“Homelessness” by Angelica Calvillo

Posted: June 15, 2012 in Vol. 1: Spring Essays 2012

My dearest Angelina,

It has been some time since we’ve hung out at Grandma’s house, and I do miss those nights staying up late watching silly movies.  I’m sure your mom has told you that I am back in school after many years, too many actually.  I was just on my Spring Break and it was nice to be free of school for a whole week.  I’m sure you know what the feeling is all about!  I had an opportunity to spend some time with Kim, practice yoga, review my Touch for Health techniques, and even watch The Hunger Games at the theater.  It was extra special because Kim got tickets for the IMAX screen and we were able to sit right in the middle and get the “full effect,” as I would say.

We both enjoyed the movie very much, but it’s what happened after that didn’t quite sit right with me.   After watching the movie, we were both quite hungry and decided to drive around to look for somewhere to eat.   It was past ten in the evening and assuming that most places in town would be closed, we decided to drive to Waikiki.   I know you’ve never been to Waikiki Beach, but just imagine Venice Beach a little bigger, the ocean a little brighter and the area surrounded with hotels reeking of tourists.  We parked the car and the first thing Kim and I noticed as we approached the main road in Waikiki was a loud nightclub with a long line of young girls and boys waiting to get in.  I looked to my left after hearing and visually spotting the nightclub and noticed four or five homeless people lying on the street appearing as if they were sleeping or possibly trying to sleep. I thought to myself, “Interesting place to sleep!” but kept walking as our mission was to find a place to eat.  We passed shops, ABC stores, and closed eateries, and to my left I noticed more and more homeless people.  At that point, I pulled Kim down to the height of my mouth and whispered in his ear, “Are there normally this many homeless people down here?”  He laughed as he told me he had been thinking the exact same thing. He said that never in his whole life here in Hawaii had he seen so many homeless people.  He also mentioned that he felt sad because most of the people walking around were tourists and the disparity of wealth between them and the homeless was huge and apparent.  He went on to tell me a story of when he was passing by the Prada store in Waikiki.  As he was stopped at a light, he looked up to see a high-manicured Japanese woman coming out of a bright golden-looking Prada store while simultaneously a homeless woman pushing a shopping cart walked by. I could see the disparity in my head so well, but couldn’t help but think –“I wish he had taken a photo.”   We did find something to eat that night and although we did have a brief encounter with a homeless man, business in Waikiki carried on as usual.

The reason I’m telling you this story is because the way Hawaii is portrayed in popular films is nothing like what I experienced that night in Waikiki.  I couldn’t relax because I couldn’t help but think how paradoxical this whole scenario was.  Here we were in Waikiki, the most popular place among tourists, and about a fourth of the population there was homeless.  Right before my eyes were people with absolutely no money and people who pay $100 to $1000 per night for a hotel.   Popular films such as Forgetting Sarah MarshallBlue CrushWhy did I get Married 2Couples Retreat, and 50 First Dates portray Hawaii as a destination where you can forget your troubles and worries, heal from a break-up, find new love, or restore lost passion.  I’m not saying that Hawaii doesn’t have the ability to accomplish those things more than I’m saying you can accomplish these things somewhere else.  Obviously Hawaii is a beautiful place or people wouldn’t be flocking here by the thousands every year.  More so, the beaches are gorgeous on most days, it doesn’t get any colder than the high 60’s, and the “aloha” attitude remains alive today.  What I am saying, Angelina, is that Hawaii ‘s portrayal in popular films  is not as accurate as it could be.  More so, if homelessness is such a huge problem here in Hawaii, as it appears to be in Waikiki, why wasn’t there one scene in the films I mentioned above addressing or portraying this common social problem?

A leading Italian Marxist named Antonio Gramsci states, “How many times have I wondered if it is really possible to forge links with a mass of people when one has never had strong feelings for anyone, not even one’s own parents: if it is possible to have a collectivity when one has not been deeply loved oneself by human creatures.”  I apologize for getting philosophical on you but as I passed those men and women living on the streets, I wondered what was going through the minds of the tourists that passed by day after day.  Did they notice the homeless population as they frolicked the streets of Waikiki?  Perhaps as Gramsci points out, maybe we as a society feel nothing.  Maybe we are totally numb because we don’t feel a sense of totality with others and that sense of greatness in collectivity is something we can only dream of.

I also wondered about their reasons or circumstances that led them to live on the streets.  Was it something freely chosen or was it something that inevitably followed their situation, like a chain of events that spiral downward?  There is no doubt that Hawaii is an expensive place to live, and I hear of more and more families who are forced to live on the beach or in their car.  On the other hand, I also hear of those who choose to live on the streets.  A spiritual advisor once told me that sometimes people get tired of “playing the game.” I’m assuming she was referring  to the structure society has created for us to follow.  Karl Marx states that there is “a class of laborers, who live only so long as they find work, and who find work only so long as their labor increase capital.  These laborers, who must sell themselves piecemeal, are a commodity like every other article of commerce and are consequently exposed to all the vicissitudes of competition, to all the fluctuations of the market.”  Sounds like the modern term “rat-race,” if you ask me.  I guess it makes sense that some of us would get tired of it, give up and choose to live a life on the streets.

I apologize for analyzing too much — you know what Grandma says about me!  I did want to leave you with a message that I hope you’ll remember.  Social problems such as homelessness exist in Hawaii, and things, places, and people portrayed in popular films are not always  accurate.  Nevertheless, Hawaii is beautiful and I do hope that you will visit me soon.  Before I sign off, let me leave you with one more quote from Gramsci: “The challenge of modernity is to live without illusions while not becoming disillusioned.” Remember the disparity of wealth that exists today, the homeless woman passing the Prada store,  and the people lying on the street while youngsters like you parade nightclubs.  Be thankful for your blessings, and I encourage you to open your mind as well as your eyes to the social problems of the world.  Don’t let them overwhelm you, but allow them to motivate your heart and mind to be the best person you can be.

Con mucho Carino,

Nina Jelly     

P. S.  Be cautious when watching popular films and remember that the things portrayed  aren’t always as accurate as they could be.  Love you!


Written for Dr. David Odhiambo’s ENG 200: Composition II


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