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Wednesday, September 09, 2009

It Is What It Is

The feeding frenzy has begun. Since the email advertising campaign, the Facebook notice, and the postcards we sent have hit the street, the vultures have been circling over House of Tiki. Wes tells me that I should take some customers' f'd up, greedy attitudes in stride. "Just let it go Pua. Don't get so worked up. Water off a duck's back." But I have a hard time standing by while some people try to rape us.

For the most part, people have been generous and kind. They have come by the shop this week, not waiting for the sale on Saturday, in an effort to support us. They're sad, and they know we're sad. They're buying things at their regular price and not haggling. They're staying to talk with us about how they'll miss us and how they've been regular customers for the eight years we've been open. Even the "Tikiphiles", who can sometimes be a little overwhelming for me, have been exceptionally kind.

Then there are the bottom feeders. The ones who say "Wow, I'm really bummed. So sorry that you have to close your business." Then in the next breath ask if a price on a beautiful tiki is the "best you can do." Even worse, one woman actually asked if a 99 cent sticker was also going to be on sale come Saturday. A freakin' 99 cent sticker. Wes spent a half hour last night listening to a customer tell him how he'd just got back from two weeks in Tahiti, staying at an $1800 a day resort and how much money he dropped there on artwork. In the same breath, he asks Wes if the price on an Acacia carving is different because, well you know, it's "me". As if Wes OWES him something. Wes tells him that we still have to make money to pay bills and he's not just GIVING stuff away. The guy's response? "Well, it is what it is." Which I translate as his way of saying; "Hey, you're going out of business anyway, so why not let me kick you while you're down?"

When I was growing up, I would hear the phrase "stupid haole" all the time. No, it isn't nice. But you have to understand that many native Hawaiians have a real bone to pick with white, non-locals. It's a story that has hundreds of years of history. A kingdom illegally stolen, a queen overthrown, threatened with the certainty of the spilled blood of her people if she didn't surrender her throne and made a prisoner by rich Americans. It isn't a pretty story. Some Hawaiians can't forget or forgive. Pineapple and cane fields are disappearing. Land is being bought up by rich foreigners and mainlanders. Native Hawaiians cannot even afford to own the land that is rightfully theirs. The truth is, Hawaii depends on tourism to survive.

Fortunately, we are a beautiful and welcoming people. A people with a rich heritage and an overflowing wealth of culture that we are proud to show off and share. There is no denying that it is paradise. But we'd really like people to understand that it is so much more to us than a premier vacation spot. It is our home. We have jobs, real jobs. We're not just hula dancers, or tour bus drivers, or musicians. We have bills to pay, and elderly parents to care for just like everyone else. We have poverty in the parts of the islands that you don't see when you're on your tours. We have a terrible drug problem, and our public schools rank lowest in the nation. It is a real place with everyday problems that continue to go on even after two week holidays are over.

As a native Hawaiian, I don't prescribe to the notion that every non-local is a "stupid haole". So sometimes, when I hear the term come out of someone's mouth, I cringe. After all, I'm hapa (half) haole. My boss is haole, my husband is haole, my children...well let's face it; they're haole. I am surrounded by beloved friends and family who are haole. I don't bandy the word "haole" around, and the truth is, the word by itself is not necessarily derogatory. In my 'ohana, we use it to describe someone.."You know, that haole girl that has the green jeep." It's really only when you put the word "stupid" or "dumb" in front of it that it becomes, well, mean.

Over the years I have been at H.O.T., there have been times, when I've come across some people who lack sensitivity when it comes to Hawaiiana or Hawaiian culture. I have always tried to maintain my spirit of Aloha. I really think that's why the people who have come there have continued to come there over the years. They sense that Aloha Spirit, which I have always felt Wes has embodied. If I didn't feel that way, I would have never come to work for and with him. It has been, at times, very difficult to listen to people drone on and on about their spectacular home in Kauai, or their beachfront property in Maui. I suppose it wouldn't be so bad if these were their everyday homes. But these are just their vacation homes.

Yes, I understand that people love Hawai'i. I understand that they would want to share their excitement. The problem is that it's very hard for someone who can't relate to their material wealth to be excited about it. I don't want to know how many rooms your house in Hanalei has. I don't want to see pictures of your macadamia nut farm. I don't want to know how you can afford to retire in paradise when members of my own family have to LEAVE the islands to be able to retire SOMEDAY, or if ever. I don't fucking care that you're building your dream home where I will never be able to live again. They are talking to someone, who when they go home, goes to a sister or brother's home, not a four-star resort. They are talking to someone who comes from such a large family that we sometimes share sleeping space on the floor, or a futon, or a couch, or sometimes, even a sleeping bag in a tent in the yard. I'm not complaining. I love going home. My kids love going home. We have the benefit of 'ohana. Lots of 'ohana. In this alone, we are more wealthy than can be described. We know the true Hawai'i that people who do not live there will never know. This is just about perspective.

Now, if they want to talk to me about the beauty of the land, where to visit, what to see, I can barely contain my excitement. If they want to get away from the usual touristy crap, I'm their girl. If they want to hear the stories of my people, my culture, my home, I am all over it. But please do not come in the store and try to tell me how much YOU know about Hawaii. And for God's sake, DO NOT give me a history lesson because your history is skewed. Also, I'm the LAST person that wants to talk about religion and the role of missionaries in the islands.

Last, but not least, do not come in with expectations that because you believe you know so much, and you "THINK" you're so polynesian because you can say "Iorana!" and you got a fucking Tahitian tattoo and your kid takes hula lessons, that you can come in the store and take advantage of us. We're going out of business you asshole. If you've got the money, and we know you do because you keep throwing it around all over the islands, then Jesus Christ, pay the price on the tag and don't ask for the "bro deal". You're not my fucking my bro. You're just a...well you're just a stupid haole.

It is what it is.