How to Become a Genealogist

“Where is home? Call it prayer.” –Lyz Soto, Our Bodies of Stories

In December 2016, at the Honolulu Academy of Arts Doris Duke Theater, our dear friend Lyz Soto debuted her stunning spoken word performance, “Our Bodies of Stories.” Working closely with fellow poets Jocelyn Kapumealani Ng, Serena Ngaio Simmons, Grace Teuila Taylor, and Joanna Gordon, Lyz showed us how, with enough trust, the autobiographical can be collaborative. Can be community.

Together the women bore stories of finding and losing ancestors, fierce diaspora blood, offerings to new and old homes, taxonomical ruins. Of Maui, of Kahoʻolawe. Of ‘āina making women making each other.

It was such a deep thrill to witness these stunning artists create together, such a blessing to feel the sore of my own stories being held by their truths.

In January, on the plane ride home from Maui, where we had the great opportunity to share the performance at the MACC, we started this collaborative list poem. The writing that came out of that felt too honest and committed not to share with you.

For Lyz, and our genealogies, mahalo nui for your strength and belief. –Aiko

“How to Become a Genealogist”
by Aiko Yamashiro, Joy Lehuanani Enomoto, Joanna Gordon, Serena Ngaio Simmons, Jocelyn Kapumealani Ng, Lyz Soto, Anjoli Roy, Jamaica Heolimeleikalani Osorio, Noʻukahauʻoli Revilla, Mehanaokala Hind, Grace Teuila Taylor

–Build or carry a safe gathering place, to remember. The feeling of a house, if you donʻt have one.
–Cook double the recipe, just in case.
–Bring gifts for ancestors, leave gifts for descendants, bring an extra gift for the unexpected stranger who will help you.


–Call their names daily.
–Cool water, salt, and candlelight.
–Repeat childhood stories.


–Ink them into your skin.
–Sing their favorite songs.
–Learn your spirit animals.
–Commit to memory.


–Learn our languages.
–Write their recipes down twice. Once in english, twice in their tongue. Just in case.
–Chart chosen family with blood.


–Encounter your ancestors daily in the little things: i.e., in the rain, a flower in full bloom, in the song played on the radio.


–Draw lines the lengths of your thighs–these are the bones that hold you.
–Notch blood lines along your nerves.
–Know with each step your grandmothers walk with you.


–Talk to the lone branches in your family, the ones who have been charting long before you knew you needed a map. Be a child to them who loves them back.
–Listen to the stories in your body (our bodies, our first detectives)
–Walk with your parents in their childhood homes. Watch them transform into their young selves. Hold in your able, gentle hands the stories that spill out. Drink them like water.
–Say thank you to the stories, to the storytellers, even when you don’t know why youʻre saying thank you.
–Rest in that strong basket where you can feel in your bones the truth that we are held. We’ve always been held.


–Talk to your parents. Hold their stories in your body.
–Sing the songs that make kūpuna lucid.
–Say their names out loud. Write them on your tongue.
–Name your children with names that come from dirt.
–Make copies. Enough to survive the floods and fires.
–Love fiercely. Always love fiercely.


–Ask about the names. Birth names, nicknames, preferred names, pet names. What do they mean? Who or what do they commemorate? Ask about the names.
–Never forget about land. Never forget about ocean. We are a sea of islands. This is serious; not bedtime stories. How do these bones/love/lives relate to this land and sea?
–Go to the place in pictures. This is important. Where was she standing? Where was he fishing? Earn the story. Learn directions. Go to the place. And feel what its like to be past, present, and future.


–Chew on the names of your ancestors and when soft, feed them to your child and let him savor that taste, salted and sweetened by your tongue to take away the bitterness.
–Live as an ancestor.


Sharpen your nails, dig them through your flesh till you touch the green veins, lace your fingers and lift. Hum over yourself as you do this. Watch your veins pulse, blood darling, as red as your monthly full bloom, as fierce as lioness, you are so full of life. Life, that is it darling, track it, through all your generations of faced and faceless. Find the root.  Then put it in your teeth and find your way back to us, here, now, and plant it deep into the dirt of your love. Make it new.



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