will also added that trustees had to be Protestant.
Long after statehood and after the Protestant-trustee requirement, the Hawaii Supreme Court continued to appoint trustees. It somehow did not matter that probate courts normally appointed trustees and received reports for charitable trusts.
The territorial Supreme Court was probably the most different animal of them all. Territorial justices were appointed by the president of the United States with the consent of the U.S. Senate - people who had no ties to the islands. But statehood changed all that.
Our court today has almost no federal oversight. It's created by the state constitution, not a piece of congressional legislation. Our justices are appointed by the governor of Hawaii and their tenure is reviewed by a state commission, the Judicial Selection Commission. Most importantly, the state Supreme Court is free to interpret state laws and the state constitution as it sees fit. Its decisions cannot - unless they violate federal law - be overturned by any other court.
This is not a technical nicety. Early justices of the new Supreme Court were cognizant of their break with the past. When Gov. John Burns appointed his former lieutenant governor, William Richardson, in 1966 to head the court, the institution was ready to depart from not only federal precedent, but from the laws and decisions of older Hawaii supreme courts.
The Richardson Court started to really distinguish itself from its territorial antecedent. Its rulings were much more sensitive to the rights of Native Hawaiians. It ruled that beaches and waters were held in the public trust. In criminal cases, the court has regularly departed from federal cases and created more protections for the accused.
The justices themselves were different too. In less than 10 years, the court went from presidentially appointed justices to a group of local lawyers from vastly different backgrounds, ethnicities and religions. Today, the court continues to be one of the most diverse courts in the nation.
Even though the Hawaii Supreme Court still hears cases in the same building as the courts of past governments, it's not the same court. This court has the freedom to make a clean break from the precedents of the past whenever it feels the time is right. When that time comes depends on the consciences of the justices themselves.
- December 28, 2012

Latinos are the Nisei of Tomorrow

Immediately after the polls confirmed that Barack Obama had been elected for a second term, pundits across the country announced that Latino voters had finally made their voice heard. The sleeping giant has awoken, they exclaimed. The new shift has caused the Republican Party to think about its future and the need to change its tone toward Latinos and others. It should. This could mark the start of a sea change.
It's not the first time a new class of voters started to flex their political muscle. Just look at our own history.
Territorial politics were dominated by a Republican Party representing a white oligarchy and its business interests for nearly 50 years. Republican supremacy had a lot to do with voter exclusion. The immigrants from Asia were not allowed to vote because federal legislation stopped them from becoming citizens.
The exclusion, however, could not extend to their children. The first section of the 14th Amendment guarantees that anyone born in the United States is a citizen of the United States. Later, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed that that right extended to territories of the United States too.
This meant that the Hawaii-born sons and daughters of Asian immigrants were citizens, while their parents were not. It also meant that an entire generation of children who grew up watching disenfranchisement, social exclusion and economic inequality was going to someday be able to vote and participate in their government - rights that their parents were denied.
Many in the Republican Party then saw that change was on the horizon. In the 1940s, while the Republicans still controlled the territorial Legislature, they adjusted their policies. For example, Republicans passed the "Little Wagner Act" that allowed cane and pineapple workers to organize and join labor unions. By the 1950s, they had become much more moderate than their Mainland colleagues. Asian-Americans were on the ticket and William Quinn was a model Hawaii Republican who worked with the opposition.
Unfortunately for the Republicans, most of the new electorate of Asian-Americans did not embrace the party that made life difficult for their parents. With every election, Democrats won more and more seats. In 1954, they took the Legislature and the congressional delegate - a nonvoting member of Congress. The Democrats have never lost control of the state Legislature since that election.
Ironically, no one on the Mainland seemed to notice. When Hawaii entered the union with Alaska in 1959, Mainland politicos believed that the two additional states would maintain the balance of power: The Republicans would keep Hawaii, the Democrats Alaska. Of course, we all know what happened. Hawaii has consistently sent Democrats to Washington and became the home state for national figures like Daniel Inouye, Eric Shinseki and Barack Obama. Oddly enough, Alaska switched too and gave us big-name Republicans like Ted Stevens and Sarah Palin.
Hawaii's history shows that when a generation that comes of age under the shadow of discrimination and inequality starts to vote, we can expect a momentous shift in power.
So what's going to happen in Arizona?
There, the Republican Party controls the state and most local governments. It faithfully sends Republican senators and representatives to Washington. It has passed laws authorizing police officers to demand those suspected of unlawfully entering the United States to provide documentation of their immigration status. This is where Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arapaio continues to get re-elected. Arapaio's policies include a tent city for inmates (he even called it a concentration camp) that exposes them to Phoenix's elements day and night.
What about Texas with its similar "papers please" law? Or Alabama, which passed anti-immigration laws so strict that workers left crops abandoned and rotting in the fields? And what about Kansas' secretary of state, Kris Kobach, the lawyer who helped write these laws?
The change in the Republican Party has already started. Mainstream leaders are talking about reaching out to Latino voters but are finding opponents within their own party. Many, like Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, have clearly shown that unless the Republican Party changes, it will be left behind.
Across the country a new generation of Latino citizens who were born and raised in the United States is gradually reaching majority age. They have witnessed - like the Asian-Americans in Hawaii decades ago - disenfranchisement, economic inequality and state-sponsored exclusion.
Thanks to the 14th Amendment, once they are able to vote, they will have the ability to radically shift the balance of power in these traditionally red states. If the Republican Party continues to target them and their parents, then the wave of change that started in Hawaii could reach the Mainland. Arizona, Texas and even the Deep South could go blue and never look back.
- January 25, 2013

A Love Letter to Kihei

We've all heard complaints about Kihei. It's too hot. It's ugly. It's overrun with tourists walking around in snow-white shorts and matching shoes or green newcomers zipping around on mopeds. Maybe it's true.
Kihei may not look like your typical town on Maui. Compared to Wailuku or Hana, the subdivisions are pretty new. And yes, there are a lot of condominiums squeezed between South Kihei Road and Piilani Highway.
But despite the way it looks, Kihei isn't all that different than the other towns on Maui. In fact, South Maui carries on a long tradition in Hawaii.
More than a hundred years ago, sugar and pineapple were the biggest industries in the islands. Sugar and pineapple companies owned most of the viable lands, ran the major economic engines of the time, and controlled just about every facet of the government.
The companies recruited workers from all over the world to sweat it out in the fields, harvest the cane and run the mills and canneries. They brought in immigrants from Asia, Europe and the Mainland to the islands and settled them into small, single-industry towns with such precision that they could essentially dictate who would stay and who would have to leave.
Waves of immigrants from Japan, China, Portugal, Puerto Rico and the Philippines were no accident. The migrations were the result of conscious decisions of the landowners and industrial giants. They were assigned to little towns built entirely for a single industry, such as Paia and Lanai City. These are the same towns we now call "historic" and consider the quintessential local towns now that the industries that created them are long gone.
Now, look again at Kihei. If sugar and pineapple were the industries of the past, tourism and construction are the industries of today. Instead of a compact company town, we have an unplanned boomtown on the dusty south shore.
Of course, the hotels and construction industries aren't as heavy-handed as their predecessors. They cannot pick where most of their workforce comes from, nor do they have company towns. However, as was once the case in Puunene, Kihei is where the workers in today's industries call home. And like the first generation of folks to arrive in Puunene, most of the people who actually live in Kihei are new to Maui.
It's full of newcomers, immigrants from other countries, and even locals who all come together to work in pretty much the same industry and live side by side. Just about everyone who lives there came from somewhere else, be it Mexico, Missouri or Makawao.
The story of the generations of people who move there, work hard in the service industry and raise their kids on the south side continues the local tradition. Plantation camps were full of people from other places getting together and working for a single employer. The story isn't that much different for a lot of people who call Kihei home. Most people living in Kihei work at the major resorts in Wailea, run late shifts at high-end restaurants, and man the kiosks and counters for vacationing tourists.
It may not be pretty for some, but then many probably didn't think the towns created by the sugar and pineapple industries to be all that attractive either. Nobody at the time figured that Paia would become such a quaint, gentrified center for organic food sellers, high-end yoga shops and hip tattoo parlors.
Kihei will get there too. South Maui is maturing. Generations of families are claiming Kihei as the only home they have known. The need for a high school is becoming more and more pressing. People who moved there in the 1970s, '80s and '90s want to raise their own children there. They want parks, schools, a hospital, and the infrastructure enjoyed in more established towns on the island.
Kihei is going to be old someday. It will have a historical society and be considered quaint. Maybe future Mauians will demand that its government preserve that late 20th- and early 21st-century look. Maybe they will argue that "historic" homes in Maui Meadows or the "classic" condominiums on South Kihei Road are the best examples of the tourism or construction industry booms of the era and should be spared the wrecking ball. We could even have a tourism museum where old pictures and real uniforms of pool attendants and valets are on display. Imagine hearing Kihei folks debate how much longer their ancestors have lived, worked and played along the sunny, hot stretches of South Kihei Road.
By then, Maui may find a new industry and a new startup town will be there for everyone to frown upon.
- February 8, 2013

In Defense of the Steven Tyler Act

Ironically, the so-called "Steven Tyler Act" needs a better press agent. It's really too bad the media (and the Legislature itself) decided to call it the Steven Tyler Act in the first place. Extremely wealthy people who own private jets, fly out to Maui and hang out at exclusive estates and homes aren't the most sympathetic folks.
But that doesn't mean the bill itself is a waste of time. These days, it's not hard to fall victim to invasions of privacy. With smartphones running rampant, a plaintiff doesn't need to be a celebrity at all. Could it perhaps be used by anyone who finds an embarrassing picture from the beach or the backyard on Facebook? I'd bet that no one would like a personal photograph or an awkward birthday photo to become an overnight Internet meme.
People are ridiculed, pranked and bullied relentlessly by others on the Internet. In some instances, it could easily be considered an invasion of privacy and actionable under the new bill.
I can't help but wonder about a very different Tyler. Remember Tyler Clementi? He was not a rock star or anybody who made a career out of being famous.
Clementi was a student at Rutgers University in New Jersey until his roommate secretly recorded him kissing another man in his room. After his roommate posted that footage on the Internet, Clementi tragically jumped off the George Washington Bridge. Arguably, Clementi's estate could have used something similar to the Steven Tyler Act to pursue punitive damages.
Despite the smirking and ridicule from the public, the state Senate has approved the bill with overwhelming support. Its fate now lies in the House.
So maybe when it gets there, the bill could be recast as a different kind of measure. Maybe it could get some good PR this time around and become an effective tool to stop online bullying and harassment. In that sense, all of us could become celebrities.
- March 8, 2013

Remembering Prince Kuhio

Last week Tuesday was Prince Kuhio Day. These days it's hard to find folks who know about him, let alone why we have a holiday for him.
Here are the basics. Jonah Kuhio was born into a high-ranking alii family in Koloa on Kauai in 1871 but was not considered a prince until he was adopted by King David Kalakaua. Like many in his socioeconomic class, Prince Kuhio was educated at the Royal School and Punahou on Oahu. Afterward, he went to more schools in California and in England.
King Kalakaua later made the prince part of his Cabinet. He also served Queen Lili'oukalani. During the time of the overthrow, the prince was loyal to his queen. He fought against the small group of white businessmen who had organized the overthrow and set up an oligarchic government.
Prince Kuhio joined the armed insurrection against the newly established Republic of Hawaii. He was detained, tried for treason against the republic and sentenced to death, but that was commuted to a year in prison. After serving his year, Kuhio left the islands.
The oligarchy that engineered the overthrow and had set up a republic enjoyed tight political control of the islands by limiting the voting populace to mainly the white minority (the oligarchs had a property-ownership requirement for voters). They also lobbied the Republican Party to annex the islands to the United States.
When Prince Kuhio returned, the islands had become a territory and the oligarchs enjoyed tariff-free exports of sugar to the Mainland. They had also officially become staunch Republicans. But they had a new problem.
The property-based voting franchise was gone. The election of a delegate to the United States Congress was now wide open to not only the white minority but to any and all adult men born in the islands - including the Native Hawaiians who objected to the overthrow and annexation. In fact, the Hawaiians formed their own party - the Home Rule Party - and elected the flamboyant revolutionary Robert Wilcox as their candidate for Congress.
Wilcox enjoyed a strong populist appeal among the Hawaiians. He was also the worst nightmare for the oligarchs. Like Prince Kuhio, Wilcox fought against them and led an armed insurrection against the Republic in the 1890s. He too had been sentenced to imprisonment. He openly called the government in the islands the "Dole Oligarchy." Wilcox was a rabble-rouser. He rejected even the restoration of the monarchy and advocated a truly independent republic - a position considered too radical for many Hawaiians.
The Republicans needed a viable candidate that could at the very least split the Hawaiian vote. Fortunately for them, Prince Kuhio left the Home Rule Party and joined their ranks. In 1902, Prince Kuhio ran against Wilcox. During his campaign, the prince used his royal status and ran as a man who would have been the rightful heir to the overthrown throne. Wilcox didn't have this royal pedigree and was crushed in the election.
Prince Kuhio was a consistent delegate to the United States Congress. Although he joined the oppressors, he made it clear in speeches that he was his own man and he wanted above all to help his people. He was re-elected nine more times and served until his death in the 1920s. He urged Congress to pass the Hawaiian Homes Act, one of the first governmental programs designed to help Native Hawaiians.
On the other hand, Prince Kuhio's switch from the Home Rule Party to the Republicans helped the Republicans gain total control of territorial politics. Eventually the Home Rule Party fizzled out and the Democratic Party was moribund for nearly 50 years.
These days, those who know about Prince Kuhio see him in two very different lights. Some think of him as a turncoat who left the rebellious Home Rulers and threw in his lot with the ruling class. And very recently, Native Hawaiian scholars have argued that Prince Kuhio became a Republican because he felt he could serve his people better with the majority party. These scholars write that he was a conscientious leader of Native Hawaiians, seeking practical change and legislation.
Despite the divergent opinions about the man, one thing is certain: He is considered the first modern Native Hawaiian politician. He was born in the days of the kingdom, fought against the oligarchic republic, and served his people as he saw fit in the territory. And that's enough of an achievement to honor him with a holiday.
- April 5, 2013

Three Holidays in a Single Day

Three unofficial holidays fall on the 1st of May. In Hawaii, there's Lei Day, or May Day. This was a really big deal in elementary school. In the days leading up to the pageant at Haiku School, volunteering adults built a stage out of plywood and chicken wire and adorned it with dark green ti leaves and fresh flowers. In the meantime, each class practiced a song or hula. Lucky kids were selected onto a court that represented each island's flower and color.
When the big day finally came, parents gathered with teachers in the yard down the hill from the cafeteria. We performed, and then we had a luau. I'm sure other schools had similar celebrations.
In high school, a substitute teacher told us about the other May Day she discovered while going to school on the Mainland. She was from the islands and was homesick. Then she heard about some May Day events at some building on campus. She couldn't believe it. She was so excited to see lei, talk to others from Hawaii, and maybe even eat some local food again. When she got there, she was disappointed. There were no flowers. No locals. And certainly no hula.
Instead, she saw angry students who needed haircuts. They wore drab clothing and talked about things like class struggle, the Paris Commune and the Soviet Union. There was no food at all. So much for May Day on the Mainland.
I was reminded of that story when fliers started popping up around my college campus in California around the end of April. Sure enough, on May 1 there was a little demonstration with similar angry students in drab clothing. This time they weren't talking about communism. They were more interested in the World Trade Organization, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and stopping the Gap and the aptly named Banana Republic from exploiting workers abroad.
The celebration of working people still occurs on May 1 in just about every country in the world except this one. In Latin America, El Dia del Trabajo is commemorated with parades, rallies and cookouts. The Eastern Bloc staged massive military rallies and parades. Ironically, it was celebrated in both West and East Germany. And what's even more confusing is that both the extreme left and the right have claimed the holiday as their own. It's still really big in Europe. Annual protests flare up in nearly every capital city throughout the industrialized world.
Not here. The United States government has made conscious efforts to end May Day. In 1958, President Eisenhower declared May 1 as "Law Day, U.S.A." A federal statute even declares that on Law Day, Americans - instead of protesting and marching -- should reaffirm their loyalty to the United States and respect the law. Law Day should be observed "with appropriate ceremonies and in other appropriate ways."
It seems like something straight out of "Dr. Strangelove." Back then, we were in the middle of a long Cold War and were downright fanatical about opposing anything that even hinted at communism. You'd think that all that stuff would have faded away, but every single president since the '50s has declared the 1st of May as Law Day, and not a day to acknowledge international solidarity among the working classes.
And still May Day dies hard. Last year, thousands marched in solidarity in New York City to protest the excesses of Wall Street and the brutality of the capitalist system as a whole. This year was no different. Labor unions and other groups staged demonstrations across the country. They cried out for justice for undocumented workers, a living wage, and ending unsafe working conditions that may have led to death and destruction in West, Texas, last month. They continued to question the doctrine of an unbridled free-market economy.
At the same time, the American Bar Association still encouraged Law Day. Here on Maui, the Hawaii State Bar Association will hold a free legal clinic tomorrow at the Maui Mall from 8 a.m. to noon. Volunteer attorneys will be there to help anyone with legal matters of any kind.
Our clinic is a far cry from Law Day's anti-communist origins, but it's no demonstration either. It's somewhere in the middle. Perhaps President Lyndon Johnson's 1968 Law Day proclamation summed it up best when he urged "all those members of the bar, the bench and the law enforcement system who work to improve the performance of this system - to make it more just, more effective, and more responsive to our people's needs. America is grateful to them for their efforts to improve and extend legal services to the poor; to streamline the machinery of our courts . . . "
In the end, we get to have all three. Enjoy Lei Day, consider May Day, and see you on Law Day.
- May 3, 2013

Movies in Hawaii are Hardly About Hawaii

Hollywood loves using Hawaii. Although producers, our government and most of public opinion welcome the brief economic surge accompanying the filming and production of major motion pictures, the movies themselves are pretty bad. "Battleship," for example, is a forgettable action flick based on a board game showcasing American naval prowess - and Rihanna.
It's safe to say that with little exception, most movies filmed in Hawaii - even the better ones - are seldom about Hawaii. Take "Forgetting Sarah Marshall." This very funny flick revolves around a heartbroken guy from Los Angeles. He ends up flying out to the Turtle Bay Resort on Oahu to forget about his ex-girlfriend only to find her in the room next door with her new British beau.
The only two "local" characters in the flick involved the gentle giant Kimo, the cook at the resort, and the aggressive and scrappy Keoki, who false cracks the main character when he sees him with his ex-girlfriend. These are the old, annoying stereotypes of local folks. In the end, the plot (and the characters) moves away from the islands and normal life resumes again in California. Hawaii becomes a distant, exotic memory.
But the locals in that movie were tame compared to Rob Schneider's pot-smoking Ula in "Fifty First Dates." He runs around with his five "keeds," speaking pidgin lamenting about his overweight and unlovable wife. It was hard to believe that character got the green light in 2004.
Hawaii and its inhabitants are usually nothing more than a backdrop for the main plot and characters (who are almost always Caucasian). It's nothing new. About a week after rewatching "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," "From Here to Eternity" was on the classic movie channel.
Most of the action and drama took place on a military base, where just about everybody came from someplace else. Instead of stereotypes of local people, "From Here to Eternity" didn't feature any local people. They were practically nonexistent.
Donna Reed's character worked at the New Congress Club in Chinatown, where she made her money spending time with lonesome soldiers. And like the lead role in "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," she came to the islands to get away from something on the Mainland. In the end - and after quite a dramatic ride - she packed up and boarded the liner back to the Mainland. She told Donna Kerr that she was never coming back to the islands. The final scene was a departure.
"From Here to Eternity" was released in 1953, when Hawaii was still a territory. Fifty-five years later in "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," Hawaii is still just a backdrop for characters from the Mainland to indulge in escapism. While in this island paradise, the conflicts that they took with them are resolved, they grow, and head home happy.
Nobody around here seems to mind. The tax incentives are huge. When a Mainland production comes to the islands, our local media go wild. The television news features the latest big-budget production that comes to the islands. More earnest efforts to depict daily life in the islands are not met with the same enthusiasm. "The Descendants" didn't get a buzz until it was deemed Oscar worthy. And there was not nearly enough buzz when our home-grown production of "Get a Job" was being filmed, edited, produced and distributed from Maui.
The scary part is that some of us discourage anything other than the stereotypes. Remember that "Saturday Night Live" skit with Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson?
The Rock worked at a hotel restaurant reminiscent of the one in "Forgetting Sarah Marshall." But this time the main characters were the workers playing the ukulele and wearing grass skirts. There were no gentle giants, no hotheads and no happy-go-lucky locals. The Rock's character was articulate, sarcastic and witty.
When a guest commented that they must "love living here," the response was downright vicious.
"My brother and I here live 15 miles inland. There's a rusty pickup truck with weeds growing out of it. Yeah, that's our house." The Rock then chimed in. "Wanna come visit? It's real easy to get to. Just drive through the shantytown, make a right at the meth lab, and you'll see a 15-year-old girl who got pregnant by an out-of-town businessman. Then ask for her brother. That's me."
Then-Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona was not happy and described the skit as offensive. The Hawaii Tourism Authority - our government agency that promotes and encourages tourists to visit us here in the islands - announced that "anything that pokes fun, or puts us in a bad light, our culture, the Hawaiian culture, that affects all of us." I agree. So how come no one was offended by the characters from the scores of movies over the past 50 years?
- May 17, 2013

Remember Kill Haole Day? I Don't.

Every now and then, parents who've relocated from the Mainland will ask me about what it was like going to public school here. Some would ask if it was dangerous for me because I didn't, you know, look "local."
I didn't think going to Baldwin High School was all that different from any other high school. There was nothing to compare it to. We had football games, a school paper, JROTC, punk rock and all the other things you'd find in any typical high school across the rest of the United States.
Of course, there were exceptions. Hawaii high schools are probably one of the only places where lockers and hallways are outside and exposed to the elements. I always thought how strange and stuffy it'd be to spend all that time enclosed in a high school between classes.
But these concerned parents weren't inquiring about the school's open-air campus. They were worried about what challenges their own children would face. Maybe they thought it was just like that cult movie "North Shore," where Caucasians who dream of the islands from swimming pools in Arizona come out here and find a rude awakening as they try to drop in at a local surf spot?
Or maybe they had heard about an ominous event called "Kill Haole Day" - the traditional last day of school? I personally can't remember a day where whites were targeted and faced a beating on the last day of school. Then again, there weren't too many people who stuck around that day anyways. A few years back, columnist and fellow Baldwin alum Lee Cataluna caused a stir when she denied the existence of "Kill Haole Day."
That doesn't mean it didn't happen. In the 1960s, my friend at Kailua High School would ditch the last day of school and surf instead of facing a beating. There are other frightening experiences, too. About 20 years ago, Maui High School was the scene of a terrible clash between haole students from Upcountry and locals from Central Maui.
But racial tensions playing out in our high schools are much more complicated than "local" versus haole. Just before I got to Baldwin High School, the upperclassmen, teachers and especially the security guards were still talking about the biggest brawl they had ever seen. It involved something like 20 students fighting with one another. This conflict was not between haoles and locals, but among Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders.
Recently on the Big Island, a school locked its doors for a few days due to escalating racial tensions. It wasn't a traditional local conflict. The situation at Kealakehe High School in Kona had little to do with haoles at all. The conflict was between Micronesians and new immigrant groups from the Western Pacific on one side and Polynesian students on the other.
And not too long ago at a function at a high school in Honolulu, I discovered the conflict may not even be a racial one. I overheard two students teasing each other. They were teasing each other about who immigrated to the United States sooner - the old "FOB" (fresh off the boat) taunt. The retort was commendable: "I'm not FOB anymore."
So even though the conflict playing out throughout our schools is often labeled and discussed as a racial one, that label is too one-dimensional. During the heyday of "Kill Haole Day," whites from the Mainland were pretty new to the state's public school system. Forty years ago, there still weren't a lot of newcomers from the Mainland on Maui, aside from a few in remote parts of the island. And people remember how rough it was to be among the "hippies" in places at Makena and on the north shore.
Times have certainly changed. With more and more Mainlanders moving to Maui, entire communities of newcomers are not uncommon. The racial composition of the student body at my own elementary school in Haiku is dramatically different from my school days.
Unfortunately, the clearest way to identify newcomers to the island is sometimes the person's ethnicity. Other times, as I saw in Honolulu, it's by one's accent. The conflict with haoles, Samoans, Micronesians or anybody else is a crude way of showing frustration with the changing times. It started with haoles and has moved on to the newest of the newcomers to the islands. So maybe it's not a racial conflict at all. Perhaps it's just a newcomer-versus-not-as-newcomer clash. And that's not new at all.
- May 23, 2013

No one Likes a Private Beach

The first time I went to Long Island, I wanted to swim in the Atlantic Ocean. In Long Beach, N.Y., access to the ocean is cut off by a great wooden boardwalk. To get to the water, you need to cross the boardwalk and just before hitting the beach an official inspects a beach pass allowing access. A government-issued pass for the beach!? This was a wholly alien concept for a teenager from Maui.
Turns out, there's something even more troubling than government-controlled access. In places like Massachusetts and North Carolina, private owners can section off their portion of the beach, restrict access, and keep the entire embankment of sand and surf off-limits. If a country club or a hotel tried that back home, I thought, surely there'd be an open revolt. Lucky we live Hawaii, yeah?
It's more than just luck. Hawaii has no private beaches and, with exceptions such as Hanauma Bay on Oahu, the government does not charge money to get onto the beach.
But it wasn't always this way. In his memoir, former Gov. Ben Cayetano recalled the summers of his childhood when he and his friends would ride their bikes from their working-class and predominantly nonwhite neighborhood in Kalihi all the way to the sandy beaches of Kahala at the other end of Honolulu. There, the white landowners would come out from their houses and try to chase them out of the water and off the beach. When that didn't work, they'd call the police, and even though the kids weren't breaking any laws, the officers would do it for them.
When Cayetano shared this story with former Hawaii Supreme Court Chief Justice William Richardson, Richardson recalled his own experiences as a boy when he would watch hotel guests dancing in Waikiki while he was relegated to stand at the water's edge. Richardson told Cayetano that back then the hotels treated the beach like their own private property.
The change to the open beaches we have today unwittingly began when Clint Ashford - a well-known attorney and one of the founders of the equally well-known law firm Ashford and Wriston - applied to the Land Court to register beachfront property on Molokai. The titles of the property were issued by the kingdom in 1866 and were originally in the Hawaiian language. His case turned on the words "ma ke kai," which translates to "high water mark." Ashford claimed that the ma ke kai must be determined only by expert surveyors and their calculations.
The state, however, argued that the high water mark could be proved through witnesses familiar with the land, custom, usage and practice. Based on that evidence, the ma ke kai went all the way up to the vegetation line - about 30 feet higher than what Ashford's experts had determined.
In 1968, the Hawaii Supreme Court rejected Ashford's arguments and held that the land from the water's edge to the vegetation line was the "high water mark." Richardson wrote the opinion.
A few years later, Richardson extended this concept even further. In 1974, the court declared that the lands from the shore to the "high water mark" as determined from Ashford's case belonged to the state and were held in the public trust. Private beaches in the islands were pretty much pau.
For years now, blue signs all over the state alert everyone to public rights of way and access to the water and beaches. We can swim, fish and snorkel just about anyplace our legs can take us - even in posh places like Kahala or Kapalua.
Maybe that's why last month's story about a new gate in Napili cutting off access to a popular beach spot has struck a nerve. Disabled beachgoers, the elderly, and those with small children have lamented because this was one of the few easy places for vacationers and residents to get to the water. The owners, on the other hand, told the newspaper that their effort to restrict access is "totally legal."
Similarly, a group of beachgoers and Native Hawaiians have sued the Four Seasons in Wailea for preventing normal access and enjoyment of the beach in front of its resort. The group has argued that by putting up rentals, exclusive chaise lounge chairs and other bits of furniture on the beach, the hotel has effectively created a private beach. (Since then, however, the Four Seasons has dismantled the rentals.)
Enjoying the sand and surf is part of living in Hawaii. It's not for sale, and beachfront owners who are used to exclusivity and their own private paradise are sometimes dismayed at the law here in Hawaii. Yes, we can fish next to beachfront mansions in Wailea or bodysurf with luxury vacationers. A private beach is more than a strange and foreign thing for local folks. It's unlawful.
- June 14, 2013

Big Cat of Olinda Revisited

Remember the big cat of Olinda? Ten years ago, the island was in the grip of hysteria about a mysterious large feline spotted in the hills and forests above Makawao. The "Olinda Cat" mystery had just about everyone talking.
It started in December 2002, with a single account of a cat sighting. From there, all kinds of witnesses came forward. A Makawao man heard strange noises outside his home one night. When he went outside to investigate, he saw a large, shadowy beast resembling a jaguar or mountain lion.
For most of 2003, the papers reported sightings on a regular basis. Evening walkers told newspapers they saw a large cat stalking the property line one night.
And there was plenty of circumstantial evidence. People reported ominous claw marks on trees. They saw large paw prints in the ground. Then there were the sounds of wailing and calls in the middle of the night. Dogs barked like crazy for no reason. One Olinda resident apparently carried a revolver with him whenever he walked his dog - just to be safe.
Pieced from eyewitness accounts, the animal was big - about 7 feet in length. It was dark (but no one ever claimed to see it during the day) and it had green eyes.
After the sensational accounts, some wanted to see the cryptocat for themselves. Hikers around Olinda became more prevalent. Then reports of a large cat came from different parts of the island. At first, the cat's "habitat" started in a small area above Seabury Hall. But after the reports, gossip and excitement, folks started seeing it all over Makawao. It might have been up there near Piiholo Road or upper Maliko. Later on, as the mysterious cat became more famous, the Department of Land and Natural Resources got reports of it being found around Kihei, Kapalua and even Makena.
The physical evidence of the cat was scant. Supposed fur samples and feces were analyzed ad nauseam. Attempts to trace the DNA in the samples were futile and the results inconclusive. This only added to the mystery.
But the hysteria hit a new height when the state raised money to bring in an expert trapper from the Mainland. A wildcat trapper from Arizona flew in with ropes, snares and expertise. After demonstrating his snares at a news conference, training DLNR officers about catching big game, setting the snares in the gulches around Makawao, and even after importing special scents from the Honolulu Zoo to attract the animal, we came up empty-handed.
The state tried other methods too. Field agents wandered the woods with loudspeakers and recordings of jaguar sounds. They spread cat urine from African wildcats (compliments of the animals housed at the Honolulu Zoo) near areas where witnesses claimed to have seen it. Still, no cat.
Then, as quickly as the sightings started, everything stopped. The cat was gone. The dogs went back to barking at feral cats or nothing at all. Walkers ambled without incident. Strange noises in the middle of the night ceased. Olinda was a peaceful place again. The cat was gone.
So what happened? Rumors spread faster than wildfire. Some rich guy owned it and would let it out to wreak havoc, said some. The owner had to get rid of it discretely when the heat from the DLNR came down and the owner did just that. The cat never existed, said others. Some even blamed the DLNR for staging a hoax in an attempt to raise awareness of invasive species.
My favorite conspiracy theory is that the cat is still there in hiding and that the media in collusion with the government simply stopped reporting the sightings. Stories of the cat continued for a few more years and now most people have moved on.
So what exactly was that all about? Was there really a big cat? Maybe. Exotic animals do wind up in the islands from time to time. The wombat colony in Kalihi Valley was well documented from the 1930s through the 1960s. Snakes and piranhas occasionally show up in trees and streams. So why not a panther prowling Olinda?
What's more intriguing to me was the hysteria that mounted around the whole thing. The big cat was the favorite topic among families, workplaces and bars. Even the state got in on the act.
In the end, we were left with no results, no big cat and a lot of questions. The big cat amounted to nothing more than a few suspect fur samples and a lot of speculation. Hard to believe it's been more than a decade since the Upcountry madness took over the island. I guess we're due for another good hoax (or maybe another giant wild animal roaming the wilderness).
- June 28, 2013

Kihei Sings the Cane Fire Blues . . .

It looks like a vast carpet starting at the edge of Pukalani and descending the isthmus through Central Maui all the way to the West Maui Mountains. It rolls out from the edge of Maliko Gulch for miles all the way to Kihei. It's in the background of thousands of photographs in the newspaper, vacation photos, and in family scrapbooks. It's part of the scenery.
Most of the time cane fields are green and pleasing to the eye. Nobody knows what Maui was like before cane fields. We are among the last in the islands still producing sugar on an industrial scale. There are only two mills left in the state. Unlike the mill on the leeward side of Kauai, the Puunene mill is centrally located for everyone to see. This is one of the last places where you can still see harvested cane being hauled to the mill in gigantic vehicles that dwarf just about anything else on the road.
It's living history. Right across the street from the mill is the aptly located museum devoted to the sugar industry. We all know that sugar is no longer king here, but many are content to know that we still produce the stuff on Maui.
Except for just one thing. After two steady and careful years of watching a cane field grow tall and green, we set it on fire. We've all seen the distinct thick column of smoke rising above the island. When burns are close to the highway, we get to see the red and brown earth and the charred remains of the cane. The smell of smoke fills the air.
Cane burning is part of life here on Maui, but lately it's divided the community. The sucrose - the stuff that becomes the sugar - is in the cane stalk, not the leaves. Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co. sets fire to the fields to remove leaves. It makes it easier to remove the stalks and transport them to the mill in Puunene. According to the HC&S website, burning the fields still remains the most economically sound way of removing the leaves.
Downwind towns like Kihei suffer. They are covered in ash and smoke. Residents have trouble breathing in all the smoke and dust kicked up from the fields. These days, more and more people - especially those who did not grow up with cane fires in their backyard - find the practice antiquated and hazardous. They say that it's an obnoxious nuisance and an irritant for those with lung problems.
The state Department of Health has been conducting a study on the health effects of cane burning. Previews of the full study suggest that cane burning is problematic. Dr. Lorrin Pang, the state's district health officer for Maui County, told the press last October that cane burning may be connected to respiratory and eye problems for those who live downwind of the fires, particularly in Kihei and Maalaea.
The study is hitting a roadblock because hospitals and clinics are reluctant to disclose patient records. Nonetheless, opponents of the cane fires are confident that the study will confirm what they knew all along. And maybe, just maybe, it will prompt the state to intervene and finally ban the burn.
Then there are the defenders. HC&S is quick to point out that there is no scientific proof that the fires are bad for the air and people. Its website states that multiple studies conducted by its own company, as well as by state and federal governments and the University of Hawaii, found no evidence that the burning "causes chronic respiratory conditions or other serious health problems."
On top of that, the company makes an economic and cultural argument. HC&S may be part of a dying industry in Hawaii, but it still employs around 800 people. Those are still good union jobs keeping working people employed and satisfied with living wages. The union backs them too.
Last year, more than 200 people rallied to support the company and the union. They even openly defended the burning. This paper caught a particularly troubling handwritten sign: "DON'T MOVE HERE & CHANGE EVERYTHING/NO TAKE OUR JOBS."
Not all cane fire opponents were born elsewhere. And even if they were, so what? Locals, tourists and newcomers all have lungs, eyes and nostrils. The smoke and ash make no distinction.
This summer we've also seen a rash of unscheduled burning of the cane fields flare up. Is it arson? The police think so. Eco-terrorism? The ultimate form of activism? No one's sure.
One thing is certain. While the police investigate and while the state forges on with its study, the debate - like the fires themselves - rages on.
- August 9, 2013

The Struggle Behind Admissions Day

Today is more than an excuse for government workers to get a three-day weekend in August. It's Admissions Day - the day our islands were admitted to the United States as the 50th state.
The path to statehood was long and arduous. The first to formally bring about statehood was none other than Prince Jonah Kuhio in 1919. During the first six decades of the 20th century, there were 16 petitions for statehood and 33 bills in Congress. All attempts failed until 1959.
By the end of World War II, the failure to admit Hawaii had become embarrassing. The United States justified its intense involvement in the war by recasting itself as the champion of democracy over tyranny. Our movies and media repackaged America as the world's fighter of totalitarian government. We had become the representative of the free world.
Along with this bright and shining image came responsibility. If the United States sent its young men to fight dictators and destroy fascism, then how could it tolerate legalized racism in the American South? How could it ignore its own economic and ethnic inequality?
When the veterans came back to Hawaii, they demanded a change. (They weren't the only ones. Ethnic minorities and Native American vets found themselves in similar situations.) They saw statehood as the best way to get out of the sugar plantations and Honolulu slums of their youth.
Still, there was opposition at every turn. The problem intensified when the United Nations put Hawaii on the infamous list of "Non-Self Governing Territories." The list was an attempt to declare that certain places were still dealing with the adverse effects of colonialism and had not yet achieved their independence. Hawaii joined other quasi-independent places like Guam and American Samoa.
Hawaii was officially a colony - and the world was watching. Was it perhaps time to give up on statehood and go for complete independence?
In the late '40s and throughout the 1950s, new countries were breaking away from their former colonial rulers. African countries declared their independence. The Philippines had finally become its own nation free from centuries of foreign rulers like Spain and the United States.
The worldwide liberation movement made many in the United States nervous. A lot of these new countries had red flags and Soviet allies. The Cold War was just getting started, and the last thing many wanted was to see a strong socialist or communist cell develop in the middle of the Pacific.
Communism became the new excuse to delay statehood. The anti-statehood faction argued that Communists had taken over Hawaii's labor unions and parts of the Democratic Party. The Communists were the antithesis of a democratic society and there was no way Hawaii could be part of the union. It just wasn't ready. The hysteria got so bad that the infamous House Un-American Activities Committee came to Hawaii and held hearings. The fight for statehood continued.
After purging itself of any taint of the vanguard party, Hawaii came out on top and declared that it was ready for statehood. It drafted its own constitution in the 1950s and unfurled a petition in Honolulu that stretched for miles. This was it. It was far better for Hawaii to become a state than allow radicalism to take hold. Finally, Congress gave in and Hawaii entered the union the same year Fidel Castro took over Cuba.
It was the start of the era we live in today. Admission meant that people in the United States had the right to travel freely to our islands. It is no coincidence that the first commercial jet plane full of tourists to Hawaii landed in the first year of statehood.
Our first year of statehood brought rapid change. The threat of communism was long gone. Hawaii was no longer some exotic island chain on the U.N.'s list of modern-day colonies. It was an accessible, safe place where people spoke English, used the American dollar and voted on Election Day.
But there were unintended results. Statehood allowed a generation of hippies to drop out of college campuses and start up nudist colonies and health food stores. Perhaps the most ironic thing about statehood is that its constitutional guarantees of free speech, open courts and free elections created the space for the Hawaiian Renaissance and sovereignty movement to start and flourish. Statehood allowed its citizens to challenge, well, the state.
Today marks the first day of our state. And when you think about what it took to get here, and what being a state allows us to do, it's no wonder it's a holiday.

Lanai: New Owner, Same Old Story

The island looming in the rain shadow of the West Maui Mountains has a curious past. It's an eerily quiet place. A hush falls over Lanai City and when you get out into the countryside - either along the rugged shores or along the dirt roads crisscrossing the island - the silence is pervasive and unsettling. There are no other towns, not a lot of people, and a single corporate entity casts its shadow over just about all of the affairs on the island.
Now that a new owner has bought the island, everyone is wondering what lies ahead for Lanai. Despite the changes that have been reported since Larry Ellison took over and renamed the resorts, bought an airline company, and is getting solar power to the island, one thing remains constant: The island still has just one owner.
The first person to consolidate land titles was the infamous Walter Murray Gibson. He was supposed to buy land for a Mormon colony, but he bought up land in his own name instead. When the leadership in Utah found out, Gibson was thrown out of the colony and the Mormons moved to Laie on Oahu. Gibson kept his land.
He tried just about every kind of industry available. The ranching, sugar and cattle enterprises all failed. (Gibson eventually moved on to Oahu, where he caused a great stir as King David Kalakaua's adviser, left in disgrace, and died a pauper in San Francisco.)
But Gibson's holdings were never broken up. They were eventually acquired by Charles Gay from Kauai. This is the same family that started the Gay-Robinson sugar plantation and still owns a lot of the Garden Isle's leeward side. Gay surpassed Gibson's property and bought up more and more land.
By the time Hawaii became a territory, most of the island was his. The consolidation did not go unnoticed. When the territorial government attempted to give to Gay what little acreage on the island that did not belong to him (the land was already leased to him), a dissenting Honolulu councilman tried to intervene with a lawsuit. He took his case to the Supreme Court of the United States and lost.
With no real opposition in government or from anyone else, virtually the entire island fell under the ownership of a single corporate entity. It's been that way ever since. And every time the island changed hands from one wealthy landowner to another, everyone speculated what would become of Lanai. From the Gay family and its ranching enterprise, the Dole Pineapple Co. took over in the 1920s.
Pineapple dominated the island for nearly 70 years. The coastal towns with roots predating Western contact were abandoned. The population was concentrated into a single city in the middle of the island, and families from all over the world were shipped in to work.
Every aspect of life on Lanai was overseen by the company. Workers lived in homes owned by the company. Recreational facilities, parks, movie theaters and the gym were built and owned by the company. It was a closed company town, not unlike the mining towns in West Virginia.
Right around the time of statehood in the early 1950s, Lanai's workforce went on strike, against the advice of their union. Pineapples rotted in the fields while workers held out by living off the land. After months of holding out, the workers turned the island into a putrid-smelling wasteland. The crop was lost and the company gave in to just about every one of the union's demands at the bargaining table. It was a complete victory for workers.
Those days are over. The pineapple fields have given way to overgrown savannas. The paths of red dirt still snake through the high plain of the island, but there isn't much evidence left of the once-dominant fruit. Like the concrete dock and the hidden foundations of houses, churches and edifices along
Lanai's coast, the pineapple has receded into Lanai's landscape. Fewer and fewer people can remember when Lanai was the Pineapple Island.
A new industry controls the island. Two resorts may have made the island an elite tourist destination, but Lanai City is still very much a company town. Nearly all residents work for the hotel company and if they don't, they depend on its guests for business.
Larry Ellison has managed to make the already privately owned island even more private and exclusive. He bought the island, the water system, and most recently an airline company. Our mayor spent most of his State of the County speech talking about hanging out with him on his private yacht.
There may be changes coming for the island, but it's apparent that the island will remain privately owned and a single industry will continue to dictate the fate of its inhabitants, just as it's done for more than a hundred years.
- July 26, 2013

Paia Needs to Chill Out

Paia merchants are worried. Kiss frontman Gene Simmons is part of a group that owns a chain of restaurants called Rock & Brews scattered through Southern California and Mexico. Their latest location is going to open between Charley's and the Paia Tattoo Parlor on the Hana Highway.
In a story last month, unnamed merchants worried that the restaurant won't really fit in with the rest of the town. Some worry that it will bring an unwanted change to Paia.
Really? Of all towns on the island, Paia has probably seen the most rapid change over the last 20 years. Change is a part of Paia itself.
The corridor of buildings clustered around the intersection of Hana Highway and Baldwin Avenue was once Lower Paia. The center of activity actually gravitated up Baldwin Avenue near the now defunct sugar mill. Right across the street remains the massive concrete foundation for the infamous plantation company store.
The store was where immigrant field workers had to buy supplies and food for their families, mainly on credit from wages. It created a system of dependence that was extremely difficult to break.
Those who saved enough money and managed to get out of the plantation camps sometimes started their own businesses. A few started up in Lower Paia - what we today simply refer to as Paia. The early generations of Paia merchants ran eateries for workers, grocery stores, laundries, and even a movie theater.
During World War II, Paia saw an economic boom when it started to cater to the GIs. Barbershops, a few bars and the USO, which was located in the building that now houses Charley's, sprang up in the buildings lining Hana Highway. Enlisted men on leave roamed the streets looking for something to do.
After the war (and a big tsunami that destroyed a lot of the town in 1946), things quieted down. I have a picture of Paia that was taken on a sunny day in the 1960s. The storefronts, sidewalks and clear blue skies look exactly the same. There's just one huge difference: It looks like a movie set. Only three cars are parked along Hana Highway. No one's walking around. Nobody's driving through town or searching for parking spaces. It looks like a ghost town.
A few months ago, I met a friend at Charley's for a beer. He hadn't been back to Paia in decades. He started to recall his younger days in the early '70s when he went to Maunaolu College on Baldwin Avenue. His long hair gave him the unenviable look of a California hippie.
Buying beer in Lower Paia, he explained, was always hazardous for him. He recalled getting dirty looks from storefronts and locals. He remembered that if he didn't buy the beer fast enough, boys from a nearby pool hall would make their presence known. Classmates got beat up for no apparent reason. Then he chuckled as he looked around at the tired tourists trekking back from Hana and the "usual" crowd of Paia folks who relocated to Maui. In a weird way he missed Paia's rougher days.
I can remember the town only just before gentrification. I specifically recall Kihata's - a Japanese restaurant in the heart of Paia at the intersection of Hana Highway and Baldwin Avenue - where my brother and I marveled at the stuffed pheasants gathering cobwebs.
I also remember the visiting windsurfers from South America and Europe. They were never big in number and they came to town at night to rent a movie at Paia Video or buy a six-pack at Paia General Store. Who knew that they'd be the harbingers of economic change?
Nowadays the newest thing to Paia is money. The town's economic engine is fueled by high-end tourists and a lot of newcomers to the island. We have yoga studios, health food galore, pricey restaurants, and shops selling expensive clothes and dreck. A restaurant featuring classic rock, beer and some grub doesn't seem all that out of place.
So the anxiety from this generation of Paia merchants is baffling. Just look up the road.
This weekend, the descendants of the Japanese immigrants who settled into Paia to work in the sugar cane fields will make their way back to Paia. Some still live in Paia, but most don't. Nonetheless, their ancestors are buried in the little cemetery between the ocean and the highway just outside of town, and they will come to honor them. Paper lanterns and hypnotic music will fill the night. The obon festival has been part of summertime in Paia since the temple was built more than a century ago. And it will continue for decades to come.
Another restaurant won't make a difference. If Paia can survive a tsunami, sailors, hippies, windsurfers and yoga, it can handle Gene Simmons.
- July 12, 2013