50 years of the 50th state

Today is statehood day. In 1959 Hawaii the island territory became Hawaii the state. The statehood celebration has been the subject of expected debate from Hawaiian sovereignty groups and local residents alike. But school is out and there are some great state history documentaries on PBS so all in all, I think statehood day is a winner.

I try to keep the fare on this blog light, but since Stephanie decided to address the issues of racism in Japan, I thought I would go out on a limb today.

The mounting tension in celebrating a somewhat reluctant introduction to statehood has made typically kapu subjects more common in the public media. The Kona Blog wrote a post recently that touched on the issue of racism here on the Big Island. I think that racism and racial discrimination is fairly common in Hawaii but its not something most locals are willing to discuss seriously.

Recently, we were at a BBQ with friends and I brought up the fact that as a haole I will never feel truly included into local culture. You would have thought that I had sprouted a second head! Here are my friends, who are all either hapa or Polynesian or Asian of some sort, and they are like "what are you talking about?" "I dont see that" "this is the land of aloha!" In fact, the idea of "inclusion" and "diversity" is so deeply ingrained in the modern Hawaiian psychology that it is impossible for them to acknowledge I would feel even remotely left out. And certainly Hawaii is a melting pot - but then again, so is most of America. Im just saying, its interesting how a half Japanese with the right attitude can seamlessly integrate themselves to Hawaii and become a "local" ...but haole runs to the bone.

I have read that historically, since there were so many different races sharing such a small space, Hawaii used humor to cope with the natural racial tensions. My husband still thinks that Mr San Cho Lee (from Hanabata Days) is a totally appropriate ice breaker for a backyard BBQ. And certainly the haloes arent underrepresented here, last time I checked the population was about 45% haole and growing. But I still dont think the image of being haole is either positive or even neutral.

My sister sent me an article from the New York Times that somewhat touched on this idea. Last night as I was laying awake unable to sleep, I asked my husband what he thought. Was it the Hawaiian renaissance of the 70s that caused this exclusive attitude? People are so much more proud of the heritage now and in the same sense, desperate to protect it. Or is it mainland political correctness that is causing tension between the races of Hawaii? Maybe Hawaii lost its sense of humor and thats why the locals, who rely so heavily on humor and a lighthearted view of life, see haoles as the most accessible target for their frustration.

Ive done my fair share of travelling and have been in countries where being an American wasnt exactly a desirable quality. But Ive never been anywhere where being white was viewed negatively. Certainly, most of the animosity towards haoles is unspoken and unacknowledged. Hawaii is nothing if not polite. But I know that "haole" is typically equated with tourism, greed, insensitivity, rudeness, etc. I dont believe I have ever heard the term "haole style" used to describe the way I cook brats and sauerkraut!

In fact, my husband unknowingly reaffirmed my suspicions when he kissed my forehead sleepily and murmured, "its alright honey, youre Hawaiian too." I know he meant that Im not a money mongering exploiter of indigenous peoples and that Im included here, but still I dont need to be Hawaiian to know that!

Its challenging living in Hawaii and raising my hapa kid with my local husband. Its hard to not lose the haole part of our life. Its hard to stay in touch with the traditions and values that I was taught growing up in the mainland. Its hard to remember that those parts of our combined culture are just as valuable and important. Part of the reason I wanted to live here was so that my children could understand their Hawaiian heritage, but at the same time I dont want them to forget that they are also haoles and should be equally proud to say it.

Happy Golden Birthday Hawaii State. I look forward to celebrating many more with you in the future.

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