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OPINION: Despite Sugar’s Demise, Aloha The People

By: Mahina Martin

For my entire life since first hearing as a teen the adage “I may not believe in what you say, but I believe in your right to say it” I have believed it wholeheartedly and it has served me well to learn tolerance. Yet, with the announcement of the closure of HC&S this tolerance that I value, that I preach and fight hard to live by – is thin. Very thin. And I was puzzled by it. I’ve seen the closing of Aloha Airlines, Molokai Ranch, Maui Land and Pine. I’ve had family and close friends affected by the closing of their companies. I saw firsthand their anxiety, listening to their stories about their family’s struggle, and seeing the worry and grief as they struggled to hold on to dignity, confidence and selfworth when unable to find work, pay bills, and deny their children opportunities that would have come from a college tuition fund raided to pay the mortgage and put food on the table until work could be found. But the HC&S announcement feels extraordinarily different.

Then it hit me. It’s because there are folks celebrating. And the way they were placing celebrating before acknowledging the human impact of the HC&S closure was heartbreaking. There was no grand scale citizen driven movement that played a part in how Aloha Air, Molokai Ranch, or Maui Land and Pine operated or ended.

While I fully appreciate the rights of opponents of cane burning, and I myself, wanted the company to find resolution – and quickly, I find it distasteful and disturbing to see members of our community celebrating first, then as an afterthought (and for many not at all), realize that they have placed their joy first above another’s misery. Not all have behaved this way, but enough to notice.

We live on an island with a culture that is circular in nature. In the western way, things are linear. Point A to point B. Get it done and it’s over, move on to the next thing or place. In our island way of life things go around in a continuous circular motion because we understand we are here to stay and some day, in some way, you and I will be connected if we’re not already. To us, when point B is reached, the relationship isn’t over. In fact, it’s just begun. Because it’s likely that your family and mine will share an experience together either in this generation or the next.

I would’ve liked to have seen more sensitivity and compassion first, before any celebratory actions and words from opponents of cane burning. It’s not the issue that disturbs me, it’s the behavior. It’s not comparing one family to another. It’s not stealing joy away from winning because to me it’s not me against you.

It’s like a beneficiary of an organ donor. You feel sad, blessed, grateful, joyful – simply because you realize your joy comes at the expense of another. We are experiencing folks cartwheeling with joy first. Point A to Point B.

Look at it this way: as cane burning opponents ran to Kihei for a celebration party, at that very moment HC&S employees were going home to talk with their spouses and children about how they will lose their jobs and the future looks uncertain. They began their planning on how to save their homes, whether or not their kids can still go to a planned school trip, decide if their new vehicle should be sold, and that retirement is no longer a simple near future occasion. I would’ve preferred leaders stop and tell their followers that this is a somber time for over 600 local families and wait a heartbeat of a few days before rushing to a party. This is respect.

And I’m not labeling people by race, drawing boxes, and putting people in it. I see that our values and upbringing are uneasily different.

I said it before and I’ll repeat it here. No plantation employee has danced gleefully when someone became ill. No opponent of cane burning should look the other way when the struggles get real for the hundreds of HC&S folks who will lose their livelihood.

In the days ahead, many in our community will be sad and angry, disoriented with resentment, and fighting mad at someone, something, somehow. Work hard to not to take the bait, or throw a hook out either. Move forward. No one should define your peace or drive your destination. Practice what your parents and grandparents raised you to be.

Wishing peace and dignity for our Maui

About Mahina Martin

Mahina Martin is the great granddaughter of sakadas who arrived over a hundred years ago to work the sugar plantations of Hawaii. She is also a former employee of and has family currently employed at HC&S. The founder of PLDC Watch, she successfully led Maui’s efforts in conjunction with statewide organzations to close the Public Land Development Corporation and overturn Act 55, a law that put thousands of acres of public land at risk for commercialization.

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