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Strengthening Hawai‘i’s Communities
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Longtime Lahaina Resident Brings Strength to His Expansive Community

Two people hugging in front of a vibrant mural

Nicolas Elizalde came to Lahaina 15 years ago from Tepic, the capital of Nayarit state in western Mexico on the banks of the Río Mololoa, “a very beautiful, poor village where we have really great rodeos and know how to party,” he says with a smile, in Spanish, through an interpreter.

His silver medallion reads “Metralla,” a reference to automatic firearms, specifically the sound they make: “tat-tat-tat,” he imitates. But it’s not what most people think: Metralla is his nickname because he’s had to overcome a stutter, beginning phrases with “tat-tat-tat,” in his native Spanish.

English poses different problems. His stutter disappears and he speaks clearly and fluently. The challenge comes when others speak too fast. “One time I asked this guy, ‘Can you speak slowly please?’” Elizalde recalls in sonorous, stutter-free English. “He said, ‘Yes. You … aaaaare … stuuuuu … pid.’”

Much like that comment, he shakes setbacks off—like when he was denied a better job as a security guard despite acing every test, because he lacked a Social Security number—and he keeps improving, reliant on faith and hard work to see him through life’s difficulties. He says he came to Lahaina at the invitation of his little brother to seek opportunities and to prosper. He worked and saved and brought his wife over. Worked and saved some more and brought a son. Then two more sons. His daughter remains in Mexico; he hasn’t seen her in 10 years.

“Her not being here is fundamental to our struggle and efforts to get ahead,” he says.

Grateful to build a better life on Maui, Elizalde aspires to do more for his community outside of his cleaning and maintenance work. “What we can contribute is unity. To support each other to build ourselves up.”

‘Ourselves’ is expansive in Elizalde’s telling. It includes his small group of about 60 Latino immigrants who look out for each other, “my Hawaiian neighbors, my Filipino neighbors, people in Lahaina from all over, immigrants and non-immigrants alike: it's the same story. We've all gone through the exact same thing, so it’s better for us to be united. The only difference really is in the services, where some of us can receive them, and some of us cannot.”

Working to correct that inequity is Roots Reborn Lahaina, an immigrant aid hub co-founded after the fires by Maui resident Veronica Mendoza Jachowski to fill gaps and improve access to disaster relief resources. “But first and foremost,” she says, “you have to build trust and create community.”

Her organization, a Maui Strong Fund grantee, helped Elizalde after he lost his house, car, and $26,000 in cash—his life savings—to the August 2023 fires. Elizalde mentions that Roots Reborn helped his family with “financial assistance, where to replace my birth certificate, driver’s license, get medicine, find doctors, get shoes,” as well as support flying his father back to Mexico. But what he finds “magnificent” and mentions repeatedly is the “invaluable” emotional support he received, a safe space to navigate unimaginable difficulties.

Recounting how he ran back into his burning house to help his father, grandson, and wife escape the flames, Elizalde is resolute. “What we lost is material, but we are filled with blessings,” he says. “My family is stronger because of what’s happened. We’re Mexican, we’re Latino; we don’t fall easily. With faith and God in front of us, we have an extraordinary kind of strength.”

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