Crossing World Views: The Power of Perspective and the Hawai'i Japanese American Experience
by Audrey Kitagawa
This article was originally published in "Learning in the Light: Multicultural Communication and Asian American Women", edited by Elizabeth Nakaeda Kunimoto, Ph.D. and by Light of Awareness.
by Audrey Kitagawa
This article was originally published in "Learning in the Light: Multicultural Communication and Asian American Women", edited by Elizabeth Nakaeda Kunimoto, Ph.D. and by Light of Awareness.
The growth of information technologies connects us with news and images of events occurring all around the world. Wireless technology continues to increase our ability to communicate with one another, providing a wide gateway to help us maintain our relationships more effectively and with optimal capacity. Paradoxically, it has also become a way to contain, manage and manipulate relationships by allowing us to receive communication from those we wish, while excluding communication from others. At its core, however, we must remember that communication is all about relationships because it has meaning only within the context of being able to relate and connect with others.
As these developing information technologies facilitate our ability to communicate with each other, the pace with which we are able to maintain our relationships has accelerated toward a perfunctory, staccato-like frenzy. While we have more capacity than ever to stay in touch, we are at the same time, losing the human quality of our connections. People are feeling more isolated and alienated from themselves and one another while living in a sea of information about the world and its inhabitants. This infusion of information is provided to us through a virtual world which requires no face-to-face contact with another human being. As social beings, our need to connect with fellow humans is primary. Unfortunately, the unintended byproduct of virtual interaction has been the growing need to delve more and more intrusively into the private lives of others. Managers of this technology are developing ways that give us a look into the “reality” of other people’s lives, through methods that are surreptitious, champion competitiveness, and promote the greed and weaknesses of people in demeaning and undignified ways.
For all of the sophisticated technologies which modernity has brought to us, the gap between information, knowledge, and wisdom has grown long and wide. We are currently flooded with more information than we can process. To be beneficial, these immense volumes of information must be converted into knowledge, the critical analyses and comprehension of the implications of information, as well as its meaningfulness and utility. Knowledge enables us to understand our lives more fully, and helps us to discover ways to improve our human condition. However, we cannot stop there.
WISDOM: A CONVERSION OF THE HEART
We must cultivate wisdom, which is the fruit of knowledge. Wisdom requires a conversion of the heart through life’s experiences toward ever expanding degrees of compassion, understanding and love. Wisdom contains an inner depth which allows us to relate to ourselves, our fellow human beings, and our environment with dignity, respect and care. Wisdom requires meticulous attention to the development of sound values, and an appreciation of our own history and culture and the preservation of the best that they have to offer. It requires an understanding of other people’s histories and cultures as well, and a willingness to cross over into their worlds so we may create a spiritual resonance that will encourage the bringing of solidarity within our human family.
WOMEN’S INFLUENCE IN HISTORY AND CULTURE
We must also recognize the crucial role which women hold in history and culture, and see their influence in shaping the wisdom of their people. Women are the backbone of families and communities, and their worth must be given due recognition. As women represent one half of the world’s population, we cannot find true progress without their core participation and representation at all levels of the political, economic and social strata. Women must increasingly step forward to elevate their engagement as dynamic global citizens by making their voices heard, and men must hold open the doorway to help usher them through.
UNDERSTANDING WHO WE ARE
Finally, the development of wisdom requires a ceaseless search for the truth, an understanding of the reality of who we are, our purpose in life, and how we choose to direct it. A daunting task to undertake alone, it is always a gift to know that as we journey through life, our lives are enhanced by great teachers who inspire, encourage and believe in us, though we may be blind to ourselves.
APPRECIATING OUR OWN HISTORY AND CULTURE
In the long march of history, the United States is a comparatively young country. It presents unique multidimensional views of the various immigrant populations which sought new beginnings in this often idealized land of opportunity. The Japanese immigrant population in Hawai‘i provides a history rich in a perspective that juxtaposes the retention of the cultural norms and values of the motherland on the one hand, and the assimilation of that population in the adopted country on the other.
My forefathers arrived from Japan during the Meiji Era to work as laborers in the sugar plantations of Hawai‘i. They came to a land that was once a kingdom, with a great lineage of native Hawaiian kings and queens. They stepped into a history of Caucasian missionaries from the East Coast who came to convert the native Hawaiians to Christianity, and eventually helped to create an environment of powerful landowners and monied elites who dominated the political landscape of the islands that successfully overthrew the monarchy.
The Japanese became the largest ethnic group among the other races that also arrived as contract laborers at various times: the Chinese, Portuguese, Filipinos, and Koreans. The Japanese brought with them important cultural norms and values which added to the stability of their community and the family unit. These norms and values delineated the roles, expectations and duties of the individual within the context of his society, and therefore gave the assuredness of his identity for good or for ill according to his compliance or violation of these norms.
Of importance are the concepts of on (repayment of one’s obligation to others, which is deemed central to the maintenance and preservation of virtue), shuyo (self discipline, closely linked to self sacrifice for the sake of others), and jicho (self-respect, which addresses circumspection, mindfulness and awareness of the impact of one’s personal behavior upon the community in which one resides). Underlying all of these concepts is haji (shame). One’s behavior must not bring shame, or loss of face to another or one’s self, family or community. If one did not properly fulfill one’s on, or if one behaved in ways that breached shuyo or jicho, haji would fall upon the family and community. The importance of doing one’s best, therefore, is central to the behavior of the individual.
COMMUNITY OVER THE INDIVIDUAL
The Japanese culture emphasizes the importance of the community over the individual, and harmony within the community over the need of any individual to express disagreement. This often forces the sublimation of the individual’s feelings, and requires stringent conformity to the expectations of the group. Conflict avoidance is an important way of preserving group harmony. Highly stylized language patterns have been developed to minimize confrontation, and addressing another with a directness which may be construed as aggressive, and hence, offensive. This “other oriented” perspective keeps awareness of the feelings of others heightened, and produces indirect speech patterns and behaviors which seem to be deferential and self-effacing. These behaviors lead to a stable community because they avoid open conflict which could potentially threaten the peace and security of the group.
Although stability within the community does not create constraints toward being authentic, it does create distortions within individuals who do not have freedom of expression. Stable and other-oriented societies called for sacrifices from individuals who often stifle true expressions of their feelings. Individuals who dared to pursue their dreams and aspirations often needed to find creative ways of being authentic and expressive of their values as well as mindful of the needs of others. These individuals often needed to balancegaman—stoicism—with their inner strength—to be true to themselves. Such individuals are exemplified by immigrants who later made the decision to remain on American soil rather than returning to Japan because they embraced the democratic values of the founding fathers rather than those of the imperial government they left behind.
FROM LABORERS TO STAKEHOLDERS IN THE NEW HAWAI‘I
Life on the plantation was very difficult, and the Japanese were placed in situations of forced labor, with low wages. Many were victimized by cruel overseers, or lunas, who used black whips and physical force to extract more work. Exploitation and humiliation could be maximized because of the self-restraint which the Japanese exercised, and their deference to authority. Their deference to authority is based upon the practice of filial piety, which extended beyond respect for one’s parents to include respect for superiors and those in positions of authority.
The impact of World War II in first isolating, then accelerating the assimilation of the Japanese into the American way of life was significant. During the war, Japanese newspapers and schools were shut down. Japanese who lived on the continental United States were relocated behind barbed wires of now infamous internment camps. These Japanese Americans suffered many injustices as their education, career opportunities, and livelihood ground to a halt. Unlike the Japanese who lived on the continental United States, and were in the distinct minority, the Japanese in Hawai‘i were too numerous to relocate to internment camps, although the federal government seriously considered such plans. Nonetheless, the discrimination and insults hurled at the Japanese in Hawai‘i marginalized them as well.
Simultaneously, young Japanese American men, especially from Hawai‘i, volunteered to help defend the United States against Japan. They returned home among the most decorated of American soldiers in distinguished military service. The 100th Battalion and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team were legendary in their heroism. They were instrumental in helping all other Japanese Americans gain acceptance as loyal Americans, and opened the doorways of opportunity for them.
The aftermath of the war saw an unprecedented shift in the political landscape of Hawai‘i, as Japanese Americans began to occupy positions previously reserved only for Caucasians. Several factors were responsible in creating this shift: (1) The balance of power moved from the hands of the plantation owners to the military. The strategic importance of the Hawaiian Islands in the Pacific/Asia region, and the high profile of Pearl Harbor in the war ensured a significant foothold by the military in Hawai‘i. (2) The Democratic party, under the leadership of John A. Burns, in collaboration with the active participation of the Nisei, succeeded in wrestling away political control from the Republican party. The Republican party had previously dominated politics in Hawai‘i, and represented the interests of the plantation elites. (3). The citizenship given to the Issei under the 1952 McCarran-Walter Act increased the numbers of Japanese who could participate in the electoral process. The Japanese were able to utilize bloc voting to gain significant representation in legislative bodies.
Eventually the Japanese held key positions in the judiciary, in government, in the growing tourist industry, and the broad range of mushrooming businesses that diluted the primacy of the plantation interests in Hawai‘i.
WOMEN’S INFLUENCE IN SHAPING THE JAPANESE AMERICAN EXPERIENCE IN HAWAI‘I
The initial wave of contract laborers from Japan were all men. While some had wives and children in Japan, many of the men were single. To facilitate bringing women over from Japan to engage in family life, the phenomenon of “picture brides” developed.
Marriages were arranged on the basis of photographs of prospective brides, and ceremonies were performed with husbands in absentia. The women came over by ship, and met their husbands for the first time at the dock.
The women went to work immediately. Many worked in the fields, and brought in supplemental income by washing, ironing, and cooking for single men, or those who needed such assistance. The women bore and raised the children, and held primary responsibility for maintaining the household. They cooked, cleaned, washed, ironed, sewed, and managed the family finances into the evening hours. Life was hard, and the standard of living, poor.
The extra monies saved were put toward opening businesses where self-sufficiency, and an end to the humiliating treatment on the plantation could be assured. Restaurants, boarding houses, stores, and various businesses began to spring up within the communities, and became the avenues for a better life. The members of the communities also tried to help others advance by pooling together their funds which they loaned to each other through a rotating credit mechanism called tanomōshi. Built on the premise of trust, the members of the tanomōshi group would contribute funds to a common pot. Different processes were used, (e.g. bidding, drawing lots), to allow participants to borrow the funds for a period of time. The obligation to return the borrowed funds was deemed a moral obligation, the breach of which would bring haji and dishonor to one’s self and family. Legal recourse was not considered a viable way to rectify a breach as access to the legal system was not easily available. Further, litigation was inconsistent to the conflict avoidance, conciliatory approach of the Japanese.
All members of the family were expected to assist in the family business. Though hours were long, the success of the business was contingent upon the dedication of each family member to fully contribute their time and energy to the enterprise. Children were expected to assist between attending school and doing homework.
Education was perceived as the primary way for the children to jettison out of poor economic conditions. The Meiji Era’s program of universal education meant that many of the Japanese immigrants came to Hawai‘i with higher levels of education than other immigrant populations. In addition to attending public school, children were often required to attend Japanese language school. Excelling in school and using one’s best efforts to assiduously apply one’s self to studies reinforced high educational standards. However, where the economic conditions did not allow both male and female children to be educated, the male children were given the preferential treatment, and the female children’s education was sacrificed. Many female children were made to work to help support their male siblings through school, including in some instances, up through completion of professional school. This would be true even though the female child had since married and had a family of her own.
Women were instrumental in pushing the envelope toward the acquisition of businesses, the establishment of “micro credit,” and the education of their children. They were the backbone of family life, and imparted cultural norms and values to their children. Women helped to create community associations which maintained the solidarity of the Japanese. Most of the Japanese women from the inception of their lives in Hawai‘i, did not follow the traditional homemaker paradigm. The economic conditions did not allow them to. Consequently, their hard work, inventiveness, and business acumen made them powerful role models for their children, especially the female ones.
A WORKING GRANDMOTHER
My maternal grandmother worked on the sugar plantations. She eventually moved off the plantation and created her own business selling peanuts in front of Sears Roebuck and the old Honolulu stadium. Her humble efforts eventually made her relatively well-to-do, with several prime real estate holdings, and lots of cash which she kept in a tansu, or clothing chest. In later life, she leisurely traveled back and forth to Japan. Since she was a working grandmother, I do not have memories of her taking care of us, or being affectionate or doting. While she welcomed us with a smile, and gave us permission to eat however many peanuts we wished from her racks, visits between my grandparents and parents were not centered on the grandchildren. We knew that meetings among adults were not to be intruded upon by children, and we played quietly among ourselves so as not to create any disturbance which could annoy them.
My mother was raised on the sugar plantation, and was forced to terminate her education while still in elementary school to help support her siblings. As a young woman, she worked on the sugar plantations, as a maid in haole (Caucasian) homes, as a waitress at the Pacific Club (an exclusive private club then open to Caucasians only), and as a housekeeper at the Moana Hotel. Shortly before I began elementary school, she bought the first of several restaurants which she would serially own and operate over the years. My mother went to adult education classes in the evening when I became a sophomore in high school, and earned her high school diploma within two years. Receiving her high school diploma was one of her proudest moments. It was a testament to her tenacity and the value she placed on education. As a young adult, she made a personal vow that her children would all be college educated. She kept her word.
A STRONG MOTHER
My mother was a strong woman. Strict, hard working, self-sacrificing, and determined. While she boldly entered into her own negotiations to secure ownership of her restaurants, and established long standing working relationships with suppliers, meat purveyors and the like, she also strictly followed social customs of being deferential to my father in company. She never out-talked him or openly disagreed with him. She also saw to it that he was seen by outsiders as the leader on family matters. In reality he played a secondary role to her handling the family business, finances and all aspects pertaining to raising the children and their welfare. Her quiet, reserved social demeanor belied an astute, capable business woman with an inner grit and a will made of steel.
Through her hard work, honesty and loyalty in her relationships, she always managed to receive help during trying times. When shipping strikes were called and the threat of running out of essentials to run her business loomed, her suppliers always took care of her and set aside sufficient goods and products to keep her small business running. Whenever business slowed because of a sluggish economy, and she could not pay her bills on time, they extended her credit, and kept on delivering whatever she needed. They knew she would be impeccable in meeting her obligations, and she never breached their trust in her.
All of the children had to contribute their labor to the restaurant business. In elementary school, I had to fill the salt and pepper shakers, sugar bowls, and help to scrub off the customers’ shoe scuff marks from beneath the counter. As I got older, my responsibilities increased to peeling and cutting vegetables and assisting with preparatory work in the kitchen, waiting on customers, and helping with the cooking, plating and serving of food. On Saturdays, when friends were heading off to the beach, movies or other recreational activities, I had to work in the restaurant. My only reprieve from working in the restaurant was to participate in school activities. Speech and debate tournaments took place on Saturdays. I signed up for as many as were offered. Sundays were set aside for housecleaning, and doing the preparatory work for the customers who would begin their work week by having an early morning breakfast at the restaurant. Though I left Hawai‘i for my undergraduate and graduate degrees, I always returned home each summer. In between working at my summer jobs, I helped out whenever I could at the restaurant. Moving from a desk job during the weekday to short order cook/waitress/dishwasher on the weekends taught me flexibility.
When I became an attorney and had to work long hours preparing for trials and managing my practice, my gratitude to my mother grew for her strict training, and exacting work ethic and standards. The discipline I acquired working in the family business stood me in good stead. While I did not relish her strictness growing up, I began to see its value as a self-supporting adult. I realized then that along the way, she had taught me many things which made little sense to me at the time. She had her own sense of timing and order. At age 9 I had to learn how to embroider. At age 13 I had to learn how to sew, wash, iron and care for all of my own clothes. At age 15 I took driving lessons. At age 16, I had to work at the pineapple cannery, and every summer thereafter, had to find my own summer employment. With each paycheck I brought home, I had to give her one-half. Of my remaining half, I had to put one-half into a savings account in my own name, and the other half I could spend as I wished. The remaining quarter to spend as I wished seemed very meager indeed. She impressed upon me the importance of saving. “It’s not how much you earn, but how much you save,” I heard over and over throughout the years.
Today, I do not embroider or sew my own clothes. I neither own nor drive a car in New York City where I now live for most of the year (though I do own and drive a car whenever I return to Honolulu). I am rarely in the kitchen now, and my rapid-fire chopping and slicing skills are infrequently used. While it is true that I do not use many of the skills I learned from my mother, they sit as latent gifts from her that I will be able to activate whenever needed. More importantly, my mother taught me how to survive and never give up. She communicated all of this to me by example, by living her life as she did day in and day out, and having me practice right along her side as I was growing up. My mother helped me to live the culture and values of my ancestry while simultaneously providing me with a springboard to cross over into life’s new frontiers.
POST-WORLD WAR II ASSIMILATION AND THE POWER OF PERSPECTIVE
After World War II, the Japanese moved into educational and occupational opportunities which the post-war economic boom created. The Japanese in Hawai‘i experienced great success in politics, and helped to support the move toward statehood. Hawai‘i became the 50th state in 1959.
Though only in elementary school at the time, I recall seeing the newspaper boys holding up the front page of the local newspaper with the banner “STATEHOOD” prominently displayed. Excitement charged the air as cars honked their horns in celebratory recognition of this historic event. Statehood brought many changes. I remember when the Republican party lost control over island politics. (It did not regain its foothold until 2002, when Linda Lingle was elected governor.) The plantations began to lose its centrality in Hawai‘i’s economy. Tourism began to take center stage. Ghettos and camps gave way to gleaming urban development. Landmarks like the Aloha Tower and Makiki Christian Church were dwarfed by the looming highrises. Eventually, the small “mom and pop” stores yielded to large department and chain stores that marched their way onto the landscape.
The tightly knit enclaves of Japanese living in camps were disbursed as they moved into new planned communities, townhouses, and condominiums. The Japanese were quickly adapting to the “American” way of life. More and more, elderly parents who lived with and were cared for until death by their children, were finding themselves placed in nursing and care homes. Though modern conveniences became increasingly plentiful, the pace of life was quickening in a way that left less and less time to be together. Connections were getting diffused as extended families and communities gave way to nuclear families.
A CHILD OF THE EAST AND WEST
I was born post–World War II, and grew up in a time of major transformation and change. With one foot planted in the East, and the other foot planted in the West, social and economic progress brought about an increasing homogenization of the two worlds, which while still allowing for a foot to be maintained in the East as well as the West, began to see more and more the blending of the two worlds. I grew up in predominantly Japanese communities. Many of our civic and political leaders were Japanese. Many of my teachers from elementary school to high school were Japanese. Many government positions were held by Japanese. I never felt like a minority growing up in Hawai‘i. My exposure to feeling like a minority would come with the advent of attending college on the mainland.
The introduction of television brought the Ed Sullivan Show, Queen for a Day, I Love Lucy and a series of retrospectively innocent, clean shows from the mainland into our home. I remember becoming more aware of the cultural differences when Mr. Novak aired. It was a weekly series about a high school teacher. I was stunned to see the students’ eager hands shoot up to share and shout out answers to questions. My siblings and I expressed our amazement at the rude, aggressive way in which the students behaved in front of their teacher. We were taught to have respect for the teacher, and such eager, spontaneous utterances and behaviors were deemed disrespectful.
By the time I reached high school, more Caucasian teachers from the mainland were coming to Hawai‘i to teach. I sensed their frustration as the Asian students sat quietly in class, seemingly unresponsive to their open-ended questions to the group. It was not proper to show off by eagerly raising your hand as a banner of knowing more than one’s peers. One had to be low keyed, unassuming and humble.
When I went away to college in California, I became conscious of being a minority. The fact that the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor was previously just a historic fact. Suddenly, I was acutely aware of my being Japanese whenever discussions of Pearl Harbor came about. I began to understand the feelings of being a “minority” in a predominantly Caucasian world. While my predecessors experienced harsh treatment prior to and during World War II such treatment was not within my realm of experience.
I felt shock as I heard whispers about, “Did you know ____ was a Jew?” I didn’t understand why it was significant that this should be pointed out. I was ignorant about Jews and their history. In fact, in college, I began to learn how ignorant I was about other people, their cultures, histories, and the perceptions and prejudices that are created around them.
When I learned about the concept of “ethnocentrism” in my anthropology class it was as if I had made a great discovery. I felt like it was worth having gone to college just to learn that one concept. I had no idea that one’s entire world view could be shaped by one’s culture and upbringing. I was fascinated by the idea of ethnic stereotyping as my political science professor lectured about the then popular Frito Lay commercial, the “Frito Bandito.” I just thought it was a funny commercial. I did not reflect upon the manner in which the Mexican people were being negatively caricatured by that advertisement. It made me think about all of those cowboy movies that I grew up watching where the American Indians were the “savages,” who scalped, plundered and killed the “civilized” settlers. I did not fully appreciate the plaintive history of the Indians, and the decimation of their culture, lands, and people.
Shortly before I entered college in Los Angeles, that city was undergoing turmoil with race riots in Watts. I had never met any African American person face to face. Over the years, I watched the news and saw Martin Luther King, Jr. and Governor George Wallace. Though I witnessed the unfolding of the American civil rights movement it seemed to be a series of events taking place somewhere far away. I did not fully comprehend what the African Americans were fighting for, nor was I well versed in their long history of suffering and marginalization within America. Though I studied about slavery in American history classes the impact of their suffering, and the breadth and scope of man’s inhumanity to man did not reach deep into my soul.
Now, I came face to face with an African American student who lived on the same floor in the dormitory. She proclaimed herself to be a Black Panther. We struck up a friendship. She invited me to spend the weekend with her family in Watts so I could write a sociology term paper about my experience there.
All that I heard of Watts was from the media. I was expecting to see poverty and devastation everywhere. I was surprised to see a pool table in the garage with a Cadillac parked next to it. There was a piano in the living room, and a piano teacher who came to give lessons. The house, though simple, seemed spacious to me, complete with television, stereo, and the basic comforts of home. The house was on a street with many similar houses in neat rows. There were yards and gardens. This was not what I expected to find.
I thought about growing up in run-down houses and did not appreciate my eldest sister’s reluctance to bring friends over to see where we lived. She was in high school and beginning to date. I was just happy to help her get dressed for her proms and big dates. At that age, I did not understand that once you taste the bigger world, comparisons begin to enter, and so sometimes does discontent. She had crossed into worlds beyond the ghetto and camps where we lived, and saw that not everyone lived in run-down wooden shacks as we. The home I visited in Watts and its surrounding neighborhood was luxurious by comparison. As I became more familiar with Los Angeles, and took in other neighborhoods from Hollywood to Brentwood and Marina del Rey, the home I visited in Watts seemed modest by comparison.
POWER OF PERSPECTIVE
I began to understand the power of perspective and the inherent pitfalls that a closed, ignorant and insensitive world view can have. Opening one’s world view can enrich and challenge you to move beyond conditioned mind-sets, prejudices and erroneous assumptions about others which may have little basis in fact. While exposure to different worlds could breed seeds of discontent, I also saw that it could sprout seeds of discernment which allows one wide latitude to retain those values, attitudes and behaviors of one’s own culture which are beneficial, while setting aside those which are not. Stepping into other worlds opens up a panoramic field of choices and possibilities for change, growth, inner development, and understanding of others.
THE REALITY OF WHO WE ARE
As we make our way through life, we encounter many challenges. Though the Japanese Americans experienced humiliation as contract laborers, and marginalization and discrimination during World War II, they had great capacity to overcome their suffering. They mobilized themselves on a positive trajectory that made them a viable force in government, business, academia, and professions.
The combination of strong family ties and group orientation were reinforced by their religious and spiritual practices. Most Japanese followed both Shintoism and Buddhism, and viewed these practices as complementary. In the case of Shintoism, the indigenous religion of Japan, loyalty to the Emperor and the Imperial family was ensured through the attribution of their divine status. The Emperor was believed to be a direct descendant of the Sun Goddess, Amaterasu. Though the Emperor lost his divine status with Japan’s defeat in World War II, the practices of Shintoism continue. The shrines which bring the people together in their worship are well recognized architectural marvels of construction and elegance in simplicity. The Shintoist reveres as sacred, life and all of nature. Respect and remembrance of ancestors, as well as selfless service to others, without thought of reward, are central to this religion.
The teachings of Lord Buddha covers the eightfold path to enlightenment of right understanding, thoughts, speech, action, livelihood, effort, awareness and concentration. Refraining from harming others and having compassion for all sentient beings are fundamental to the teachings of Buddhism. Great spiritual teachings help us to be in relationship with ourselves and others in ways that are respectful, positive, and kind.
My parents, like many Japanese, embraced both Shintoism and Buddhism. They married in a Shinto ceremony, and attended the Shinto shrine every New Year’s Eve. All funerals and memorial services were performed by the Buddhist priest. Their home housed both Shinto and Buddhist shrines.
Indicative of the growing move into mainstream America, and the adaptive capacities of the Japanese, my siblings and I were sent to a Christian church on Sundays. My eldest brother was sent to a private Episcopalian school for his education. My exposure to three religions early on helped me to be more open to different religious traditions. I too viewed them as complementary to each other.
However, it was not until I met Divine Mother that I came to appreciate the depth and spiritual meaning of the great religious traditions, and the sacredness and beauty of life itself. Through Divine Mother, I came to see that beneath the appearances of diversity and differences among people and their cultures, religions, languages, and multiple perspectives that each person brings, there exists an underlying unity, interdependence and interconnectivity among us all.
The force that unifies us is the omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent God.
Divine Mother said that our true purpose in life is God Realization. She said, “God is love,” and that “where we are is the holy ground, and we must (be able to) find God there.” She said that we must “go step by step” and learn how to know God in our own hearts, and to see the Divine within each person. She told me on the very first day that I met her the truth of who I am. “You are not the body. You are not the mind. You are Spirit, a perfect child of God, Immortal, Eternal, and already in God’s Light.”
We are spiritual beings who must awaken to our true selves. Divine Mother said that it is “ignorance,” that is our egos, that create the sense of separation and separateness from our fellow humans. In Reality, we are all one in Spirit. Therefore, there is no one who acts in isolation. The actions of one person affects all persons, just as a pebble thrown into a lake sends a ring of ripples that ultimately vibrates throughout the whole lake, even in imperceptible ways as the vibratory forces of that singular act appears to diminish far from its epicenter. It is therefore important that we be mindful of our thoughts, speech and conduct so as not to cause harm to anyone. Our thoughts, speech and actions all represent units of energy, vibratory forces that we emit into the world. We can therefore be a force of love, or a force of harm and destruction. We each, therefore, have a responsibility to choose how we will live our lives, and fashion it in ways that will promote peace, harmony and love.
Since God is love, and we must realize God where we are, we must actualize love in our daily lives. This means that we must be in loving relationship with ourselves first that we may in turn, be in loving relationship with others. We cannot hate our own self and truly love another. We can only give what we have. Therefore, if we are filled with self loathing, we will communicate to others our insecurities, low self-esteem and unwholesomeness. When we develop ourselves in loving, healthy and wholesome ways, we bring these positive qualities to our relationships.
To be in loving relationship with others means that we are respectful of them, and learn to move through our differences in ways that cultivate deeper awareness, understanding and compassion for others. Divine Mother showed me the actualization of love in daily life through her interactions with me and those around her. In simple, but powerful ways, she transformed my consciousness through a beautiful heart-to-heart connection that inspired me to follow suit. For example, whenever I shared with her, she listened attentively and gave me her complete attention. In this manner, she made me feel acknowledged and valued. She was respectful of people’s time, and never kept anyone waiting. Observing her thoughtfulness of others changed me from a tardy person into a prompt one. She was loving and generous, always inviting people into her home for coffee and meals, and often shared that “Giving is life, and taking is death.” I witnessed how her generous giving uplifted others, and made them feel so nurtured and loved. This love in turn, brought about the healing of broken hearts, the removing of anxieties from disquieted minds, and the repairing of dysfunctional relationships within many families.
Divine Mother gave me the consciousness of God, through an uninterrupted stream of powerful, spontaneous transmissions that imparted a wisdom of the Divine that transformed my heart to love in ways that extended beyond a preoccupation with myself, and my own little world shaped by my upbringing, culture, and personal experiences. She expanded my awareness to the larger world and made me a global citizen with a consciousness that transcended cultural, religious, political and other differences such that points of potential fracture became points of opportunities at which love and understanding could be brought forth.
Before Divine Mother left her body, she chose me to carry on her works. Through the privilege of experiencing life with her for twenty years it was my joy to carry out her request, and to share the love that I received from her with others.
In 2003, I traveled to Ghana with seventy-five members of Divine Mother’s spiritual family. It was beautiful to witness a cultural exchange that was filled with wonderment and joy. The Ghanaians danced their dances to the phenomenal drumming of drums that spoke of a long tradition and history of a gentle, gracious people. The spiritual family danced the dances of Polynesia and Asia and shared their “aloha” (Hawaiian for “love”), in their colorful costumes. The spiritual family distributed their gifts of love, the hundreds of pounds of clothing, school and medical supplies shipped to Ghana in a large container, with various schools, clinics, hospitals, and Liberian refugees in Ghana.
The seamless manner in which we were able to cross into the world of the other was a testament to the power of love as the wellspring from which the igniting of hearts can occur between persons and peoples that seem so different by appearances, but are united and equal in God’s love.
From the beautiful Hawaiian shores to the many countries to which I have since traveled, I am humbled with each passing day by the inspiring stories of people who choose to love in the face of all adversity. Love is the key that unlocks the chains that weigh us down in despair and conflict, and frees us to live our lives with dignity and grace.
To the many people who came into my life and helped me to grow and develop, and most of all, to my beloved Divine Mother, who gave me such pure and unconditional love, my deep and abiding gratitude.
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Published with the author’s permission.