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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, January 24, 2010

Life on the Big Island was just meant to be

By RJ Mendoza

If it's meant to be, it's meant to be.

Do you believe in coincidences? I certainly don't. Especially since I made a home for myself on the Big Island.

I was 19 years old when I learned my first hula. It was after a pleasant discovery of Radio Hula — a boutique in the SoHo district of New York specializing in Hawaiiana.

It was true oasis in a concrete jungle that is far from Hawai'i in physical distance and lifestyle. This shop, hidden in a space that was somewhere between the ground level and basement had all sorts of collectibles, clothes and tangible memories of the Aloha State. While purchasing an ipu, the proprietress — a local girl originally from Maui — informed me of a free hula class coming up. I signed up right away.

Flash forward a few years. After some life-changing events, I decided that I would move to Hawai'i, to discover and re-connect with the roots that seemed so distant and mysterious to me since childhood. I originally settled with relatives on O'ahu, and then after another set of events decided to return to college on the Big Island. Not long afterward, a good friend of mine invited me to his hälau. And it was there that I learned a kahiko hula, celebrating the milestone of childbirth.

My sister gave birth three weeks after I learned that dance.

Maybe it is the serenity and casual lifestyle of the Big Island. Maybe it's a conscious decision on my part. But for what it's worth, ever since I settled here, every idea, every dream I ever had, has come alive.

And why not? This island is filled with life. Life in the buildings of downtown Hilo and Kainaliu — if those buildings could talk, what kind of tales would they share? There is life in the lush foliage that grows along the Hämäkua Coast, life in the animals on the ranches in Kohala and Mauna Kea, a life of learning at UH-Hilo, a life producing the world-famous Kona coffee, and new life for the land with every inch of lava coming from Kílauea.

I fell in love with the Big Island my first visit here. And there are admittedly times when I get homesick, but then I remember that I live on one of the most remarkable islands in the world.

Where else can I play in the snow and swim in warm waters all in the same day? Where else can I say "aloha" to a stranger and find out within moments that I am related to this person? It's certainly no coincidence to me that I'm here, after all — I said it years ago when I learned my first hula.

"I want to go back to my little grass shack in Kealakekua, Hawai'i "

My first hula was to a song singing praises — and of beloved memories — to the island that I now reside on. Coincidence? I think not.