Journeys of Personal Decolonization at Roots Cafe

In January 2018, WVWS members Kasha Ho and Aiko Yamashiro worked together with Kaʻiulani Odom and the amazing folks at Roots Cafe to organize an Okinawan-themed dinner as part of their Decolonizing Diets dinner series. The theme for the evening was "Finding Our Way Home: Journeys of Personal Decolonization." Events at Roots Cafe are always so special and so transformative. You leave feeling cracked open, but also healed. On this particular evening, we enjoyed Roots’s take on Okinawan dishes like ninjin shirishiri, kandabajuushi, raafute, and yasei namashi, with many cherished recipes shared by family and community members.

[mahalo to Kauila Niheu for the photos in this post]



There was another kind of sustenance on offer too, in the form of presentations from several speakers with ancestral ties to Okinawa, sharing their own personal paths towards decolonization—through language, music, parenthood, and healing. Tina Grandinetti shared the following presentation about the lessons she learned during WVWSʻs trip to Okinawa as part of the International Womenʻs Network Against Militarism gathering in July 2017.


Last summer, I was fortunate enough to be part of the Hawaiʻi delegation to a gathering of the International Women’s Network Against Militarism in Okinawa. It was my first visit I was 4 years old, and it was a strange kind of homecoming. As so many second-generation kids know, visiting the birthplace of your parents is weird… Reuniting with family you haven’t seen in years, navigating language barriers, and being confronted with your own ignorance about your culture is complicated. And to have all of that tied up in the reality of militarism and occupation was even harder.

My mom left Okinawa when she was 18, and while I know shes proud to be Uchinanchu, she’s always kept her life in Okinawa at a distance, never letting me and my sister get too close. I knew there was pain there, but I didn’t really understand why. Before I left for Okinawa, my mother, who was born and raised in Kin town, adjacent to Camp Hansen, told me that she didn’t want me to romanticize Okinawa and its people. She said life there is hard, and you can’t understand any of it in 2 weeks.

But she didn’t have to worry about romanticizing. Because, as beautiful as Okinawa is, it’s hard to romanticize a place that is scarred with barbed wire fences marking off 18 percent of the island as US military property. Where the sounds of waves washing up on a beach are drowned out by military helicopters flying overhead. Where a shrine sits on a quiet rural road marking the site where Rina Shimabukuro was murdered - just one of hundreds of women who have been victims of sexual abuse at the hands of US servicemen. Its hard to romanticize your family’s hometown as you’re catcalled and verbally abused by young American men from the base next door.

Still, my mother was right. I couldn’t understand a lot of what I experienced in Okinawa. Though our delegation had the privilege of learning from the powerful women who help lead Okinawa’s anti-base movement, we are still struggling to wrap our heads around the intricacies of power and exploitation, white supremacy and empire, capitalism and racism, that might explain why our people in Okinawa, Hawaiʻi, Korea, Guam and the Philippines continue to suffer under the grip of US imperialism. It’s hard to understand why our islands continue to be exploited and even harder to imagine ways that we can fight against this exploitation and win. Its impossible to understand what it felt like for my grandmother, who survived one of the bloodiest battles in World War II and saw a quarter of her people die at the hands of the Japanese and American armies.

But there are some things that I think I was able to understand- partly because I grew up here in Hawaiʻi, where the US military exploits Kanaka Maoli lands and similarly, meets the sustained resistance of strong, Indigenous people. I understood the elderly men and women on the front lines of Henoko who knew from tragic experience that the militarization of islands like Okinawa and Hawaiʻi do NOT make them safer. And I think after the missile scare last week, we all know that in our gut- that these bases might claim to protect us, but really, turn our islands into both targets and weapons in wars that we want nothing to do with. To me, that was plain and simple, and it felt so empowering to see so many people saying loud and clear that they reject those lies, and that they want real peace and genuine security.

Other things were more complicated though. The hardest thing about this trip for me was coming face to face with the trauma that Okinawans have faced, the trauma that has festered in my own family. I think part of me thought that if I went there it would be like coming full circle, that it would help my mom move past the pain of growing up in the aftermath of the war, in poverty, under US occupation.

It didn’t. My mom decided not to come tonight. It still hurts too much.

So even months after leaving Okinawa, I’m still learning how deep these wounds are. I’m still getting angrier and more confused. And now more than ever, doubting whether digging up the past is helping to heal or hurting even more. But the moment I keep coming back to happened out on the water in Oura Bay, where we joined a fleet of local fishermen and activists on fishing boats and kayaks to protest the expansion of Camp Schwab. There, a ring of orange buoys stretches far out into the pristine bay, marking the construction zone where 21 million cubic meters of sand and soil are being dumped into the sea to create an airfield for use by the US military. Out on the water, we watched the construction crane at work, and heard the blocks of concrete infill crash into reef.

Our captain, Koshin Nakamoto, a local fisherman who has been fighting base expansion for 20 years gave our delegation the opportunity to address the Okinawa Defense Bureau officials who were patrolling the construction site and video taping our every move. Aiko took the mic, and over a loudspeaker, she wove connections between Hawaiʻi, and Okinawa, “Our hearts are so sad to see this construction, because we are island people too… We thank the Okinawan people for protecting this place because we know it’s the same ocean. In Hawaiʻi we say aloha ʻāina, and when we say aloha ʻāina we mean we love the land, and we love the ocean, because we know we are connected and we need it”. Then, she knotted those connections together, firmly, when she called out across the water, “Mina san! [everybody!] Aloha ʻĀina!! Aloha ʻĀina! Aloha ʻĀina!”

As I shouted these words along with Aiko, all of those distances--cultural, geographic, political--between Okinawa and Hawaiʻi collapsed in my mind. Nakamoto-san was fighting for peace on one small patch of ocean that he loved so much. Aiko was fighting for another. But in the end, it’s the same ocean, and it’s the same love. As painful as it was to witness those concrete blocks crashing into the sea, and to fight against that kind of destruction, the struggle felt in some ways, like healing.

A few weeks ago, my mom told me that being Okinawan has a high cost. That if I want to learn what it means to be Uchinanchu, she can’t be the one to teach me.

That was hard to hear.

But I think I’m learning to be okay with it, because she’s already taught me more than she knows, and I have other teachers to step in where she can’t. I think that’s what happens when you live in Hawai’i surrounded by so many aloha ‘āina, so many powerful activists and protectors.

And the thing is, if trauma can be intergenerational, then healing can be too. It might be slow, but it will happen, and that’s the most important thing this trip taught me.

--Tina Grandinetti

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