Meet the author: Kaumuali`i Titcomb
For weeks now Roger had been tormenting me. Roger was one of the older kids in my neighborhood; he was Hawaiian-Filipino about maybe 13 or 14 years old. He had really dark brown skin with real bushy hair that gave him one of those kine Hawaiian fros. Roger was rather tall for his age; I would say he was about 5’8 maybe 5’9. He had long arms and long legs, but he wasn’t that built and only weighed around 120 maybe 130. Yeah, he was one of those local kids that hated haoles, or anyone that looked haole. So that made me one of his prime targets at the Hokuahiahi apartments.
My full name is Jacob Anthony Kaumuali‘i Titcomb, and I’m a Hawaiian, Chinese, Italian, Irish, Scottish, Portuguese, and German kid, but I look like a full haole. I was about 7 or maybe 8 years old at the time. I was an average size for my age, not too tall and really skinny. My hair was usually long, thick and curly, but my dad wanted me to have short hair, so I did. He thought it looked more proper and business like. So my hair was usually short and very presentable. This made me look even more haole. Needless to say, it was hard enough being white in Hawai‘i, but trying to convince people I was Hawaiian was like that one old guy who tried to convince everybody the earth is round while everyone is saying it’s flat. People only believe what they can see or what is easy to believe. Over here, it is easier to believe that I was just a haole from the mainland. Anyways, Roger hated me, and I hated him. He hated me mostly because I would insist I was Hawaiian; I hated him because he would make fun of me whenever I brought that up and would bully me non-stop. I tried to get numb to the abuse, but I hated that feeling of people not accepting me for what I am, a Hawaiian.
It was just something that some people have to deal with and others don’t. At least I didn’t have to see him in school today, which was one consolation. Thank God, he was in middle school and I was still in elementary. The only downside was that the kids in elementary school were hardly any better. I lived in Mililani, which is predominately filled with white and Asian people, except most of them lived in Mauka or around Nob Hill. Then there were Hawaiians, Filipinos, and other locals that lived either in or near the Valley, Kipapa, or around Uka elementary school in the apartments, which was where my family and I were living at the time.
Monday through Friday I would wake up and get ready for school, then say goodbye to my parents and start my walk to school with my younger sisters. I was the oldest of five children. There was Shannon who never found it hard to make friends with anyone, which always bewildered me because when I looked up ‘bossy’ in the dictionary, I saw my sister’s picture right next to it. Yet she was never short of friends. I always wondered how her friends could put up with her “dictator” attitude, and then I remembered they don’t have to live with her. Then I thought, Aren’t they fortunate. Then there was my other younger sister Shayne, who was the middle child and as shy as me when it came to meeting new people, but she had the meanest attitude in the house. Whenever my brothers, sisters, and I fought, I would always make sure I was on the right side of Shayne lest I be massacred along with her opposition. We walked to school and went to our classes. When I got to class I stared at the clock along with all the other children in the class and counted the seconds go by until recess as the teacher tried to teach the class. Finally the bell rang, and all of us kids scrambled out of our chairs and ran for the door like a pack of wild animals, screeching and screaming. After five minutes, the teacher finally reined in all of us kids into a line to walk us to the recess area.
Elementary school is like if there were a bunch of Jane Goodalls in a school, except instead of living with gorillas, it was more like a bunch of hyenas or dingoes. Yeah, elementary school was nothing but babysitting, with a few logic lessons on the way. 1+1= 2, “I” before “E” except after “C” was the stuff you learn in elementary. But mostly it was how to play well with others. I would say that either half the class wouldn’t learn or just chose not to go along with this part of the curriculum.
While we were all waiting in line to go to recess, four boys ahead of me were talking. One of them was a Hawaiian-White kid named Bryan. He was a little taller than me and kind of chubby, with short cropped hair. There was another Hawaiian-Filipino kid named Jacob. He was not as talkative as the others but still could be just as mean. He was lean and a little shorter than me with dark skin and short cut hair. He was probably the smallest out of the bunch, but I feared him the most. He mostly had this look of resentment on him, and I’d only see him the slightest bit happy when he and his friends were messing with another kid or irritating one of the teachers. The rest of the time his face was expressionless. Then there was Matt, a skinny Filipino kid with super thin short hair. Last was this skinny Japanee boy who looked as though his skin was more burnt then actually dark; his name I can’t remember. What they were talking about for the life of me I can’t remember, but I thought it might have been about a certain beach they all like to go to with their families. So I didn’t actually knew what beach they were talking about, but I was a kid then and hated to be left out of conversations. I burst into the conversation. “I’ve been to that beach before! It’s awesome!”
Bryan looked at me and said, “By the looks of you, white boy, it doesn’t look like you see too much of the beach.” He and his friends started snickering.
That’s when Matt said, “What you talkin’ about haole boy? You never went beach before.” He sneered at me and the rest laughed.
“Hey, I ain’t one haole. I’m Hawaiian, too!” I said it so infuriated that my voice was cracking. They laughed again. At this point I was enraged, and I could feel my face turning red. In times like these I would wish I was the eight year old embodiment of Bruce Lee, Donnie Yen, and Ip Man combined. They’re the kind of guys who can run up walls, jump in the air, kick you a hundred times with one foot, and would then land perfectly back on their feet.
I used to imagine I had their super-human powers. I would end up doing some crazy flips and jump kicks while they tried their hardest to overpower me. But after 15 years training with the Shaolin Monks I’d be untouchable. If they got too close, I would use fast as lightning fists on them. In the end, I would rise victorious. My foes would be defeated and have super wedgies. Then I would pound my chest and roar to display my victory.
But, I am nowhere close to Bruce Lee. I can’t do flips and jump kicks. My fists are not fast as lightning. I did not train 15 years with Shaolin Monks; I am only 8 years old. I am just a kid trying to fit in to a place he has lived his whole life. A place he will live his whole life, on an island he loves. A place where most of his family lives, a place he loves. I’m in a place where people see me as a foreigner, as someone who doesn’t belong. Always seen as a haole.
I buried my chin into my chest hoping that my whole face would sink in hiding my expression. I was furious; my face was red I could tell. But beyond the anger was frustration and hurt. Why? I asked myself, seriously dumbfounded, What is it about me that screams ‘Haole’?! There were plenty of kids as pale as me who were treated like a local. Some of them weren’t even Hawaiian. Why was it they were more welcomed than I was? It didn’t make sense to me.
The day went on, and I entered the basketball courts, where recess was conducted with everybody else. I let what had happened before pass through my mind and tried to enjoy recess.
When school ended, I didn’t wait for my sisters. I just headed home. They usually got home on their own time at their own pace. I tried to suppress my thoughts on the lonely walk home. It has always been so hard to control what goes on in my mind, especially when it is something so viral and intense. I tried not to think about those kids teasing me, but I failed. Now all I felt was anger.
Finally, I was home. I could place my focus and concentration on something more important. I looked at my school bag filled with homework. Naaaah, I thought, I can do that later. I decided to dull myself by watching some TV.
I got bored of watching fake wrestling. I turned off the TV and went outside to engage in something more active. My little brothers were in the small playground that was surrounded by the Hokuahiahi apartments; that way, all the parents could keep an eye on their kids. I ran across the small parking lot separating our apartment building from the mediocre playground area.
It might have been a crappy playground area, but my siblings and I spent the majority of our free time on that playground with the other kids in our neighborhood. I can trace back so many memories to this one area. Good and bad. This memory is a mixture of both.
My brothers were playing with some of the other kids who were too young to be in school. I gladly joined in. As a child, you get upset easily but it’s even easier for us to get over unpleasant events. As the playing went on, I started suppress all those disturbing memories to the back of my mind. I had almost completed my mission until I saw him walking towards us. There was a walkway in between the apartment buildings that led to the playground. Roger was wearing a black shirt and some dark jeans, and it looked as though he was looking for me.
I don’t know why, but I got off of the slide and started walking towards him. When we started getting closer, I saw his face and how furious he looked. When we finally approached each other, he spared no time with evil glares or stink eye. “What you looking at haole-boy?!”
There was no difference to my emotional reaction in this instance compared to when Bryan and his friends called me haole, or all the other times Roger bullied me around. I was furious and hurt; the only difference this time was that I had had enough. “I aint no damn haole!!” I fumed, almost demanding that he acknowledge this. I didn’t just want him to not call me a haole. I wanted him, no everybody, to know that I am Hawaiian. “I am a HAWAIIAN!”
He gave me a condescending smirk. “I get more Hawaiian in my pinky then you get in your whole body haole boy,” he snickered. “Brah, you one haole, your father one haole, and your grandpa one haole. Your whole family stay haole!”
My heart was running faster and faster. I was so furious that I was seeing red, and despite all my efforts, my eyes were watering up. I tried to hold them back but I couldn’t. Even though there were tears in my eyes, I was still enraged. “Fuck you, Roger!!” I shouted.
Who threw the first punch I will never remember, but I distinctly remember feeling a throbbing ache on the back and side of my head after it was all over. At the time I didn’t feel anything, too angry to realize that Roger had landed two punches on me. I wasn’t one of those tough kids that knew how to scrap or had ever even been in a fight before, but that didn’t deter me. I immediately swung back. He was too tall for me to reach for his head, so I aimed low and connected my fist with his stomach. It didn’t seem to affect him at all, but that didn’t matter to me.
I was ready to fight him until one of us were knocked out, not because I thought I could take him or because I believed I was strong enough to take it. I was just too fumed to care what happened. There was no time for me to think, only react. It felt like there was no one else except for me and Roger. My peripheral vision was nonexistent at this point; my focus and concentration were locked onto Roger. So I didn’t notice it when my mother pushed us away from each other to separate us. It wasn’t until she stepped in between us that I noticed she had entered into the situation.
“What the hell is going on here?!” my mother demanded. Roger and I were silent, but our faces were shouting. His face was filled with fury and disbelief at my recalcitrant opposition. I could feel the heat on my face and could tell that my face was red. My teeth were clenched and my brows were pulled together so intently that it felt as if my brows were moving my eyes along with them. I imagined I would have looked pretty fearsome, even for an eight year old, if it wasn’t for the water building up in my eyes. As much as I tried, I couldn’t stop myself from crying. I wasn’t hurt; I was just too angry too feel anything else. My mother threatened, “One of you boys better start talking. Right now!”
My mother was born in Canada, raised in Philly and other places on the mainland. Her father, my Grandpa Tony, wasn’t around for the majority of her childhood, so she was raised mostly by her mother and her grandmother, two wealthy women. Raised wouldn’t be the most appropriate term, lived actually fits better. Her mother wasn’t what you would call hands on when it came to parenting. My Tūtū sent my mom to one of those private boarding schools, and it wasn’t until my mother was in her late 20s or early 30s that she came to Hawai‘i. My mother was a shy, kind, and loving woman. But today she looked fearsome and looked like the meanest tita on the island.
When my mother realized that she wasn’t going to get an answer out of us she, grabbed us by the back of our shirts and dragged us out of the playground. She led us across the parking lot towards the apartment building adjacent to ours. A few yards in front of the building there was a dark skinned man with buzz cut hair. He was standing arms crossed with a stern look on his face, staring intently at us. When my mom reached him, she handed Roger over to him. He gave Roger a look that only a father could give, one of disappointment, anger, and frustration. But I couldn’t tell how he felt about this because he didn’t say anything and neither did my mother. He didn’t look at me or even exchange a glance with my mother. I’ve always wondered whether his father was angry that his son got into a fight or that I wasn’t beat up enough, but my mother dragged me away towards our apartment building before any words or faces could be exchanged.
My all-encompassing rage turned to fear. I felt as if I would be awaiting some sort of punishment for getting into a fight, no matter how one-sided it was. And sure enough, my father was waiting for me and my mother outside of our apartment building. His face was concerned and strained, as though he was in pain. I couldn’t understand why.
“What happened?” he asked, deliberate yet sympathetic. My mother had released her grip at this time and had taken a place at the side of my father. Her face was more calm but filled with worry. They both just stood there, waiting for my explanation. I hadn’t planned or even wanted to say anything, but I couldn’t hold it in. I was still too furious, and I hadn’t been able to unleash all my steam in the fight.
“Roger was saying stuff about you and grandpa!” I shouted, my voice cracking at the end, “He was calling us haoles!” I was full on crying by now, unable to blow off the steam; physically it came out in words and tears.
My dad looked at me with the most hurt eyes I have ever seen. Looking back on it now, I regret ever making him feel whatever he felt to make him look so wounded. “Oh, Jacob,” he said, “you got angry because he called you and your family haole.” It wasn’t a question; it was more like repeating something to himself that he remembered. “Son, I’m sorry that that boy called you that. But you know it’s not true,” he assured me. His words were soothing and filled with compassion, but it didn’t lower the level of passionate hate I held in my heart.
“Jacob, you can’t let other people get you so worked up just because they insult you,” my mother said, so filled with love and empathy. She was as sweet and warm as anyone on this planet when it came to her kids and loved ones, but like a mother wolf or bear when someone messed with her kids, my mother was always worried about me regardless.
Then my father told me something that he would repeat to me for years later, until this day as a matter of fact do I heard him say this. “Jacob, people are going to be calling you haole for the rest of your life. There are going to be people out there that will not accept you because of the color of your skin.” I looked at him and I understood, but I didn’t believe it. I didn’t want to. I could not come to terms with that. What did my skin have to do with who I am and where I’m from? Why me? Why not all those other white guys who everyone treats like a local?
For years I didn’t accept that. I made it my goal for people to see me as a local, as a Hawaiian. If I had to I would make them. Whatever it took, I would be recognized. I grew up and the anger only built up and grew. I tried to hide it. But every now and then I would slip and lose control. I made many mistakes and screwed up too many times to recall. It wasn’t up until recently that I released all of that rage and accepted the fact that I am light skinned mixed Hawaiian.
I still get pissed off when people think or call me haole. But I don’t let it ruin or rule my life anymore. For years my father would tell me, “There are going to people out there that will not accept you because of the color of your skin, for the rest of your life.” These days I am stronger in body and mind. I know who I am, and my friends and family know who I am. Most of the time, people only believe what they want to believe or what is easier to believe, just like the people who couldn’t believe that the earth is round. But sometimes people open up their minds and can see the truth. The truth is, yes, I am white. The earth isn’t flat, and I am Hawaiian.