Tuesday, April 12, 2011

"Really" From Hawaii

Surprise; you can be waaaaay white
AND live in a tropical paradise
So there have been some doubts voiced about the authenticity or my origins, and who can blame them? Red curly hair, pale skin and a love for jackets matching boots does not scream tropical to even the poorest geography student. I also speak (type?) like a haolie – a white person. 

Well, I can’t help it -- my mother was a well-educated woman from the Mainland, and she taught me how to speak. I have been known to erupt into Pidgin (the local Hawaiian dialect + slang) with no warning while calling to institutions back home – like the bank, or the accountant’s – because I get better service that way, because they can’t see me and think I'm a "real" kama'aina. As Mom planned, I have a Hawaiian name, even if it’s for the other gender. But it’s enough to get by.

However, my face is fooling NO ONE – I am pale, I am Nordic, I’m too much of an indoor cat to ever get a tan. Besides, that would clash with the hair.

So, living in paradise? Only about 
20% as awesome as you think it is
People up here in AK express their incredulity about my origins when they find out – “WHY are you HERE??” is the most common response – but that’s just straight-up envy. There’s a lot of Polynesians in Alaska, so Hawaii is coveted but viewed as a peer, the OTHER satellite state. In the continental US, people seem to express outright disbelief as to my origins, and I’m not actually clear if it’s my white-girl appearance or just the exoneration of the islands to some sort of mythical level.

I once got to visit a land-locked state by staying with my Auntie Judy, who lives in Michigan. We’d met her in one of her frequent forays to the islands, which she strives to do every year. She really loves the beach, and although it’s prohibitively expensive she tries really hard to go. I should have reflected on that fervor as we drove to her hometown. It was summer, and the time of their State Fair. I had a blast, as back home there can only be island-wide and not State-wide Fairs, and the Maui Fair is pretty tiny. I was particularly enjoying the livestock area, as Michigan’s 4H is equivalent to Chicago’s Mafia in both far-reaching power and number of members. I was petting a baby goat (!) when I saw two little boys on a fence nearby. I hadn’t talked to someone from that side of puberty since my mother and I had started traveling, so even though I was a little older than them I wandered up. I’m not sure how the subject even came up -- maybe something about how big I thought the fair was and how cool their sheep were or something -- but the conversation suddenly honed in on where I was from. I hadn’t traveled much since I was a baby, so I hadn’t yet had much experience with Hawaii-born bragging rights. So I shyly gave a shout-out for the Aloha State.
This was met with a stony silence and an intent scrutiny from both of the fencegoers, and also possibly their ram. That might just be the way rams look at everyone, though…with a sort of doubtful scorn.

However, it left me stranded high and dry on a sandbar of awkward silence. I stood there, suddenly acutely aware of several things; primarily, my extreme whiteness. Also the fact that these boys did not know the first thing about Hawaii, where there are people of many nationalities browning evenly under a ferocious tropical sun, as actual Hawaiians are a bit thin on the ground these days. And finally, that these boys have probably only even heard about Hawaii from the ever-glamorous television people, and adult Michiganites, who probably talk about it with a reverence that would made it sound like the place where good Michiganites go when they die. With this mythos in their minds, there was no way these kids were going to believe some lily-ass beanpole standing right in front of them, even if she was a few years older than them and therefore significantly higher on the Juvenile Hierarchy of Coolness*.
The towheaded one squinched up his eyes and issued an exploratory strike at my claim:

“No yer not.”

I assured him that I was. Another foray was made:


Panicking at the threat of a seven-year-old’s nuh-uh/yuh-huh filibuster – a terrible, terrible threat, I assure you – I retreated to Cool Kid high ground. “Pssht, fine; whatever.”

This got them right where I wanted them; wide-eyed and admiring. Fools! They could not resist my disdain, which signified me to be not only a Big Kid, but also an emissary from the land of awesomeness. I gloated, I preened. I answered 7-year-old’s questions about Hawaii with greater or lesser accuracy. I even risked being condescending about their Great Lake which was both unfounded and falsified; I would not be visiting the Lake for another three days. I played it off. I soared on the wings of temporary superiority. I was from Hawaii; I was awesome.

It felt so good it almost didn’t feel like reality anymore; I might as well have been lying for all the posturing I was doing. As far as those two little boys were concerned, I was a god; either a champion liar or a foreigner, and either one is interesting enough if you’re sitting on a fence at the State Fair livestock pen. I still take it as a win.
*The JHC dictates that the older you are, the cooler you are, as you become more worldly-wise and are given more privileges. The system breaks down at the mid-teens, where the kids look as big as the adults, become Babysitters or Strangers and are considered The Enemy.


  1. Oh snap, where was the JHC when I needed it back in the day?

    I grew up in Texas, and whenever I would visit family in Georgia or Tennessee, people would always ask where I was from. When I replied "Texas" they would then ask me again. So I would repeat myself again. This would go on until the questioning party would ask, "No, what I mean is...are you from China?" Um, no ma'am/sir I'm Korean, but really I'm from Texas.

  2. This is the second time I've been to your blog in 24 hours. I think I'm going to like it here!