Remembering Hawaii, in war and peace

LIHUE — Growing up in Kapaa, Bill Fernandez wanted to be a fisherman.

What he became — a lawyer, judge and mayor of Sunnyvale, Calif. — pulled him out of Kauaian waters. Then four years ago, he returned to the Eastside house his mother bought long ago with her Pineapple cannery earnings.

The wanderer came home. Not to fish, but to write.

“Writing is very different from the pedantic kind of writing you do as a judge,” Fernandez said. “It’s like learning something completely new. But I wanted to write because there are certain important things that occurred in the islands that you don’t ordinarily read about in the books about the Hawaiian story.”

“Hawaii in War and Peace,” is Fernandez’s latest memoir, and the third book he’s penned on his and his family’s own Hawaiian story. In colorful detail and rich historical context, the book documents Fernandez’s high school years at Kamehameha School in Honolulu, where he first witnessed racism.

Fernandez was 14 in 1944 when he enrolled in the private school, which almost exclusively admits children of Hawaiian ancestry. At that time, the school was jarringly set against the backdrop of a city swarming with World War II military.

A far cry from Fernandez’s barefoot upbringing.

“I was soon introduced to ‘rap the haole,’” Fernandez explained. “And what that was is local tough guys would go out and beat up on soldiers and sailors.

“To me, it was like, ‘What went wrong?’ What happened to the aloha spirit?’ It disappeared.”

It was one of Fernandez’s many coming-of-age experiences while studying at the boarding school.

“When I went there, they did not teach the language,” he said. “The hula was forbidden. They did not allow the culture to be displayed. You had a feeling that being brown was bad and what I realized is that they wanted to force Hawaiians to become Americanized and not be agitators, not to make waves.”

These tales and more are woven into “Hawaii in War and Peace,” for which The Kauai Museum is hosting a book launch party from 5:30 to 7 tonight.

The event will include a book signing and a talk by Fernandez. Pupus will also be available.

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