Bamboo Ridge writers at MIA

I went to the M.I.A. Art & Literary Series at Mercury Bar on December 8th to hear Bamboo Ridge writers Michelle Cruz Skinner, Lisa Linn Kanae, and Joe Tsujimoto read from some of their recent works. It was a brief gathering, but a fun, relaxing way to spend a weekday evening.

Sadly, I arrived at the reading late so I snuck in as Michelle Cruz Skinner was starting things off. She read from a piece from her book In the Company of Strangers called “Ten-Fold Path,” about a young Filipino man’s experiences on the mainland where he learns to own his heritage, navigate the foreign social landscape of a midwestern college, and deal with how people constantly get his ethnicity wrong. There was a lot to relate to here for the many Hawaiʻi people who, for school or other reasons, have found themselves on the mainland, negotiating surprising cultural differences and wondering about their identity. Skinner got at the vulnerability and alienation of suddenly becoming an ethnic minority in the context of the mainland, and the mix of disdain and pride you feel as you come to terms with this new persona. As I listened to the story, I wondered why we don’t talk about the mainland experience more often.

Lisa Linn Kanae came next, reading an unpublished piece called “Bobby Pin” about working at McDonalds in Waikiki and having an encounter with a rude customer. Her story was beautifully fluent, funny, and like many of the stories in her book, Islands Linked by Ocean, a meaningful social commentary. She highlighted the falseness of the tourist fantasy in Waikiki, how it is perpetuated by ignorance, and how too often local people fail to speak out about how the paradise is fabricated. The main character of the story is one of those brave (or naive?) few who let us know what is false. When a customer comes to her counter saying how lovely it is that all the McDonalds employees wear orchids they picked from their yards, our liberated local girl with the aqua-net hair clarifies, without self-pity and without anger, “I no more one yard.”

The last reader was Joe Tsujimoto, who took us far away in time and place from Waikiki to the west side of Manhattan in the 1960s. He read the second half of a story entitled “Looking for Work” from Morningside Heights in which the narrator, Kenji, introduces us to characters that populate a local pool hall by telling us stories about their past and future eccentricities. His reading was vibrant and frenetic, familiarizing the audience with a foreign world through the intimacy with which he seems to know his characters’ time and place. Kenji’s arrival in Hawaiʻi will come later in the collection of stories, and I am excited to see how he perceives a place that is foreign to him, but so familiar to me.

As the reading ended, I was struck by how different the three readers were, though they’re all published by Bamboo Ridge Press, and are all connected in important ways to Hawaiʻi. Skinner’s sarcasm, Kanae’s pidgin, and even Tsujimoto’s New York accent belong to the same literary scene, and it was awesome to get a taste of them all at the consistently worthwhile M.I.A. Art & Literary Series.

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