I always used to say too much and you never seemed to say enough. And between us we never managed to say anything at all.
“So, do you think the long term is Hawai’i?”
I opened my mouth immediately to respond, then stopped to actually think about my answer.
Looking down the tree-lined Prospect Park path I was strolling down with Chris, something stilled the words in my mouth. It wasn’t an unusual question; I’ve likely received it on a weekly basis since I moved to the aina about four months ago. Everyone from my parents, to my colleagues, to my friends wanted to know if paradise was, in fact, paradise.
It’s a fair question, and the answer had varied every time someone had asked. More and more frequently over the past few weeks, though, it had been some variation of “I don’t know. Maybe. I think so. The longer I’m here, the more I find myself feeling connected with the island.” Hawai’i has a unique ability to do that to you: there is a sacred aspect to the land that, for those who want it, can permeate your spirit and draw an element of zen out of you that’s hard to find elsewhere.
Yet, now I had been off the island for the first time in four months, and had been on a whirlwind mini-tour of the other-side-of-the-country. First, in New Jersey’s Ironbound District, where I had been treated to amazing Portuguese food and addressed in Spanish for the first time since moving to the island. I had talked with people who lived all over the country about their experiences and their lives somewhere far, far away from a beach.
Then, I had gone into Manhattan and seen two amazing women, Caroline and Amanda, who gave me the sounding board of my former life that I had been missing for weeks.
Now, I was legitimately in the middle a picture-perfect Park Slope Saturday morning, complete with bagel sandwiches, a farmer’s market, and strolling through a sun-streaked park after a rainstorm had cleared. I had seen masses of buildings, eaten fantastic pizza and ethnic food, used amazingly functional public transportation, and been reminded of what the world off-island— both beautiful and in dire need of change— looked, tasted, and felt like.
“I…I don’t know. Maybe…” I began, “I do love parts of living there, but now that I’ve realized that I can go places, it kind of makes me want to go places, you know?”
He nodded understandingly, and I let myself verbally wander a little. ”I mean, I love Colorado, and could see my self ending up there. This part of New York, and near NYU has been way better than when I visited Midtown when I was younger. I also really loved Chicago and D.C. when I visited—”
“Oh, man,” Chris stopped me and laughed, “the wanderlust is starting to kick in hardcore, isn’t it?”
I chuckled at the word. It’s one of those terms that perfectly encapsulates a feeling, but has been co-opted and thus overused by my generation as some kind of hipster mantra to describe the traveling phase of “twenty something” so many of us go through. “Yeah, I guess. I think something I’ve realized realized this past week is that I’m feeling more fired up about what I want to do with my life, and sometimes that means choosing where I live for a career, not because of the place itself.”
It’s been quite a bit since I’ve stepped back and actually thought, Hey Christina, how ya doin’? I have a feeling it happens to a lot of people who up and relocate like I did: in an attempt to adapt, you stop worrying so much about what’s going on internally and dive in feet-first into New-Life.
New-Life, by the by, is still good. The week before I left to travel the East Coast on Teach For America business (that sounds fancy, but really there were some conferences happening back to back that TFA was kind enough to let me attend), I went paddle boarding with my lovely friend Daria… during my lunch break. We saw two turtles. At one point, we looked back at Diamond Head and she just said, “Yeah… we live here.”
Like I said earlier, a large part of Hawaiian culture and just the general feeling of the land is a “sense of place,” a term that’s being used by quite a few Hawaiian culture leaders to describe the heightened awareness of historical and cultural connection to property. How the land was (and is) used is immensely important in Hawaiian history and culture.
Awesome and fascinating example: Native Hawaiians split the land not by type, but into ahupua’a. Often shaped like a slice of pie, the Native Hawaiians already understood that the way you use the mountains affects all the land beneath it down to the ocean, and likewise going in the other direction. Instead of having a group who took care of the mountains and a group who lived off the sea (which could lead to over or under resourcing in some areas), people cared for an ahupua’a because they wanted the island as a whole to thrive of the connection it had with all other parts of the island.
While the Hawaiians are great at understanding a sense of place, I… am not. It’s something I’m still learning to develop, since I’ve never really had to do it. In Southern California, we certainly claim towns or neighborhoods, but more in a sense of ownership and external behaviors than in a sense of connection and internal beliefs. Whenever I stated I was from L.A. or SoCal, it was because I felt that it informed how I would act as a person to/with other people. Having a sense of place here (I think, as I am only a four-month-old resident) seems much more focused on letting your environment and where you are speak to you— it means stepping back, and letting the space you are in inform what you are learning and how you are reacting.
[in a vague attempt to tie all these thoughts together, let’s go back to career and place as mentioned above]
I work for an amazingly forward thinking and human-capital based organization, and it’s one of the many reasons I love working at Teach For America and why I chose to return to the organization as a staff member. Even in my relatively-low-level role (something that I love and proudly own, which is made much easier because my staff is super-supportive and appreciative of the support I try to give), I am often asked where I see myself going and what role I want to play in the movement towards educational equity.
That is something that I really, really love, and part of the comment I made to Chris on that Park Slope path is because I’ve been immensely invested (and reinvested this past week) in the work that I do within education. Still, reinvesting also means realizing that that their is still and continually a huge problem that is happening nation-and-world wide, and I fully believe that educational access is the civil rights fight of my generation. That’s a tough thing to remember, and all it does is fire me up to try and go everywhere and anywhere to fix that.
A few days after Park Slope, Manhattan, hipster popsicles with Amanda and brunch with Caroline and movies with Chris, I was in DC for the Teach For America Latino Summit in conduction with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute, an event focused on building leadership in Latinos and as Latinos.
At one point in a discussion at the end of the summit, David Stanley (the Executive Director of my home region, L.A.) mentioned that sometimes you have to “go slow to go fast.” Essentially, if you take the time on the front-end to grow and develop well, you’ll be able to move much faster and more efficiently/awesomely later.
That phrase really hit home with me, and I honestly feel like it was the perfect way to end my weekend. My time in Newark, New York, and DC at the top of my trip really made me think much more largely about the things I want to do and where I see myself ultimately heading with the rest of my life. That’s really exciting, and really pushed me to start working hard (and much more efficiently) at what I want to do.
That said, I have a unique opportunity to really push myself to grow and develop skills in some essential areas where I am definitely lacking… and I have the opportunity to do it in Hawai’i. I need to, in a lot of ways, go slow to go fast.
Wanderlust is lovely, and it’s great to be looking ahead, but it might also be important to develop a little more sense of place, both personally and physically, to where I am right now. I absolutely want to go out, travel, and adventure, but I can still do that while living in place of paradise and appreciating the fact that I get to do so.
So as 25 approaches (by the way, update from my last post on 25: I have been gluten free for 24 hours and it’s harder than I thought. NO PIZZA OR CUPCAKES BLERGH), here’s to slowing down and taking the time to grow and appreciate a little more exactly where I am.