Shore to Shore: Exploring our Personal Black History
THE MUSIC OF MY BLACK AND HAWAIIAN SOUL
My cultural legacy is influenced by my mother’s and my father’s. I am biracial — my father is Black, my mother Native Hawaiian. Each culture has its own unique and similar aspects, but one place they intersect is in the deep meaning and appreciation of music. When I was younger my house was always loud with music from both cultures. My parents would cook to the Temptations or clean to the sounds of Hapa. But beyond just listening to music, my parents played guitar as well. Some of my earliest memories were sitting and listening to them learn and sing together. Eventually, I also learned to play and joined them in playing those songs.
One of my mother’s most important goals when raising me was to teach me about Hawaiian culture. She taught me Hawaiian words, stories of her youth and shared with me both traditional and contemporary Hawaiian music. Sung in both English and Hawaiian, the music focuses on respecting the land and people. This respect is paramount to Hawaiian culture. By giving to the land and showing the aloha spirit to others, one will receive the same back. This Hawaiian version of the golden rule is the foundation of who I am today. By having mutual respect for one another and a consciousness toward cultural and environmental health, we can build a stronger society.
For my father, music was a connection to his family and home. My dad served in the US Navy, so we always lived far from his side of the family. Both of my parents had a wide range of musical tastes, but my father would always go back to his roots, sharing with me R&B and soul music of the ’60s and ’70s. To me, Black music is about uplifting your spirit while always remaining socially and culturally conscious. I carry these themes with me today, and they help me keep a high spirit through troubled times and recognize the struggles so many people in our society face every day.
I firmly believe we must learn from our past to make sound decisions in our future. In both of my cultures, music is a function of documenting history and culture, and I find comfort and guidance in that music. And like my parents did for me, I look to instill these lessons into my daughter. I want to show her where she’s from and help her understand her cultural legacy with all its struggles and triumphs so she can find the same comfort and guidance that I do as she grows into her own journey.
In what ways does YOUR cultural legacy inform your present and how will you use it to shape your future?
The Islands of Brooklyn
By Rifka Simmons