Image: Shen


I chat with a coworker, not really a coworker but a superior, in the office kitchen, both of us preparing lunch. I am reheating leftover pasta in the microwave. He is slicing a mango. I comment on his beautiful mango. It’s a red-green one, most likely from Mexico. Not like my beloved Philippine sweet mango that looks like a golden explosion.

The mango triggers him to talk about his time in Kauai, when there was a mango tree outside of his family’s rented vacation home, where mangoes were strewn all over the ground, and he asked the owner if he and his wife could swoop them all up.

As a general rule, you are never supposed to pick up and eat any fruit that has already fallen to the ground, but I don’t tell him. Instead, I mention that I have cousins in Kauai who have been there for three generations, going on four.

He asks me how that is possible (of course, because how can there be Filipinos in Hawaii for that many generations? Aren’t they new immigrants?), and I tell him my grandfather’s brother worked on the plantations. I don’t use the proper term to describe my grandfather’s brother, a Sakada. He does not know this history about Hawaii, nor probably has ever cared except to think the islands have always been the islands where struggle was such a long time ago, such a very long time ago.

He guesses pineapple at my mention of “plantation” (of course, because what other plantations are there in Hawaii except the white touristy Dole pineapple plantations). I don’t correct him and say sugarcane. I tell him, “After the laws changed, my great-uncle was able to purchase a small piece of his own land for his family.” Those laws – exclusionary maniacal ghosts – dance in the darkest reaches of my mind revealing history of taro and sugarcane plantations that never belonged to those who cherished and worked on them like a devoted lover, but I don’t educate him about those laws.

He asks if my relatives are anywhere near Lihue (of course, because it’s where the airport is), and I say they are from Hanapepe. I don’t tell him it’s where the evening light breaks from the storm clouds and my beautiful cousin in her white bikini stands on a pier with her back to the sunset while her brown toned arms are outstretched like eagle wings about to dive backwards in perfect form.  She looks like me and I look like her, our grandfathers, handsome brothers, who loved each other across the Pacific for over 25 years, never having the chance to see each other even when one brother in the Motherland tried to say goodbye at his brother’s funeral but was denied entry by the US government in 1975, not that long ago. 

My coworker, not really a coworker but a superior, pretends to know where Hanapepe is, just like he only knows Kauai as an exotic vacation spot of beautifully delicious mangoes where white families and honeymooners go to get away from their mainland routines, but doesn’t know it’s a displaced place, a dispossessed place, a place of third- and fourth-generation Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, and Portuguese immigrants, a place once full of Hawaiians, and now not full of Hawaiians, losing their land and homes to haoles, to Marriott and Hilton and Hyatt, an island my great-uncle’s family still calls home. 

Is everything my responsibility to tell? I hold my tongue, let silence wash over me with a random white man, and let the coworker, not really a coworker but a superior, just talk about his vacation memories in Kauai without interruption (of course, another mainland haole story), when I finally take my reheated pasta from the microwave and say while walking away, “Enjoy your mango.”


Categories Creative NonfictionTags , , , , ,

2 thoughts on “Mango

  1. I’ll be the one to ask, why shouldn’t you eat mangoes that have fallen off the tree? I know nothing about fruits / vegetables / crops in general but I’d like to know for future reference. Is it bad I find it funny you let him enjoy his mango? It’s sad that people are only focused on themselves and don’t venture out to learn more. I guess that’s a benefit of being a minority. First of all, you’re forced to learn a different culture (whether you like it or not and you’re forced to blend in or possibly suffer consequences) which, at least in my experience, makes me very interested in learning other cultures as well. And I feel like I actually stop to think of how things effect others. I try not to be too wrapped up in myself. But so many people just don’t get it. They only pay attention to the joy and how it benefits them. Why should they think about the grim past when it has never and will never effect them? Some times not everyone is like this. Some times they’re just clueless but if you start to tell them the reality, they’ll listen and learn from it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Very good questions. To answer your first question, and this is coming from a pro who grew up with lemon, peach, guava, avocado, and apple trees in my folks’ backyard, the fruit on the ground may be bruised or damaged by bugs or already molding inside. It is also less likely to be ripe. Experienced fruit pickers always start at the top of a tree, where the fruit is more ready to eat because of greater exposure to the sun.

      As to your second thought, I’m going to quote this article, but I highly recommend you read the rest of it in this link: “The problem with those teachable moments is that the same people always end up doing all the teaching. In matters of race [..], the marginalized are tasked with being educators. That is, people of color (POC) are expected to be patient and polite racial and cultural ambassadors who provide white people new to this whole ‘thinking critically about race’ thing with a ‘way in.’ The role entails charitably and unselfishly engaging questions, assertions and doubts from white people who’ve previously done precious LITTLE thinking about racism and privilege, but often have quite a bit to say on the topic.

      “When POC refuse to take on this dual role of spokesperson and resource library, they’re often accused of having shirked an assumed responsibility. The idea seems to be that we’ve missed an opportunity, that it’s our duty to hold white people’s hands and educate them, that we’re condemning some poor white person to a continued life of ignorance.

      “It’s a classic tool of derailing, this feigned helplessness and subtly accusatory question of, ‘If you don’t teach me, how can I learn?’ (Implied answer: ‘I won’t, and it’ll be all your fault!’) The idea is lazy, circuitous and tantamount to accusing POC who don’t want to have the same tiresome, not infrequently pointless, conversation about race of being complicit in racism. The failure to erase racial inequity doesn’t result from POCs’ failure to be patient with uninformed ideas and questions. We live in a world saturated with racism and its runoff. The people who experience it with sustained regularity don’t always feel like talking about it. And that is absolutely fine.

      “Because here’s the thing: PEOPLE OF COLOR ARE NOT OBLIGATED TO TEACH EVEN THE MOST WELL-INTENTIONED WHITE PEOPLE ANYTHING ABOUT RACE. They certainly can if they want to, but it’s neither their duty or obligation. The onus rests on white ‘allies’ to educate themselves.”

      Basically, it’s not our responsibility to always teach white folks. It’s exhausting. And if the general idea is that Hawaii is some perfect exotic place for white tourists, then there is something seriously wrong there. Hawaii is the only state that had its own monarchy. I bet there are a number of Americans who don’t even know that, but for them to rely on a position of privilege and luxury that Hawaii is some sort of exotic getaway need to check themselves as it’s home to many native Hawaiians and generations of plantation workers, a home that’s been stolen and overthrown by white people with these vacation interests in mind.

      I hope this brings some deeper understanding as to why I didn’t educate aforementioned white co-worker in the piece. With access to a plethora of resources online, it’s pure laziness to not research these things on one’s own. This piece was to demonstrate in itself that it really isn’t any person of color’s responsibility to take on such an onerous task. If it was my responsibility, I’d probably lose my job having to educate every white person in my office. Can you imagine: I’d probably never get any work done.


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