There is nothing more humbling (or exciting) than attendance, in one short and compressed week at: the international Book Expo of America; the Jewish Book Council's kick-off of their nationwide authors' tour; the Flying Eagle Woman's Fund annual celebration of women who have powerfully contributed to justice for indigenous peoples. Nothing at all like the week that 'Iokepa and I (and the book, Grandmothers Whisper) just experienced.
People often ask us, who do we speak to while wandering the United States in search of ears and eyes that are willing to open to the truth of: the aboriginal Hawaiian ancestral wisdom; the oppression of the Native Hawaiian holders of that wisdom; and the 'Return Voyage' to that which every single one of us is born knowing? "We all come from indigenous peoples who knew what it took to survive--and that was not war," 'Iokepa Hanalei 'Imaikalani says.
This week's listeners were eclectic: Native Americans, orthodox Jews; book readers, sellers, publishers, distributors and critics--of every stripe.
'Iokepa chanted me up to the platform (in a synagogue with acoustics second only to the Lincoln Center) to speak for only two minutes to an audience of more than a hundred representatives of the most prestigious Jewish organizations in the nation. These folks were observing 200 published Jewish authors over a three-day span and deciding whom to invite to address their intelligent, vibrant, book-reading membership over the next year.
We sat - eighty authors on day one - pressed in chairs against one another. These are personages I'd watched on network news for a lifetime, writers and journalists I'd admired from close-up or from a studied distance. In alphabetic order, we paraded to the lectern, and spoke. It felt a bit like a literary beauty contest. But nobody's voice resonated spirit like my husband's haunting call for blessings from our ancestors.
Two nights before that, in the shadow of the United Nations, we were invited to celebrate with our Native American brothers (Russell Means, to name-drop just one) and sisters, the struggle for sovereignty, justice, and simple freedom. This was a crowd that had me seriously considering what I'd done lately to make a difference beyond my small world. It was a powerful challenge and I'm grateful for it.
Only days later, we entered the Jacob Javits Center in mid-town Manhattan - without a doubt the most immense structure I'd ever seen dedicated (for three days) to the gathering of book people. The building is neither subtle nor beautiful, but it is nonetheless awe-inspiring when filled with the Book Expo of America. We entered with only name tags around our necks (green striped ones that announced "Author") and a single copy of Grandmothers Whisper under my arm. We spoke with publishers, reporters, book store owners, and computer software folk. We spoke the Native Hawaiian message without let-up for two solid days (no two-minute time limit here). We competed mightily for ears that were being hammered with other voices speaking other (commercial? literary? spiritual?) messages. It was disturbingly loud. It was overwhelmingly crowded. It was a huge space filled with many resonant voices.
We would like to think that what we said and how we said it made a difference this week. But we must leave that in the capable hands of the Grandmothers. Those Grandmothers told 'Iokepa more than fourteen years ago now: "You speak to their ears - we will speak to their hearts."
We trust that they will.