I would like to configure this post in conversation with the post written earlier this week by Jenna, Jonathan, Aidan, Madi, Clio, and Cameron. This group writes thoughtfully about Hurricane Iniki and its impact on the Hawaiian Islands; what I wish to do is expand on one of their points by drawing connections back to previously-examined course content.
At the end of their post, the group writes: “Iniki also demonstrates how visibility impacts public memory. Hawaii, separated from the continental United States, was in many ways out of sight and out of mind.”
This is certainly not the first time in our course that we have encountered a group of people that might be considered “out of sight and out of mind.” It makes sense to point out, as this group did, that the Hawaiian Islands are quite literally out of sight and mind for Americans who live on the mainland of the United States–we have seen a similar instance of geographically-promoted forgetting in the lack of attention to Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria.
This notion of places and groups of people being “out of sight and out of mind” has come up in our discussions about New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina as well, as we have not only noticed how the people of New Orleans were neglected after Katrina, but how much of the nation has intentionally pushed the city out of sight and mind as well–that is, until somebody decides it’s time to indulge for a weekend at Mardi Gras, as quick to cast away their cares while in the Big Easy as they are to let their plastic beads wash down sewer drains once the party’s over and it’s time to go back home, returning to their lives and returning NOLA to that compartment in their minds reserved for places only worthy of “sight” and “mind” when it’s convenient.
This commercialization of New Orleans and the selective care that surrounds it relates well to the Hawaiian Islands’ circumstances, and Hurricane Iniki seems to share a similar role with Katrina of bringing this neglect to light. As the previously mentioned group post points out, Hawaii’s “main draw for non-residents was its value as a vacation destination.” When deciding where they’ll spend spring break or summer vacation, Hawaii seems well worthy of a person’s attention; apparently, though, the islands fall easily out of sight and mind when it comes to acknowledging that Hawaii has the highest rate of homelessness per capita (per 2016 data) of all states in the US, or, say, when dealing with the aftermath of a disaster like Hurricane Iniki.
What does it mean that places like New Orleans and the Hawaiian Islands slip so easily in and out of individual and collective memory, affording convenience for some at the cost of desperation for others? For me, it seems to be a testament to both how difficult and how necessary it is for people to bear witness and to bear the weight of these stories, these histories, these people and these places that might be so tempting to forget. To allow ourselves to forget might be to avoid taking on the weary-eyed look of Steve Prince’s horsemen in Katrina’s Dirge, to save knees from buckling under the nearly unbearable weight of a tragedy like Katrina or Iniki and all those factors that built up to these culminating “natural” disasters. But perhaps, if we took the time and energy, did the work to remember places like New Orleans or Hawaii and to remember the people of these places past and present, perhaps then the weight of these disasters might become slightly more bearable–or maybe, just, less unbearable, if there’s a difference there–for those who currently are burdened to bear this weight all alone. Particularly, the final line of the aforementioned group blog post has prompted the return of my thoughts to weight-bearing, and thus the return to Prince’s Katrina’s Dirge.
This final line is as follows: “Our hope is that the destruction of Iniki will not be swept under the proverbial rug in favor of higher visibility natural disasters.”
I’d like to point out that the work of this group, in creating their collaborative post, helps in itself to keep the story of Iniki from being “swept under” the rug by telling its story, while also keeping readers from being swept out to sea by the overwhelming tragedy of the event by grounding us in objective facts and thoughtful explanations. For me, and I hope for others, this group post has invited me to help bear the weight of Hurricane Iniki and the broader story of the Hawaiian Islands. Furthermore, I feel that researching, discussing, writing, and sharing the stories of various storms through this collaborative project has invited us to help bear the weight of a multiplicity of catastrophes, and I rest assured that the assignment was created with intention as such. While the phrase “it’s the least we can do” is often intended to be quite dismissive of what one is actually doing, we can all probably agree by this point in our course that attempting to help bear the weight is no easy task.
Here is Prince’s Katrina’s Dirge. (The image can be accessed in larger format & higher resolution through Canvas if you’re in our Metropolis course, but I wanted to include it here.)
I’d like to thank Jenna, Jonathan, Aidan, Madi, Clio, and Cameron for their contemplative post that prompted my thinking in this post and beyond it.