Jamie Suehiro is a teacher at Wilson High School and hosted WITS writer Amy Minato in her sophomore English class this fall. We’re pleased to publish a piece that Suehiro wrote during the residency and gave to us to share. Happy reading!
Home at the Table
It was the last week of school of my last year of teaching in Hawaii. In just a month, I would be stepping onto a plane after nearly 25 years living on the rock of my birthplace, the island of Oahu. To celebrate the end of AP testing, my students wanted to plan a potluck, and so they stuck a piece of lined paper on one of my old clipboards and proceeded to pass it around. That day a realization came over me. I wouldn’t be participating in such savory collective meals to the same degree on the mainland. My heart twinged. This would be the last. For a week my students poured over the signup list, negotiating for certain items. Rice was up there among the “must haves.” Some of kids went in with each other to purchase dishes such as the all-time favorite chicken katsu. Some called upon parents to help with the preparations—someone’s dad could make excellent fried saimin; one student promised to go to “da bes” Filipino bakery near their house for some pan de sal, and others cooked their specialties themselves (lumpia, pasta, cheesecake cupcakes, a Spam/egg/furikake “torte”). I said I would make my traditional 6:00 a.m. run to Char Hung Sut for ma tai soo and pork hash.
As I drove away from Chinatown, turning right onto Ala Moana Boulevard, then heading westbound on H1, I thought back on how many times I had driven this route, how many times over 18 years of teaching I had picked up a box of manapua to share. I felt lucky—the expanse of Pearl Harbor to my left and the sunrise creeping into my rearview mirror.
Back home, people put a great deal of thought (and more than a little pride) into what kind of food they bring to potlucks. Food offered at a gathering is not just a reflection of oneself, but an extension of gratitude and appreciation for the company, which was a dead-on metaphor for what I experienced as an educator in Hawaii. There were times when I had “food” in abundance to share: wisdom, insight, experience. And likewise, the countless opportunities over the years to learn from others and to accept help when I needed it. Like that last mouth-watering Hawaii potluck, the table was and is my platform for the work that I did and still do alongside my fellow educators. That table will always be full of diverse and different offerings. There are potlucks to be had in Portland, too. I’ve been to some. They are different, but just like the best potlucks anywhere, we teachers and students alike bring what we can, and place it on the table along with our highest hope: to come hungry and be fed.
chicken katsu = thin chicken cutlet covered with Japanese-style breadcrumbs and fried
fried saimin = ”local” Hawaii version of ramen served with pink and white fish cake, green onions, and sometimes Spam, seasoned with dashi, Japanese fish-based stock
pan de sal = Filipino baked bun. Slightly sweet.
furikake = seaweed and sesame seed sprinkle
manapua = general term for larger-sized “local” style Chinese steamed dumplings and buns
ma tai soo = roast pork and water chestnut filling surrounded by flaky pie-crust like dough and baked
pork hash = larger sized shu mai, ground pork in a thin wheat-flour wrapper and steamed
Char Hung Sut = a manapua shop since 1945 on Pauahi Street in Honolulu’s Chinatown