In the Beginning My life's journey has a humble, but adventurous beginning. It all started when my parents decided to leave the Philippines and immigrate to Hawaii in 1946. This migration odyssey marked the end of World War II between the United States and Japan. Leaving the Philippines was not an easy decision to make for my parents. I can only imagine how difficult it was. My oldest brother and sister were left to stay in the Philippines in custody of my grandparents. It would be twenty years later before they were able to join us in Hawaii. That's another story.
At that time, the United States government was seeking laborers for the highly lucrative and rapidly expanding sugar cane and pineapple industry in Hawaii. The war had left devastation throughout the Philippines leaving millions out of work. Hawaii was the place that my parents and thousands of other migrant workers chose to pursue as their golden opportunity. One of my brothers and three of my sisters accompanied my parents on that invigorating journey to Hawaii, a far away place in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
In the years to follow, they didn't speak much about that trip. The one thing they did recall was that the ships were so full of people it was a marvel as to where they all came from. For almost thirty days, they stayed strong on rationed food and waited patiently until they stepped on the shores of Hawaii. I feel pleased to have been born after that voyage.
The days started early in Hawaii. My father left at 4:30 in the morning to catch the plantation trucks at the crossing. All my brothers and sisters left for school at seven in the morning. Mom kept busy during the day waiting out the last few weeks until I arrived. She spent her time doing her light chores at home. She was counting down the days until she felt it was the right time to leave for the hospital.
I have heard the story of my birth enough to recite it by heart. It was already 11:30 in the morning when mom made the decision to walk to the bus stop with her identifications and documents in her small wicker bag. At the bus stop my mother, Mrs. Patrico, took several deep breaths of the cool clean mountain air. People around smiled at her when they noticed her huge belly. A plantation worker offered her his seat, she thanked him as she slowly sat down with a sigh. She crossed her arms over her bulging belly. Her small wicker bag hung from her right arm. She closed her eyes and wiped the tears that tried to escape the corners. She smiled as her baby vigorously moved around in her belly. A squeal of air brakes startles her as she looked up and sees the bus has arrived. People started disembarking as soon as the bus door opened. "Let me help you, Nana," a smiling young, petite Filipino lady reaches for mom's hand and helps her stand up from the bench. "Oh thank you, my ading, you are so kind" my mom's weak voice thankful to her fellow passenger. "You are ready to have baby Nana, you look really big, no?" "Yes, ading, I am going to the hospital now, it is time." "Nobody going with you to the hospital, Nana?" "No, nobody, but it is okay because I left a note for my children and Tata. They will come to the hospital after school and work." "Oh, good then." The last person entering the bus was a farmer. He waited for mom to climb the steps and helped her to an open chair behind the driver. "Nana, give me your hand, let me help you," the same farmer gently grabbed mom's hand and guided her. "Oh, thank you, Barrock." This baby would be her 8th so she was a loving mom who was very experienced at giving birth. She continued her breathing exercise as she maintained her seating position. The labor pains bring tight grimaces until they finally ebb away. The bus ride took an agonizing 40 minutes before reaching her hospital destination. Mrs. Patrico had enough strength to get on the bus to the hospital and admit herself to deliver me, her last son. At the age of 42, she seriously believed that I would be the last. She was right. Once she checked in with admissions, the hospital nurse aides sat her in a wheelchair and wheeled her to her room. It has been an entire hour since her first contractions started that morning. "Good morning Mrs. Patrico, how are you today?" Dr. Kulman strolls in the room and greets mom with a smile. "Good morning Doctor." answered mom with smile and a weak voice. "I think this baby is big boy, doctor, yes?" "Yes, I think so Mrs. Patrico, but don't worry we can do this like the last time with your son, Hank, Okay?" "Yes, I hope so doctor, but this time I am little scared," as tears swell in her eyes. "It will be okay, Mrs. Patrico," The doctor patted my mom's hand to reassure her. "It hurts worse than last time doctor...please give me medicine," mom's voice is almost to a whisper. "Nasakit, Nasakit." (It hurts, it hurts in Filipino.) Dr. Kulman steps up to one of the nurses and gave her instructions. The nurse nods her head acknowledging his orders as they both leave the room. A few minutes later the nurse returns with a syringe for mom. "This is the pain medication the doctor ordered for you." Mom is much relieved, but the pain is so bad she can only acknowledge the nurse with a slight nod and weak smile.
The labor pains and the delivery were taking longer than usual and Doctor Kulman began to worry. It had been 12 hours since labor started and Mom was not dilating large enough for the baby's head to exit. The last 4 hours they already had her prepped in the operating room. "Your wife is trying very hard to deliver your child, but we may have to perform a C-Section, Mr. Patrico." It was Dr. Kulman's third pleading request to my dad. "No need..., we wait," my dad said sitting next to my mothers bed holding her hand with his left and waving off Dr. Kulman with his right. My brothers and sisters were waiting in the delivery waiting room for the good news. Finally, my closest cousin, Belinda, who was about the same age as my mom, had decided she must intervene. She asked to speak to Doctor Kulman and my dad. "Dr. Kulman, my name is Belinda; I will talk to my cousin, Mr. Patricio and try to get him to understand the situation. I understand you are trying your best under the circumstances." "Please talk to him and convince him that a C-Section at this point is necessary. Mrs. Patricio's and the child's life are in danger." Dr. Kulman could not perform a C-Section without the consent of the next of kin. The delivery room was alerted to stand by. One Registered and one License Nurse, Anesthesiologist, Dr. Kulman and an intern were in the operating room waiting.
Twelve hours had already lapsed since the first contractions. Dad was skeptical about C-sections because he didn't understand them. The previous seven children had no complications, so why now? Dad heard about the stomach incisions doctors performed on other mothers and how bad the women suffered in recovery. Dad didn't want our mother to undergo a C-section. Twice in twelve hours he refused to allow a C-section to be performed on her. "Manong, please give Dr. Kulman permission to take out baby by C-Section so that Manang don't have to suffer anymore." "Okay, let's ask your Manang," he agrees and stands up facing mom. "Nasakit, Nasakit," mom whispers, her eyes half closed. Dad stared at mom as her tears roll off her right side of her face. She is afraid for Dad. She doesn't want to see Dad upset. She doesn't say anything, but is hurting and wants the ordeal to end. She cringes and grimaces as the contractions are stronger and closer. "Please Manong, Dr Kulman said she might die and baby going be in trouble too", Belinda begs, now with her own tears flowing down her cheeks. "If she dies and baby lives, how is that going to look? Please give them both chances to live together, please Manong!" Belinda collapses on the chair and buries her head in her hands sobbing. The nurses look at them with sympathy and pretend to be doing something with the trays of sterilized surgery implements and monitoring devices attached to mother's arm. Dad looks at mom's weakening state and slowly walks over to the small table with the C-Section permission documents and began signing. In the enchanting county of Kauai in a town called Lihue on April 25, I was born to the world. The early dawn hours of April 25 was the first moments of the first day of my life. Together with my brother, I was only one of two Hawaiian-born among the family. "Congratulations Mrs. Patrico, you did well and you have another baby boy. We will bring him to you as soon as you feel better okay?" the nurse patted her hand. Mom was exhausted. She was still under the lingering sedation three hours after her baby was delivered by C-section. I was baptized as a Roman Catholic; John was added as my middle name. I remember using it up until high school. My family was my source of inspiration.
Indeed, I am lucky to have grown up in an environment that was full of affection. Both my parents valued hard work. Father was a laborer in the sugar plantation. Mother was a full-time wife and caregiver to us, her children. She kept herself busy preparing sumptuous meals and daily house chores. So my parents worked 24/7 to keep the family together. I'm not sure if they even had time to rest. But, they loved us greatly. As we grew older we sought other opportunities thereby leaving our plantation labor home in the Spanish Camp. We were what most people would consider a poor family. We did not let this get us down but took it as a challenge. Being poor became the source of our inspiration to strive for better education, knowledge and diverse number of successful achievements. Making ends meet was a constant struggle. We met the struggle together with the confidence that we would succeed. We busied ourselves by taking on a variety of different jobs as well as part-time gigs. My brothers and I often solicited landscaping work, while my sisters took on the role of baby sitters or child care providers. Just like our parents, the idea of idleness was not in our vocabulary.
We were all hard working and we became accustomed to meeting challenges head on. "Mamma, I am going to the Bate's house to clean up the back yard on Saturday". Unlike our plantation houses, the Bate's residence was among the better built houses and was located outside of our camp. The houses outside the camp were nearly four times bigger than our own and had larger yards. All of the larger houses were reserved for Plantation supervisors. Periodically, the resident lady would ask kids like me to help trim and clear the fast growing grass and shrubbery. "I can make some rice balls and some boiled eggs for you to take for lunch." "Thanks, ma, I will go about ten tomorrow morning and stay only 4 hours. She said she is paying $1.00 to cut and clean the area she will be showing me." I knew that a couple of small rice balls and couple boiled eggs was more than enough considering I would be munching on delicious Lychees and juicy Hayden mangoes too. "Make sure you tell your dad which cutting tools you will be using. You know how he is when tools are missing." "I know ma," I searched through the tool shed. I set aside my choice of gardening tools: a regular hoe, a sharpened sickle and the all-purpose machete. At thirteen years old I was already a seasoned yard boy; this from having started at the ripe age of five helping dad and other siblings maintain our own garden behind our house. Even though I was going to work at a house much larger than ours, I couldn't help but be thankful for the beauty of our home.
The reservoirs and ocean shores were our fishing grounds and food source. We also had a small, yet very interesting garden at the back of the house. This was more than the average vegetable garden. It was abound with luscious fruit trees and a variety of vegetables that we also grew. Our home was a little paradise surrounded by papayas, avocados, bananas, mangoes and so much more. To complete the picture, we built a modest pond to raise and stock catfish. Most people don't realize that to raise catfish you need nothing more than an 8 foot by 10 foot pond that is at least 2 feet deep.
We lived in an area of Koloa town called the Spanish Camp. It was a plantation camp designed exclusively for employees and their families who worked for the sugar plantation or pineapple canneries. The previous or original tenants were of Spanish descent, thus the name Spanish Camp. The house we lived in was a testament to using what you had. It had 3 bedrooms, a living room, a kitchen and a front porch. To my estimate, the whole house living space was around 800 square feet. It was built 3-4 feet off the ground in order to prevent flood waters from coming into the house during the rainy season. All of the houses in the Spanish Camp were built with this architectural design. I could view the ground beneath the house from the spaces between our floor boards. Our roof was a corrugated tin roof and the walls were single pine wood.
The one thing I couldn't forget was that we did not have running hot water. Our bathhouse was situated outside about ten feet away from the main house. During my early ten years our family heated water for bathing. That everyday ritual was a chore that the man took care of; so just imagine those shivering-cold nights! Nevertheless, the Patricio's were not to settle for the condition of our home. My dad, who was a skilled carpenter, rounded up his friends and jump-started the additions to our humble abode. They built a detached garage on the right side and another one in the rear of the house. The bathroom wasn't much of a problem as the community shared one out-house. We needed the garage because my dad was great at driving. If my mother knew how to read, write and speak English, I believe she could have gotten a driver's license too.
As positive as my family tried to be I still remember how difficult it was being in this kind of situation. Discrimination was one of the challenges that were the hardest to overcome. While I was growing up in Kauai, I was surrounded by a small population of local folks: Filipinos, Japanese, Chinese, Portuguese, Hawaiians and the occasional few Caucasians. Among my peers, it was quite easy to be discriminated against when you're considered an outsider and therefore 'different'. Other ethnic groups who stayed in the tourist hotels were considered rich. They stayed at expensive hotels and obviously spent a lot of money. My mother was a hardworking and dedicated resourceful housewife. While laundering our family clothes, she also earned money by laundering clothes for the other plantation workers who were not married or fortunate enough to have a housewife. The monies she earned contributed to my father's meager salary. I remember quite a bit as a child. I am the youngest child in my family. I have always cherished the fact that I have siblings and I believe the bonds between siblings are the strongest amongst any other. I recalled being strapped by a cotton back harness onto my mother's back as she did her daily chores and work. I enjoyed the view from the back while she hummed through her daily routines. I was a living witness to her commitment and dedication to work and family. If my mother was able to give birth to me and take good care of me in her forties, there is no reason that I cannot face life with the same boldness and tenacity. She displayed the commitment to family and tenacity to complete all she could do. It has shaped me into the person that I am today. Mother taught me that I should try not to discriminate against others and look at them for who they really are as a person or people.
I think society today should be more tolerant and take this point of view. It was difficult growing up among a peer group where most were thinking that outsiders were completely different and therefore easier to discriminate against. But that's not the only priceless lesson learned from mother. She was for me the forerunner of antidiscrimination. She instructed that persons or people are not to be foolishly misjudged by their differences or appearance, but are to be valued for who they really are. This is not an easy principle to accept these days. But as much as I can, I persevere to uphold it like my spirited mother did. And I hope that others do also.
Pineapple Sam originated as a fictional character from the mind of Ismael Tabalno from Hawaii. He is a Kauai local individual of Asian descent who decided to write as a hobby when he retired. Pineapple Sam loved to "talk story" as they say in the islands, now many of his friends and family can still listen or read about his adventures.