Many of you by now are aware of the devastating fire that occurred in Lahaina, Hawaii. When I heard the news, I became completely heartbroken, grief-stricken, and worried. This is a small story of my beloved Lahaina Town.
The summer of 1999 I had just graduated from high school, and was to travel to Hawaii for our senior trip, to the two Islands of Oahu and Maui. I remember getting off that small plane on the island of Maui, and it was like a scene out of the movies – immediately I was in love. Ask some of my classmates – they will tell you how I disappeared on them to hang out with the locals, who offered me a place to stay if I ever wanted to return. I was away enjoying the island and being crowned Fiesta Reina here at home. My dad graciously accepted my crown and who knows what shenanigans that entailed.
Coincidentally, King Kamehameha Day was being celebrated on Maui as well; we met and hung out with one of the prince and princesses from Kauai. At that moment I realized the responsibility I would be taking on as a Reina. I returned home and went off to live in Las Vegas, Nevada with my brother, but Lahaina kept calling. Two weeks in Vegas and I contacted my new friends and asked what it would take to get me to Maui.
Within the week I had a one-way ticket, and called home to tell my parents I was leaving in two days. Everything worked out perfectly; I had two jobs within two days and began living there. The more time I spent on the island, the stronger I became. I found myself, and most importantly, I found my spirituality. Lahaina saved my life.
I was embraced by the Hawaiian people, and they showed me a new way of living, how important the land and culture are. I attended Mass daily at Maria Lanikila (one of the only structures to survive), prayed the rosary daily and walked with my ancestors – it truly was a magical experience. Questa is my home and Maui is my soul home.
I returned home with a new understanding of how lucky we are to live and have the traditions that our ancestors built upon, how our language and our history define us. I may not have done the year of service as a Reina should, but I am doing a lifetime of service to my community, and I owe so much to the people of the Hawaiian Kingdom for showing me the love of Aloha and the true meaning of the spirit.
A good friend told me before I left, “I wish every vacationer would take a little piece of Aloha with them… this world would be such a better place.” Aloha is not just hello and goodbye, it is a way of life. It means to respect and love one another and live in harmony with everything around you.
Pray for my friends who have lost their ancestral homes and history. And remember, “he kuleana ko kakou” (we have a responsibility to ourselves, God, and others).