To Lois Ann Yamanaka | Alanna Aiko Moore
Dear Lois Ann Yamanaka,
Every year for Christmas, for as long as I can remember, my father would buy me books as a gift. After I moved to the mainland, he would always choose books written by Hawai’i authors, to remind me of home. My favorites? All the books written by you! The characters, the pidgin, the locales–they all spoke to me and helped ease a deep and profound homesickness for my island and community.
My favorite book of yours, which I read my last year of college (and have re-read many times since), was Wild Meat and Bully Burgers. I could really relate to the main character, Lovey Nariyoshi. As the keiki who wore homemade mu’umu’u to school while all the popular kids wore Jordache jeans and Members Only jackets, her awkward and failed attempts to “fit in” when she felt like she just didn’t belong strongly resonated with me.
The pidgin dialogue in your book literally leaped off the pages, the words were so dynamic! Language is such a connection to one’s culture, and reading Wild Meat and Bully Burgers during that cold college winter made Hawai’i come visually alive even though I was an ocean away. I could literally feel the smooth macadamia nuts with my fingers, taste the bitter melon, and could smell the puakenikeni blooming.
Lovey’s mainland cousins would ask her why she talked funny, and pronounced words so inarticulately. In our old wooden house in Kalihi, my Mom instructed me to “articulate” and to speak “proper standardized English.” Haole English. As far as I could tell, it meant pronouncing numbers “one, two, three” instead of “one, two, tree.” I didn’t understand back in those hanabata days that she was telling me that people judge you based on how you speak and sound. They make judgments on where you come from and how you grew up. Your novel made me realize that I could still hold pidgin close to my heart and that my accent was nothing to be ashamed of. That I could embrace all parts of myself, and that I would find a place where I did fit in. Like many hapa and multicultural/multilingual people, I code-switch effortlessly now, but when pidgin flows off my tongue, it feels natural, warm and sweet, like guava juice on a hot day at Kailua beach.
Thank you for your bravery in writing your books. Thank you for sharing an authentic voice that so many of us needed to hear. Our voice. Thank you for telling a story about the real Hawai’i–a story that is deep in its exploration of so many “isms.” A story that made me giggle, get damp around the eyeballs, and feel validated for who I am.
Alanna Aiko Moore
Click here to subscribe today!