The Persistance of Memory

Of the few treasures that I have, one of them is my genealogy. I LOVE hearing stories about my relatives and ancestors, the filmmaker in me turning them into small films in my head. I especially love looking at old photos, looking for clues about my family story…

I have this picture of my grandparents when they first met, working for the Hawaiian Homes Commission when it first opened in the 1930s. My grandfather was a counselor, assigning plots of homestead land for Kanaka Maoli. My grandmother was the office secretary. My grandfather always said it was love at first sight when he first saw her (they are the two standing in the back on the right hand side)…On the bottom left corner, is a favorite person of my grandfather’s, Princess Abigail Kapi’olani Kawanakoa.

I have this other picture of my maternal great grandparents (the couple on the right hand side), who were from Ireland. This is a snapshot of them with their friends in Mexico, where they went on a road trip. My great grandfather at the time had his own vaudeville theater in Massachusetts, which later turned into a movie house. My mother remembers him plunking her down in one of the theater seats with a giant bar of chocolate, and a hand of bananas, and she would watch movies for hours until she got sick from eating all the sweets…

And here’s another of my grandfather, when he served in the army in WWII…

One of the things I love to wonder about is how people’s stories lead them to one another, and how their different realities and worlds end up colliding. My parents met in the Air Force in Wyoming…and here they are in Mokule’ia:

When my great grandfather came over from Ireland, he was only 12 or 13, and eventually ended up working in the circus as a projectionist. When my other great grandfather came over from China, he was around the same age. He was on his way to SF, but then jumped ship in Hawai’i, ending up on a sugar plantation. When he was older, he had his own Chinese candy store and a butcher shop…Could either of my great grandfathers ever have imagined how their stories would intertwine? Could they ever have imagined ME? 😛

I wish there were more films that looked at the complexities of genealogy – especially for indigenous people. I think a lot of us don’t realize how much the idea of cultural purity and blood quantum is ingrained in our perception of what indigenous people look like or who they should be. History is not a linear narrative – the more you delve into it, the messier and more challenging it becomes…which should be something to be cherished. If everything fit perfectly like a puzzle, there wouldn’t be much left to wonder about (my grandfather, uncle, and dad playing on the beach below)…

* Please do not use pictures without permission, mahalo!


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