Throughout the course of the class we have explored many themes that reappear throughout our readings. We have discussed the importance of food, and the importance that it plays in the lives of immigrants. We have also discussed the sexploitation of the Asian woman, and how sex is used to define Asian women. While all of these themes are very important I do feel that we have left a few out. One theme that we have yet to explore is the concept of economic success. In Dogeaters and School for Hawaiian Girls the authors allow us to see the importance that the characters place on prosperity and the idea that prosperity can free them from the burdens their race. At the same time the authors have also show us characters who have reached economic success who are equally as miserable as everyone else.
In School for Hawaiian Girls McMillen introduces us to many diverse characters, but the book really settles in on two in particular. In this book we become entangled in the lives of Sam and Moani, two very successful, multi-generation Hawaiians. Sam and Moani have achieved “The American Dream” yet they are not happy. Despite all of the Success that Sam has achieved through his business he is still haunted by the murder of his sister. Sam has spent his life trying to bury his sister’s memory along side her body, but he can’t escape her. Lydia, and the way that she died infects his success to this day. “I didn’t care about anything except money. If I wasn’t making money, them I wanted to hurt somebody. If she was a fat rosebud, I wanted to slap her. If I saw a dog, I wanted to kick it. And if I heard that somebody was competing with my business, then look out. One of us was gonna lose and it wasn’t gonna be me (McMillen 42).”
Why is Sam feeling this way? Is it because of Lydia? Or was he destined to fall into the trap of anger, and rage, mad at Haoles just as so many Hawaiian men before him? Why can’t Sam get counseling? Why doesn’t he just leave Hawaii and begin a new life? What does Hawaii give him that he can’t find anywhere else, despite the pain?
Moani is no different from her uncle. Moani is successful not just as a Hawaiian, but a woman. How many women are as successful as Moani at her age? While Sam is plagued by the Memory of his sisters death, because he was there it somehow creeps into Moani’s life as well. Moani was not alive when Lydia was murdered, yet she can’t stop peering into what happened. What is happening in Moani’s life that she has become so entrenched in the past? Moani is very successful, yet she chooses to focus on what she does not have instead of what she does have. She longs for a husband and a family, and feels like a failure, despite the envy of her classmates who have her “ideal life”. Moani thinks to herself “One day they would have grandchildren; one day I would just have an old black dress (McMillen 58).” Sam is the same in his search for the perfect wife. Sam and Moani are tied not only in success, but in angst. What is McMillen trying to show us through these characters? Why have Sam and Moani not been able to enjoy their success?