In the early 1900s, my grandparents left the Philippines for a new life in Hawaii because they, like so many other hopeful immigrants, believed these islands carried the promise of a future greater than anything their forebears ever knew. Still, life in the territorial era was no piece of cake, as making ends meet was all about back-breaking labor and navigating a myriad of unfair rules and often racist, stacked decks against immigrants.

Wallace Farrington even derided Filipinos at that time as “the most un-American specimens of humanity in the Territory.” Yet the stable purchasing power of the U.S. dollar and the ability to save even a little money gave everyone a chance, if only with time and patience, the opportunity to make any dream come true.

My paternal grandfather, Pablito, who later changed his name to Paul, eventually purchased a house on Pensacola Street in Honolulu, became an electrician, and even opened his own boxing gym. In his spare time, he was a Sunday school teacher, and whenever time permitted, he would often go to the courts to listen to cases being heard, with the dream of one day being a lawyer or even an elected legislator.

Hawaii’s economy, and culture, was built on the backs of its migrant workers. Courtesy of Alexander & Baldwin

He probably would have succeeded, except one stressful evening, he suffered a terrible heart attack and in his dying moments, thought only to run to the crib of my then-infant father, uttering as his last words, “Please God, don’t let my son Daniel end up like me.”

As an orphan, my father did not grow up knowing the so-called American Dream that his parents had longed for. He lived in poverty, dwelling in dusty garages, eating food donated by church friends, and wearing hand-me-down clothes that never fit right. His peers and, in some cases, even fellow family members, never thought he’d amount to much and dismissed him as a lost cause.

Local Boy Makes Good

When my future mother would later meet him, their first date was the result of another girl wanting to get rid of him, and my father infamously forgot his wallet, forcing her to pay for their meal together. She only continued to date him because she “felt sorry for him.”

Notwithstanding, my father, like my grandfather, still managed to work hard and save money. He eventually got a job working for United Airlines as a shopkeeper, paid for both his college education and the needs of his elderly mother, and later joined the Air Force at the height of the Vietnam War. By the time he retired from the military in 2002, he had survived the Cold War, risen to the rank of colonel, served as a commander of a medical facility, and been awarded two Legions of Merit.

Hawaii’s greatest export to the world is no longer pineapple or sugar cane, but talented young people.

Like so many other immigrants in Hawaii, my father’s local boy-makes-good story is both extraordinary and common all at the same time — extraordinary because he overcame great odds, common because it has always been the tradition for hard work in America to pay off.

Today’s Hawaii, for all the progress since statehood, may be worse off than ever in its history. In the past, people wanted to come to Hawaii for opportunity, now they leave in droves for lack of it.

Hawaii’s greatest export to the world is no longer pineapple or sugar cane, but talented young people. Chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease are rampant among Filipinos and Native Hawaiians. Radical swings in the cost of healthcare, energy, housing, and food mean no matter how many dollars our hardworking Hawaii residents make, there is never a point where enough is enough.

Racism is no longer overt as it was in the plantation era, but it has been replaced by a much more nefarious stealth form of institutional structural violence that keeps minorities stuck on a treadmill, always working harder and harder and running faster and faster in pursuit of a happily ever after that is at best, an empty mirage. On Oahu, we spend hours stuck in traffic, grinding our teeth to get to jobs that don’t pay the bills, won’t promote us, and can’t lead anywhere except a retirement that doesn’t actually exist.

Disappointingly, nearly all the candidates running for office in 2018 and the parties behind them remain oblivious to our calamities and clueless as to the solutions. Beyond empty promises of leadership and vague offers of reform, the only tangible thing Hawaii Democrat and Hawaii Republican candidates alike can really offer us are hurricane safety tips and an occasional community cookbook.

We have become accustomed to things sucking so bad in Hawaii that we have come to accept these things as normal. Just as the state no longer tests the Ala Wai for contaminants because it is always beyond EPA standards, likewise Hawaii residents scarcely challenge the injustices around us because they are so prevalent.

In this toxic canal of broken dreams, false prophets are rewarded as thought leaders, thieves are esteemed as philanthropists, and useless perennial politicians are worshipped as gods.

The Hawaii we live in breaks your back, and then accuses you of not working hard enough. It crushes your dreams, and says you didn’t have enough vision. It gags your voice, and dares to say you should have been more confident.

Is our present-day really the future that my grandparents and so many others came here for? How long can we remain silent and inactive about the direction our state and nation are headed? There was a time when American men and women of honor believed in the creed, “I will not lie, cheat, or steal, or tolerate those among us who do.”

Good people have tolerated far too much lying, cheating, and stealing in Hawaii, and it is time for a citizen uprising to take back Hawaii for the people.

We deserve so much better than this. My grandfather prayed that my father would not end up like him. I now pray for all of Hawaii’s keiki, that they will have a better future — and a better Hawaii — than what we face now in 2018.

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