No Holiday For The Elderly And Poor

No Holiday For The Elderly And Poor

Allicyn Chiyeko Levi
Vol. 6, No. 24, Dec. 20, 1985

“MAMA-SAN”

Looking like a wet and frightened cat, the bent little lady, shabbily attired in a sack dress and oversized shoes, slowly pulls her cart of personal belongings along the street. Her eyes lift from the ground and dart about looking for something interesting . . . like morsels of thrown out food, or shiny coins which someone may have dropped, or clothing tossed out or left carelessly behind by someone. She does a lot of walking and sees lots of interesting things, this Japanese woman in her 70s. She is one of many we have come to know as “street people” and one of only a few of Japanese ancestry to be labeled a “bag lady.” This is a real person and we will not reveal her actual name, but we shall call her “Mama-san.”

At 75 years, Mama-san stands a little over 4 feet tall. Her salt and pepper hair is cut straight, in a short pageboy. She is a tiny little thing, weighing only about 100 pounds. She speaks little English and converses mainly in Japanese pidgin to only those she knows will not harm her.

Mama-san says she was born in Waipahu and grew up working the sugarcane fields. She admits to having three older sisters who went to Innoshima in Japan before World War II started. She eventually lost touch with them and her parents. Sadly, she says they are probably all dead.

Mama-san had a good friend, also a Japanese street person, whom she used to laugh and talk story with in her own style of Japanese. They were always together . . . until one day about four years ago when her friend was hit by a car and died. Mama-san took the loss of her dear companion hard, and has been extremely lonely ever since. Those who know her say her health has deteriorated rapidly; she is frail and sometimes loses control of her bladder, especially when she is upset. Quite recently, Mama-san was fighting the flu and had to be hospitalized for several days.

There are people who look after Mama-san and care for her. They say she has become so weak that she may have to enter a nursing home. But they worry because they know she probably won’t do so voluntarily. Mama-san is a free spirit, and enjoys coming and going when she pleases, and they know that she won’t easily give up her freedom.

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For six years, Allicyn Chiyeko Levi, now Allicyn Hikida Tasaka, enjoyed administering and advocating on behalf of women, girls and families as executive director of the Hawai‘i State Commission on the Status of Women and, later, addressing the needs of home-bound individuals on O‘ahu through the Hawaii Meals on Wheels program. She said it was “a learning experience to be reintroduced to my ancestral roots and to help stabilize the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai‘i as its chief operating officer.” Allicyn’s tenure at JCCH was followed by a four-year stint as director of operations in the administration of Gov. Neil Abercrombie. She currently serves as executive director of the Workforce Development Council with the state Department of Labor & Industrial Relations. When Allicyn’s busy schedule permits, she enjoys going to bon dance practice at the Honpa Hongwanji Hawaii Betsuin and dabbling in arts and crafts such as shippoyaki (Japanese enameling).

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