I ran across this article in the early edition of the NYT today (one of the benefits of being on Honolulu time, I get to see the next day’s articles early since it is still early here).
When people think of Hawai’i, they often think of the beautiful beaches and touristy vacations spots. Like I have mentioned before, hardly anyone ever thinks of the darker side of Hawai’i, the parts that people either don’t know about, or don’t care to know about. Either way, there are people in Hawai’i who, by the nature of our history and the history of our government, deserve to be in our memory. The people who became lost in Paradise.
Few people have heard of the Island of Moloka’i, or the Friendly Isle. Roughly one third of the size of O’ahu, it is lush and beautiful, and home to the most incredible beaches of the world. Perhaps this was a reason for it’s history. Moloka’i, while being beautiful, especially if you are interested in seeing some of the most beautiful nature that is in Hawai’i (perhaps why its official color is green), has a shadow over its past. Most people on the US Mainland would not be aware that Moloka’i is the home to the oldest colony of sufferer’s of Hansen’s disease, more commonly known as Leprosy.
Now, w/ the scare of leprosy long gone and science and medicine available we know that the segregation of the patients of Hansen’s was not only unnecessary, but completely unethical and inhumane. You can read stories of children separated from their families and sent to colonies when they were too young to know what was going on, and read stories of patients having their families and newborns torn from them, b/c those were the laws. But w/ the threat debunked and the scare passed, we have people left living in what can best be described as their homes, b/c that is what they have known. People who have made their lives out of the crap hand that was forced upon them by those who were too scared to think better. I read about the citizens of Kalaupapa now, and the lives they have made, and it warms my heart to read how they came to care for one another and to build a community together. But w/ the youngest of the patients of Kalaupapa being in his early sixties, we need to know that they exist. We need to remember these people, and the way we allowed our fears to forever alter their lives. Their lives need to have mattered. The way that they have formed families where sadness and death reigned needs to forever remind us that we need not give way to fear. We need to not allow fear and hate to tear apart people’s lives.
We need to remember them. They deserve to be remembered.