This story was shared by Natasha Achong

I was forwarded your e-mail by Kim Birnie and am responding on behalf of my Grandmother, Catherine Leina’ala Wilson Gagnon, because she does not have e-mail and is currently in the hospital. She first moved to Puerto Rico in 1975 because my Step grandfather (her 2nd marriage) was transferred there by the Navy. Then, in 1977 they were transferred to San Diego and she’s been there ever since.


Nothing was very difficult for her financially speaking. But, of course, being away from your family and Hawaii is very hard even if she was on the West Coast and not that far away. The most difficult situations for her were deaths in the family. First, her mother died… then her 2nd oldest sister, then her brother, then her oldest sister…slowly they all died and now there is only 2 of them left (out of 10)-herself and her sister right above her. They always gave her a hard time because she was the only one that married a “haole” and always accused her of being “haole” in her ways… so it was hard for her when they all passed without having a chance to ho’oponopono in regards to all that bad blood from the past (there was a WHOLE lot more- different subject though.)


She’s always said that she never wanted to move back home to Hawaii and preferred to live in the Mainland because that way she would “…hear about all the family problems but didn’t have to see and/or face them in person”…she would tell me this over and over when I used to live with her. On the other hand, the rest of the family feels that the REAL reason she doesn’t wanna move back home is because she’s an avid Bingo and Keno player and although there is Bingo here in Hawaii (on base), the jackpots here don’t compare to the ones that can be won up there. So… You decide what story you wanna go with.


One story that I’ll share with you is one from when my Grandma was married to my Grandpa (her first marriage). He was also in the military but worked in the Naval offices and for some reason was transferred to Vallejo. Well, my Grandma told me that they were going to a baseball game and by then she had met a couple of other local people from Hawaii that were also transferred there. She told me that back then, when people went to baseball games, it was like they were going to a “Ball” or something. The women would be dressed up in long dresses, hats, and gloves-their Sunday best!! The men too!! They wore suits and ties…Anyhow, she told me, “Not me!! I wore my mu’umu’u and that was it!!” Well, of course she got a lot of weird looks when she attended the game because she wasn’t dressed “properly.” But she told me that all the other Hawaiian women were dressed to the nines too!! She told me that she told them off!! These women had approached her about not being dressed properly and she asked them why they had dressed up. They told her that they were in “America” now and people in America dress up. She then told them, “Well, I’M HAWAIIAN!! And THIS is how Hawaiians dress. Just because I’m in the Haole’s world that doesn’t mean that I have to act haole – because I’m not!! And furthermore, you should be ashamed for not taking pride in your culture! These people know NOTHING about our culture and as Hawaiians it is our job to teach them.”


After graduating from High school I moved to San Diego to live with my Grandma and that’s how we became a lot closer. I found out that people always assumed I was some preppy Mexican chicana that never knew how to speak Spanish. They would be yacking away in Spanish to me and I would tell them, “No Habla Espanol,” and then they would give that look like I was some pathetic Mexican chick that had forsaken my culture. Then I would tell them , “Hawaiiana” and they would say “Oooohh, tu es Hawaiian” you should see the BIG smiles!! Anyways, I guess the moral of the story is to never forsake your culture because it’s a gift – -a portable gift, that you can take with you where ever you go in the world. And, yes, it IS our job to share it with people near AND far.


It wasn’t a choice I made, my parents moved when I was young – my mother is kanaka maoli and my father was in the military when he met her – so our family moved as my father moved to better his career and to find work.


The greatest difficulties was in not growing up with other kanaka maoli, especially our ohana on the islands… those of us that have lived away from home have not been considered as “Hawaiian” as those that live at home. Of course, I don’t agree with this perspective…. But it has been said many times. There are many kanaka maoli children that have never even been to the islands… they know of our culture from their families, but have never experienced the island first hand. I was fortunate to have been born on the islands and lived there when I was young…. Then I went to the South Pacific until I was a teenager, so in a way I grew up with other Pacific cultures.


If I had a choice, I would move home to Hawaii because I always consider that my home…. But when families have jobs already away from home and other family members here, it is not an easy thing to do…. If our culture is focused on the family, then I could not easily leave my own extended family here…. We are kanaka maoli, we live the values of being kanaka maoli, but we live on a different land that is all. We have canoe clubs, we have halaus, we have community gatherings…. They are just in another place.


The cost of living is very high, there are no jobs for all my familiy, and housing would be beyond what most could afford in our family…. Most of the family would love to return home if it were possible and there was a place for us.


I have always felt sad that some kanaka maoli almost reject us if we live abroad use terms like, “you chose to leave”…. We share the same sun, we share the same moon, our aumakua do not reject us because we live elsewhere… we are still connected and in some ways have an even greater passion and love of our culture and understand who we are.



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