One thing I wen' notice 'bout dis place:
All us guys, we tease da odda race.
It's amazing we can live in da same place.
- from "Mr. Sun Cho Lee," by Eaton "Bob" Magoon
If you're familiar with those lyrics, you're probably saying to yourself, "That's a Beamer Brothers song!" Yes, Keola and Kapono Beamer's delightful rendition of this social commentary is a local classic, one of the most popular pieces of contemporary Hawaiian music ever recorded. But it was Bob Magoon who wrote it. That's right, one haole wen' write dat song.
Actually, Magoon is hapa-haole and most definitely a kama'aina. He also wrote "Numbah One Day of Christmas," the pidgin version of "12 Days of Christmas." Although he no longer resides here, his legacy will live on in Hawaii as long as pidgin is still spoken. I figure that's about . . . forever.
Mr. Sun Cho Lee, Mr. Conrad Jones, Mr. Kazu Tanaka and the rest of Mr. Magoon's crew have been dancing in my head ever since I read Ben Lowenthal's "The State of Aloha" column last Friday. Mr. Lowenthal's eloquent, candid analysis of "Kill Haole Day" prompted musings as well as memories.
I attended Baldwin High School a couple of decades before Ben, when "Kill Haole Day" wasn't confined to the last day of school, but could be declared at any time through the coconut wireless. For a few angry young men, every day was "Kill Haole Day." Some bullies also observed "Slap a Jap Day." Racial discord wasn't just a locals-versus-haoles thing.
In my 8th-grade year, schools were still grouping students by academic track record, separating the "good" students from the underachievers and branding both as such. The inevitable resentment drove the boys from the "B" class to single out two local Japanese boys from the "A" class for an after-school brawl. The two were threatened with a mass beating if they didn't fight each other. At the time, we all saw it as a racial issue, but now I realize it was more of a class conflict.
The ballad of Mr. Sun Cho Lee also appears to draw racial lines, but underscores our similarities and our common plight. Comedian Frank DeLima has long professed the value of ethnic humor as a safety valve for racial tensions. With so many cultures sharing such limited space, we acknowledge our differences with laughter to keep from killing each other.
Before we learned to laugh at each other and at ourselves, we had to learn how to communicate. Pidgin was born out of necessity on the sugar plantations that brought most of our Asian and European ancestors here. Throughout its history, it has been misunderstood and maligned, but it lives on as the language of Hawaii's people. I consider it to be my first language, with standard English running a close second.
In "Pidgin: The Voice of Hawaii," filmmakers Marlene Booth and Kanalu Young examine the roots, the rise and fall, and the rebirth of our local tongue. The award-winning documentary has been hailed as a joyful testament to pidgin and its people, a lesson in how language contributes to identity. I remember meeting with Marlene at a little cafe in Manoa Valley nearly 10 years ago, when she was starting her serious research. As a storyteller steeped in pidgin pride, I was delighted by her passion for the project and impressed by her thoughtful approach.
Incredibly, I've yet to see the entire film, having missed several screening opportunities. I plan to rectify that June 14 at the Lahaina Restoration Foundation's "Ha'ina Hou - Let the Story Be Told" 2nd Friday event. The one-hour documentary will be shown at 7:30 p.m. on the Baldwin Home Museum lawn, free of charge. The foundation also will conduct its popular candlelight tour of the museum from 6 to 8:30; the $7 fee includes admission to the Wo Hing Museum as well.
"Pidgin: The Voice of Hawaii" delivers the message that you can't really understand Hawaii until you understand pidgin. And you don't have to be a fluent speaker to understand and appreciate the film or its message. Despite its critics, pidgin lives on as not just the voice, but the heart and soul of Hawaii's people.
Fo' evah, brah. Fo' real kine.
* 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.