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Is Honolulu an Asian American Paradise?
(Updated Tuesday, Apr 1, 2008, 06:02:50 PM)

magine a place where everyone looks like Jason Scott Lee and Kelly Hu. Where trade winds keep the air balmy year-round, day and night, and the horizon is always piled with dazzling cumulus. Where you can always find a Zippy's for saimin and teriyaki plates heaped with rice and macaroni salad. Where it's the Whites who are the minority.
AA Paradise?

     A stroll through Ala Moana Shopping Center or Kapiolani Park will satisfy anyone that in Honolulu Asians are the majority. This impression is borne out by the numbers. The city's 610,000 Asian/Pacific Islanders comprise 68% of its 900,000 total residents, making the Honolulu area the nation's third largest AA population center. Even excluding about 100,000 native Hawaiians, Samoans and other non-Filipino Pacific Islanders, Asians make up 57%, over twice the percentage for Whites (26%).
     Honolulu is also unique in being the only major metro area in which Japanese Americans outnumber all other Asian nationalities. JAs (200,000) are followed by Filipinos (170,000), Chinese (54,000), Coreans (23,000), Vietnamese (8,000) and Indians (1,500). McKinley High, Honolulu's first public school and the alma mater of Daniel Inouye and Hiram Fong, is known as "Tokyo High".
     Racial harmony, marketed as Aloha Spirit, has become the island's trademark, but the various Asian nationalities originally arrrived not in the spirit of multiculturalism but to serve as strikebreakers to help the Big Five keep each preceding nationality of laborers in line. It is only during the past half century or so that Hawaii's Asians have come to see the advantage of joining forces to resist an exploitative white minority.
     Asian immigration to Hawaii began in 1789 with the arrrival of a few Chinese artisans. Hawaii was still an independent kingdom. Asians were few until various European and American entrepreneurs began seeing the potential for big profit in sugar cane. They used cold-blooded machinations to gain power over native Hawaiians, then brought over 46,000 Chinese laborers between 1852 and 1899.
     As Chinese workers grew in number, they began making demands for better wages and working conditions. The Big Five's response was to recruit 180,000 Japanese between 1886 and 1925. As the Japanese became the islands' largest ethnic group, they too began organizing to fight inhumane working conditions. The plantation owners sought to break them by bringing over 100,000 Filipinos. As citizens of a U.S. territory, they were exempt temporarily from the barrage of anti-Asian legislation directed against Chinese and Japanese immigration. About 3,500 Coreans were also recruited between 1904 and 1905.
     The first instance of inter-Asian cooperation on the islands was seen in 1919 when 12,000 Filipinos and Japanese jointly staged a strike. For the most part, however, the Big Five's ruthless tactics and absolute economic dominance remained intact until World War II. Only after Hawaii became a state in 1959 did Asian numerical strength begin translating into political and economic power. Today Honolulu's commercial and professional life is dominated by Asians, though many Whites enjoy above-average affluence thanks to old-money connections and a steady influx of wealthy mainlanders seeking a retirement home.
     The surf and luau lifestyle is, of course, only a pretty myth for most Honolulu residents. Like other Americans, they spend most of their days earning a living. Unfortunately, the majority are employed in tourism, an industry that had been stagnating for nearly a decade even before 9/11. The islands' strategic location between East Asia and North America -- not to mention its appealing lifestyle -- has begun attracting a small influx of tech jobs, but Honolulu's economic prospects remain uncertain for the forseeable future.
     Is Honolulu an Asian American paradise? Or is it just a remote outpost irrelevant to the most ambitious Asian Americans?

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I think TSJ is too ignorant about the Asian-American culture here in Hawaii.
Who the hell would want to go to Costa Rica? Heck, it's next to Guatemala where military rebels exist.

Grew up in Cali huh? Well, driving through Los Angeles makes me feel like I'm in a third world country with all the Mexicans selling pupuserias on the road!!!
   Friday, January 03, 2003 at 02:41:49 (PST)    []
Why? does Hawaii provide most Asian female porno stars?? Majority of these Hawaiian born asian porno stars are poor. Many of them are Japanese, Chinese and philpinoes.
Is Hawaii Asian paradise??? If you look at short term probably yes. If you look at it in long term wise. The asnwer is no.
Hawaii Five O
   Tuesday, December 31, 2002 at 05:38:25 (PST)    []
Dear TSJ
Have you been anywhere outside of waikiki? Are you planning on finding a good english speeking job in Costa Rica, or are you fairly wealthy? I guess not, considering you said "i have no money haha.
Maybe you should keep your assumptions to yourself? Consider the benefits of living within the United States. Good, move to Costa Rica, we don't want you in Hawaii anyway!
your friend
   Thursday, December 12, 2002 at 11:16:50 (PST)    []
I think Hawaii is a paradise only if you're rich. That's why many locals have moved to greener pastures especially in Las Vegas. In fact, the largest Asian-American group in Vegas today are Filipinos, most of them from Hawaii.

qsdfg, FOB is a bit harsh term unless u mean fresh off the Boeing instead of F.O.Boat. And where did you get your "a little Spanish"? If you're Filipino, just because your mom or dad has a Spanish family name doesn't really mean she has a drop of Spanish blood. History has it that the Spaniards who occupied the Philippines changed the names of the Filipino natives into Spanish because they couldn't read/pronounce them properly and for a more efficient tax system. You rarely see indigenous surnames today in the PI like Agbayani, Agmata, Macapagal, Pagaling and other non-Spanish words.
Lapulapu Sy
   Wednesday, December 04, 2002 at 12:41:38 (PST)    []
Is it true that only the Philippine-raised Filipinos in Hawaii have a true sense of identity and self-respect? I've often heard about local-born Filipinos in Hawaii who are ashamed of their Filipino heritage and usually claim to be mixed Filipino-Spanish-Chinese even though both their parents are pure Filipinos from the Philippines with no Spanish and Chinese blood at all. Can anyone clear this up?

The main reason I heard was that this was a defense mechanism by local-born Filipino-Americans because other ethnic groups in Hawaii look down on them and stereotype them as janitors, gardeners, housekeepers, etc. In addition, Pinoys are the poorest(together with Polynesians) ethnic group in Hawaii while the Japanese, Caucasians and Chinese economically belong to the higher class.

Explain, please.
Filipino Genealogist
   Tuesday, December 03, 2002 at 07:31:34 (PST)
Okay, i live in Hawaii and i agree that Asians are a majority. But you have to understand that here, everyone is mixed. I'm considerd Asian, but i'm Filipino, Japanese, Chinese with a little Spanish. There is a difference between "local" Asians and tourists and FOB's. You still have to fit in with a different culture, Hawaiian Style.
   Tuesday, November 26, 2002 at 18:22:33 (PST)
Me personally I think Hawaii is a great place for the scenery and a vacation. I visited Hawaii last year in July 2001. I had came to see my b/f at the time who is now my husbanad. I can honestly say I was in a cultural shock. I didnt expect so many Asians to be here. I am from SC where the population consist of mainly blacks, whites and hispanics. Now since I am living in Hawaii I have just recently realized that I am a minority. It feels weird to walk into a grocery store and realize you are the only African American. It feels weird to go in the mall food court and realize that Mcdonald's serves rice. It feels weird to be one of the only African Americans to work in a setting of mostly Asians. Once again it also feels weird to be able to find my size in the clothing stores now. Being that generally Asian women have a small body frame I can find my size 12's or 13's now. I've been here 2 months now and it still feels weird sometime times but I have learned to get over it. I have accepted that I am a minority. Hawaii is a beautiful place. To live here would not be my choice. The job market here is not good. The pay is not sufficient. The education here I feel is not good either. The people and their diverstiy are beautiful though, but that to me is not enough to make me want to call it home. Yes I am missing home, but home dosent have the diversity that lives here. I have learned a lot in the short time that I have been here. That is to be more accepting an openminded of people and their differences.
Cgurl293    Saturday, October 19, 2002 at 11:20:24 (PDT)
Asian American paradise?!

I was born and raised in Honolulu, a third-generation Japanese American. I attended college and grad school in the Midwest and have lived in Japan and Europe as well as both coasts on the Mainland.

Everywhere you go, you are faced with "discrimination" of some sort or another. In college I was not allowed to be a minority mentor because "coming from Hawaii I didn't know what it felt like to be a REAL minority." In Japan, I was "fortunate" because I didn't have to conform to Japanese norms while I could still blend in.

But over time, I came to realize that it is my own self-confidence and internal sense of self that determine my reality. Paradise, as alluded to in your article, is not about a geographic location, but a state of mind.

Growing up in Honolulu, race did not seem to be an issue because yes, I was surrounded by more people that looked like me. The sense of community I felt was indeed nurturing and I credit that environment for my strong belief that "I'm OK". But saying that Honolulu is an Asian American paradise is a disservice to Asian Americans...because this assumes Asian Americans need a haven or an escape--a utopia where we can be surrounded by like-minded people. While there is comfort in such a society, I would argue that such a society allows individuals to avoid one's own personal insecurities. Facing your own demons is the best ticket to freedom & "paradise".

True Paradise is an internal place where Asian Americans are proud of their heritage and confident of themselves no matter where they live or travel.

P.S. I do think that Honolulu is an amazing place. It is the only metropolitan city in the U.S. that inspires you to be a nice person. Visit to revel in the human spirit! Hawaii no ka oi!
   Saturday, October 19, 2002 at 10:38:34 (PDT)
The idea of being "Asian American" is irrelevant to us in Hawaii. The true, defining cultural trait is whether you are "local" or not. As your article mentions, the majority of us here are asian of one type or another. Many of those born and raised here are not aware of their mainland counterpart's struggle as a minority, its challenges, opportunities and limitations. I dont think that a comparison of our aloha state and the other states on the mainland is realistic. Your definition of the word ambitous is probably tied to a traditional idea of one's desire to succeed in the market place or in some technical field. Hawaii at this time can hardly compare to any state in either category. Therefore, if Hawaii is a paradise to an asian american, it must be for different reasons. As a third generation Chinese American, I was born and raised in the city of San Francisco. I later finished my high school years and a portion of college in southern California. After relocating to Honolulu in 1982, I found that just looking like a local boy was not enough to be accepted as local. There was a definite learning curve in order to be accepted as more than a "katonk", or mainland asian. Although, what one reader referred to as island fever did kick in occassionally, but the ones who stay in Hawaii and lay down roots do so out of a calling in their lives to call Hawaii home. Aloha, a hui hou!
laidaddy    Thursday, October 17, 2002 at 13:29:59 (PDT)
Hawaii is boring place. Its a great place to visit or to retire. But not to live and work. To learn about Asian culture? University of Hawaii is possibly the best University in Hawaii to study. If you stayed in Hawaii beyond 2 years. You will get Island fever. Once you get Island fever. You wanna get out of Hawaii.
from Seoul Man.
Seoul    Friday, September 13, 2002 at 02:15:52 (PDT)
bette midler went to Radford HS in Honolulu...not Mckinley HS
   Sunday, August 25, 2002 at 14:09:51 (PDT)
Hey Jay! Hehe... well, maybe I don't see it that way. We are all still people, right? Besides, growing up in Cali, we can't help but be Latin influenced. Las chicas latinas son muy caliente!
TSJ    Friday, August 16, 2002 at 11:25:54 (PDT)
"Race will be important when you're surrounded by a sea of non-Asians and you're oftentimes the only Asian person around. Feeling lonely yet? Well, unless you've become totally Latin-washed."

Hehe... maybe I don't see it that way. People are still people right? We are all humans. Besides, I grew up in Cali. I can't help but be Latin influenced. =)
TSJ    Wednesday, August 14, 2002 at 12:40:57 (PDT)