Since at least the 1980s, Americans have been fascinated with the tough and gritty culture of inner-city youth—adolescents who are said to have been hardened through dire poverty, persistent racism, and the failure of services meant to assist struggling families living in “America’s dark ghetto” (Wacquant 2009, p. 139). This book offers a different view and features the challenging as well as the hopeful experiences of girls and boys who face poverty, racism, and political neglect in the context of two hundred years of American colonial control in the Pacific. The story told in this book is not about how teens and their parents were defeated by the circumstances around them. Rather, the main objective of this work is to chronicle how hope and triumph occurs in everyday ways, despite monumental challenges.
To tell youth’s stories, we look deeply into the past of American imperialism in the Pacific and the ways that the youth and their families confronted lasting legacies of colonialism. We draw from a nine-year ethnographic study conducted in two neighborhoods (one rural and one urban) and two public high schools on Oahu, Hawai‘i. During the years we spent in two schools, we were able to observe and interview 97 teens and 63 adults (parents, high school staff, community leaders, and juvenile justice system workers). The narratives collected portray a vivid image of how girls and boys struggled “to be somebody” and “make a name for themselves” (Adams 1999) in complicated conditions. They also reveal how teens and their parents used a number of everyday strategies to fight for their own and their family’s moral, cultural, and in some cases, physical survival.
While our thesis focuses on girls’ and boys’ fights against difficult odds, this book also offers a hopeful account. We note that there were multiple ways that teens negotiated the slippery terrain of adolescence. Many, but certainly not all, of the youth’s paths ended in triumph and pride for the teens and their families. In this vein, we carefully chronicle how the love, compassion, and extraordinary patience of adults in communities and schools provided enough support to guide most teens to high school completion and toward the happy adulthoods that the youth imagined for themselves. In an era of mass incarceration, tough-on-crime policies, and intensive policing in distressed neighborhoods, the non-punitive and compassionate approach to youth violence outlined in this book is instructive for students, policymakers, practitioners, or anyone who is interested in making a difference in young people’s lives.