Legacy of the Sansei – The Sansei Legacy and Our Hawaiian Cultural...

Legacy of the Sansei – The Sansei Legacy and Our Hawaiian Cultural Heritage

Photo of Alan T. Murakami

Alan T. Murakami
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald

The Sansei in Hawai‘i leave a mixed legacy in their diminishing historic wake. The authors in this series make me marvel at their contributions to the social fabric of this island ‘äina. They have forged new fabric in the form of literature, art and poetry, and have changed mindsets about the value of AJA contributions to the justice and patriotism of what some refer to as “the greatest generation.”

This Sansei legacy, formed in the turbulent 1960s and 1970s, has left the country — and Hawai‘i, in particular — vastly different from the soft comfort of Sansei childhoods of the late 1940s and 1950s. For the most part, my parents’ generation understood that loyalty to country superseded the simultaneous internment and discrimination of their parents.

For Sansei, however, this narrative gave way to their own generation’s solidifying opposition to an unjust war and the drafting of some, even while some among their contemporaries dutifully entered the military. In that tumult known as the Vietnam War era, political division challenged the old order of patriotism, authority, order and justice.

My own innocence ran deep. My childhood neighborhood revolved around a multiethnic kumiai, a neighborhood association that I have found only in certain rural island communities where surrounding social ties wove a network of support for each other. I can’t remember a Christmas without Santa at a kumiai party, or a summer without a kumiai picnic with sack races and pencils for prizes. In Hilo, I had rarely seen an African American and I was unaware of who might be Jewish.

In this social safety net, we grew up with family expectations to succeed where our parents could not and armed with higher education that would open doors to us in business, science, law and other professions that were largely closed to them. My own father Shigeo never got past high school. He barely graduated, as time demands helping my grandfather on long trucking hauls between Hilo and points north and south took him away from his classes more days than he attended in his senior year. Initially an apprentice carpenter, he later worked as a civil servant for Hawai‘i County as a building inspector. My mother Michie, the eldest of nine children, started working at an early age. She was only able to complete up to the ninth grade. She labored as a waitress and did maid work for the Puna plantation manager’s family, then worked in retail sales before the advent of the big box phenomenon.

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