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.”