Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Audacity of Hip-Hop

When I was about eleven years old, one of the more highly regarded older kids asked me what kind of music I liked. I didn't know what to say. My parents usually had the radio tuned to the oldies station but I wasn't going to embarrass myself and say, "Oldies!" So instead I said, "Michael Jackson!" I still got made fun of because in Utah most kids were into heavy metal.
During my public education years, the diversity in Utah was nearly non-existent. I remember only two other Pacific Islanders that were my age in grade school. As a child I listened to music either according to what my parents or friends listened to but the music didn't really connect with me, I mostly liked it because of peer pressure.

My childhood and teenage years were a much different experience than nearly all of my peers and my musical tastes tended to coincide with those same experiences. In my life experience I really wasn't worried about love, cars, parties etc. My top concerns were helping my parents make enough money so we could eat. There wasn't any genre of music that related to that experience until I heard hip-hop.

Not only did the subject matter connect but the beats as well. The beats hit hard like life. Then if they threw in horn samples, I felt like Rocky when I listened to them.  Sometimes they had an eire treble to them which somehow connected to me because of how strange my life was. I used to subconsciously bob my head with them. While driving, people would constantly be staring at me bobbing my head in the next car. Sometimes they would even mock me by mimicking me.

I remember one day I had called my father and told him I wanted to go on a church mission for two years. He advised me that I should graduate college first. I couldn't disobey him and felt ashamed of all that I had done wrong in my life. I drove to First Dam in Logan and parked. Staring at the stars through the sunroof, I cried to God. The mix tape I was playing suddenly started to play 'Juicy' by Notorious B.I.G.

When Biggie, aka Notorious B.I.G., started rapping, "Yeah, this album is dedicated to all the teachers that told me I'd never amount to nothin'…
and all the brothas in the struggle, you know what I'm sayin'?" I felt like he was talking to me. Biggie continued on, "Born sinner, the opposite of a winner
Remember when I used to eat sardines for dinner." With all the sardines, or pilikaki as my dad called it, that I ate in my lifetime I felt like dis dude and I connected. Then the chorus came on:
"You know very well who you are
Don't let em hold you down, reach for the stars"

There I was staring at the stars, praying and this lady was singing to me 'reach for them.'

That song hit me in the right place at the right time. Over the years hundreds of different lyrics and hip-hop songs have connected to me like that night. I remember Nas saying, "that buck that bought the bottle could have struck the lotto." Those words said to me to have a positive attitude and not wallow in the sadness of a bottle. Wu-Tang had a song called 'Triumph' that most the rappers just bragged about their skills. I remember feeling their passion and feeling how I could triumph over anything. Phife Dawg, on the song called 'Wordplay', said, "cuz if I don't say I'm the best who the h@$# will?" After hearing that a young unconfident kid from West Valley started to gain self-esteem to the point where he could write to the University newspaper and express the unfairness that his hip-hop CD got kicked out of the weight room stereo for a 311 CD.

To me the old, true hip-hop is underdog music. I feel like my whole life is an underdog story. I find it hard to relate with the privileged, entitled or coddled. Hip-hop music, to me, is always at it's best when the artist is so hungry that all the passion and emotion comes out.

My father went to prison and I quit school to go on a mission. While working to save money my brother and I had previously both formed a hip-hop group, ATP or Afakasi Posse(we thought afakasi was spelled afatasi). Now we both wrote a lot and battled each other on the mic a lot. It will probably sound lame so I'm going to edit some in order to not get too preachy but here are some of the lyrics I wrote during that time of struggle:

Since the day I was risen/ pops had us under oppression/...
foolish pride had him wreckless/ he held the whole family strangled and breathless/
the media set forth a lifestyle/ of big money bling-bling and high profiles/
Had him captured in the chains of hell/ nearly dragged to an eternal fell
Taking down the family as well/ the youngest had courage to rebel/ as the heavens started to swell
With prayers and tears to fill wells/ ... My pops was soon alone in a cold cell
After the nuclear explosion/ and destruction by erosion
Rises the phoenix from the dust/ with eyes lowered and wings tucked
This constant opposition/ got my muscles ripplin'
An' I'm ready to start fire/ runnin' on straight desire

It might seem lame but to me it signified to me that even through the tragedy we would all arise out of it, like a Phoenix out of the ashes.

Fast-forward to February '11, without hands, driving down the street in 'Ol Betsy, I found myself in the toughest underdog situation I had ever experienced. One song that hit me hard was 'All of the Lights' by Kanye West. 
When this song came on my immediate thoughts were to tell everyone to turn their spotlights on me because I'm about to do something amazing. I'm about to make a comeback from loosing my hands. For the most part the words that stand out to me are, " turn on the lights in here babyTurn up the lights in here, baby
Extra bright, I want y'all to see this
Turn up the lights in here, baby
You know what I need, want you to see everything
Want you to see all of the lights!" I vowed while I cried right there to show everyone, just put the lights on me.

The other song that connected with me was 'The Show Goes On' by Lupe Fiasco. Most of the lyrics hit me but the third verse particularly:
"So no matter what you been through
No matter what you into
No matter what you see when you look outside your window
Brown grass or green grass
Picket fence or barbed wire
Never ever put them down
You just lift your arms higher
Raise em till’ your arms tired
Let em’ know you’re their
That you struggling and survivin’ that you gonna persevere
Yeah, ain’t no body leavin, no body goin’ home
Even if they turn the lights out the show is goin’ on!"

It says to me that the playing field may be unfair but the last thing I'm going to do is quit. Again, while tears streamed down my face I was inspired to keep pushing even when it got hard.
Hip-Hop's origin is that of coming out of adverse conditions and when it comes out there are sometimes diamonds in it. Those diamonds brang hope to a hopeless me and deserve partial credit for any success I may have achieved.

That is why, even when on my mission with companions that despised hip-hop, I defended it. It is why when a young man gets up in front of the congregation and says all hip-hop is evil, I instantly say to myself, "that kid doesn't know what the hell he's talking about!" It is why when I hear a prominent African-American, who sings in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, say, "99.9% of all hip-hop is bad!" in front of a large audience at the tabernacle, I
instantly reject that thought. Because sometimes hip-hop or music can give someone a power that, in my opinion, is second only to love, hope. That is one of the powers of music.

Friday, May 11, 2012

A Car named 'Ol Betsy the War Machine

When I first came out of the hospital, my license was temporarily suspended, rightly so. In order to get out of the house I depended on rides. I became that annoying pre-sixteen year old or license-less person begging for a ride.

The first time my sister, Selesitila, asked if I would like to go to the supermarket to do the shopping, I jumped at the offer, just to get out of the house. Her driving was too slow for me. The shopping was too slow for me. Everything was too slow for me. To have to do everything at such a slow pace was saddening and maddening at the same time.

My life before the accident had become a scene out of the Jungle Book. I was Baloo the Bear. My mantra was found in the song 'The Bear Necessities.' Which reads like this:

Look for the bare necessities,
The simple bare necessities,
Forget about your worries and your strife,
I mean the bare necessities,
Of mother natures recipies,
That bring the bare necessities to life.

Wherever I wonder,
Wherever I roam,
I couldnt be founder of my big home,
The bees are buzzing in the trees,
To make some honey just for me,
When you look under the rock for plants,
Take a glance at some pantsy ants,
Then maybe try a few.

the bare necessities of life will come to you,
they'll come to you.

look for the bare necessities,
the simple bare necessities,
forget about your worries and your strife,
i mean the bare necessities,
thats why a bear can rest at ease,
with just the bare necessities of life.

now when you pick a paw paw,
or a prickly pear,
and you prick a wrong paw,
well next time, beware,
dont pick the prickly pear by the paw,
when you pick a pear, try to use the claw,
but you dont need to use the claw,
when you pick a pear of the big paw paw,
Have i givin you a clue?

In other words my life was easy. I roamed from here to there not to worried about much. All that seemed difficult had become easy. Self care was easy. I could fly across the United States with one carry on suitcase and not worry about a thing. Saturday morning basketball was a piece of cake.

After the accident, nothing was easy. Even grabbing the remote to turn on the television was extremely difficult.It was like I was reborn and had to relearn everything that had to deal with hands all over again but in a different way. The only thing different was that I had known what it was like to have had hands. This was the most frustrating part of the whole ordeal.

Learning everything all over was tedious. I had a new Occupational Therapist when I got home. His name was Marc Rosello and he was an A or red type personality. I have never gotten along with this type of person, ever. In fact his second time here, he made me cry. He was requiring all kinds of homework of me. When I hadn't done any of it, he began to say I need to keep track of every appointment in a red type personality kind of way. I told him I do keep track of it on my iPad. He said, "Well, where's your iPad?" I went to grab it and broke out in tears. My sister comforted me.

There were many things I did as an escape. One of them was a Superbowl party. The Greenbay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers were matched up for the Lombardi Trophy. There was some kind of avocado dip, candy, chips and oh yeah 'the Superbowl Explosion

We'll call it 'the SBEI' for short. It went down like this; My sister and I were watching the 2011 SB, when the doorbell rang. It was my neighbors grandson. He started to explain his story in nice manner, saying,"My girlfriends car had been hit and the scratch marks were white...." Up to this point I was calm.

Then out of the blue, he says, "Then I'm looking around and I see your car is white and all smashed up. So I want to know what the F#%^ is going on." At that point I started screaming, "WELL I WANNA KNOW HOW THE H%#£ I RAN INTO YOUR GIRLFRIENDS CAR WHEN...." At that moment, I was taking my prostheses off and spiked it in the ground and screamed, "I DON'T EVEN HAVE HANDS!" He shrunk away from his accusations and left. I walked in the house and started balling from all the emotions and frustrations coming to the surface. My sister comforted me again.

My older sister and I have a relationship where we protect each other. When I was one year and several months old, my sister who was nine months younger had somehow managed to crawl out on the roof. My mom says I went out on the roof and picked her up and brought her in. From that moment on we had each others back.

When my dad went to jail, I as the eldest would need to step up and help out financially. She stepped up for me and made it possible for me to serve a mission. I also believe there were higher powers aiding her but to this day I still feel the need to return the favor. When it was time to leave the hospital, I had the choice of living with both my other siblings but I chose her. Partially because I feel like I want to help her and partially because I feel most at home in her house.

Eventually Marc Rosello, the OT, and I got a driving ring. The driving ring is in the folloiwing video. He let me drive in a Driver's Ed car. I remember being so nervous that I was perspiring to the point of dripping armpits. It was just like when I first learned to drive with my dad at the age of sixteen.

I passed the driving test and started driving. My car actually has a name, 'Ol Betsy The War Machine, and a personality. Driving her was like reacquainting with an old friend. I remember one of the first things I asked for when I came into full consciousness was my car. The business director went and retrieved her from the city of Kremmling. I felt comforted to know she was near.

Driving was an incredible feeling because here I was, without hands, driving with everyone else. Nobody treated me any different than anyone else. In fact, one of the best things was that there wasn't too many people that could tell that I was any different than anyone else. I felt a part of the community.

My car was a lot like my sister. Even after 200,000 miles, she continued to want to work to get my back. We have at least a hundred adventures together. That same year, I thought there was no way to pass my inspections. Through a miracle I found someone to pass her and we had one more year of adventures. She is in the twilight of her years now so I made some tribute videos of her so you can check them out. One thing I know is that she will always have my back.