13 Feb

Why is Hawaii so Diverse?

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diverse-titleHawaii. The 50th state. A group of islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. My home. And also… a VERY diverse place.

As an American, I grew up watching a lot of American sitcoms. Family Matters, Full House, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. It was funny though — because the demographics of these people on TV did not reflect what I saw everyday in Hawaii.

Hawaii is one, big mixed plate

If you’ve vacationed in Hawaii ever, you may have noticed many ethnicities. You probably have seen a lot of very racially-ambiguous people too. People aren’t joking when they say Hawaii is diverse. Just look at this chart:

hawaii-race-graph

Data from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hawaii

Yes, that’s correct, almost a quarter of people in Hawaii are 2 or more ethnicities. And Hawaii is one of the few states where White Americans are NOT the majority (source).

Here’s a look at some of the famous, mixed faces of Hawaii:

Mufi Hanneman, Samoan / German, former Mayor of Honolulu.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mufi_Hannemann

 

Nicole Scherzinger, Filipino / Hawaiian / Russian, Entertainer.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicole_Scherzinger

 

Bruno Mars, Filipino / Puerto-Rican / Ashkezani Jewish, Entertainer

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bruno_Mars

 

Jason Momoa, Native Hawaiian / German / Irish / Native American, Actor and Barbarian

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jason_Momoa

 

The reason why Hawaii is a melting pot: migration of many people

The first Hawaiians

Hawaii had no human population until about 300 CE (source), which is when it’s estimated that Polynesian sailors discovered Hawaii. Over time, Polynesians eventually would settle in the Hawaiian islands and become what we know as Native Hawaiians.

Europeans and Americans

Europeans had traveled to Hawaii as explorers, traders, missionaries, and whalers. The most well-known European to visit Hawaii was Captain James Cook in 1778 (source). He was also the man who originally named Hawaii, The Sandwich Isles.

With the discovery of Hawaii by Europeans, over time, Europeans and White Americans started to settle or visit Hawaii.

A Huge Asian Migration for Work

Around 1900, when Hawaii was being annexed by the United States, there was a growing sugar cane industry in Hawaii. Migrant workers from Asia, mostly China, Japan, and the Phillippines came to Hawaii to find work and riches. Also along for work were Portuguese workers, which explains why some people in Hawaii have Portuguese in them today.

Military Presence

Hawaii became annexed and eventually a state mainly because of it’s strategic, Pacific location. This means a lot of military from the mainland are sent here. These people are mostly white, with some black. In my experience, a lot of the black population of Hawaii has some tie to the military.

Americans move to Hawaii as it becomes a tourist destination and a US state

Today, Hawaii’s biggest industry is tourism. People love Hawaii. I’ve traveled around the world and people call it “paradise on Earth.” Great weather, beaches, and not needing a passport has made Hawaii a popular place for many White Americans to vacation as well as move to.

More immigration from Pacific Islanders and Asia

In my childhood, I grew up around many 1st generation kids from Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, Samoa, the Phillipines, Vietnam, China, Korea. The fact that Hawaii is part of the United States and it’s close to Asia and other Polynesian nations makes it a popular place for people to try and immigrate to.

Another reason it is a popular place for many Asians to move to is because Hawaii has a lot of Polynesian and Asian cultural influence. For example, everyone knows how to use chopsticks, everyone eats rice, and every kid has to learn to dance hula when I was growing up. This blend of culture makes it more welcoming for Asians and Pacific Islanders compared to say, Alabama.

The mixing

There’s not much to say about this. You put a bunch of people together on an island and you’re going to eventually get mixed babies! As I said before, about a quarter of the people here are 2+ races. And it’s not uncommon to find someone with a very diverse ethnic background (think 6+ ethnicities). Just call them “mixed.”

The diversity of Hawaii welcomes other interracial couples

One of the biggest worries about interracial couples in a homogeneous or racially-segregated society is that they or their children might not be accepted. We only need to look at Hines Ward, a Super Bowl MVP with the Pittsburgh Steelers and one of the most famous mixed-race individuals in sports to see what issues come with mixed-race people.

In an New York Times article (source) about his mixed-race heritage, he mentions how being mixed-race affected him:

“The black kids didn’t want to hang out with me because I had a Korean mom. The white kids didn’t want to hang out with me because I was black. The Korean kids didn’t want to hang out with me because I was black. It was hard to find friends growing up.” 

The article also mentions how he tries to give support to mixed race kids in South Korea, who are sometimes bulled for looking different in a homogeneous society.

This is something that happens all over the world regarding race. You can call it xenophobia or you can call it an issue similar to the Ugly Duckling. It’s happened against Chinese immigrants in the US (source), against Black Americans in America (source), and more recently to Syrian refugees (source).

It’s human nature to be wary of outsiders, and this is where racial discrimination comes from and it can be seen in every place in the world and in the history of mankind. What is the beauty of Hawaii then? The beauty is that Hawaii has been so ethnically diverse for such a long time and people of different races have been breeding together that after a while, the natural divisions men create among themselves start to blur or disintegrate.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ron has been living in Hawaii since the age of 5. Though it's difficult to travel when living in the center of the Pacific Ocean, Ron has still traveled to South Korea, China, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, as well as the mainland US (Las Vegas, Hollywood, New York). His favorite place in the world is in the seat of an airplane, just before takeoff.

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