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Father of AHHS: 38 Minutes – This is NOT a drill

It’s been less than 24 hours since yesterday’s false alarm that lasted 38 minutes and has shaken our community and state to the core. People who know me or have read these blogs before know that this is how I process, I write. Like everyone, a lot has gone through my mind in the past 24 hours, regarding the safety and well being of my family and our community.


At 8:08 AM on Saturday morning an Emergency Alert came on the phones in our house read the following message: Emergency Alert: BALLISTIC MISSLE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII, SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL


My son and I had been up since 6 am, we fed our three dogs and we were chilling in the house, as this was the first Saturday in a very long time where we did not have somewhere to be in the morning. I was already making breakfast, I had bacon and potatoes cooking and about to start scrambling eggs when the alarm on my phone sounded. Tino was playing with his Legos. I immediately went to the room to quietly tell David “he needed to get up and get dressed NOW!” I pulled off my pj’s and put jeans on – not sure why, but it seemed jeans were the sturdier option to be wearing in an emergency. The whole time I am staring out the windows at the vantage points we have of our wonderful island looking for signs an incoming missile.



As I walked back into the kitchen, I admit we had no plan, no thought of going anywhere, and what would be the point? We’d never get anywhere in time since the warning presented an immediate danger. I thought for a second about telling my son that we have to get in a closet or the laundry room, but instead I continued to make breakfast. I know that was an odd move, but I literally remember thinking, ‘well if this is going to be a day of trying to survive a disaster, we are going to need a good breakfast at the very least.’ So I scrambled eggs and put breakfast in front of Tino. Meanwhile, David was looking for information, we turned on the TV – but there was nothing there, no news station was reporting ANY information, how is this possible? Facebook was our only point of refuge at that time, connecting with others and friends in the community who were all also looking for information was somehow helpful.


Inside I was shaking, happy we were all together, but at the same time I did not want to tell my son anything about what we were feeling or what had just happened. I just could not bear the idea of this innocent young mind realizing that the world we live in is not the safe and always-happy place he currently thinks it is. Remember the movie LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL? For me it was one of the most moving and gripping movies I have ever seen – I totally relate to the father who recreates his story with his son throughout their most horrific ordeals so that his son never has to realize how painful and hopeless their situation was. I know someone will probably reach out to me for counseling after this.


I have lived around the world, and in particular, many places in war torn countries in Africa during the 80’s. Countries which had just gained their independence and were still in recovery and rebuilding stages or ountries that were in famine and drought. Countries that had militias, and experienced raids and even coups during my time there. As we all know there are places around the world where experiencing what we all faced yesterday is actually a part of their daily lives. Children who know what its like to live with tanks driving through their streets as they walk to schools. Children who know the sound of bombs in the distance or even close to their homes. These children and families have never known the feeling of a sense of security. I have visited places and I know that look in a child’s eyes, which clearly says “are you here to save me from this or are you here to hurt me?” Whenever I came across this, I would immediately drop to my knees and hold out my hand, smile and do what ever I could to assure them I was there to be a friend. This is the look that I never want to see on my son’s face – only I don’t know if this will be possible with our current state of world affairs.



We are about to recognize Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day tomorrow, a day we mark how far we have come and reflect on the many sacrifices of determined people who gave so much and fought so hard for civil rights. My father as born in China in 1900 and in 1910 he immigrated to the United States. To do so, he had to be separated from his family to experience a better life and opportunity. I’ll never know what injustices he endured over two world wars and the depression – it wasn’t until 1940’s that the situation for Chinese living in America began to slightly improve.


What I remember most about my father when I was young is how much of an activist he was not only for the Chinese community, but the African American community, for women’s rights or for anyone who was discriminated against in the 70’s for their ideals that were different than the “status quo.”  My father always read to me from the newspapers, he told me about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., he read me his speeches and told me his own experiences. He wanted me to know what others had come through to get us where we are today. He also wanted me to know it was important to carry the torch for progress. He knew that if at any time you relax and let these ideals go, that there will be someone there who is ready to take them away and move us in a backwards direction.


My son has been learning about Martin Luther King Jr. in school and he was so excited to tell us about him one day after school. I was surprised however when as he told me the story as he knew it and could understand it as a six year old. He used these words “the light skinned people did not like the dark skinned people – and they did not treat them fairly.” I actually said out loud to him – “wait, what? Did you say light skin and dark skin colored people?”  This is not the starbellied sneeches I thought – I immediately made it clear to him that the history was about the treatment of black people by white people and this was about race and discrimination.


I realize that, like my father, I wanted my son to understand the battles in which we have come through, that the society we have today came from the sacrifice and determination of people who believed life could be different than the “status quo.” That there are people today whose voices and lives are dedicated to protecting the rights of all people no matter who they are. As Dr. King said in his 1963 I Have a Dream speech, “I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

We still have work to do to make his dream come true for everyone, but like my father, we all have the ability to support the fight for equality and can lend our voices to the cause.


So I realize I cannot educate my son on the history of our past without acknowledging the changes that we still need to see today. As much as I want to shelter him from pain and fear, I realized that I will have to walk him through the alarms and false alarms of life today.


As I finish writing this, I realize it is 8:36 AM, almost 24 hours to the minute when we got the news that the missile threat was a false alarm – 38 minutes that shook our islands, our families, and our communities. There are no words to the depth of gratitude I feel that we are all safe, but now we must raise our voices and take charge for our families and for our future. We must emerge from our closets and support change that will bring a better future for all. A future where there is no need for ballistic missile warnings or war, a future that focuses on our aina and ohana and the kuleana to do what we know is right.


Executive Director
Dean Wong