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In Hawaii, We Talk About Ethnicity All The Time — Including In Pidgin
A writer uses pidgin to highlight Hawaii's unique diversity and local identity, although he notes Hawaii isn't perfect on racial and ethnic issues.

About the Author

  • Lee Tonouchi
    Lee Tonouchi
    Lee A. Tonouchi is a writer, sometimes in Pidgin, from Hawaii. He wrote this post as part of a series on identities in the United States, a national conversation hosted by the Smithsonian and Zócalo Public Square. It is republished with permission of the What It Means To Be American project.

Dis question bogus, brah. “What Can Hawaii Teach America About Race?”

Cuz das not how we tink.

I tink Hawaii can try teach America dat itʻs not about race, but more about ethnicity.

To me if you jus tinking about tings in terms of race den dat signifies you only care about people based on their exterior appearances.

And maybe das how it is on top da continent. Cuz ova dea itʻs considered rude for talk about race, so therefore when people ask, “What are you?” because people not used to it, it comes off as being kinda offensive, like you tink people stay judging you cuz of your lookings.

Ova hea, Hawaii Local people can ask almost dat same question, except we say ʻem in Pidgin. We tell, “Eh, what you?” And no mo no judgment.

Itʻs pretty much jus one friendly, get for know da oddah person type question.

Kinda like “What school you went, what year you grad, you know my cousin?”

Cuz Hawaii so ethnically diverse, we talk about ethnicity all da time, so itʻs jus regulars when people like know.

Plus it too Hawaii get lotta hapa people with all kine diffʻrent ethnic breakdowns.

In fack, people who get more ethnicities, dey jus waiting for anybody for ask dem, cuz den dey can brag what kine 10-12 ethnicities dey get.

Dis not for say Hawaii stay perfeck.

Like any oddah place, we get prejudice too. Yet we like for imagine ourselves as being supa-friendly.

Da Hawaii optimist might argue dat das cuz we all stay naturally filled with da aloha spirit.

Da Hawaii pessimist might put forth da contention dat with so many different cultural groups dat stay living on top small little islands, did we really eva have one alternative oddah than for try get along?

Did nature make us friendly? Or wuz it nurture?

In da end, no mattah, ah?

Here is the link to other stories from What it Means to Be American.

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