How Innocent Questions Can Go BOOM




For the past two years I have been trying to write about creating a space on the University of Hawai'i West Oʻahu campus - what Bhabha calls Third Space and Anzaldua calls Borderland spaces.
From my 2017 article on carving out Indigenous spaces:  

Consciousness-raising happens in both a metaphoric as well as a physical space. Third space theorists (Anzaldua 1999, 2000; Irving and Young 2002, 2004) suggest that the creation of "third" or "borderland" spaces can provide the opportunity for creative, novel, and respectful interpersonal relationship dynamics. Anzaldua addresses issues of power and identity in colonized areas, and conceptualizes third or borderland spaces as places or states of ambiguity, of being in-between different "realities" (2000). What these spaces offer are ways for Indigenous me, one of the  2-7% of  Indigenous faculty members in the University of Hawaiʻi system, to create a safe space to have conversations and learn together about Hawaiian ways of knowing, how it can be incorporated in the way one teaches and why it is important for all of our students that we teach using culture based practices.


I was able to explain the need for space, but my two reviewers asked me to spend more time describing the buildings that I said are built like plantation mills. My questions were:

  • What does a plantation mill look like?
  • Why is a plantation mill not suitable for third space conversation according to my thinking?
I sat on it for three days, these simple questions that the reviewers assured me was but a minor edit.
I did eventually do my edits and resubmit, but what was not written were odd snippets of anger and nostalgia, a sense of loss and a scent that brought back a flood of emotions that I could not describe when we buried my grandfather and said goodbye to the house that I grew up in, the house that my father and uncles and aunts called home, the house that both of my grandparents died in, the house that was my own borderland spaces and the house that kept us tied both to Lahaina and the plantation system. There is still the ugly cry just waiting to get out. It is not time yet, but the two questions did force me to go there for a little bit.

What surprised me about what I learned,  not from my research, but from reading oral histories and bringing myself back to my own memories of Lahaina:


  • It took my immediate family (great grandparents, grandfather, father, me) four generations to totally leave the plantation. Granted my parents worked pineapple and not sugar, but same set up, same techniques, same people running the show. 
  • The smoky sweet smell of bagasse and rotting mangoes are the smell of the mill as grandma and I waited under the mango tree for the 4 pm pau hana whistle to blow and grandpa to come out with his dirty jeans and Coleman thermos. I don't think I have truly felt the weight of their loss yet and I am glad that they do not burn bagasse anymore or I may lose it. 
  • Hawaiians don't like Japanese - I knew that, it's not new, I just got a clearer picture of why and I understand how when my Japanese grandparents on both sides married Hawaiians, we got disowned from the Sodetani and Okimoto families for a long time. My father carries that anger still even at my grandfather's funeral when the Sodetani side showed up and let me know that their grandparents had made peace with my grandparents. No one made peace with my father. 
  • Many atrocities and machinations from that era can be looked at clinically as good business, better than slavery, an attempt to dissuade unions and break strikes. It looks like the paragraph below. 


It was, in brief, through the plantations that the first clearly defined pattern of stratification by race was initiated in Hawaii. . .a fairly distinct barrier of social distances separated  the proprietary white from the large mass of non-white laborers on the plantations, and a further social gradation of other racial groups at the lower levels of the plantation occupational pyramid also emerged. (Lind, 1954, p.3)
Stratification meant building segregated housing camps, racially/ethnically segmented labor teams and paying different wages for the same work based on race. 

It took me three days to come down to that minor edit. I cannot have my third space in the buildings that look like plantation mills because the plantation mill is a symbol of the "defined pattern of stratification by race in Hawaii." I am a product of barriers and social distances. I am a product of social gradation, pyramids and as both a Japanese and a Hawaiian, it makes me less than both of those racial groups because I am never Hawaiian enough and I am definitely never Japanese enough. 

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