Micah Kawaguchi-Ailetcher

This blog discusses current events and issues. Topic areas that are of interest include politics, media, California, and Hawaii.

Monday, October 11, 2010

This Blog has Moved !!!

All the oldies plus some new and consistently updated goodies.....

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Thursday, February 01, 2007

You are what you eat. What food has to say about a culture...

Mochi. Sticky rice cake. At first glance, it looks like a plain, off-white, but surprisingly smooth and symmetrical ball of dough. However, this dull impression does nothing but conceal the significance and intricacy that is engrained in the glutinous rice that forms this traditional Japanese delicacy.

Brian Kito of Fugetsu-Do works on a fresh batch of manju

Traditionally, mochi is made for the New Year, Oshogatsu. As simple as mochi may appear, the traditional process of making mochi, or mochi tsuki, is actually a quite laborious undertaking that involves the extended family or church community. Special rice is soaked overnight and steamed before it is put into an usu (a large stone or wooden mortar) and then pounded with a kine (a large wooden mallet) swung repeatedly with force in overhead strokes.

For those families who no longer practice mochi tsuki, confectionaries that sell traditional Japanese sweets, or wagashi, cater to their needs. One such shop, Fugetsu-Do, the oldest store in Little Tokyo at 103 years old, continues the tradition.

“One of the big reasons that Fugetsu-Do is still around is because [mochi] is so deeply rooted in our culture,” says Brian Kito, the current owner and grandson of the original owner. However, mochi for special occasions brings in only a sporadic flow of customers, so Fugetsu-Do, like other confectionaries, creates a variety of mochi to be enjoyed year round.

As the culture changes, so too must the treats. Some creations, like manju (rice cakes filled with sweet beans), appeal mainly to more traditional pallets. But for other tastes, Kito has to be more inventive and takes a page out of the American cookbook with peanut butter mochi. This strawberry mochi with a peanut butter filling is reminiscent of a peanut butter jelly sandwich. “For a non-Asian mind, it’s something to relate to” says Kito, but also notes “that it’s only a fashion” that helps the business survive.

Kito’s Fugetsu-Do is not the only confectionary shop reaching out to new tastes and customers. Nearby in Little Tokyo is another confectionary and inventor of the increasingly popular mochi ice cream, Mikawaya.

“It really is ‘East’ meets ‘West’” said owner and USC alumnus Frances Hashimoto, “mochi is very traditional and ice cream is such a Western product.”

Mochi ice cream took over 10 years to perfect, but can now be found in restaurants in the U.S. and Japan and in stores like Trader Joes. “Initially, we targeted mainly Asians,” said Hashimoto, “because most Asian cultures have something similar to mochi so they could recognize it.” But Hashimoto knew they had found something trans-cultural when she gave the then current Los Angeles mayor Tom Bradley a sample to which he responded, “Wow, you’ve finally made a product I like.”

However, the evolution of mochi is not limited to creations coming out of local confectionaries. In talking with Japanese Americans, I’ve found that the question “how do you eat your mochi?” can solicit a wide variety of answers that go far beyond “in my New Year’s soup” and “with kinako powder.”

Some uniquely American answers included, “I sometimes put it in my Ramen,” “with soy sauce and sugar from the grill,” and even, “inside my Alphabet Soup.”

So what does all this mean for Japanese culture in America? On the one hand, the tradition of mochi tsuki is practiced by fewer families than in the past and specialty mochi, like those made at Fugetsu-Do, are declining in demand. “As the tradition starts dwindling, business gets harder,” says Kito. “So we keep going to the types [of mochi] that they like, where the skill is not a necessity.”

On the other hand, the ways of eating mochi are evolving within the surrounding culture and may even soon take its own place in American culture. In the future, Hashimoto sees her mochi ice cream as less of a novelty and more of a staple. “Ultimately, I’d like to have people look at it as a desert item,” says Hashimoto.

We can learn a lot about a culture through its food. We can use food to gain insight of a culture, its traditions, and where that culture is headed. Such is the case with mochi and Japanese in America. Who would have thought that such a plain, dull, looking rice cake could hold so much?

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Update on John Doe v. Kamehameha Schools

(see this earlier post for more information)

The en banc review has come in and it is in favor of Kamehameha Schools and their admission policy with a preference for Native Hawaiian students.

The docket is a very long one at over a hundred pages and its length gives insight into how the decision for Kam came to be. As I have touched on before, the cultural context of this case is vital in understanding the larger issues at hand. With this same thought, the docket starts out with an explanation of the historical and current situations of Hawaiians before diving in to the issue at hand.

This preface was noticeably missing from the earlier (and now nullified) Circuit Court of Appeals decision in favor of John Doe.

Though there is still one more court to appeal to, I have doubts that this case will make it there. The use of a rare en banc review (in which all judges in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals presided over), suggests a finality on the issue and the case's uniqueness suggests that the Supreme Court is not likely to pick it up.

That being said, if it does wonder over to Washington, I have a feeling that the decision is likely to be reversed. Otherwise, why review it? I doubt that the Supreme Court would take it on the basis of establishing a conclusive decision (as is often done with cases that go back and forth between winners) since the decision has been relatively steady in favor of Kam.

Instead, if they choose to review this case, it is likely to be used as a way to address race in admissions in other private institutions (i.e. universities) and the court may see this as their way into this issue since the Gratz and Grutter cases were decided under the previous court.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Red Dirt

My first game wasn't at home.
I ran to center-field holding the yellow softball.

My shoes still clean with no trace of dirt.

I pull my socks up over my smooth, un-scarred knees.

I tuck in my shirt and smile because it's red.

I'm nervous, my body is cold, but I do not sweat.

It's an hour before practice and I'm dripping in sweat.
My bat cuts through the air in the garage of my home.

I pull my hair back and feel my hot face; it's red.

I sit on the oily floor and trace my fingers over the seams of my old ball.

Coach pulls into the driveway. I jump off of my knees

And hop into the back of his white truck, now reddish brown from the dirt.

I pour the grass seeds out along the rows in the dirt.

Next season, I can say with pride that my hard work and sweat

Helped to give this old field its soft grass that tickles my knees

When I get down to stretch before my first game at home.

The sun sets as we finish our rows and I crumple my empty bag into a ball

And stuff it into my back pocket. The orange sun makes the dirt even more red.

But now I know why that dirt is so red.

It is red no where else on the island. It is Lahaina's red dirt.

It is red like the colors of Lahainaluna and its 'L' atop Mount Ball.

It is salty and acidic from volcanic ash and the sweat

Of ball players I never got to meet. The Kaua`ula winds plaster this dirt onto homes,

Cars, everything. At the end of the day, you find it even in the wrinkles of your knees.

With a helmet on my head and armor over my knees,

I sit protected behind home plate. My uniform is dirty but still shining bright red

In the 12 o'clock sun. "Runners on 1st and 2nd. Watch the runners coming home!"

The batter moves closer, pushing me back in my box, kicking up dirt

On purpose. I don't mind; I like being covered in our dirt, our sweat.

The pitcher cocks back and tightly grips her yellow ball.

We lost my last home game. I cried. Not because I couldn't hit her ball,

But because it was done. The pain I felt in my left knee

Was gone; it was somewhere else. I watched the sweat

From my catching gear drip onto the dirt. I saw that everything was red.

Inside and outside the fence were red shirts and faces, and everywhere, red dirt.

I looked at Mount Ball and its 'L' and what I saw is what I see when I think of home.

Lahaina is the home of many ball players,

Forever remembered covered in dirt and with scarred knees.
Our blood is red, but so is our sweat that proudly seeps back into our field.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Reasons why we should not ban horse slaugter

Click here if you're interested in knowing why the United States should reject a ban on horse slaughter. A bill to ban the practice made it past the U.S. House of Representatives last September, and if the Senate manages to find some time for it this session, it has the potential to become law.

The problem with this debate over horse slaughter is that so much of it is driven by a cultural bias that is masked by a crusade to save the horses. If the problem were about the humane treatment of horses, then why not focus on the way the USDA regulates the practice? For that matter, what about the treatment of all animals on the way to slaughter?

Instead, what is being fought for is a ban on the entire practice of horse slaughter in the U.S. which in the end, I believe, will do more harm than good.

Happy reading.

Labels: ,

What David Malo Means to Me

In the Future, every student will get to be David Malo for fifteen minutes. For the low price of admission, every pupil, regardless of race, culture, gender, and age, will climb through the portal into David Malo’s educated Hawai`ian brain. In the multi-cultural theme park called David Malo Land, you will spend your youth in the courts of Chief Kuakini and become an expert in the history, traditions, myths, and unwritten literature of old Hawai’i by mastering the hula. You will then leave the court and your birthplace of Kona on the Big Isle of Hawai’i to move to Lahaina, Maui where you will meet the American missionary, Reverend William Richards, and become the first pupil at Lahainaluna School. Here you will author one of the first books using the newly created Hawai`ian written language. But you, the educated Hawai`ian, will also convert to Christianity. And at the end of your David Malo journey, you will be shown the exit and given a souvenir book mark that reads, IF LAHAINALUNA IS EDEN, THEN DAVID MALO IS ADAM.

David Malo is our father. He is the first gene pair of the indigenous student DNA. In the beginning, he was the word, and the word was possibility. I revel in the wondrous possibilities of David Malo. It is good to embrace your heritage in the presence of his spirit, because I hope he had moments of tradition in what must have been an intellectual life. This much is true: David Malo documented the traditions and meanings of the hula in the book, Mo`olelo Hawai`i. At the time, there already existed ways that he could have recounted Hawai`ian traditions, but I suspect that David Malo chose to do so in writing, and not in hula, because he had chosen to embrace the new traditions that he was being educated in. If that is true, then certain historians would argue that the documenting of Hawai`ian tradition in writing diminished the importance of the hula, Hawai`i’s traditional method of documentation. I don’t know much about documentation, but I know enough about our history to recognize that the more educated human beings become, the more highly human beings extol that education. In that sense, education might be a barbaric process, enriching and enlightening to be sure, but prejudiced and intolerant as well, and possibly a hindrance for the advance, however constructive and destructive, of all civilizations.

After all, Lahainaluna School’s story has never been just the triumphant tale of the handful of Hawai`ian students that made up its first graduating class, no matter what the educators might need to believe. David Malo was not a foresaker of tradition either, no matter what the Kupuna and I might want to believe. The story of Lahainaluna School is also the story of education in Hawai`i and of the many students, from both Lahaina town and from across Hawai`i and Polynesia, who have come there to learn. Considering the public school system and the rich traditions of Hawai`i, I imagine those students were given a new lens under which to examine and pass judgments upon their world with. And it is most certainly the story of Keali`i Reichel, who, after graduating from Lahainaluna, was convicted of theft and sentenced to the community service that would spark in him a determination to embrace traditional Hawai`ian culture and become its most prominent promoter. Lahainaluna School is exactly the kind of Pidgin-English-speaking, No Child Left Behind-failing, anti-haole environment that should rightly be celebrated by anti-U.S. government traditionalists and castigated by educators.

In the end, I wonder if education might somehow not be so magical. After all, it has been nearly 200 years since Hawai`ians were given the opportunity of education, yet Hawai`ians suffer from some of the highest drug-use, poverty, and crime rates in the country. In 1887, the exclusively Hawai`ian Kamehameha Schools were founded and each year, the school offers millions of dollars in college financial aid for Hawai`ians, yet the school’s prospectus pledges that instruction would only be given in English, less it loose its recognition by the government. I remain stunned by these contradictions, by the successive generations of social, political, and artistic mutations that can be so Hawai`ian and foreign. How did we get from there to here? These islands gave life to the first newspaper West of the Rocky Mountains and the annual Merry Monarch hula festival, to the astronomical observatory atop Haleakala and the Hokule`a’s modern-day canoe voyage to Tahiti navigated only by stars, to college prep academies and Hawai`ian language immersion charter schools, to sacred sites and sugar refineries, to `oli chants and Elvis’ “Blue Hawai`i”.

As a Hawai`ian student, I want to hate my education and its contradictions. I want to believe that David Malo hated his education and its contradictions. But Hawai`i’s education system exists, in whole and in part, because David Malo came to Lahainaluna and wrote Mo`olelo Hawai`i. In the school that came to be called Lahainaluna High School, he acted as diplomat between the missionary educators and the Hawai`ians he in turn educated. Why wouldn’t he teach his Hawai`ian pupils to preserve their heritage and ways of learning because it is just as good as this new form of education from the missionaries? David Malo is a contradiction. Here in school, I exist, in whole and in part, because my mother moved me from my birthplace of Kona on the Big Isle of Hawai`i to be educated, like her and the many previous generations in my family, at Lahainaluna, so as not to break the tradition. I am a contradiction; I am David Malo.

{This is my take on the poem "What Sacagawea Means to Me" by Sherman Alexie}

Friday, October 20, 2006


More pictures at my FlickR page.

Aloha Ukumehame

Before I say anything else, I must first say that this development makes me extrememly sad.

I have recently come across the web site for the new housing development at Ukumehame (between Lahaina and the Pali on the island of Maui). Growing up, I spent a lot of time camping out at Ukumehame, fishing with bamboo poles and torching at night on the reef. I even practiced driving on the short stretch of dirt road from our campsite to the highway.

Sure, the fact that a place from my childhood is being swallowed by development hurts, but what really cuts in deep is that there is no intention what so ever that any locals will be living in this sacred place. Though the developers claim that Ukumehame will be, "once more available for residents," the prime demographic for these lots are clearly rich, non residents as is evidenced in its attempts to entice buyers "to own a piece of Maui splendor" and the images of attractive white families shown doing tourist activities.

Furthermore, the developers insist that their buyers' "can rest assured that [their] privacy and views will be protected forever." What are they exactly being protected from? The 'intrusive' local perhaps? Is this to be taken as a veiled way of expressing the exclucivity of this new neighborhood and buyers are really being told to rest assured that no one with a $30,000 income or car older than 2 years will be allowed into their safe haven?

Though I should not be so surprised. Truly, I am foolish to think that any new development could possibly be for anyone who already lives in the islands. Before Ukumehame, it was Launiopoko. Sure, we started to get a subdivision built on the Kaanapali side of Wahikuli subdivsion (near the Post Office) but it wasn't thought out well enough and has gone years with only streets and sewers but not a single foundation. And then, there was the expansion of Kilauea Mauka to the Launiopoko side of Lahainaluna Road (just under the high school), but it was only to give families a place to go to after they were evicted from their homes on the other side of the road to make room for a highway that has been decades in the waiting.

Well at least the developers claim that the new development will pay, "tribute to the people who lived and worked on this beautiful land." How this new development will pay tribute, they don't exactly say. But what is clear, is that if you're going to be paying tribute at Ukumehame, you going to be paying in the millions.