Saturday, November 21, 2009

Welcome to my blog! A historical Overview of..ME!

Aloha! Welcome to my blog. Because I am trying to keep from having alcheimers at an early age, and trying to keep my brain active I have decided the best way to do this is to start a blog.

Well that is only partly true. Perhaps part of that is really with two teenagers, and my health not being what it should keeping my brain active and being part of my community in expressing my well known and out spoken opinions keeps me from a straight jacket.

For those of you who don't know me, I have been hanai'd into the Hawaiian Culture since I was 12 years old, beginning with a hanai ohana on the mainland in California. I was originally adopted first, legally by a white, catholic couple from California at the age of three. I am assumed to be one of the "60's sweep kids", but that's another blog post entirely. I am of Irish, French and Native American blood, but hanai Hawaiian by true injection. Ask anyone that knows me. They will tell ya.

I came to Hawai'i when I was 17 years old, and have never returned to the mainland since except for one time when I went to the White House.

I spent my first year on Oahu, dancing hula, and working hard. I came to Kaua'i by invitation, and have never left. When I came here, I came to the North Shore, I was almost 19 years old, and I had a job the second day I was here, and a place to stay.

I have always worked, weather it be in the taro patch, a lunch wagon, Tahiti Nui, dancing hula, serving drinks or food or working in agriculture or tourism. I left for about a year and a half, and went back to O'ahu again dancing hula and working as a merchant marine seaman for awhile , but soon returned "home" to Kaua'i.

I always lived with one local ohana or another on the north shore. I would do a combination of working an outside job, or work for the family or just help with kids and kupuna. Consequently I was taught a lot of Hawaiian culture, language, arts, hula, protocols, stories, crafts and medicinal knowledge.

At the time none of us ever realized the importance of remembering all this stuff, but I tried to as I would attempt to commit everything to memory, or ask permission to write it down sometimes, but I always got permission before doing anything with any knowledge that I was given.

Eventually I had two beautiful daughters, one who is herself about to be an adult and enter the world I am hoping as a confident, strong young woman. I have raised my children as a single parent. The only exception to this was my brief marriage which ended in divorce soon after it began. I did, however keep my married name

Even though at times it as been a traumatic struggle for us, and we have had a few bouts of homelessness and difficulty over the last 18 years we are managing to keep our heads above water.

There are three things in my life here on Kauai, that I have always prided myself on. These three things have kept my mind from coagulating into a puddle of mush even when I was at my most ill or depressed. Those three things are politics, the environment, and culture.

For me culture came first. At the age of 12 I was introduced into the Polynesian Culture in general, and was performing in a very cheesy "Luau" in California by the age of 13. I worked with people from all over Polynesia, and learned a smattering of many languages. To be perfectly honest, I can could swear in Hawaiian, Tongan, Tahitian and Fijian by the age of 14.

I would never forget that in those days, when my skin was decidedly darker than it is today, and my hair was dark and waist length, and I was thin and my looks were just exotic or different enough no one ever considered me to be a white person. It was not until I came to Hawaii that people were evaluating my "whiteness". Most assumed me to be Portuguese or Hapa mixed blood. Now, since I rarely go into he sun and I am so white, most consider me to be caucasian mixed blood still but on the white side.

I remember trying once to explain that I was a native blood person. It didn't go over real well. When I said I was Native American, I will never forget a hanai Hawaiian family friend saying to me:"Oh yeah, so you're all white then right?" When I tried to explain that my people went back to the beginning of time and were many thousands of years older than the Polynesian people, I pretty much go the scolding of my life, being told that was impossible, and to never talk like that again.

So I never did, until many years later, just accepting the "Hapa" label and letting people assume what they wanted about me. If they saw me as caucasian so be it. If they saw me as hapa that was fine too, Portuguese that was o.k. too. But I have always resented being called a pure caucasian, since I am not.

When you are an adoptee from the 60's sweep you automatically resent being called a caucasian, even if facts remain I am half white. The sting is truly an insult. But like I said that is a whole other blog post.

So culture meant a lot to me, and of course still does. The Hawaiians had hanaid me in the true old manner and I did not realize I was learning when I actually was. I never spoke about what I knew outside of Hanalei, and at that time I never saw the new influx of tourists as human. We had mixed feelings about tourists liking them and despising them at the same time. It was far worse for those that were moving in crowding us out. They wanted everything. The land, water, mountains, culture, everything.

It was in 1985when I first thought about politics, and protecting the culture. It was in that year that the issue of the illegality of the Hawaiian Language being spoken in the public school system was an issue many of us were fighting for and upset about. It was in that year that a famous presentation was made at the opening day of the State Legislature, where a group of 2,3 and 4 year old and a handful of Na Kupuna practically brought the ceremony to a stunned silence.

A group being funded as a small school beside the grounds of K.C.C. at the time called "Aha Punana Leo" had formed with private funding and challenged lawmakers to overturn the law that said the Hawaiian Language could not be spoken in the school system. It took these brave people from Niihau, teachers form Kauai and parents that were willing to make personal sacrifices to get their kids to the facility that forever changed state policy on the language.

Both of my children would go on to benefit from these efforts, as we tried to support them from here as best we could. My children attended Aha Punana Leo and Kula Kaiapuni Immersion schools. We continue to attempt to perpetuate the Hawaiian language in our home. I used to attempt to institute the one day a week rule where English was not allowed to be spoken in our house, just Olelo Hawaii.It has become harder to do as the kids have gotten older, but I myself continue with the langauage as best as I can.

After this ruling, the DOE encouraged the use of the Hawaiian Language, as UH went about formulating a Hawaiian Language curriculum. We all learned from one kupuna in our area who was sanctioned by the DOE to do so, and that was Auntie Helena Maka Santos, who also was my Kumu Hula, and named my oldest daughter.

After learning how important protecting and fighting for the culture was, after the martrydom at Kahoolawe, and the events of Maha'ulepu which to Hanalei people at that time were far removed from our area, in 1989-1991 the boating issue was becoming heated in Hanalei. But it was not until 1991, when I was pregnant with my oldest daughter that I first stepped up in a public meeting and gave my opinion on an issue. I have never stopped since. This forever shaped my environmental views and drilled home the importance of the encroachment onto our delicate ecosystems here on Kaua'i.

My real political ambitions didn't really begin until I attempted to get a higher education at Kaua'i community college, after working taro for several years. My life however, took an interesting turn as I became pregnant with my second child just as I was supposed to start school. I attempted to go to school with my baby but very difficult times were ahead for our family. Iniki had hit us hard, and recovery was very slow and my options were very few.

Eventually with the beginnings of social programs that would help me with child care, and the fact that I left Hanalei and moved closer into kapaa and Lihue, I was able to attempt to try again. When I returned, I was able to get a job on campus, and become involved with some political organizations such as student government an the single parents program. This did a lot to teach me confidence in speaking, writing, and using a computer which I had never really had the opportunity to do before.

Eventually I had the momentous experience of getting on a plane and going to Washington DC, where I spoke at a national conference held in between Congress and the House of Representatives. I met Geraldine Ferrarro and others. At that time, my issues were Welfare Reform and Single Parent issues, and Patsey Mink was a huge mentor for me. I greatly admired her political style, and watched her carefully, seeking to learn from her, how she spoke and was so passionate on the issues. I also admired Joanne Yukimura, and Maryanne Thronas. I admired Joanne for her research, and facts and genuine love of the people, I admired Maryanne Thronas for just being a no nonsense no holes barred common sense person who would not let those men on the council get anything over on her, nor treat her as anything less but an absolute equal. There was also Maxine Correa at the time. Although she was a generally soft spoken person, and rather quiet when she did speak she did support the people.

I admired Auntie Maryanne Kusaka for her sense of style. No one but no one could dress like her. I didn't care much for her politics however, but I did admire her as a person that emanated class, breeding and a style of dressing that no one has ever duplicated yet. Of course I admired Mina Morita who in my opinion was young, soft spoken but clear on the issues, a local girl born and raised and I absolutely looked to her as a role model for my age group. My eyes had been opened like Eve who just ate the apple from the tree.

In 1998 I ran for the first time for Kauai County Council. Back then I was Anne Donovan, my legal adopted name from my first adopted parents. What a thrill it was for me. It was also an eye opening experience on many other levels as well. I can remember "Uncle Turk", the indomitable head of the Democratic Party here on Kauai telling me that I had to put my time in, wait my turn, and probably go home and raise my kids first before I would ever get into public office. And it wouldn't hurt to be married either, because as a single parent I would never get on the Council.

His words have proved prophetic and very true. My first run was interesting, but it just whetted my appetite for more. I began attending a lot more planning commission meetings and county council meetings, which was hard to juggle between school, work and childcare. Consequently my kids, very young children at the time ended up attending a lot of these meetings with me. Suffice it to say I really never knew what was going on in between sibling fighting and various temper tantrums, breaks to feed them, and make sure they were comfortable.

In 2000, I had my most successful run for council, even earning some union endorsements. Contrary to popular belief, I am a very strong union supporter, because I believe in the core values and purposes of unions. I do not however condone corruption in any shape or form no matter if it is in the unions, government or private industry. What I have always been is a supporter of the people. The rank and file. The working poor in particularly, and the lower middle class. I edged into the 14th spot on the ballot. It was an absolute shock for me.

I went with the flow, and being one of the 14, being vetted and fetted and the grueling scheduale was extremely difficult what with one child being only 8 years old, and the other only 4 years old, and really doing much of it on my own. I remember getting a lot of sympathy as I attempted to speak at events while keeping an eye on where my kids were, usually with an entire household of things toted with us to try and keep them amused so I could get through an event.

Eventually as the campaign wore on I realized that without funding I would not be able to win a seat on the council, and frankly I was a bit overwhelmed. I "pulled my papers" before the end of the campaign, and went on to help others to win their seats, by sign waiving and supporting as best I could. The one thing I was able to do, was speak at several large events, heartfelt and confident, and it is these memories I believe that were the most strong for me.

In 2001, I met and married my ex husband. The marriage was brief, and our divorce was final in 2003. (After much personal reflection, and for personal reasons I chose to keep my married name, thus I am now Anne Punohu.)

However, in 2002, shortly after our marriage, I ran for the third time. However, my run was overshadowed by the failure of my marriage and personal matters, and unable to concentrate fully on the campaign and being extremely distracted by personal physical and emotional trauma I again had to "pull my papers", and frankly I was extremely glad when the primary was over, and I could deal with the issues at hand.

Now any one else would have given up at this point, but I realized that I might have to wait my turn, as Uncle Turk put it in 1998. So that is what I would do. I would champion my most important causes, the enivronment, the culture, and equity and human rights and civil rights, keep working hard, raising my family and trying to place myself in a good position to run again. But after three times, I believed it was politically astute to wait some years before attempting to do so again.

One never knows the hand life is going to deal them. Since 2003, my life has had extreme highs and extreme lows. In 2006 we were finally able to secure some sort of stable housing, and it was then I entered a fourth phase of testing my abilities and that was in the arts. I have actually been an artist all my life but in 2006 I entered and won several highly prized awards at the Kauai Artists Juried Competition. Not only that, the juror of the show, a highly respected curator and collector of art purchased not only one of my works but a second one as well. This boosted my confidence, and I continued to sell my work for several years after that even though I had actually been selling my painted works since 2001.

In 2007 my life again took another hard turn. I began to exhibit signs of extreme emotional stress and duress brought on by working overnight jobs, and jobs that were just too physically and mentally demanding for me. I began to experience a break down of sorts, and a period of extreme depression and a period of hopelessness. Physical ailments also started to show up, and my current weight of 320 pounds is a symptom of many factors which are being addressed, but is extremely unhealthy. I began to feel unhealthy both physically and mentally. I filed and was granted social security in 2008 and began receiving benefits earlier this year, and began treatment for all of my ailments.

Although I am attempting to overcome these ailments, and trying to regain my health, strength and vitality, I still continued with persuing political interests that I personally found rewarding. Earlier this past year I attempted to get legislation passed at the state level that would prevent discrimination in section 8 housing in the market. It was Gary Hooser, and Neil Ambercrombie Joanne Yukimura and Mina Morita who supported me the most, with Gary writing the legislation, and it actually passed first and second reading in the Senate. Joanne Yukimura personally took my my oldest daughter, and an important family freind and supporter as well to lobby and testify for the bill, as I was too ill to fly. The bill had the support of many important groups including OHA, and the Civil Rights Board. It did not however cross over. It was also supported by several members of the Kauai Council, including Tim Bynum, Lani Kawahara, Derek Kawakami and Dickie Chang.It was a difficult time for me, and I literally went into a deep funk immediately after this effort.

As my personal well being hopefully levels out, and I continue to concentrate on caring for my family, and following doctors orders, which to me is hard as I am a very bad patient and hate to take medication, and I continue to fight periodic bouts of depression, and illness I find great comfort, solace and hope in what Uncle Turk had told me all those years ago.

Over the past years my participation in the annual Kauai Powwow has brought me some solace with my heritage, and recently my attendance at a vigil for the Hikina A Ka La Heiau has brought some spiritual renewal. My current efforts are to work on solutions and options for landfills on Kauai, and keeping outside groups off of the Heiaus and disallowing non Hawaiian cultural ceremonies from occurring there. There will always be an issue I can sink my teeth into to keep me going.

I have waited my turn. With my children growing up and moving on with their lives and my options for contributing to society very limited at this time what is truly left to me but to perhaps, write or paint or speak. All three give me pleasure, but they have to have a purpose behind them to be meaningful and personally satisfactory.

For me, the championing of the cause of the people I have always felt to be my one saving grace in this world. One may never know just how my story might turn out. But one thing is definately for sure. It will certainly not be a boring story to tell. One way or another I believe that my time will come. I beleive I will be able to overcome these impediments and eventually be able to serve my fellow humans in some sort of a useful capacity.

Until then, I will continue to speak out, continue to be opinionated and continue to be myself, and to participate only in those things that bring me personal satisfaction and joy and do away with those things that don't.

And most importantly I will continue to keep my children and close family and friends wrapped around me like the wonderful, warm cloak that they are which will continue to keep bright the hope of a better world in my heart.

Anne Punohu

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"The battlegrounds of idiots are the playgrounds of geniuses"-Anne Punohu