Driving in the car today, my son said, “Mom. You grew up here. How are you so haole? I mean I think you’d blend more.”
Blend? With this hair and skin, in a place where brown is better? I don’t even try.
“I know enough not to try to be something I’m not,” I said. “But the people who need to, know I’m from here.”
Being “from here” is really important in a place filled with transplants from all over the world with a transient population. Lots of people move to Hawaii to ‘live the dream’ and end up leaving, spanked by tough job markets, high prices, constriction of island living, and distance from family.
“I never know how much pidgin to use,” he went on. “I saw this moke (Hawaiian) I was at a party with last night and he said hey bruddah and gave me the shoulder-whack hug, and I did the howzit fist bump. I never know how much pidgin to use before I’m going to get it wrong.”
Is this how white people in the Mainland deal with Ebonics? I’m guessing yes but I’ve only seen it in movies. Black people (popolos, for the uninitiated) are one of the smallest population groups in the Islands.
“Sounds okay,” I said. “It’s all in the intonation for us haoles. No full-on pidgin, that’s presumptuous. But drop a word here and there, use some inflection, that shows you’ve been around awhile and know your place.”
Chances are at some point a ‘local’ is going to grill you on who you know, where you grew up, who your people are. One of the vestigial behaviors of a tribal, oral history culture is an ongoing interest in social and familial connections, a sort of mini-biography when meeting a new person that then places them in a social hierarchy.
As haoles, in general we’re somewhere about three up from the bottom (followed by only the most recent transplants like Micronesians and Guatemalans) but as “local” haoles who grew up here, we crawl up a few rungs of the credibility ladder.
Who’s on top? The flag-waving Hawaiian sovereignty activists? They certainly think they are. But scratch the surface and look at who’s really running things in Hawaii—it’s the Japanese.
Seriously. They rule. Government, real estate ownership, small businesses, corporate, hotels, education, law, you name it–overcoming importation as sugar cane labor a few generations ago in the most impressive way imaginable.
It's an interesting place we live in, ruled by a thousand tiny social rules. I've learned over a lifetime how to get along with a rainbow of races. It's all in having a respectful inflection and attitude.