You were born light-skinned. Spent your whole childhood complimented on your appearance, with your red cheeks looking like a freshly molded doll. You are 90%+ Japanese but the little haole you are holds just as much precedent. As a child, your parents always had to explain “what you were” to others because you had the hazel eyes of your haole/Hawaiian maternal great-grandfather and the plump face indicative of your Japanese ancestors. Constant “I can tell”s and “I knew I saw some in you”s pepper your everyday life but you aren’t even sure what these prying statements mean.
Claiming your Native Hawaiian heritage (aloha’āina ho’oili) publicly is almost non-existent as the appropriate appearance is absent. Looking the part was just as important as having the blood and you were woefully deficient of the former. For fear of ridicule, you resist outwardly asserting that portion of you and reserve any proclamation strictly for paperwork. You were a neighbor of the Hawaiian Homesteads and you went to school with Hawaiians your whole life yet you kept your aloha’āina ho’oili a well-kept secret.
You were a local. Your family, here for five generations, no longer knew their native tongue. They have adopted Hawaiian Pidgin and even their faddah’s faddahs are da kine. Imagining a bigger world, outside of the slipper-wearing, auntie-calling, Sunday-Longs-going bubble is almost impossible. Aside from your occasional visits to the mainland every 5 years to 10 years, the islands are where you feel most confident and secure.
You realize after leaving the islands that being from Hawai’i admits you into the VIP section of sheltered. Where once your local politicians were Asian and Polynesian, they are now predominantly white, with inclusions of Latinos and Blacks here and there. Your commutes are brimming with white people constantly staring at you, probably contemplating if you’re Chinese and if you speak English. Now you are forced to examine your role as a minority because you’ve never had to before.
The additional layer of peculiarity you possess is growing up in the islands, in which people are entitled to asking you absurd questions. How do you get home without a passport? What type of currency do you use? Do people just wear aloha shirts everyday (not untrue)? The quickness in which folks become cultural anthropologists is incredibly alarming to the point where you’d rather safe keep your Hawai’i roots. Asian American was not a term you resonated with because back home you were local. No one had to be Asian American because everyone was. On the mainland you are “different” which is both invigorating and frightening.
After years of mistaken identity, Asian apologies for your difficult to pronounce last name and backhanded compliments, you meet your “people”. In their company, you feel like you did back home, existing in a secret world of cultural understanding under a colossal invisibility cloak. In situations that one would deem racially troublesome, their support and guidance boasts you up to callout ignorance when not too long ago you didn’t understand why it was necessary. Surviving The City’s ignorant beasts would not have been possible without your team of cape-wearing POC.
11 years later, you’ve moved back to the islands, equipped with the best racial armor one could have but defense is no longer vital. Every face you see looks like yours again; you are no longer unlike the rest which is mentally jarring. You have interpreted your privilege of being light-skinned among your other advantages assessing how they work in a place as unique as Hawai’i. And although it seems the days of protest and confrontation are a thing of the past, you know someday you will have to fight again.
Elisa – you are such a talented writer! You capture and communicate emotions/experiences so clearly. I can relate to so much of what you shared. Thanks for posting. You have an audience.
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Thank you for reading Sora!
Welcome home \mn/