Hawaii’s unique state

It could be the white-sand beaches. It could be the blue sea that calls you to jump in. It could be the warm tropical weather and the palm trees waving in the breeze. It could be a laid-back lifestyle.

It’s all of these things that make Hawaii unique and make me feel so comfortable when I visit. What really sets Hawaii apart, though, is its population. About 60 percent of the state’s residents are Asian Pacific Islanders.
I live the San Francisco Bay Area, where there are a fair number of Asian Americans. But even I found myself going “whoa” at the sheer majority that APIs have in Hawaii on a trip there last month.

Many people in Hawaii pride themselves on how well the various racial and ethnic groups who have landed on the islands have intermingled, intermarried and intermixed. In fact, the theme for Asian American Journalists Association conference I attended was “Where Diversity Lives.”

Diversity means different things to different people, and there’s no doubt that Hawaii has a great mix. But there’s a clear majority in the mix, and Hawaii might be the only place outside of the NBA where white people may feel discrimination.

I’ve heard about white people who feel they’ve been discriminated against in Hawaii, and the student journalists I was working with at the conference considered doing a story about it for the convention Web site. We didn’t have time to pursue the story, but I was reminded of it the week after the conference while vacationing on the Big Island of Hawaii.

I was taking a swim in the volcanically heated hot-spring pool at Ahalanui State Park when I over heard two white guys talking. One said he came to Hawaii 20 years ago and never went back to the mainland. The other was a tourist who said he had visited the islands numerous times over the past 20 years.

“You’ve been here enough times. Have you considered buying property here and moving?” the kama‘aina (not a native, but someone who’s lived in Hawaii a long time) asked the tourist.

Family reasons would keep the tourist from moving, but also it would be hard to compete with all the Asians, he said. “All the signs in Waikiki, they’re all in Japanese.”

Probably the only time tourist has felt like a minority is in Hawaii, and from his Japanese comment, I can only deduce that he’s among those who “can’t tell them apart.” All the Japanese signage is for visitors from Japan, not local Hawaiians, and why assume that all Asians can read Japanese? That’s for another blog entry.

I’m not trying to discount any discrimination or racism white people may endure in Hawaii. I’m sure it happens. Unfortunately, prejudice is everywhere. I do wonder what the tourist and others like him take home after visiting Hawaii and leaving their comfort zone.

Do they begin to resent APIs if they’ve felt the sting of racism? Do they lament at how the Asians have taken over? Or do they go home with a new understanding of what it feels like to be uncomfortable, as many who are not in the majority have experienced?

Hawaii is a comfortable paradise for some, but not for everyone.

See this posting and follow it’s discussion thread on Hyphen magazine’s blog.

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