Archive for the ‘Vol. 5: Spring Essays 2014’ Category

Tutu Su

Wisps of Pele’s hair twirl into a limp bun

burn titanium gold

and scathe the sky,

refracting iridescent rings of light

piercing the miasma;

smoldering greensand eyes punctuated

by malleable creases of clay skin

wander to capture pastels of plumeria and clouds;

body draped in a muumuu of billowing leaves

and creamy hibiscus; feet bent,

crooked bumpy

like basalt, from the confines

of high heeled shoes,

now set in futon slippers march forward,

and here, she arrives at our door.

 

Her German accent gurgling like a flowing stream

soothes our scraps and blisters

as does her clucking chortle.

Together we

chart oceans and constellations

and record newly discovered creatures

and balance a mile of ice cream

on a customer’s cone,

on the cracked, sandpaper concrete

with the dust of chalk.

We explore the jungle surrounding our house,

picking bougainvillea and dandelions,

following anoles up the greenhouse walls,

and watch as she does not flinch

and smirks when touching the skin

in between the needles

of a cactus, “See? It will not hurt you.”

We chase each other

where the punishment for capture

is the dreaded goosepimples,

an undulation of fingers that barely

brush the hairs of the arm,

causing tickling tingles

and noisy squirming smiles.

 

At sunset she follows the sun

off down the sidewalk to the bus stop,

and I keep my head squeezed through a gap

in the rusty chain-link gate

watching her until she diffuses

into the atmosphere. 

 

fence

 

 

Panic

Crushing the leather arms in rigid hands,

feet welded to the stirrup of the chair,

throat laced with frozen stinging breath.

“Look straight up.

Riiight at the corner of this light fixture.”

 

“…okay…” Face tilts

to the alabaster ceiling almost

as pale as it,

almost as pale as his coat,

lips seal into a button

forcing the frozen breath to tumble

down into the stomach and churn its contents

into an acid slush.

“Now,

keep your eyes open.”

Drip. Drip. The sizzling liquid offends the sight.

The stomach contracts shooting

up a whimpering cry

into the esophagus to be held there.

“Look straight ahead past my shoulder.

Keep your eyes open.”

The body turns into fevered glass,

the slush begins to boil,

the device to measure the tension of ocular ooze

molests the surface of an eye and then

both Saharan and Arctic at once,

I shatter.

 

 

Written for Dr. David N. Odhiambo’s ENG 313: Creative Writing 

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Mad-Men-WomenMen, cigarettes, scotch, suits, offices. These words describe the setting of the hit television show Mad Men (2007-current). These men are large and in charge, each with his own secretary to tend to his every need. Cigarette smoke clears and sexist remarks linger as women realize there is more they can and want to do besides answer telephone calls and set appointments. Likewise, housewives are discovering they have needs and desires aside from their husbands and children. As second wave feminism explodes onto the scene, issues such as gender roles, gender equality, sexuality and reproductive rights are brought into light. In this paper, I will examine the female lead characters in Mad Men, their gender roles, and the challenges that accompany them. My focus will be on the primary characters Betty Draper, Joan Holloway and Peggy Olsen in the first season of the show.

To understand these women, it’s necessary to tackle the term “gender role.” Another name for this term is sex-role. A sex-role is a social process and begins at birth. If you’ve ever observed babies or children, you’ll see how they are treated differently according to whether they are male or female. For example, a girl will be wearing pink and playing with a doll, while a boy will be wearing blue and playing with a truck. Our society tells us that pink and dolls are for girls, whereas blue and trucks are for boys. Furthermore, we are taught that females start families, maintain the home, and nurture while men work outside of the home and economically provide for the family. This results in us internalizing our gender and the learned behaviors and expectations associated with our biological sex (Dubeck and Dunn 15).

By the 1950s, according to Betty Friedan, ‘career woman’ had become a dirty word and ‘occupation housewife’ celebrated. The new, happy-housewife heroines were young and content to have their identities defined for them by their husband’s lives (Johnson 240). This is exactly the role taken by the women of the show Mad Men.

Mad Men, set in the 1960s, showcases great examples of women who face challenges tied to their sex-roles. Betty Draper, wife of Sterling Cooper’s creative director Don Draper, exemplifies the classic woman and the traditional sex-role of the ’60s. She is a housewife with two children, a dog, a home with a white picket fence, and a successful and handsome husband. Throughout the first season, Betty is shown preparing meals for her family, cleaning the home, and throwing dinner parties for her husband’s colleagues. This domestic sphere was the woman’s alone, whereas the workplace was the man’s domain.

Before she became Mrs. Don Draper, Betty was an upper class woman who graduated from Bryn Mawr College. Although not revealed during the first season, Betty speaks fluent Italian. She also had a short career as a model following college graduation. It was at one of these modeling shoots that she met her husband, Don Draper. Despite her education and career, Betty chooses to become a housewife because it is the traditional sex-role—all women during this time were socially taught to accept the life of wife, mother and housewife.

Although going through the motions of housewife, Betty seems increasingly unhappy with her status and life in the home. The popular website imdb.com describes Betty as “clearly bored in the suburbs and … not the most attentive or nurturing parent. She often exhibits very immature and childish behaviors of her own and is given to emotional coldness, narcissism, selfishness, and temper flares.” Throughout the season, Betty mentions her past life as a model and later is chosen to model one of Don’s client’s products. Likewise, she is also shown pouring over old modeling outfits in her closet, reminiscing about her pre-housewife life. It is obvious that she yearns for the freedom of her past life as a professional.

In “The Feminine Mystique,” Friedan states that women with a college background were not happy as housewives, and although they were equipped with the skills necessary for the work place, they were instead wasting their talents by doing mindless tasks in the home. Friedan hypothesizes that because these women were not fulfilling career goals, they encountered problems such as emotional breakdowns, alcoholism, teenage marriages, and illegitimate pregnancies (Alspach 279). Similarly, Johnson writes that housewife activities prevent women from achieving or pursuing self-actualization or self-realization (238).

Along the lines of self-realization, another feminist Jesse Bernard explains in her paper “The Future of Marriage” the idea of “the shock theory of marriage.” In her theory, Bernard suggests that women who were able to care for themselves before marriage were now placed in a role where they were dependent upon the husband for economic support and status. The woman then experiences even more shock when she realizes that men are not as strong and protective as she believed them to be (Alspach 279). Bernard, in a separate work, describes the “pathogenic mother,” the mother who spends her adulthood raising her children. She argues that raising children, a 24 hour-a-day job, is too demanding, and although women love their children, some may despise motherhood—yet they are expected to pursue the role (Alspach 279). Bernard found housewives to show symptoms of psychological stress versus working women. One reason for this is that housewives have only one source of satisfaction, their housework, whereas working women have the alternate source of satisfaction in their work (Alspach 280).

These theories by Friedan, Johnson and Bernard describe Betty quite accurately. Betty is found depending on Don for status and self-worth but is repeatedly let down. It’s also apparent in the show that she is not very affectionate toward her children and seems to be annoyed with them. She tries to pick up her modeling career but that does not work out, and later she begins and spends a good amount of time horseback riding—perhaps this is an additional source of satisfaction for her.

Aside from housewife, most of the women in Mad Men are in the work place and hold secretarial and clerical jobs. In the ’60s, Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique proposed that all women should develop life plans, plans which were about their whole lives as women, not just one part of it. They should refuse the housewife image and see housework for what it is: work to be done and got out of the way speedily and efficiently, not a career (Johnson 240). During this time, there was a resurgence of feminist activity, including the Women’s Liberation Movement, leading many women to join the workforce. This was known as second wave feminism, which Johnson describes as a linear narrative of women “breaking out” or “leaving home”—the emergence of an oppositional discourse rejecting the dominant myth of “happy housewives” (Johnson 242). Despite finally joining the public sphere, the jobs that most women held were still gendered, and they assumed positions as secretaries and clerks, which tasked them with similar duties as those found in the domestic sphere, or the home.

Completely opposite of Betty Draper, the remaining women of my analysis, Joan Holloway and Peggy Olsen, have both left traditional sex-roles and joined the masculine “dog-eat-dog” world of advertising at Sterling Cooper. Although both women are at the same company and start out the season with similar secretarial jobs, slowly their roles at work drift to opposite ends of the spectrum.

Peggy Olson starts the season as a naïve girl fresh out of secretarial school. After a short time of working as Don Draper’s secretary, she becomes involved in a campaign for a client who sells lipstick. After successfully pitching ideas for the lipstick campaign, Peggy is invited to join in on another campaign for a woman’s weight loss tool called the Rejuvenator. Soon thereafter, she is promoted to copywriter for Sterling Cooper.

Sterling Cooper was heavily sex-segregated, a term which refers to women’s and men’s concentration in different occupations, industries, jobs, and levels in workplace hierarchies (Reskin 73). In a company where women only held secretarial and clerical positions, Peggy broke through the Glass Ceiling of her time to assume a position of leadership. Nonetheless, Peggy still faced many challenges due to being a woman and the sex-roles attributed to that.

First and most obviously, Peggy was brought on to comment on campaigns aimed toward women—Belle Jolie lipstick and the Rejuvenator. The men of the office wanted a “woman’s perspective.” Indeed, Peggy was used not because the men thought she was bright but because she was a woman and therefore must know how to reach other women.

Secondly, despite her diligence and success in her work, Peggy is still not taken seriously by the other copywriters, all of whom are men. Gruber writes: “Work identities that have stereotypical images of masculinity as their basis are typically ‘doubly’ male dominated: the male tradition of an occupation creates a work culture that is an extension of male culture, and numerical dominance of the workplace by men heightens visibility of, and hostility toward, women workers who are perceived as violating male territory” (111). Peggy’s male counterparts still look at her as first a woman whose sex role is not part of the male-dominated work place. These male copywriters are often shown with looks of offense when asked to perform tasks that are traditionally sex roles of women, for example when being asked to pour drinks, which is traditionally the secretary or woman’s role.

One of the strategies Peggy uses to gain acceptance among her colleagues is to suppress her femininity—throughout the show, she is often shown as cold and short with other secretaries and women, and she dresses modestly as though she’s not concerned with her physical appearance. To fit in with the boys, restrictions on behaviors were recommended by interviewed women: don’t be attractive, or too smart, or assertive. Pretend you’re not a woman (Ragins, Townsend and Mattis 97). Women in managerial positions (or positions of leadership) are forced to develop leadership styles that are not masculine or feminine but that are acceptable to male colleagues, supervisors and subordinates. This is a daunting challenge that is not faced by their male counterparts (Ragins, Townsend and Mattis 95). In short, not only must women exceed performance expectations, they must also find the appropriate way to perform that will not threaten their male peers or make them uncomfortable (Ragins, Townsend and Mattis 98). Ragins, Townsend and Mattis interviewed multiple women in leadership roles, and one of those women commented that she had to learn “how to interact with men who had never dealt with women [as a leader] before, and how to be heard, and how to get past what you looked like, and what sex you were… I had to learn how to offer opinions in a way that could be heard because I wasn’t necessarily given the right to have an opinion” (97). Although immersed in a male-dominated occupation, Peggy continues to overcome the sex role expectations in the workplace.

Finally, I will analyze a woman who appears to be in-between a traditional sex role and an untraditional one. Joan Holloway is a beautiful woman in the office who uses traditional sex roles to her advantage. She has gained leadership in the office—but only among the other women. She has hit her glass ceiling in that she has risen to the highest level of secretary. Her beauty and voluptuous body are things she proudly flaunts and uses to her advantage. Joan is a very smart woman in that she knows she can manipulate men, all while appearing to be submissive to them. She uses this power smartly to gain status among the other women of the office. Multiple episodes showcase men of Sterling Cooper making inappropriate and sexual remarks about Joan. This is not only the behavior of lower status men in the office but also of the directors and partners of the firm. Clearly, this behavior is accepted to be normal, and no one thinks twice about the way Joan and other women in the office are treated as sexual objects.

Sexualization of the work environment is significantly influenced by organizational tolerance of sexually discriminatory or offensive behaviors. These environments may cognitively “prime” some men to perceive women as sex objects and subsequently behave in a sexist or sexually inappropriate manner (Gruber 111). While these men behave in sexist ways, Joan plays along to get what she wants. Rogers and Henson write that being on one’s best behavior and putting up with flirtatious or harassing behavior on the job to be gracious are what women believe to be the right choices in the workplace (276).

Opposite to her leadership and power in the workplace, Joan is also depicted as lonely and looking to prove that she is lovable. She’s often shown talking about a boyfriend and later a fiancé. It appears that although Joan has a successful career, she is still longing for the role of wife, mother and housewife. This shows a struggle for her between traditional and non-traditional roles. In Is “Opting Out” the New American Dream for Working Women? by Meghan Casserly, the author finds that given the chance for their partner to be the sole financial provider of the family, women would choose to stay in the home to raise children. This seems to be true of Joan who is looking desperately to settle down with a man. Joan Holloway walks the line between her career and the desire to be a wife.

Betty, Peggy and Joan all face challenges tied to their sex roles and the expectations they entail. While Betty mentally unravels from the harsh reality of her life, Peggy finds a way to overcome the traditional role of woman in the workplace. Meanwhile, Joan yearns for a traditional life as a wife. Through their personal triumphs and trials, these women show how their gender roles can both empower and imprison them.

 

Works Cited

Alspach, Steven. “Women’s Sex Role Attitudes and Life Satisfaction.” Sociological Focus 15.3 (Aug 1982): 279-287. SocINDEX. Web. 10 March 2014.

Casserly, Meghan. “Is ‘Opting Out’ the New American Dream for Working Women?” Forbes.com. 12 September 2012. Web. 8 April 2014.

Dubeck, Paula, and Dana Dunn. “Workplace/Women’s Place.” New York: Oxford University Press, Inc., 2006. Print.

Gruber, James. “The Impact of Male Work Environments and Organizational Policies on Women’s Experiences of Sexual Harassment.” Gender and Society 12.3 (Jun 1998):301-320. Print.

Imdb.com. Web. 5 May 2014.

Johnson, Lesley. “Revolutions are not made by down-trodden housewives.” Australian Feminist Studies 15.32 (2000): 237-248. SocINDEX. Web. 5 May 2014.

Reskin, Barbara. “Sex Segregation in the Workplace.” Women and Work: A Handbook. New York: Garland Publishers, 1996. Print.

Rogers, Jackie Krasas, and Kevin Henson. “Hey, Why Don’t You Wear a Shorter Skirt? Structural Vulnerability and the Organization of Sexual Harassment in Temporary Clerical Employment.” Gender and Society. 11.2 (1997):215-237. Print.

 

 
Written for Dr. Carmen Nolte-Odhiambo’s ENG 200: Composition II

I have a little invisible imp on my shoulder. Everyone has one, whether or not you admit it. But mine is kinda different, he’s especially mischievous and I’ve grown quite fond of him. His name is Gus, a nickname for Gusano, or worm in Spanish — what you find in the bottom of a tequila bottle, if you have the guts or the raw stupidity to tank the burning fire just to feel the slimy gusano slide around on your tongue, that is. It’s a real kick–which is what I got the first time I drank too much of that damn-awful concoction. I got me a boot-to-the-butt and I flew, with arms flailing, down past three dusty, rickety wooden steps under the blaring, neon green and red sign advertising Jose’s Cantina.

“You should’ve stuck with drinking beer, jackass!” came the raspy, dictatorial voice.  That heckle was the first time Gus became audible.

“You TOLD me to…” I didn’t care, we were finally celebrating our graduation after a long, dismal eight weeks of Air Force basic training. They don’t call this Lackland for nothing.

“Goodbye San Antonio, hello Vietnam!” It was the start of a great life and I knew I wouldn’t be alone. Gus would be with me. I’ve always felt something there, something murmuring inside my head, urging me on, telling me that there is no limit to what I can do, something irrepressible, deep in me. Now that I had left home and finished BMT, I felt freedom in my soul, freedom so profound I could have happily backstroked through an ocean of gusano. I must have looked like an idiot, exuberantly backstroking dust in my drunken stupor outside the cantina that night.

“I’m never backing down, now my life is my own! Nothing’s gonna stop me. I’ll get everything I want in life or die trying.” Maybe I had too much wanting in my life until now, feeling pinned down by a lack of opportunity, a lack of money, a trailer full of siblings all like baby chicks with open beaks screeching to be fed. It was distressing watching Mom get home late at night, exhausted and cranky from having been on her feet all day, serving coffee and hamburgers at Ned’s. Dad left after their fifth child was born, he found someone else.

“Damn dad, wherever he is.” Well, having no f***ing father is better than having a spineless one. I decided long ago that I would never have a kid; my freedom was too valuable. I knew in the depths of my soul that there was more to life than our trailer on this dead-end road in the Hill District. I knew I would break away as soon as I could, and the quickest way out was the military.

“When I turn eighteen, I’m outta here!” No one wanted to join — it was a death sentence, Vietnam was on. Maybe that’s why Gus became real. I needed to be fearless to face death. I may or may not survive Vietnam, but it was certain, inevitable death in Pittsburgh.

That was the day when we actually met, Gus and I, on that first official night as a soldier, in my tequila-infused state. And since then, brazen, roly-poly Gus has been hanging out behind my collar, whispering into my ear, lusting for life. We’ve been everywhere together since then, whenever I needed him. We’ve been through the highest highs and lowest lows together, always together, especially when I needed him.

sunset mtbIt was no different this day, high in the wooded hills above Castle Rock, Colorado. I was on a leisure mountain biking trek with Niki, my new fiancée, to limber up for my next 50K road race coming up in a month.

“Hey! Check out her form!” Gus whistled into my ear. I glanced back to watch as Niki’s bosom bounced animatedly while she pedaled along the uneven terrain.

“Come on, Cutie, just about half way there.” Niki wore a light-pink snug Danskin top that echoed the softness of her blond hair and made her fullness more inviting and alive with every bump on the trail. She was clean looking, not like the countless women Gus and I sought out late at night in back alleys overseas.

It was a cool, blue-sky morning here in Colorado as we zipped between Ponderosa pines and boulders–some the size of refrigerators, others the size of a footstool still too massive to budge even with a crowbar. We followed the trail arching around the prominent, upward spiraling, massive red-rock, castle-like butte that gave the area its name.

As had happened countless times before, an inevitability for any mountain biking fanatic, I hit a blind patch. The trail before me simply disappeared just a short distance ahead, over a very slight rise, only seconds away.

“Okay! Right? Left? Forward? Which way Gus?!” I wasn’t panicked, no, this is the thrill of off-road biking! A decision had to be made at the split second, the precipice in time, that the path unfolds. And that’s part of the skill and thrill of mountain biking, and that’s what I’m good at, making snap decisions with precision.

“Here we go!” I said in my head.

“Go left!” Gus screamed, but only because he already saw the path going left.

“Damn!” My eyes instantly traced the tire-penciled path to the left as I caught the air over the rise, but I committed my front wheel to the other direction and saw that a tree and a boulder were going to be a pain in the ass to contend with when I hit dirt.

“Oh shit!” It wasn’t unusual for me to be injured; I was more worried about my priceless custom-made titanium frame bike. It was a pain in the ass to order, cost a lot, and would be a pain in the ass to fix, and mostly, I needed it for my next race. The pain it would take to fix my bike would be worse than any pain to my body.

Plus, as my ex-wife used to say with admiration, “You have an exceptionally high tolerance for pain. If you were a woman you would be the exception in labor.”

Pain is just an irritating part of life for me. Dealing with the limits of the human body is like dealing with that brain-dead Kentucky Fried Chicken drive-through server who wouldn’t sell me chicken even though there were still five minutes left before closing time. I get my chicken every time. And I’ve faced way worse situations hundreds of times before, like every single time our Huey flew a mission. This was nothing compared to shrapnel that had to be dug out of my back without anesthesia in Nam. The shrapnel scars on my chest, arms, legs are my hard-earned trophies, my badges for flying as a rescue medic in Vietnam. Some of it’s still lodged in me, I can feel it. Like the piece behind my right eye.

“And they have the nerve to say I’m legally blind,” I think as the wheels in my head spin my life before me while the wheels of my bike hit ground.

“Bob!” Niki’s eyes bulged. She scrambled off her bike toward me, so I jumped up in a flash, dusted off quickly, and grabbed my bike handle before Niki could do the “Are you okay?” routine.

“I’m okay,” I interrupted her and looked away to distract her by bouncing my bike to test its frame, but her eyes scanned me anyway to assess my injuries.

“Part of her medical training I suppose,” I consoled myself so her concern doesn’t get under my skin.

“Just a few abrasions, not even a strawberry, Hon.”

“Are you okay?” I guess some predictions are inevitable.

“Fine, lets go!” My left side caught the brunt of the fall but I popped back on my bike and was determined to shake off the incident as I sped away.

A hot shower melted the tension in my muscles when I got home, and of course, I needed to wash off the dirt and clean out the cuts.

“Guess I hit a bit hard.” I rocked my head, slowly side to side, feeling a little light-headed. I had to limber up because Niki was coming over for yoga and dinner. Yoga was always nice with Niki. She went real slow and taught me a few things beyond Downward Facing Dog. She had an earthy smell; I’m not sure if it was the incense, but I liked everything about her when we did yoga together. But my body was tight, not responding to my attempts at stretching. It would be better to just rest tonight.

That Tuesday, sitting at my desk at Raytheon was a blur.

My headache and dizziness hadn’t really left; they were more of an irritation, so I ignored them until my secretary, Anna, handed me the stack of my daily briefings and gawked at me, mouth open.

“Bob, you okay? What’s going on?” Guess Anna could read me well enough; she knew there was something wrong. I knew she usually cloaked her concern because she knows that, for me, admitting to pain was weakness. And I’ve never been weak.

“It’s my head, got Advil?” I jerked open my desk drawer to see if, by chance, I had left any there.

“I think I have some Excedrin in my purse, be back in a minute.”

The dull pain in my head never really did go away. I just needed to rest my head for a minute, so I cradled it between my hands, the weight fully on my elbows propped on my desk.

“Just close your eyes for a minute.” Gus was back, whispering into my ear.

The next time my eyes opened, I saw a hazy sea of grey with white. White above me, white around me, white covering me as I lay still, wrapped like a mummy. Even the muted murmuring images wore white as they floated around me.

“What’s going on?” My eyes wanted to stay closed but my brain nagged me to make sense of the situation.

“Where am I?” My voice carried no sound.

“What did they give me?” I wonder, my heart beat faster, almost a sounding alarm. I try to pull myself and reach for the silver rail, cold to the touch, but have no strength.

“Do I hurt?” My mental assessment began. “No, there’s no pain.” Voices, getting louder, came towards me. Someone leaned over and took my hand in his, warm, firm, and a bit clammy.

“You’re at Swedish Medical Center, Bob.” His face is close, I cannot feel his breath when he speaks. “Can you hear me?”

“Yes.” My voice made no sound. Was this a dream? I looked toward the hovering image and searched the blurry face in front of me for answers.

“Bob, you’ve been here for a day. We’re here to take care of you.” I heard the voice but could not feel his skin as he patted my hand. “Can you move your right hand?”

I struggled to nod, anger rising in me, “Yes.” Still no sound came from my lips.

“It’s a good thing your office was just a few minutes away, Bob. You’ve had a stroke.”

“Bullshit!” …Gus was back on my shoulder. And the fire that got me this far started to burn in my chest, a deep red feverish, unrelenting flame of determination.

 

 

Written for Dr. David N. Odhiambo’s ENG 313: Creative Writing

As I sat on the couch holding the phone up to my ear for my interview with my grandfather, I thought of the man that people view him as. At first glance my grandfather can look intimidating, standing six feet tall and with an athletic build. Even I, his granddaughter, get intimidated by him. When he walks, there is an air of authority from years of both military and police work. He is also the type of person who never really retires from working. With all the work he has done, he often looks back on his life longing for simpler times as a child. He talked about his childhood growing up in Hawai’i in the 1940s when he felt that he had more freedom and less worries than the children of today.

His voice was cheery. “If I wanted to go fishing, I did. If I wanted to climb a tree, I did, and if I wanted to go surfing, I did.” I imagined my grandpa smiling, his brown eyes dancing. He paused for a moment as if trying to remember days almost forgotten, and for the rest of the interview, he spoke of his childhood and family history.

polesMy grandpa was born and raised in Palolo Valley, which is about four miles from downtown and less than a mile from Diamond Head. My grandfather was the third child of six to Clara Violet Jones Hughes and William Ezra Hughes. Their property had several acres that extended down to the river. My grandpa would take his cane pole and go fishing in the river for o’opu and swim in streams. “You can no longer do that. The streams no longer have o’opu, and the streams are no longer safe to swim in because of the leptospirosis,” he sighed. There was sadness in his voice over what has happened to the environment over time due to the behavior of people. Around his childhood house and property were several different fruit trees including mangos, avocados, and mountain apples. They raised chickens, pigeons, and ducks for their eggs to be eaten. It was my grandfather’s job to feed them and gather the eggs every morning. He sat back in his chair smiling. “It was a good time for a young person to grow up in the 1940s to 1950s; there were fewer worries. Life was more carefree back then.” My grandpa spoke with a sense of pride and happiness to have been a child in the 1940s-50s, feeling that many of the youth today will never see Hawai’i as he saw it growing up.

In addition to having a house in Palolo Valley, my great-grandparents owned a country home in La’ie on the beach. My great-grandparents bought the property back in the early 1940s with no house on it. Eventually, a house was brought over from another property. At the time, people thought my great-grandparents were crazy for buying the property because it was so far away with nothing out there. After Great-Grandpa died in 1999, the property was sold and no longer remains in the family.

While at the country house, as they called it, my grandpa and his brothers would go looking for squid and octopus and catch fish to be brought back to the house and cooked for dinner. The kids would wake up and eat breakfast, then spend the whole day in the sun playing in the waves until sunset. My grandpa recalled,  “I remember your great-grandpa would go early in the morning before sun rose with his sack slung over his shoulder and his spear pole in the other hand looking for tako on the reef.” I could almost smell the sea salt coming off the ocean and hear the gentle lapping of the waves against the shore in the morning. In my mind I could picture the sunrise on the beach with my great-grandpa looking for octopus.   My grandpa began telling me how my great-grandma would clean the octopus after great-grandpa brought the catch in. “ Your great-grandma would take the tako and clean it in the outside sink. I remember that the sink would turn black from the ink coming out of the tako. It would still be moving, trying to get away even after it was killed. The guts of the tako were tossed onto the beach. Your great-grandma would then tell me and your Uncle Stephen to go and pick some limu that would be eaten with the tako for dinner.” My grandpa and his younger brother Stephen spent a lot of time together as children and as a result formed a close relationship.

As children, my grandpa and Uncle Stephen built a clubhouse in one of the old mango trees and would play Cowboys and Indians. They would also spend hours fishing in the river, climbing trees, and exploring. There was a theater only a mile or two away that they would walk to and catch a movie every now and then. After catching a movie, they would go to the saimin shop nearby. Waikiki was also within walking distance, and on the weekends, Uncle Stephen, my grandpa, and their friends would go down to the beach and surf. Although my grandpa and my Uncle Stephen spent a lot of time together as children, they rarely see each other now. When my Uncle Stephen grew up, he moved from Hawai’i to Boston, Massachusetts, where he lives today. However, the good times shared together live on in memories.

One of my grandpa’s favorite childhood memories is of playing baseball, and he spoke of it with great fondness. Apparently, he was quite good at it. Despite this, his own father did not go to a single one of my grandpa’s games while he was growing up, and that continues to hang over him. He spoke of this with as few words as possible. There was a hint of longing in his voice before he quickly changed the topic. I was not able find out any more after that because he told me he thought I had enough for my paper. The problem of a father perhaps not spending time with his son is told and retold in countless movies. To hear first-hand the emotions that it brings to my grandpa decades later greatly saddened me.

After my interview with my grandpa, I got the feeling that there was something he wasn’t telling me. A piece of the puzzle was missing, but I was not sure what it was. I told my mom how grandpa reacted when talking about his father not going to his games. It seemed reasonable enough, although out of the ordinary for my grandpa. My mom looked at me and sat me down on the couch and told me there was something I needed to know in regards to my great-grandpa. Oh no, I thought, something terrible. What I heard next shocked me about my great-grandpa’s life as child that ended up affecting my grandpa. My great-grandpa might have been jealous of my grandpa for having the childhood he had never had. My great-grandpa’s childhood was cut short when he was in the 8th grade because he was forced to drop out of school and go to work. His father, my great-great-grandpa, committed suicide in St. Patrick’s church. His suicide brought a lot of shame to the family. Looking back on this, I can see how unfortunate events from previous generations can exact a negative toll on the future generations.

The suicide in the family did not just affect my great–grandpa’s relationship with his son but also added another reason for my grandpa’s maternal grandparents to dislike his father even more. When his grandparents would come over, they would constantly bicker about his dad to his mom. They wished she had married a ‘good Portuguese boy’ instead of a ‘local boy.’ His grandparents never got over the fact that their daughter married a non-Portuguese and because of this, they tried to have as little contact with their daughter as possible. I asked my grandpa later on the phone how his grandparents’ view of his father affected him. I wasn’t quite sure if he would want to talk about but decided I would try. He was reluctant to talk about it at first, but he eventually opened up. When he spoke, his voice was quiet and full of pain.

Definitely – my grandparents’ disdain of my father affected me and the way I viewed myself. It wasn’t long before I was ashamed of my other heritages. But you know what? There will always be people who will try to make you feel less than. It is just how you deal with it.

When my grandpa said there would always be someone who would try to make you feel inferior, it made me feel empowered. Negative words hurt the most when they come from family members who we think love us the most, but like all people, our family members are only human and make mistakes. With each new generation, they can learn something from the pervious one. My conversation with my grandpa about his life as child brought something into perspective and made me see Hawai’i as he saw it growing up. Learning about my family history made me see things differently and appreciate my family more. Going into the interview with grandpa, I didn’t expect to get as much out of it as I did or find anything worthwhile. Although the stories tell of my grandpa’s daily life as child, they brought to surface many problems but gave him a different outlook on things.

As years go by, development arises, ancestors pass away and family history can become lost, but through the stories of grandparents and parents our past can come alive. I couldn’t help but hear the song “Ku’u Home O Kahalu’u” being played as my grandfather spoke about his childhood. His first sentence stuck out to me in the interview: “I remember days when we were younger; we used to catch ‘o’opu in the mountain stream.” I’ll never get to swim in a stream without leptospirosis. I’ll never get to watch my great-grandpa catch tako and my great-grandma clean it. I’ll never truly know what it was like growing up in the 1940s in Hawai’i; however, the stories of my grandfather can help give me a better idea of life then compared to now. Looking back on what my grandpa said made me realize that although times change, many things remain the same..

 

Written for Cara Chang’s ENG 200: Composition II

The topic of pornography yields a divisive chasm amongst feminists of all persuasions. If one were to be uninitiated to the arguments surrounding pornography and feminism, one would never know that there are deep wounds dividing women. There are feminists that fight for the right to be pro-sex and pro-pornography and feminists that fight to stop the production of pornography, not by censorship, but by education. After serious research into this world of feminist conflagration, one can only conclude that an agreement will never be reached. In coming to terms with this, it is my intention to explain the different views on pornography including the salient points expressed by the main feminist camps. An attempt will be made to explain the ultimate conclusion drawn from my research that anti-porn feminists are anti female oppression and pro-pornography feminists are really anti sexual repression. And finally, it is my intention to argue my philosophy that pornography is harmful to a society that needs to move away from patriarchy and establish new systems that include equality for all citizens.

no porn iconThere are three distinct views on pornography that have led to feminist discourse in the modern age of a “post-feminist” society. According to self-proclaimed feminist anarchist Wendy McElroy for Free Inquiry Magazine, there are three feminist views that are clearly defined. The most common (at least in academia) is that pornography is the expression of male culture that creates the avenue for exploitation and commodification of women (anti-pornography feminists). According to Amy Allen’s peer-reviewed article “Pornography and Power,” written for the Journal of Social Philosophy in 2001, the anti-pornography stance taken by feminists Catharine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin maintains that a major theme of pornography as a genre is male power, and the degradation of the female is a means of achieving power (513). The second view, the liberal position, combines a respect for free speech and the ideology that a woman’s body is a woman’s right. Although this group does not celebrate pornography and in fact disapproves of it, they feel it is everyone’s right to consume whatever textual material they want. Their views overlap with both extremes of the argument, and they are seen as passive feminists. The third view, according to McElroy, is a true defense of pornography. It is held by women who are defined as pro-sex (or radical sex feminists) and argue that pornography has positive benefits for women (1). McElroy states that pornography gives a panoramic view of the world’s sexual possibilities, allows women to safely experience sexual alternatives and satisfy curiosities, and lastly offers the emotional information from experiencing something either directly or vicariously (4). According to Ann Ferguson’s article “Sex War: The Debate between Radical and Libertarian Feminists, the radical (anti-pornography) feminists’ views on sexuality are that heterosexual relations are characterized by an ideology of sexual objectification that supports violence against women. Feminists should renounce any sexual practice that supports or normalizes male sexual violence, including pornography. Feminists should reclaim control over female sexuality by developing a concern over our own sexual priorities (more intimacy, less performance). And finally, the ideal relationship should be between two fully consenting partners who are both emotionally involved and are not in polarized roles. Ferguson then explains that the pro-sex feminist paradigm can be summarized by the idea that heterosexual sex practices are characterized by repression. It stigmatizes minorities and keeps the majority pure and under control. Feminists should repudiate any theoretical analysis as well as legal and moral judgments that stigmatizes the sexual minority. Feminists should reclaim control over female sexuality by demanding the right to practice acts that bring pleasure and satisfaction. And finally, the ideal sexual relationship should be between fully consenting adults and equal partners who negotiate and maximize sexual pleasure by any means they choose (108-109).

Ferguson does take into account what McElroy coins as the liberal feminists: feminists that are uncomfortable with pornography yet have greater objections to censorship and infringements on any rights that may further impugn the women’s rights movement.  McElroy defines herself as pro-sex and pro pornography and states that there are women such as Nina Hartley that are current or former sex workers who claim to know firsthand that posing for pornography is a non-coerced choice that can be enriching (2). More currently, Duke University student Belle Knox has made waves as a rich girl porn star who is doing porn to pay for her education and, according to Ms. Knox, testing the patriarchal systems by having control of her sexual journey. Many of her fellow students are appalled that someone so privileged can be a porn star. It is comforting to know that the millennial generation has an understanding of female oppressive forces and that pornography is not the answer to counteract those forces. McElroy does have a valid point in acknowledging that Japan has pornography depicting graphic and brutal violence readily available, yet rape is much lower per capita than in the United States, where porn is severely restricted (4). The main feminist camps are so divided in their views on pornography that the war on women has created internal factions of wars on women by women. These groups steadfastly believe that they are right and the others are wrong and yet, all aim for what seems to be a common goal of female equality and equanimity. Ultimately, the end is clear but the means are very different.

There is no paucity in the amount of literature explaining the different feminist views on pornography. The most one can ascertain is that anti-porn feminists are anti female oppression and pro-sex feminists are really anti sexual repression. According to Ilene Philipson’s peer-reviewed article “The Repression of History and Gender,” “one must carefully monitor her words or actions these days in order to avoid being seen as an enemy of the women’s movement or, conversely, a moralistic defender of vanilla sex” (113). The anti-pornography feminists such as Mackinnon and Dworkin view gender differences as a function of male domination, and it is the costs and benefits that are unjustly attached to those differences that are cause for concern. Therefore, for anti-pornography feminists, the goal of activism is not to grant women equal access to power but to eliminate and dismantle the system of domination. Both Mackinnon and Dworkin believe that pornography provides a window into a hierarchal and heterosexual realm that tells us what men really want sexually as defined in a male-dominated culture (Allen 514). According to the anti-pornography feminist viewpoint, patriarchy is an unchanging force throughout history that is expressed as systematic and unrelenting violence against women from rape to foot binding in countries like China (Philipson 113). According to Philipson, ours is a society marked by male domination, and it is impossible to want for both freedom and protection: As long as women are routinely raped and battered and such images are glorified in pornography, and as long as women are systematically denied equal access to jobs, earn less than men, and have the primary role in child-rearing which often causes one-sided poverty, pro-pornography feminists should seek to reevaluate the need for sexual freedom over protection from the systems that continually oppress women (118).

The sex-radical, pro-pornography feminists’ aim is to open the discussion of sexuality among feminists and to free feminist discourse from moralistic taboos (Philipson 113). These feminists also believe that not only does pornography no harm, it actually helps and has positive social benefits for women. Their view is that pornography is good for us and sexual repression is bad for us and that sexual repression is an incontrovertible fact of our culture. Amy Allen’s issue with the claim that pornography functions as liberator to repressed sexuality is that Westerners are not sexually repressed. She takes Michel Foucault’s History of Sexuality and dissects sexual repression. Foucault argues that if we were so sexually repressed, why then do we talk about sex so much and so often? Foucault’s critique of the repressive hypothesis is that “power does not function solely negatively, instead, power functions both negatively and productively, and does so at once, producing the very subjects that it constrains” (520). The pro-pornography feminists believe that male domination of women changes over time and across cultures and classes. They consider themselves liberated thinkers that pit themselves against those that are self-righteous and support purity movements (113). The pro-pornography feminists have managed to create a dichotomous platform of a “good girl” versus “bad girl,” the good girl being an un-rebellious and repressed prude and the bad girl being sexually fulfilled and liberated. Philipson does an outstanding job of calling out the pro-pornography movement for fallacies entwining pornography and the feminist agenda of female equality. She raises several salient points regarding the repression of female sexuality. First, there is an assumption that society is just as sexually repressed at it has been in the past. Clearly this is not true. With magazines such as Maxim and FHM on the newsstands with covers of scantily dressed women and with pleasure parties replacing Tupperware parties, society has overcome its Pollyanna views on sex. Authors who defend the enjoyment of pornography as a form of resistance to “no sexual pleasure at all” can seem anachronistic. Porn is a billion dollar industry in the United States and pornographic advertising is omnipresent especially on the Internet. Next, Philipson begs the question of who actually enjoys pornography and can do so to resist a repressive culture. Pro-sex feminists claim that both men and women should and could truly enjoy pornography; however, a trip to any porn store would prove otherwise. Most materials do not have women’s liberation and sexual enjoyment in mind. They are really made for men. And lastly, pro-pornography feminists make it seem as though there is something wrong with women who crave emotionally fulfilling intimacy that does not involve explicit sexual imagery (116). Pro-pornography feminists have created the notion that depersonalized sex is normative and thus women’s sexual desires, often distinguished by an aversion to depersonalized sex acts and the need for intimacy and closeness, are seen as inadequate (117).

In my own words, if women are to search for equality, is sex the first place we begin? Would it not be with our wombs, or our work, must it be on our backs? How do images of rape and violence against women (which make up most of the porn industry) help all women break the glass ceiling or assist the pro-choice movement? They don’t. They only lend themselves to the vicious cycle in the patriarchal society that keeps men in power positions, to dictate legislation that affects women, and to keep the systems of oppression in place. It is an argument that is very destructive to the best interests of women everywhere. It is divisive and caustic and does not allow women to gather their strength in numbers to make a dent in the war against women. It is my belief that the fight against female oppression (control) is far more important that the fight against sexual repression (freedom). Although they are related, one cannot truly have freedom if one is being controlled.

After much research, my own views on pornography have drastically changed. I would have considered myself a liberal feminist who felt she had to watch pornography in order to be hip and inclusive. I did not give thought to the girl who felt she had to expose and exploit herself to make a living, or the man that got paid more for not wearing a condom, and I did not consider that these images were not about my sexual freedom but about a greater symptomatic disease. I understand now that this is not only a struggle for women but for men as well. According to Robert Jensen’s book Getting Off, feminist Andrea Dworkin reached out to men to actively change and to believe in their own humanity and stop the exploitation and systems of abuse against women. In Jenson’s own quest, he could settle on being a man or he could struggle to become a human being. If he settled, the rewards would be huge but the cost unknown, and if he struggled, then he would struggle but take steps towards women’s liberation. Jenson writes of Dworkin’s principle, ”women matter just as much as men, and men have it in them to recognize that and change.” Jenson goes on to describe the horrific sex acts that take place in a typical porno, most involving hardcore penetration, double penetration in any female orifice, anus to mouth penetration, and penetration with more than one partner. Very disturbing sex acts. The women in these movies are merely objects. MacKinnon captures this in her succinct grammar lesson on pornography and male dominance: “Man fucks woman; subject verb object” (Jenson 65).

Pamela Paul’s book Pornified raises the idea of the commodification of women, children, and all things deemed subordinate in a male-dominated society, and it discusses the power that one can never fully attain when viewed as a commodity. Almost any man who does or does not watch porn will testify to the fact that pornography is misogynistic and objectifies women. Almost any man will tell you that he would never want his daughter to grow up to do porn. Yet in this man’s world, he can watch demeaning images of women and control the will of his children to not participate in something so disgusting. With the age of the Internet, pornography is cheap and easily accessible. However, the implication is that with demand comes supply, and no one is safe from the reaches of the commodification of pornography. If it is okay and profitable to have a voyeuristic aspect to watching two consenting adults have sex, then the limits will always be pushed. It will turn into rape porn, snuff porn, revenge porn, child porn, and that door can never close. At the most sinister margins of porn culture, there is always the commodification and abuse of children. As an advanced society, should this alone not stop the consumption of pornography? The research in Paul’s book Pornified reveals that many consumers of pornography had no problem watching girls that were younger and younger over time. Prominent men in the community that denied any predilection toward pedophilia had no problems watching girls as young as eleven in explicit content. This is disturbing to say the least.

Pornography is a textual artifact of visual media that has been the source of pain and discord amongst the different feminist camps. It affects women, children, and men in vastly unhealthy and negative ways. It would be the best kind of society that would frown upon those that watched pornography as the atypical person, but unfortunately we live in a society where men are expected to watch porn and now women are expecting other women to watch porn as well. Label me a prude and sexually repressed; however, I believe in female equality and equanimity. I believe in the right to birth control of all forms, and I believe in equal work and pay for all genders. I just don’t believe that pornography is helping to get us to that point.

 

 

Works Cited

Allen, Amy. “Pornography and Power.” Journal of Social Philosophy 32.4 (2001): 512-531. Print.

Ferguson, Ann. “Sex Wars: The Debate between Radical and Libertarian Feminists.” Journal of Women and Society 10:4 (1984): 106-112. Print.

Jensen, Robert. Getting Off. New York. South End Press, 2007. Print.

McElroy, Wendy. “A Feminist Defense of Pornography.” Free Inquiry Magazine 17:4 (2004). Page 1-4. Print.

Paul, Pamela. Pornified. New York: Holt Paperbacks, 2005. Print.

Philipson, Ilene. “The Repression of History and Gender: A Critical Perspective on the Feminist Sexuality Debate”. Journal of Women in Culture and Society. 10:1 (1984):113-118. Print.

Stoker, Elizabeth. “Sorry Belle Knox, porn still oppresses women” The Week. 2014. Web.

 

 

Written for Dr. Carmen Nolte-Odhiambo’s ENG 200: Composition II

hourglassWhen I was growing up, I had two sets of parents: my mother and father, and my tata and nana. I would love going over to my tata and nana’s house to spend time with them and talk story about their life growing up in the Philippines and the reason they migrated to Hawai’i. My nana would always tell me, “Without me, none of you guys would be here. You all should be grateful that I brought you guys here.” And till this day, I am grateful that we live in America, but I have always wondered what made them want to come to O’ahu, and why they moved away from a place that they grew up in. All I knew was that my tata and nana wanted to provide us with a better life. This is why I wanted to take this time to ask all the questions and get the answers from them.

As we sat in their living room, we talked about how they used to watch over my sisters and me since we were babies, and the room filled with laughter. As the laughter died down, my tata’s face changed as I asked, “Why did you guys move to America, Tata?”

As he explained why, he had this look of relief in his eyes. The reason why they left was shocking; I didn’t know that they had experienced things so terrible. He talked about the war, when Japan tried to take over the Philippines. “I was scared for nana and your grandpas because they would kill children and rape the women.” I could tell he wanted to cry because he had never told this to anyone. “I told your nana to bring Ricky and Bert to the mountain to be safe.” He explained how grateful he was that he rushed them to the mountains because if not, then we wouldn’t be alive. “This is why we left, Stephanie! You happy, right! If not, you wouldn’t be alive.”

“Yes, I am,” I replied. “Thank you for that.” To me, this was a big shock. I didn’t know that there had been any sort of war happening in the Philippines while my tata and nana were living there. I wanted to cry because the emotion of despair that my tata was giving me made me sink into my chair as there was a really long pause. My sisters and I just kept looking at each other, and their facial expressions showed signs of relief that my tata and nana were okay. I could not imagine a life without them. They are important to our family and basically, the beginning of our family.

It all started with my nana; she grew up on the Big Island with her mother and father. While growing up, she would always tell us about her father being deported to the Philippines due to a crime. She never did tell us much about her father. My tata explained why they chose O’ahu over the Big Island.

We moved to O’ahu from the Philippines because of the war that were going on. I believed it was safer for us to leave. We wanted to move to the Big Island because your nana grew up there, but it was too expensive and I was not able to find work. So finally we settled on O’ahu because I found work at Dole Plantation. It was hard work, but we had enough money to have a house and provide food for all of us. You know, I worked really hard for your nana, Ricky and Bert. Overall, I am glad we live on O’ahu because the Big Island is a boring place to live. Oahu has better opportunities and nicer houses. Especially since the family got so big. I truly love your nana even if I don’t show it often.

My tata then talked about how he met my nana. I could tell from his face that he is in love with my nana, no matter what she is putting him through right now with her dementia. As he was telling the story, I could hear my nana saying, “I never loved him, from the start! He was old man already.” All of us laughed, but we all knew that they loved each other. They are 16 years apart and still in love.

“Yeah, I was old,” my tata said. “And she was young, but when I seen her, I knew she was the one I wanted to be with, so I forced her to love me by being the best husband and father I could be.”

“Did it work, Tata?” I ask.

He laughed and smiled at me and said, “Yes, you think she would still be here if I never worked?”

I started to tear as he explained their life together because it was like a romantic comedy. In the beginning she hated him because he was too old and not her type, but it did not stop him from making her fall in love with him. After all these years, my tata takes wonderful care of my nana. He still provides everything that he can to make her happy. She has her off days, but when my tata gets a glimpse of how they used to be, it makes up for all the pain that she has caused him because that is his one true love.

January 27, 1945, was the day my tata and nana decided to become husband and wife. My tata was 32 years old, and my nana was 16 years old.

“Yes she was young, but it was legal,” he said. “I got her parents’ approval and hers; that’s all that matters. It has been 68 years since your nana and I got married, and it has been a ride full of ups and downs, but mostly up. Thankfully, she got to know me better throughout the years and she has come around to loving me for who I am. Without her no one would be here. She sacrificed being with someone younger to be with an old man who forced her to love him. I take great care of her, even if she’s’ crazy.”

They moved to O’ahu, Hawai’i, on August 5, 1966, with their two sons and two daughter-in-laws. “It was hard work to live here, but it was for the best for the family.” Both my tata and nana worked at Dole Planation as pineapple pickers until they retired. “I worked hard for my family, I was an emigrant and had no way to get a professional job, even if I was a straight A student in the Philippines.” His eyes opened widely while he talked about the issue of discrimination against immigrants. He explained how his bosses didn’t promote him because he would speak his mind on the unfair wages and the hours they worked. He was disappointed in himself because he couldn’t provide as much as he would like for his family. His face changed from a smile to a frown as he talked about not being able to make enough money. “I felt like a failure because I am smart. But I couldn’t get a better job.” He did the best thing by moving his whole family to America to create a better life for them. “I worked till my shoes broke.” That is how dedicated he was especially since my nana couldn’t work because of an accident at work. “A tool cut her face; she was bleeding so much she went home and stayed home.” They had one income and still managed to keep their home and provide food for their family.

We talked for three hours, and I learned a lot about my tata and nana. They are amazing people, and I am honored to have them in my life. They provided our families with many things like finances, wisdom and love. Honestly, I didn’t know much about their past, but I am glad I do now. They ran away from wars, stayed away from poverty and still managed to love one another through it all. My tata would always tell my boyfriend, “You have one life, one love, and you must take care of that one love.” He is an amazing son, brother, father, grandfather and great-grandfather. Throughout my life, I have looked at him as a second father because he has taught me so much – from random facts about Hawai’i to math and boyfriend advice. I am truly lucky to have such an amazing tata in my life, and he will never be replaced.

 

Written for Cara Chang’s ENG 200: Composition II

 

As my grandmother, Loretta Godfrey, and I sit in her living room on a warm March day, I ask her if I could interview her for an essay. My grandmother does not reply and instead tilts her head slightly, shifts hers eyes up, indicating that she is going over all her memories. Before my grandmother can respond, I ask her, “If I were to ask you what your most memorable moment from your childhood is, how would you respond?”

Instantly, she looks back at me, leans forward, and answers, “That would have to be when I lived in Kakaʻako and the day the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.”

After hearing my grandmother’s response, I immediately reflect on the countless stories she has shared with me, realizing that she has never discussed what her life was like during World War II. My grandmother starts off by explaining to me that she grew up in the Kakaʻako area, and she even remembers her old address, 432 Keawe Street. My grandmother tells me her old neighborhood was filled with businesses, warehouses, and residential buildings. She goes on to say that the families that lived in her neighborhood were made up of mixed ethnicities such as Japanese, Filipino, Hawaiian, and Portuguese.

I ask her if she remembers where she was the morning that the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. My grandmother looks at me with mixed emotions, a bit of excitement to share her memories yet a hint of sadness due to the events that occurred that day.

plane“I was 10,” she says. “ When we were in church, we could hear the bombings. We [my friends and I] whispered to each other, what was the navy doing, training so early in the morning on a Sunday. The bombing started about five minutes before mass was supposed to end. I told my friends, I hope Father hurries up so we can go outside to see what’s going on. When mass ended, we all ran outside. We experienced the Japanese flying over that Sunday morning. We knew it was the Japanese cause we could see the Rising Sun insignia. Mrs. Tiwanak, an old Filipino lady that went to the same church as us, walked out, and I saw her bless herself [with the sign of the cross]. I asked her, ‘What’s going on?’ She said, ‘Inday [Filipino word meaning young girl], I think it’s war.’”

My grandmother pauses momentarily to gather her thoughts, and as she does, I ask her, “So what did you do next?”

She explains that she was the oldest out of her group of friends and considering what they had just seen, she instructed them to get home. “We had to cross Mother Waldron Park [Cooke Street and Pohukaina Street intersection] to get from our church to where we lived, but my friend June was wearing a bright red dress and was too scared to cross cause she thought the planes were going to see her and shoot her.” She smiles. I think because it allows her to revisit friends in her mind that she has not seen in a very long time. She makes a slapping gesture and explains she had to slap her friend June to talk sense into her and that it was important for them to get home. After crossing the park together, my grandmother and her friends split in different directions to their respective homes.

When my grandmother arrived home that day, no one was there, and she began to cry. The entire apartment building was empty. My grandmother proceeds to tell me that there was a lumber yard behind the building, so she started to walk in that direction. With a sense of relief in her voice she said, “Wow! What’s going on?” It was Uncle Sonny [her brother]. “My dad and Uncle Sonny had been watching planes get shot down from the lumber yard. I sat down next to my dad and he asked me why I was crying. I told him no one was home; I thought you guys left me.” It is clear to me that thinking of her father and brother being safe on this tragic day brought my grandmother happiness. She then tells me that they all walked back to their apartment. Before they got inside, she says, there was a bit of commotion around an elderly Japanese man. My grandmother later discovered that he was seen waving a small Japanese flag in the air during the attack, which made people upset. Since she was friends with this man’s grandchildren, she asked them for clarification. My grandmother states, “Mr. Ayano was waving his flag in hopes that the Japanese wouldn’t bomb our building. Later when the government came to collect the Japanese for internment camps, someone told on him, and they took him away.” My grandmother went on to say that two of Mr. Ayano’s older grandchildren wanted to prove their loyalty to the United States, so they went on to join the Army and became members of the 442nd Infantry Regiment.

I then ask my grandmother, “What was life like during the war?”

She mentions that they didn’t have to go to school for a few days, but when they returned to school, they had to share a campus with the all-boys school that my Uncle Sonny attended since her school, Sacred Hearts, had been turned into a make-shift hospital. My grandmother also tells me that during the war, some people in the neighborhood exhibited racism towards people of Japanese ancestry because of what happened. However, she was not brought up that way and was not a part of that group. My grandmother explains, “We’ve known these kids since we were little, they weren’t the ones that attacked us. These were our friends.” She goes on to say that there was Martial Law, meaning that children were not allowed out after dark without an adult, and they had to carry a gas mask around everywhere they went in case of a chemical attack.

Not all of her stories of this time are somber ones. My grandmother happily tells me about how the neighborhood kids would play stickball in the street and some of the navy men staying at a nearby reservation would come and play with them.

I then ask my grandmother, “What was it like when you found out the war was over?”

My grandmother excitedly leans forward, visibly replaying the events of that day in her head.”I was at home and heard people celebrating out in the street,” she says. “So I went outside and asked one of my neighbors what was going on. He said the Japanese surrendered; the war was over! People were kissing each other in the street, people were throwing toilet paper in the air, and everyone was cheering. Service members from the nearby military reservation brought out rolls of toilet paper for everyone to throw. I then started to cry. I cried because of the people who suffered most. One of my friends came over and asked me why I was crying. I told her that I knew that not all the guys who used to play [stickball] with us made it [survived the war]. We need to go to church and pray for them.”

After learning of my grandmother’s deep personal connection to the events that transpired on December 7, 1941, and over the years that followed, I will always have a deep admiration for what she has endured during this time period of her life. Although I live in a time of war and even served overseas in the military, I do not have the same special link that my grandmother has to World War II. I will always have an appreciation for what my grandmother has gone through.

 

Written for Cara Chang’s ENG 200: Composition II