Finding ‘Ohana has been a story in me, waiting to get out, for about five years now. I felt like I knew the characters and I had seen times in their lives before I ever sat down to write a word. So when my creative writing professor, Susan Palwick, gave me my first big critique on the story, I wasn’t sure what to do with it. She said something along the lines of: “It’s too much that they’re both an interracial couple and a lesbian couple. In fiction, it’s enough for them to overcome one social stigma or the other, but not both.”
We’ll just set aside the fact that, in real life, there are plenty of people who are lesbian and non-white, or gay and lower-class, or any number of other combinations of intersecting identities. For the sake of fiction, every choice needs to have a purpose. Yes, it sounds mechanical, but as fiction writers we need to be able to write with our souls and view our work intellectually. Cinnamin’s is a lesbian because her sexuality serves the story by affecting her identity with her family and as an individual. But, Palwick asked, “Why is Naali Hawaiian?” She challenged me to come up with a reason for it that serves the story, or change it.
Well, like I said before, these characters had just been there in my head. I saw Naali as a Hawaiian, so I wrote her as a Hawaiian. So I was determined to find a legitimate reason for her to be Hawaiian before I could even think about changing her. Once I started researching, I felt that it was meant to be. There must have been some kind of… intuition maybe… that made me see Naali the way I did. The link I posted above is one of the things that made it all fit so well.
Same-sex couples had been honored by Hawaiians for generations before they were invaded by foreigners. Even “the first parents, Wakea and Papa” had aikane in their household. Traditional Hawaiian culture had no reason to view same-sex couples as any less natural than opposite-sex couples. And the aikane of a family member is also family, just as an opposite-sex partner of a family member would be an in-law for mainlanders. There is even a Hawaiian saying, “He aikane, he punana na ke onaona. An aikane is haven made of loveliness.” (This saying is quoted in Finding ‘Ohana.)
This was better than I could have hoped for! It was perfect for Naali to be Hawaiian. Better than perfect, it was fate. More of Cinnamin and Naali’s story fell into place. I already knew that Cinnamin’s family had cast her out, but now I knew that was juxtaposed by Naali’s family welcoming her with open arms. I knew that they were exactly what she needed to be able to love herself. I knew that now there was no way for the story to go but to have Naali be Hawaiian, and for her family to be deeply in touch with their roots.
When I found info on the traditional Hawaiian perception of family, everything fell even more into place.