Periplaneta Americana, also known as the American Cockroach, is the most common roach in Hawaii. American cockroaches can grow up to an average of four centimeters. Those who are lucky tend to find roaches as big as three inches. Living on Oahu for the past twenty years; I’d forgotten I’ve been living with roaches, and I’m not talking about insects anymore.
“Someone get the Raid!” I became familiarized to this tall can of bug spray. Not because my mom told me to kill the roaches that’s been hiding behind the curtains. The reason behind it was of my ethnicity. I, being Chuukese, was labeled as a parasite. For some reason the whole Micronesian community, in Hawaii, are labeled as “Cock-a-roaches.” To witness so many demeaning words upon my people; I became numb to the fact that I, too, am a cockroach.
I wasn’t the brightest kid in school. My first year at Central Middle and I had fully immersed myself with the wrong crowd. I befriended a couple kids that had a reputation in Mayor Wrights Housings. Stealing from Fishers Hawaii, and graffiting the Liliha area became our after-school routine.
I remember this one incident very well. My friends and I had stolen a couple of spray cans and were on our way to Kukui Gardens. I wanted to test the paints so I did a few pieces and slapped some stickers before we got there. Another friend of mine was already at the park when we arrived. I showed him a couple of paints and sold him a few cans. Of course like any salesman, the customer has to get a sample. So I tagged the park bench, in broad daylight, to demonstrate the beauty from each color of the can. An hour later of playing cops and robbers; A couple of real cops showed up. We had no intention of running. Our little feet and heavy bodies could only take us so far, so we were ordered to sit down on the curb of the sidewalk. Two officers stood over us while one conversed with an elderly eye-witness. Surprisingly, my loyal customer took the rap for me. The rest of us were let loose.
In the seventh grade I transferred over to Dole Middle School during the last semester of the school year.
We moved from Lanakila to Kalihi Valley. Mom didn’t allow me to venture far so I had no way of keeping in contact with my friends. Eventually, our friendship was forgotten. It was a whole new world for me. More like the opposite to Aladdin’s amazing experience on his magic carpet. New, but old, house; A quiet neighborhood; Then there’s me, the new kid. I didn’t say much at school. I kept to myself during recess and payed attention in class. During biology, I overheard a bunch of the popular kids telling racist jokes. If I didn’t have a sense of humor, I would’ve beat them to a pulp. Many more of these jokes were told throughout the semester. I blame the Wake-Up Crew on Island 98.5 for spreading such jokes on the air.
Towards the ending of the school year, I was awarded a crank powered flashlight from my homeroom teacher for achieving Honor Roll and Principal’s List. Both were the highest achievements I ever earned at the time. Knowing that I was more a C and D student, I was proud of myself for achieving such an accomplishment. Not bad, for a cockroach.
I can honestly say I don’t look much like my ethnicity. If I were to walk up to a group of locals and ask them to describe a Micronesian. I’m pretty sure a gold tooth and a kitchen knife would be part of their description. Most people tend to mistake me for a Samoan, Tongan, or Mixed Hawaiian. As a non-looking Micronesian, I usually would get the inside scoop of racism hidden in secrecy. Friends of my friends would not know I was Micronesian, so they’d have a fit about their dreadful experience with “Cock-a-roaches.” I’d just stand there with a smile and nod my head, as if I understood their dilemma.
Most of my introductions to meeting new faces would commonly include exchanges of ethnicity.
“What are you?”
“I’m Chuukese and Japanese.”
“Oh, you’re Micronesian?” Then they’d morph into academy award winning actors and turn away as if they had an errand to run. It’s like all they heard was “Micronesian.” I’m pretty sure I mentioned the one percent Japanese running through my veins. Gladly, I’m not the only one who experienced situations like this.
Last month, my cousin, Ray told me an incident that happened to him in a parking lot outside of 7-Eleven on N. King Street. A local elder man, one of those “Moke Action” Uncles, attempted a conversation with my cousin. The old man, figured Ray for a skinny Hawaiian boy, began complaining about how beautiful Hawaii was before Micronesians migrated here. The funny thing about this incident was that the old man wouldn’t stop ranting on about Micronesians, even after Ray openly admitted he was one. Ray eventually ignored the old man. We couldn’t help but laugh about it. At that time, it nearly led to a dispute. Now, it’s just a funny story.
Transferring schools was probably one of the best things that’s ever happened to me. It didn’t feel good, but it was for the best. The different environment I was in established a change in me. I was no longer hanging out with friends that led me to mischief. Being placed in an uncomfortable situation allowed me to realize a side of me I didn’t know. Nowadays, I’ve been surrounding myself with positive people that don’t care about what ethnic background I came from. All that matters is the relationships we cherish. I didn’t mention it earlier, but majority of my friends from Central were Micronesian. I’m not saying the reason behind the crimes was because of their race. I realized it for myself, it was the mentality. I was too caught up in the hood environment, I didn’t realize that I’ve been living the title that’s been labeled on me. If I had mentioned their ethnicity earlier, I would’ve already labeled them as cockroaches. People shouldn’t be judged based on their nationality. Judgement should be based upon character, not on looks. In terms of the great saying by Queen Rania of Jordan, “We shouldn’t judge people through the prism of our own stereotypes.”
Still to this day, one of my friends would crack a racist joke. I don’t mind, to my understanding it’s just a joke. Without it, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I’m not successful but I’d like to say I’m on my way there. Like many cockroaches, I learned to adapt.