on the right side of white…

Dear Dr. King,

Your ears must be ringing since everyone’s been talking about you. The media has been playing your “I have a dream” speech over and over again.

The 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Free...

The 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on the National Mall facing east from the Lincoln Memorial (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One anecdote was of particular interest.  It seems a pro basketball player who stood nearby asked if he might have your speech after you’d delivered it. Evidently you gave him the 3 pages, because he still has it.

I have no such memento of that historical day, or the faintest recollection of where I was when you spoke those famous words. It’s safe to say I probably felt as far removed from the black situation as I was the day you stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. I was thousands of miles away on the island of Maui in Hawaii. You were changing history…and I didn’t bear witness.

But just as a pebble causes ever-widening ripples to occur when it hits the water’s surface, your words have affected generations of lives…for the better. And so it seems only fitting that I write you this long overdue thank you letter.

If you hadn’t stood tall for racial injustice I might not be living on…the right side of “white.”

I graduated from college, and with my degree was able to work alongside white colleagues in a number of different jobs.

My family and I have felt at home in neighborhoods predominantly populated by whites.

Our daughter has thrived in all white schools.

We can shop where we please. We can choose which theater to see a movie. We can dine where we like. We can use public restrooms without reservation. We can travel by plane, train or ship. We can overnight in a Hyatt or a Best Western. We can decide which services get our business be it the cable company, the dentist, or a contractor.

No one looks twice at my driver’s license picture. Retailers are only too happy to take my money. Pre-approved applications for credit cards always arrive in the daily mail.

I owe my quality of life to the steps you took to improve your family’s life, and the lives of other African Americans, Hispanics, Middle-Easterners, Asians…and Pacific Islanders like me.

What you did 50 years ago will continue to resonate until mankind ceases to exist.

I may have been born on the wrong side of white, but thanks to your dream of what could be…

English: Inscription on the steps of the Linco...

English: Inscription on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, commemorating the location from which Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech during the March on Washington on 1963-08-28. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

…i’m living on the right side of white…

…mahalo!…

………hugmamma.

“life’s flavor,” ethnicity

Father Edmunds, I’m almost certain that’s the name of the priest who regularly assists our pastor at saying a few Sunday Masses. Charismatic in a more soft-spoken manner, Father gave an interesting homily last weekend.

The Gospel’s message was that we, God‘s disciples, are the “salt of the earth,” and the “light of the world.” Father began his sermon telling of a book fest he’d attended where an acquaintance, a Muslim, was speaking to a predominantly Muslim audience. The man had authored many books based upon his life experiences.

Born in Egypt, the speaker was raised in Switzerland. Now living in the U.S., he’s very familiar with living in a society unlike his own. Initially he tried to fit in, setting aside his cultural idiosyncrasies. In time, with the advice of friends, he realized he should celebrate his Muslim heritage, sharing, rather than hiding it.

Father likened one’s ethnicity, to the salt used by Middle Easterners to heat their earth ovens. There, children set to work mixing together salt and the dung of camels and donkeys. The result is spread over the stones covering the bottom of the earth ovens. The salt acts as a catalyst in igniting the fire. As the flames burn, the catalytic quality in the salt is expended. The salt, its flavor intact, is then scattered on the ground outside the oven.

Just as salt flavors the food we eat, so too our individual differences bring a vibrancy to the world in which we live, explained Father Edmunds. He went on to say that God gifts us with our distinctive traits, as part of His greater plan to bring “light” to the world.

Moving to New York from Honolulu, where I’d graduated from the University of Hawaii, and gotten married, was like moving to a foreign country. Most New Yorkers I encountered didn’t look like me, nor did they share my mannerisms. Being of Chinese-Hawaiian descent qualifies me as a Pacific Islander with the census bureau, but my habits and attitudes are generally like those of the Asian population, and very unlike those of Caucasians. Living in the Big Apple compounded my dilemma, for its residents are unlike those in any of the other 50 states, or so I’m told.

It took me a while to develop a stiff upper lip, not to mention a spine. Orientals in Hawaii in the 50s and 60s, were “invisible.” We had no problem adhering to the golden rule, “children should be seen and not heard.” So finding myself among New Yorkers who were aggressive, ambitious, and often ill-mannered, left me feeling like a doormat. I tried to fit in, by setting aside my ill-equipped Asian mentality. I was like a scared chicken let out of its coop, left to flounder among long-time, cage-free residents.

Slowly, inevitably, I began owning my culture once again. I wore it like a badge of honor, telling everyone within earshot, “I’m from Hawaii, born and raised on the island of Maui.” As whites and blacks warmed up to me, I wore my pride and humility equally. I came to love The Big Apple. Visiting relatives commented that I was becoming a New Yorker, exhibiting more confidence and “hutzpah.” Working in New York City for 10 years, my personality underwent changes in order to survive. I even joked that the stork must have made an error, delivering me to Pacific Islanders. It seemed I should’ve been “dropped” on the island of Manhattan, alongside the Hudson River.

Of course I’d never relinquish my unique heritage. It embellished my experiences in the Big Apple, and being Hawaiian continues to flavor life’s journey wherever I go.

savor one’s heritage…life’s salt, life’s “flavor”…hugmamma.