What Hawaii Is to Me

(The following is a paper I wrote for my Hawaiian Studies class over 4 years ago, but it is all from the heart and true still.)

Hawaii is home. I was born on Oahu in Honolulu, where I lived for my first 26 years. It did not take long for me to find out what a melting pot of cultures Hawaii is, and struggled to find where I fit in. Being considered “haole” my whole life, I was often picked on and ridiculed by others. I tried to not let this get to me as a youth. I was busy falling in love with Hawaii and all it had to offer in beauty and culture. I noticed that I was living among Korean, Filipino, Vietnamese, Japanese, Chinese, Samoan, Tongan, Portuguese, Hawaiian and others as well as mixes of each. I found that Hawaiian and Chinese was a very common mix among Hawaiians that I knew growing up. I spent much time at the many beautiful beaches, hiked mountain ridges and swam under waterfalls, enjoying and eventually taking for granted my surroundings.

My father was a professor at the University of Hawaii in the department of Zoology. He embraced the Hawaiian culture after moving to Kaneohe from Texas. He bought and taught himself ukulele and played and sang for me as a child. This inspired me to learn to play and sing Hawaiian music myself. Some of the music was more jazzy than traditional Hawaiian, and I would learn later that it was the foreign influence on Hawaiian popular music that brought forth songs like “The Hukilau Song”, and other songs in English that were not originally sung in Hawaiian.

I was a city boy, and either caught the bus, walked or rode a bike to get where I was going, since having a car in Hawaii was more of a luxury than a necessity for us as a family. I had to know the streets of Honolulu well so I would not get lost. I came to know the streets of Makiki , McCully, Moilili, lower Manoa, Kapiolani, Kaimuki and Waikiki very well, down to how long each traffic light would take to change. I also knew where to get the best cracked seed snacks and plate lunches and shave ice. We never made a trip back from the North Shore without going through Haleiwa to stop at Matsumoto’s for shave ice. As a youth, I figured everyone in the world took their shave ice with azuki beans at the bottom!

I found out through a handful of trips to “the mainland” to visit family in Texas that there were a LOT of things I enjoyed in Hawaii that were not available anywhere else. I remember the frustrated look on the face of the cashier at a McDonald’s in Texas when I kept trying to describe my breakfast order of Portuguese sausage, eggs and rice. Things are different outside of Hawaii. This made Hawaii even more special to me. I miss it when I am not there.

I embrace being a “local”: I learned and spoke pidgin and proper Hawaiian phrases, as well as proper English, I participated in May Day ceremonies, sacrificed my physical health for “ono grinds” and gave and received hundreds of leis in my life there so far. I brag about my heritage to others, even though I do not have any Hawaiian blood literally running through my veins. To me, what matters is being able to say that I have the Aloha Spirit, which is palpable to anyone who tries to see it or feel it. I am proud to be from one of the hubs of the Pacific and the world, “The Gathering Place” of Oahu.