Last week's Sharing Mana'o column apparently struck a nerve with many of you. In case you missed it, the column took issue with an AOL Travel News article which named my Waiehu neighborhood as one of five "Areas to Avoid on Maui." The other four were Happy Valley, Paukukalo, the Wailuku industrial area including Lower Main Street, and Harbor Lights . . . all still within my greater neighborhood, Central Maui. All described as economically deprived hotbeds of vice activity and violent crime.
Most of the emails I received on the subject expressed outrage at what they saw as racism and ignorance. One writer felt pity for the AOL author who, despite having lived here for 25 years, apparently hasn't found aloha on the isthmus.
I received many more comments in person while working the box office for last weekend's screenings of "Get a Job" at the historic Iao Theater. The homegrown comedy (which - shameless plug alert! - has seven more showings this Friday and Saturday) was filmed primarily in Central Maui. Or, as quite a few audience members called it, the real Maui. Writer and director Brian Kohne is a Wailuku native and proud of it.
Each time a reader or moviegoer mentioned "the real Maui" to me, my late husband's voice echoed in my head. I could hear him furiously trying to interject himself into the conversation. We'd had many discussions about Central Maui and real Maui, old Maui and new Maui, my Maui and his.
Barry arrived for the first time in 1966, just ahead of the hippie invasion, which he blamed for destroying the hospitality and trust of old Maui. Before the hippies wore out the welcome mat, he said, locals treated him as a harmless curiosity, inviting him into their homes to share stories and a meal, then sending him on his way with a sack of mangoes or papayas. By 1969, his long hair and white skin branded him as a member of the hippie herd and locals gave him stink eye instead of sweet fruit. He found it difficult to conduct any kind of business, even a simple transaction at the grocery store, without feeling dumped on and discriminated against. And, he said, the prejudice against haole transplants continued long after the fear of hippies subsided. He never felt unsafe in Central Maui, just uncomfortable at times. He was living in Maui Meadows when we met, and he moved into our Waiehu house with mixed feelings, convinced that he would never feel completely at home in the predominantly local neighborhood.
He was right about that. When he passed away, we'd been living in that house for a dozen years, and he still felt like an outsider. We had Filipino neighbors on one side of our house, Japanese on the other, Hawaiians and Portuguese across the street. There was another haole man a few doors down, but that didn't make Barry feel any better. Neither did my refusal to sympathize.
Maui no ka oi isn't just a slogan to me; it's a belief that I carry deep in my heart. So whenever my husband pointed out the shortcomings of his adopted home, I would bristle with defensiveness. "It's not the color of your skin, it's the attitude within." He'd agree, then he'd remind me that poor attitude, like racism, is universal. Happily, neither is as prevalent here as it is in so many parts of the world. Even on his grumpiest days, Barry wouldn't have wanted to live anywhere but Maui.
But which Maui? We often marveled at how his social circle differed from mine, and how many of those circles exist on this island,
completely independent of one another. A couple of his friends had lived on Maui for decades, yet I was the first local person they'd ever had in their home, not counting the cable guy. And when we'd go to parties hosted by my friends, Barry was usually the only haole in the room.
The real Maui is like the elephant in the Indian parable. Six blind men describe an elephant in six different ways, based upon the body part each felt. While a sighted man would say they were all wrong, each man was right. None was more right than another.
I feel fortunate to have been raised in old Maui and to have a career and interests that are nurtured by new Maui. I work and play with fourth-generation locals and newly arrived malihini, old hippies and young techies. I spend most of my time in three very different parts of Maui and I love them all.
Maui no ka oi. The real Maui. All of them.
* Kathy Collins is a performance artist, broadcaster and freelance writer whose "Sharing Mana'o" column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.