Celebrating Earth Day and childhood roots

Posted April 20, 2021 by Rachelle Chang
Categories: Community, Family

Tags: , ,

From the bottom of the hill, at an intersection with three gas stations and restaurant, my childhood home was at the first curve in the road, with a mango tree. The tree’s outspread branches, sometimes speckled with golden fruit, was how I knew that I was close to home.

I walked up the uneven asphalt sidewalk, with the heat seeping through my thin sandals. Sometimes a light rain, more often warm sunshine on my back, with my head turned to the mountain.

Then the cool shade of the mango tree reaching over the hedge to let me know that I was home.

That first mango tree was my favorite, with a tree fork sturdy enough to balance on, and branches low and thick enough to sit on. The lychee tree was to delicate and proper to climb. The Haden mango tree was too upright, unable to extend itself fully.

My childhood home was built in the 1950s, single-wall construction, without a foundation. There were jalousie windows to let in the cool breeze, and at night crickets hummed outside my window (we sometimes sprayed water at them to stop).

During the day, it was hot and sunny, and we kept the living room curtains closed. I never realized how dark the room was, even with the light on, until I moved away.

Underneath the house was a dirt floor and an un-treasure trove of things that my grandparents refused to throw away, including an old bathtub that my dad once used to raise fish. It was a little scary, with cobwebs and insects and forgotten things.

The space under the house got lower and lower as it moved up the mountain, until I felt like a giant.

The front yard was relatively level, but the backyard was left wild, with a rocky outcropping in the center. Aside from a small coop for my pet rabbit, and a place for my dog Happy, my grandmother filled the space with plants, fruits, and flowers. I remember the smell of green onions, the slap of banana leaves, and orchids in their careful shelters.

That home is gone now, and the mango tree was cut down years ago. I couldn’t find any photos of the house, though we must have some tucked away in a photo album or box.

I’m sharing these memories in honor of Earth Day and in appreciation of my childhood home. These memories keep me rooted in Hawaii. They helped shape how I think about family, home, and the earth.

How do you celebrate and honor the Earth and your home?

Talking about race and diversity

Posted April 13, 2021 by Rachelle Chang
Categories: Community, Family

Tags: , , , , , ,

Imagine taking your child to a beautiful library filled with so many books. Do we expect children to learn everything in the library on their own?

I’m paraphrasing, but this is the image that child psychologist Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith painted during a discussion about “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion: Talking to Our Children about Race and Racism,” as part of the Punahou School Team Up! series.

Dr. Briscoe-Smith, a teacher and author who specializes in trauma and issues of race, said that it is not enough to raise children in a diverse city or enroll them in a diverse school. We need to have open conversations with children about race and how to value each other.

According to research, at 3-6 months, infants notice and respond to skin color; and by 2-3 years, toddlers consider race when choosing playmates.

Children are not color-blind, she said, and they are not blank slates. Children are sponges, absorbing the explicit biases (known attitudes and perceptions) and implicit biases (unconscious associations) that are like a fog in the air.

“You are teaching about justice and race and gender and equity every day. Just because you’re not speaking about it doesn’t mean that you’re not teaching about it,” Dr. Briscoe-Smith stated. “How you treat others, how your relationships are in your own household, how you get along with other folks is teaching a whole lot to your children.”

We can start with grace, Dr. Briscoe-Smith proposed – unmerited favor, courteous goodwill for ourselves as parents, for children, and for teachers. When I think of grace, I think of believing that people have good intentions and extending them the forgiveness and understanding I would offer to the people I love.

We can acknowledge that racial trauma is real – on-going race-based stress, experienced both individually and collectively, by People of Color and Indigenous Individuals (POCI) in reaction to dangerous events and real or perceived experiences of racial discrimination.

We can pay attention to the words that we use when we describe our own family. What do we say when we tell our children, “We…” For example, we do the right thing, we are honest, we are global citizens. She proposed coming up with a Family Mission Statement, something that shows who you want your family to be and how you want them to act. Then reinforce those values again and again.

We can talk about race in a positive way, celebrating differences rather than excluding people because of differences. We can change our mindset to one of abundance by changing our words to “Yes, and…” instead of assuming that minority groups must be pitted against each other for scarce resources.

Dr. Briscoe-Smith encouraged, “Let’s support our kids in feeling good about themselves and help them to negotiate the racialized world around them.”

What is your first race-related memory? What words do you use to describe someone? Do you think that living in Hawaii shelters children or prepares children from racism in other parts of the world?

Celebrating National Library Week

Posted April 6, 2021 by Rachelle Chang
Categories: Books

Tags: , ,

I am so thankful that our Hawaii libraries have stayed open during the pandemic! I love the online reservation system that lets us reserve books, the “Library Take-out” that lets us schedule pick-up times, and OverDrive that lets us borrow ebooks and audiobooks.

The theme for National Library Week (April 4-10, 2021), “Welcome to Your Library,” promotes the idea that libraries extend far beyond the four walls of a building – and that everyone is welcome to use their services.

How can you celebrate National Library Week?

1. Visit your library online, attend a virtual event, or stop by for a Wiki Visit. During the pandemic libraries have been going above and beyond to adapt to our changing world by expanding. There are online book clubs and video book recommendations, Virtual Author Talks and a ‘Ukulele lending program, “Wiki Visits” (grab and go) and Storytime at Home. Visit librarieshawaii.org to see what they have to offer!

While I still love paper books with their weight and crisp pages, I’ve learned a new appreciation for ebooks – especially when I don’t have to wait for a new release!

2. Share what you love about your library on social media. Follow the Hawaii State Public Library System (HSPLS) @HSPLSHIgov and talk about what you love about Hawaii libraries @ILoveLibraries. Community support helps libraries ensure funding for books and programs.

As a kid, I grew up with the Kalihi-Palama Library and Liliha Library on Saturday mornings. As a parent, I’ve enjoyed the McCully-Moiliili Library for their author events, Aina Haina Library for their Star Wars events, and the Hawaii Kai Library for their storytimes.

3. Tell you library story. Share how a Hawaii library has touched your life and inspire others in Hawaii.

Anytime I want to read popular books, the library is there for me with an online reservation system and Library Take-Out. When my son was young and we wanted to keep him entertained, the library was there for us with free storytimes and crafts. When I started a new job and wanted to learn more about working in healthcare, the library was there for me with free online courses.

What is your favorite library in Hawaii? Which library programs do you enjoy? Is there a librarian who made an impact on your life?

Further reflections on single motherhood and families

Posted March 30, 2021 by Rachelle Chang
Categories: Family

Tags: , , , ,

Reflecting further about single motherhood and families… the idea of the American nuclear family (two parents and one or more children) and the concept of single motherhood don’t reflect reality in Hawaii.

My grandfather was raised by a single mother and her parents. My aunt and grandparents helped to raise me. Yet “parents” usually refers to a mother and father.

The way that Americans perceive “family” is changing, and yet American culture, the legal system, and tax systems have not changed.

Building Bridges, Not Walking on Backs: A Feminist Economic Recovery Plan for COVID-19,” by the Hawaii State Commission on the Status of Women offers recommendations for addressing the structural inequities that affect women and single mothers, such as raising the minimum wage to a living wage ($24.80/hour for single mothers) and paid sick days and paid family leave.

What are other ways that we can support societal changes to our perception of single motherhood and families? One answer is hānai.

Hānai. To raise, rear, feed, nourish, sustain; provider, caretaker.
Keiki hānai, foster child. Makua hānai, foster parent.  
(Ulukai Hawaiian Dictionary)

From birth, American citizens are issued birth certificates listing a birth mother and birth father. A new, gender-neutral section could be added for hānai parents, foster parents, guardians, and caretakers. Other government forms and legal documents, such as healthcare forms and school enrollment forms, could also include hānai parents.

Hānai would affect everyday situations like who can make healthcare decisions for children, who has hospital visitation rights, and who can pick children up from school.

In schools, curriculum, and textbooks, there could be greater acknowledgement of hānai parents. For example, genealogy projects and family histories could be expanded to include a child’s relatives and close family friends. Book recommendations could include stories in which single mothers and fathers, blended families and non-nuclear families are normal.

Hānai would recognize the important caretaker influences in a child’s life, and help reduce any shame or discomfort about coming from a non-nuclear family.

Maybe we can follow Hawaiian tradition and introduce ourselves with not just our name and where we grew up, but also the extended ‘ohana that shaped us, and continue to shape us.

What does hānai mean to you? Who is a hānai child or parent in your life? Could Hawaii become a role model by adopting hānai into the legal and tax system?

Single motherhood and families

Posted March 23, 2021 by Rachelle Chang
Categories: Family, Health

Tags: , , , ,

Single motherhood is a social construct – and a recent one. Like the concept of the “nuclear family,” it’s a construct that exists because society and government agree that it exists.

This really stood out for me, as I listened to a presentation by Khara Jabola-Carolus, Executive Director of the Hawaii State Commission on the Status of Women.

The American nuclear family (two parents and one or more children) is not, and perhaps should not, be the “standard” or “normal” family unit.

In ancient Hawaii, single motherhood would have been unusual, if not improbable, according to Hawaiian cultural historian Adam Manalo Camp. Children were raised in a hānai family by grandparents, relatives, or close friends, while still maintaining ties with their birth parents.

In my own upbringing, I was raised by my father, my aunt, and paternal grandparents. My father had “legal custody,” but all the adults in the house and my mother helped to raise me.

And today, more families are becoming blended families, with step-children, adopted children, and foster children.

The way that Americans perceive “family” is changing, and yet American culture, the legal system, and tax systems have not changed. Jabola-Carolus shared some surprising numbers: 38% of babies are now born to unmarried women, compared to 28% in 1990.

Single mother households comprise 19% of Hawaii households (compared to 7% of single father households). Yet 80% of single mothers in Hawaii cannot afford a barebones household budget; and 87% reported that they lost access to basic needs due to COVID-19.

Single mothers often bear the greatest burden of caregiving, both for children and elderly parents; employment; and financial insecurity. They are more vulnerable than single fathers to discrimination (the stigma of single motherhood), job loss, gender-based violence, and even sexual exploitation.

This significantly affects single mothers’ mental health. And, as Jabola-Carolus pointed out, there are still huge gaps in mental health care.

How do you define family? Are you or someone you know a single mother? How can we address the challenges and barriers facing single mothers?