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Houseless Grandma in Hawaii Still Believes

Hereʻs a grandma working a full-time job but forced to live in a tent on the beach, a very common situation in Hawaii today. Justine and her family live along the main road at the edge of Waimānalo Beach Park. She shared her story with me on this windy day out front of her tent. It was my first video project for my creative media class. The assignment was to make a documentary video on any subject. Instantly, I thought of my hometown Waimānalo on the east side of Oʻahu where the sun wakes every morning. My precious childhood memories growing up just 3 blocks from this beach is full of fun, sunshine, family gatherings and lifetime precious moments. After living away on Maui for ten years, I returned home to Waimānalo in 1998 to see families (including mine) were locking their doors.It was not done in the past. When I asked, "Why?" the response was one word, "drugs." The same week while camping at Waimānalo my mother got mugged, the ring pulled right from her finger. When I asked, "Who" and "Why," I got the same one word response, "drugs." My town had changed. I had so many questions. What was the solution?

Back in "da days," as a child growing up there or in Hawaii, the word "homeless" or "houseless" was uncommon. There were a few unfortunate souls under a tree or at the corner of the storefront, but that was unusual and shocking to see. Today, itʻs common and "normal." It saddens my heart to see entire families living in tents stretched along the same beach. With the naive goal of fixing the houseless problem in my hometown that day, I packed my camera and some snacks on my little car and headed over the mountain to Waimānalo. I had no plan but to get there and see. it was just me and my camera out to get the homework done. This video is what came from this class project adventure.

The community of people living in the tents were suspicious and remained distant from me as I walked down the line of tents with my camera. I learned that I was not the first to see with a camera. They had seen others before with intentions to help but nothing happened. Who was I to think I could do better? I realized I needed permission and to be trusted first before I could think about taking out my camera. It was easy to spot the leader of the group, a woman who sat in the corner under the coconut tree with her eye on me from the moment I stepped out of my car. The protector. I approached her with introductions and shared my intentions with honesty and humility. She accepted my unopened box of Twinkies, and introduced me to Justine who shared her story.

Justine was shy at first but learned I was raised just 3 blocks up from the freeway. She opened up when I shared my concerns and hoped to find solutions. She struggled on the beach but her full-time paycheck from working at Sea Life Park kept her family afloat. Her grandchildren ran about us, curious and thankful for the Twinkies. She was impressed that I was in college, especially at my old age. We talked about college and was that a plan for her grandchildren. What came out her mouth rang familiar in my ears, words my mother told me as a child. "Huh, I wish but no more money for college." And that was that. I began to tell her how there are ways they can go, no money, no problem. It was new to her. Even then, that mindset was alive and she had nobody to teach her otherwise. Her line of generations of Hawaiians passed down the same words, the same mindset to her and now to her grandchildren. Itʻs still happening! Talk of higher goals and be all you can be, shoot for the stars discussions are not happening in this family. Focus was just about paying for the food on the table and gas in the car to get to work, still.

Why is do Hawaiians have the worst struggle of all ethnicities to afford Hawaii?

That was my Freshman year video project which started me thinking, "why" and "how?" In the past 3 years of college, I found clues and theories on why Hawaiians, out of all the ethnic groups, are at the bottom of the income chain, poverty level, houseless and most to move away. I grew up in Waimanalo, the town with the most number of children in schools with free lunch eligibility, just ten minutes away, right over the mountain from Hawaii Kai, home of the well-to-do. If it wasn't geography, what was it? Color of skin? What was discussed at the dinner tables at night? Who were our forefathers, the ancestors of our family line? Did the history of Hawaiian oppression and mindsets installed then on the Hawaiian people carry down the line so far, so long?

I asked my girlfriend Denise, the one in my Vegas video, one year younger than me, what did her mother tell her as a child. She recalled, "just get a job," which was same as mine but at least my mother went a little higher. She said I could work myself up to be manager at Jack in the Box. There's nothing wrong with that, but was doctor or lawyer or governor so out of the realm of possibilities? Granted, I eventually figured it out in time to change the mindset so my children are all college graduates but affording a home is still difficult, even with good jobs. My point is, how many families today still carry the same mindset passed down from their generation line. In Hawaii Kai, they have lines with doctors and lawyers who pass that mindset to their children, so on and so on. What about the Hawaiian families who have no mentors with advice of higher goals and possibilities? With the highest cost of living and homes to expensive to consider buying, to afford living Hawaii, we need to think higher than "just get a job." But, how to we cross the generation lines? How do we get the message to those who still carry the same mindset of our ancestors? Could the solution be so simple? To update the mindset of the Hawaiians who didn't get the memo that Hawaiians can have higher goals?

Now a senior, I am working on how my creative media skills and new digital tech communications can be used to help the old mindsets cover to the new. It is a new age and communicating with the world is possible with a click on our portable devices. Even Justine on the beach had a cellphone. I know it's not that simple, but it's a start. No harm in trying right?

My Final Documentary Video

The video shows how my technical camera skills were amateur but the project still got an "A" from the professor for guts, effort and communicating an important message to make a difference. TYJ! There's so much talk, debate, and complaints about this problem but the numbers continue to rise. Is anybody out there listening? What if the world took action by starting with making a dream come true, one family at a time? WHAT IF?

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