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No Problem, Brah
by Kyle Roth
"Okay, brah. Yeah, no problem," is something you'll hear David
Kaonohi (not his real name) saying quite often. Kaonohi, a
business agent for a worker's union, takes the problems of others
and makes them his problems. He runs his hands through his short,
thick, salt-and-pepper-colored hair as he places the receiver
back in the cradle. This particular caller, like some others,
has reached David after hours at home.
Picking up his crumpled pack of cigarettes, he pulls out the last
one, tosses the empty pack across the kitchen where it banks off the
side of the refrigerator and falls into the trash can. He heads
for the screen door, pushes it open before he lights his
cigarette and remarks, "I never smoke inside. The smoke not good for the
Fitting his toes into his black slippers, he turns and
walks over to a wooden-backed bench. As he sits, he sighs and
says, "You know, wouldn't be so bad getting that call if that guy
was a member of my unit." Sporadically, members from units
outside of the ones assigned to Kaonohi call him, for they feel
comfortable talking to him because he was once "one of them."
David was an active member of the union before he became a
business agent. He held numerous elected positions including
unit treasurer, unit chairperson, delegate to every convention
(including one to Chicago), representative to state contract
negotiations, as well as being elected to four terms on the state
A long puffy-white cloud escapes his mouth as he suddenly
remembers that he's out of cigarettes. "Betta go store."
Jumping into his car, he starts the engine and simultaneously
blows out his last puff and flicks the butt out of the window.
Maneuvering his vehicle into the flow of traffic he comments
about the demands of his job, "Sometimes they stop me in stores
to talk business. Humbug dat kine."
He likes helping people and feels he always has throughout his
life. He recalls taking the time to help out fellow "local boys"
when he was in the Navy. According to Kaonohi, the country that
they were defending treated the minority as if they were
something other than equal citizens of the United States.
Incensed, Kaonohi wrote to Senator Inouye and took the Navy to
court and won. As helpful as he is, Kaonohi admits that being
confronted with work-related problems in the presence of his
family at shopping malls and at sporting events is a bit much.
Tapping his fingers on the steering wheel, Kaonohi starts to sing
a few lines of "Puanani" that's melodiously flowing from the
radio air waves. Unexpectedly, a car switches lanes and pulls
right in front of him without signalling. "Oh, boy, that buggah
lucky this wasn't a few years back." Apparently, a wild car chase
would've ensued. The incident caused David to reflect that when
his daughter was a toddler, things she said made him stop and
think about his actions. What she would say "was a reflection of
me and I didn't like what I heard." The violent inclinations had
to stop. His thoughts jump back to his work and he describes
some of the cases that he's working on. He tells of injustices
on the work sites, the breaking of contract laws, harassment and
intimidation. Quite a few members are afraid to speak up for
David slows the car down, turns and parks next to an old blue
pickup truck plastered with stickers depicting organizations,
awareness and pride of the Hawaiian people. As he quickly
scanned the various stickers, he blurts out that when he was
younger, he never identified with being Hawaiian. "I didn't
wanna be Hawaiian because the way society talked Hawaiians being
lazy, being dumb...only drinking beer." He has since studied the
culture, history, and plight of his people and is currently
assessing the issue of sovereignty.
Leaving the little market with his newly-purchased pack of
cigarettes, David runs into someone he knows. They shake hands,
exchange a few words, laugh, and call out in their departure "K-
den. Later, brah." David quickly lights another cigarette as he
opens the door and climbs back into the car. "I used to hang
around with that guy in high school." In his youth, he didn't
think of himself as rebellious but, as he firmly states,
"inquisitive and adventurous. I am the same as I was then. I
stand up for my rights." He takes another long drag from his
cigarette, turns the radio back on, and waves at someone in a
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Cigarette, Hawaii, United States
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