Christmas in the Melting Pot

Throughout 2016, our twentieth anniversary, we’ve been dusting off stories from our archives and sharing them with you. This column first ran in October 2009. I’ve updated it a bit, inspired by the tenor of our political times to take a second look at what makes a community or a country worth celebrating. Have a taste.

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By Diane Hayes Woodburn

Diane Haynes WoodburnI wake to an olfactory reveille — pungent, spicy and sweet — and follow my nose to the kitchen, where my husband is shaking mustard seed into his bubbling cauldron. “Mmmm,” I hint, leaning in for a better look. In the pot, exotic spices collide with bright orange mango, yellow ginger, raisins, brown sugar, onions and (oooeee!) vinegar — a kaleidoscope of fragrance and color.

My husband makes the best mango chutney in Maui County. I say that with complete objectivity, because it once won Best of Show at the Maui County Fair. When Jamie stood to collect his blue ribbon, he was not only two heads taller and a lot more masculine than the competition, but haole (not native to Hawai‘i, and in his case, Caucasian). Talk about stink eye! Happily, a few moments of trading canning tips won over those local ladies, conferring Jamie with kama‘āina credibility.

At the office, there’s been some debate over the term kama‘āina. “The literal meaning,” our senior editor notes, “is ‘child of the land,’ someone born here.” By that criterion, my sons are kama‘āina, while I, who have lived in Hawai‘i more than forty years, am not. Another opinion, please.

“It’s a mental state, a willingness to embrace what is here,” says one of our writers, who arrived here at the ripe old age of two. “That’s why some people who come here are never considered kama‘āina; they never let go of how they think things should be.” Hmm.

I ask Kimokeo Kapahulehua, a friend and respected Hawaiian cultural advisor. “Someone who fits in,” he says. “Do you have to be born here?” I ask. After a moment’s thought, he says, “No, that’s kanaka. Love the land and the people, and be respectful — that’s kama‘āina.”

The chutney is ready to jar. I cautiously spoon out a hot dollop to taste and am rewarded with a glorious burst of sweet and sour, spice and bite. “What do you think kama‘āina is?” I ask Jamie as I reach for another spoonful. “Maybe it’s like chutney,” he suggests, “a blend of opposites that get put into a melting pot and make it all work.” I think he has something there — a sweet mix of foreign and local, spiked with a bit of vinegar for respect.

It’s a good recipe for our time.

Interestingly, the term “melting pot” came from a play first staged in 1908. Written by British author Israel Zangwill, the son of Russian-Jewish immigrants, The Melting Pot celebrated America’s capacity to absorb and grow from the contributions of the many and varied immigrants who came to our shores. “Ah, what a stirring and a seething!” proclaims the play’s protagonist, himself a refugee. “[T]he glory of America, where all nations and races come to labour and look forward!” President Theodore Roosevelt, attending the premiere, is said to have shouted, “That’s a great play, Mr. Zangwill!”

As I write this, in October 2016, we are mere weeks away from choosing our next president — and determining the script our country will follow. I hope that whomever we elect, he or she, and all Americans, can embrace the lessons we’ve learned on this little dot in the vast Pacific: “Love the land and the people, and be respectful.” Kanaka or malihini, we all need each other.

Soon Jamie and I will tie bright ribbons around the cooling jars of chutney and store them away for holiday gifts. Wishing you a season filled with sweetness and spice, tolerance and love. My heart is filled with gratitude to all of you for your friendship and readership.

Mele Kalikimaka,
Diane Haynes Woodburn, Publisher

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