Wednesday, February 13, 2013
Plantation Life: An Experience Unlike Any Other
They will never know what it feels like to grow up in a safe environment where people knew everyone and the only employer in town back then was Del Monte Foods. Even as a 4 year-old, I could remember walking around this 2 mile town with no fear, knowing that I lived among "family" not strangers. Back then, the saying, "it takes a village to raise a child", was taken literally.
Living on a plantation was a big Asian experience since many Southeast Asians at the turn of the century were recruited to work on the many pineapple and sugar plantations in Hawaii, Louisiana, and California. It was common to find plantation towns filled with Chinese, Korean, Japanese (pictured below), Filipino, Portuguese, and Puerto Ricans. Kualapuu was typical with Japanese, Filipino, Puerto Rican, and Portuguese living in different sections while the Caucasians (aka as "Haole" people), who were the "bosses," lived in the well-to-do part of town.
I grew up in a town called Kualapuu where there was one church, one general meeting place for parties and gatherings, one store (Kualapuu Market), a teen hangout/restaurant (Sweet Shop), a barber shop, and one theater. Everyone went to the same elementary school (Kualapuu School) and the same High School (Molokai High School). Of course, the focal point of the town was Del Monte Foods, the cannery, and acres of pineapple fields.
Like all parents, my Mom and Dad worked for Del Monte and our pantry was stocked with company canned goods. There wasn't a day that went by that I didn't pop open a can of fruit cocktail or peaches for a snack.
My dad was proud of growing his own vegetables and raising chickens in a designated area where the community built their own chicken coops. Back then, the vegetables, chickens, pigs, and cows were grown and raised naturally. This was done way before some marketers today decided to call this style of farming "organic" and raise prices for good measure.
Looking back, I couldn't believe that my parents allowed me to roam around town at such a young age. All we did as kids back then was play. Television was an afterthought because there was always some kid calling my name to go to the park or go out somewhere. As a "latch key kid," I came home after school to an empty house cause both parents worked. I did my homework and once that was done it was a free-for-all to go out and play.
As I grew older, we learned how to hunt and fish. In Kualapuu, it was a rite-of-passage for us to shoot a gun and go hunting with the older kids. Usually, I ended up carrying the dead deer because I was the younger one.
Today, Kualapuu is not the same bustling town it was in the 70s and 80s when Del Monte officially shut down operations in 1988. Now that I'm older, I can compare the church, the store, the school, and the restaurant and how tiny these buildings were in size. Unfortunately, most of the families I knew back then moved to Kaunakakai or to another island. Sadly, the town isn't the same anymore and it's too bad because I wish my kids could experience the childhood I had in Kualapuu.