Faces of the Diaspora Series: Straddling Two Worlds


Throughout her life, Tammy Goodall has straddled separate worlds: the islands and the continent.

She’s bounced between the two places since her birth at Tripler Army Medical Center, Honolulu’s pink hospital on the hill. Goodall spent her childhood in Hawaiʻi and teenage years on the continent. Although she returned to Hawaiʻi as a young adult, Goodall, now 58, is again residing on the continent, making her home in Washington state.

“I miss Hawaiʻi every day to my bones, but she’ll always be there, waiting,” she said.

One of Goodall’s earliest memories is of Oʻahu’s “humongous” raindrops pounding on the family car as they drove around the island.

Goodall’s father met her mother – a Maui native – when he was stationed on Oʻahu. Together, they created their own military unit of two parents and four children.

After Goodall finished sixth grade, the family relocated to California, living in cities like San Diego and Long Beach, before settling in Washington.

Once there, Goodall grappled with racism from her peers at school. With the exception of the foreign exchange students, “I didn’t make any friends because of the color of my skin,” she said. She and her siblings would “get into fights all the time at the bus stop.”

Although her mom’s generation was forced to keep ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi and their culture underground, Goodall still picked up scattered words in pidgin and Hawaiian. She remembers visiting uncles and aunties for lūʻaus where they would play music – including her mom’s ‘ukulele rendition of The Stars and Stripes Forever.

In her early 20s, Goodall returned to the islands as “this young pup from the mainland” after marrying a local guy. Although the union eventually dissolved, her decades-long love affair with Hawaiʻi blossomed.

“It was a change,” she said. “Living there, and just diving headfirst into the culture.”

For some 30 years, she filled her time on Oʻahu and Kauaʻi with hula, paddling, snorkeling and learning the ancient martial art of lua. Goodall picked up pidgin, read Ka Wai Ola and watched the Merrie Monarch Festival on television.

She described that time as “just evolving.” At one point, she lived off of the grid with a short list of essentials: slippers, shorts, a tank top, a towel, a bathing suit and her work clothes.

Goodall’s curiosity extended to her career as she learned different trades. Her resume includes positions at a foreign currency exchange company and a title company. She also worked for a judge as a legal secretary within the Hawaiʻi State court system.

Goodall later switched to the medical field. “I wanted to go into a field that actually helped people,” she said.

On Kauaʻi, when Hawaiians from Ni‘ihau sought care at the clinic where she was employed, she enjoyed talking story with them. “I’ll always remember the interactions I had with them,” Goodall said.

In Hawaiʻi, she interchangeably referred to herself as “hapa” and “chop suey” – but without facing the same prejudice she encountered on the mainland. Instead, “we celebrated that,” Goodall said.

Life changes helped make her decision to move back to the continent and reside closer to her parents. “That was tough,” she said. “It was like going to another country.”

It took around two years for her to readjust. Even experiencing the congestion of interstate traffic and clusters of billboards caused a “sensory overload.”

She’s now lived on the continent for almost a decade. The question of whether Goodall will relocate to Hawaiʻi in the future is an open-ended one.

Although she feels the pull, “it’s not the same anymore to me,” she said. “Things have changed.”

For now, Goodall’s parents remain her priority. “I want to enjoy every single moment I have with them,” she said.

But still, when she meets other Hawaiians freshly arrived on the continent, she makes sure to take a moment to soak in the mana of the islands clinging to them – even from afar.

Author’s note: Tammy Goodall is the maternal aunt of Ka Wai Ola writer Megan Ulu-Lani Boyanton.