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Hawaii isn't the racial paradise the tourism industry pretends it is, but it does offer some insights for the mainland.

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Unlike the continental United States, Hawaii has no group that is the racial majority, and people can identify with multiple races and ethnicities over several generations.

This is the norm, rather than an anomaly.

Early social scientists, the tourist industry, and visitors credit this long history of mixing to the “aloha spirit,” or culture of tolerance and inclusiveness, that is the hallmark of living in Hawaii.

A Big Island sign of welcome.
A Big Island sign of welcome. Denise Laitinen

True, Hawaii is a place where a mixed-race person like myself can blend in, and where people of color are not seen as a curiosity. And yes, people generally get along here.

But even the aloha spirit has its limits.

We must be mindful that the present multicultural society grew from the collapse of the Native Hawaiian population and the dispossession of their land.

And while locals use ethnic humor to make fun of all ethnicities, specific groups are repeatedly the targets of racial stereotypes: Filipinos, for instance, and, more recently, Micronesians.

Latinos have been the victims of racial profiling by law enforcement, similar to what they experience in the continental U.S.

While Hawaii may not be the racial paradise the tourist industry imagines it to be, these islands do offer us a way to see how we can grow if we learn to live together and embrace our differences.

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

If you have a story about diversity, race, ethnicity and/or what local identity means to you in the islands, feel free to share it. To do so, click on the red pencil button to share it through Connections, or drop a note to epape@civilbeat.com.

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