We work, play, love, raise families, eat and sleep in Hawai`i. We get the Augie T Show and laugh at Frank DeLima’s jokes. We wear shirts that proclaim “Hawaiian,” “Portuguese,” “Filipino,” “Haole” and “Samoan.” We slap stickers on our cars saying, “Grown Here Not Flown Here” and “Pono—Do What is Right.”
But what is “local?” And why is it that what seems local to some isn’t to others? Why is it that a person born and raised in Hawai‘i who speaks proper English and fumbles with Pidgin is often deemed less local than a Polynesian from a completely different island chain who just arrived here a few years ago?
Is a person who’s lived in Hawai‘i, immersed herself in its culture, fought for the cause of Native Hawaiians and farmed its lands for decades local—even if she wasn’t born here? What if this person’s skin color is white? And if this white person happened to be born in Hawai‘i, is she still a haole?
One major misconception of local is that it’s interchangeable with Hawaiian. If local and Hawaiian are the same, then local food would consist of just taro, fish and pig: what we call “The Hawaiian Plate” in most Hawai‘i establishments.
Local is a mixed plate–kalbi ribs from the Koreans, kalua pig from the Hawaiians, rice from the Japanese, dim sum from the Chinese and beef stew from the Caucasians. Don’t forget adobo from the Filipinos and sweet bread from the Portuguese.
Local is a conglomeration of many different cultures, mixed together, heated up and ladled out onto the Hawaiian Islands. Local is controversial. It’s organic and fluid–changing and adapting with every individual’s unique perspective.
Over the next few months, we’re going to be exploring this idea of what it means to be a local in Hawai‘i. For our first installment, we decided to start by asking a wide variety of people on Maui what they mean when they say “local.” Their answers are as diverse as the islands on which they make their home:
Owner, Mana`o Radio (91.5 FM)
Born in Chicago, IL
Tough question! I’ve been asked this before and have never been satisfied with the answers I’ve given. Small kid time, my definition of “local” was totally race-based. Anyone brown and living here was local to me. And the Portuguese, of course. Then in seventh grade, I transferred from Makawao to Lihikai School, where I met classmates who immigrated from the Philippines. First time I had been around Filipinos who clearly were not locals. So then I thought one had to be able to speak pidgin to be a local. Of course, that doesn’t really cover it either. Although I do consider pidgin to be the native language of locals. Pidgin is still to me a BIG part of being local. Because like any language, it reflects the way we think and feel. I don’t think you have to be born here to be local. I wasn’t—neither was Pele! But I was raised here by parents who were born and raised here, and who instilled certain values in me, which I identify with being local. Like being non-confrontational, humble, considerate of others… all the qualities that are necessary when you have a lot of different cultures sharing very limited space. And I believe that pride in being local is a big part of being local. You can grumble and succumb to rock fever every so often, but a true local knows there is no better place on earth to live and love. I think it’s like sexual attraction—you know it when you see/feel it.
Born in Wailuku, Maui
It’s about aloha, the island spirit. It’s being kind and nice. Local people are kind-hearted people. We’ll give you the shirt off our back, you know? Local is, “Treat people how you want to be treated.” [On being “local” while living on the mainland] I’ve been doing it for three years. I keep local not because I have to, but because that’s how I was raised. I was born with that–to treat others with respect. On the other hand, there’s haole. Haole isn’t “white” or just ‘cause you’re white. I have white friends that aren’t haole. Haole is bad vibes—guys who disrespect what’s yours. The old school haoles were old school white guys who enslaved and took over. Haoles are people who think they own everything–they try to control. It’s not God’s way.
Ed & Greg Show (Wild 105.5 FM)
Born in Los Angeles, CA.
First of all, local isn’t Hawaiian. It has nothing to do with heritage, skin color or culture. It’s about how we take different cultures and indoctrinate them into a “local” lifestyle–bringing different ethnicities and cultures and making them work together. It sounds cheesey, but it’s kind of like weaving a tapestry of different cultures. To say about things “This is Hawaiian,” makes you sound like a stupid idiot. It’s insulting. A lot of things that we consider local aren’t. I mean, we’re 5,000 miles from anything. We adopt things and say they’re ours, but they’re really not. As for “haole,” nowadays the meaning has become someone Caucasian who’s not from here. Lately when I hear it, it’s in bad taste. You can say, “stupid haole,” but I can’t walk around and say, “stupid Hawaiian” or “stupid Chinese.” But it’s okay to bag on the white guy. Racial discrimination is flip-flopped. I wasn’t born here, but I consider myself local. I’m half Filipino.
Former member of the Ka`au Crater Boys
Born in Aiea, Oahu
There are so many different issues. One cool ways of saying what is local is to go surf today the last day of the year and go surf tomorrow. Surf the old year out and surf the New Year in. Basically, if you come to Hawai‘i and you love Hawai‘i, not just be here, but love it, then we love you. If you love Hawai‘i, it shows in your actions. If you no love Hawai‘i, just go and make room for someone who loves it. If you love Hawai‘i, we love you. That’s how it is.
Manager, John Cruz
Born in Seattle, WA
The difference between local and haole is not where you’re from or what color skin you have. It’s an attitude and a way of being in your heart. Being local means you are easy-going, good-natured, humble, compassionate and full of aloha. Being haole means you are impatient, pushy, fearful, looking out for yourself first and not in the flow with Hawaiian culture.
Born in Los Angeles, CA
The word “local” means, “my family came out of the plantation camps.” Those camps were the cultural cauldron, centers of transformation, where people and families changed from their home cultures (Japanese, Filipino, whatever) to bona fide, pidgin-speaking islanders. That shared experience must have been intensely bonding. If you don’t have a grandparent or great grandparent who slaved away for agribusiness, you aren’t local and never will be.
KILA KILA “THE BIG HAWAIIAN” KAMAU
DJ, 103.7 FM
Born in Wailuku, Maui
First of all, being born and raised in Hawai‘i is local. Being Hawaiian helps. Always looking out for Hawai‘i, the ‘aina, ohana. Food is a big part: local style food–all the different cultures, the stuff we grew up with. It’s the mentality of giving back to the community. It comes back to family. I’m all about my family, it’s a huge part of my life.
Registered Nurse, Maui Memorial Medical Center
Born in Wailuku, Maui
Being local isn’t how long you’ve been living here, but being born and raised helps. It doesn’t have to do with nationality. It’s a culture thing. It’s attitude and a mind set, a lifestyle–laidback. Guys that call off the street, “Hey sistah, how you?” My white looking kid will probably end up being called a “stupid haole” in grade school by “local” local kids even though my parents, grandparents and I were raised here. But it’s a good attitude, too, like are you going to let the little old Japanese lady at Puk Sup take your parking space? A real local would let her have it. Oh, and if you’re local you know that if you live in Kihei and there’s an earthquake, you head Upcountry.
GIOVANNI ‘STEVEN’ CAPELLI
Born in La Spezia, Italy
Local is certainly somebody who lives here since more than… say 20 years. Haole is certainly an Italian man with a thick accent and flirty eyes. What do you call an Italian man with a thick accent who lives here since more than 20 years? Bah. But, seriously, who cares? What cares is the “Aloha Spirit.” You have it? You are local to me… and go Warriors!
Born in Honolulu, Oahu
Local is T-shirt, shorts and rubber slipper. You just know. MTW