May-lee Chai | Longreads | July 2018 | 15 minutes (4,118 words)
When I was a junior in college, my father, mother, and brother took a trip to Hawaii. I didn’t go because I’d been named editor-in-chief of the school newspaper and needed to be at school before the semester started. I needed to get the first issue out for freshmen orientation. I also needed the money. My parents weren’t paying for my college, and I needed every little bit of cash that I could get.
While she was in Hawaii, my mother called me at my dorm to tell me about the trip. Only recently had my mother overcome her severe fear of flying and she still had a kind of ecstatic quality to her voice that I associated with the extreme highs that followed her moments of panic or fear.
“It’s beautiful! This is my place,” she declared. “The flowers, all the flowers, everywhere!”
She then proceeded to tell me how lovely she found Honolulu — the sunlight, the birds of paradise and jasmine and red ginger and hibiscus and bougainvillea, the white sand, the warm ocean. After seven years in the Midwest, seven years of blizzards and tornadoes followed by more blizzards and more tornadoes, she was sick of weather that rotated from one extreme of discomfort to the other.
“And they like me here! I went out into the water, Papa was on the beach, you know he won’t get wet, and Jeff wasn’t feeling well, he was in the room, so I went by myself into the ocean, and I was just splashing the water over my arms, it felt so good, and a white woman came up to me. She said, ‘Aloha! Welcome!’ Then she leaned in close to me and said, ‘We whites have to stick together against the Asian invasion.’” My mother was ecstatic. “She liked me! They like me here!” Read more…