Dealing With Racism, Even In Hawaii.
The Southern Poverty Law Center—an organization of which I am a very proud supporter—has reported a startling increase in the number of racially motivated attacks since the recent election.
People here in Hawaii, for the most part, have trouble understanding that, partly because as my late father-in-law would say, we’re “all chop suey” . . . all mixed up . . . so attacking someone because they’re of a different race is pretty hard to fathom. The fact is, everyone in Hawaii belongs to a racial minority.
When I was working for the Mayor of Honolulu (he was an Italian originally from East Hartford, Connecticut), my secretary was Japanese, my deputy was Portuguese, our receptionist was Hawaiian. One of our Complaint Investigators was Hawaiian, the other Samoan. We had two writers on staff; one was a tiny Chinese lady, the other was a Korean man, who was born in Korea. The official city photographer was Japanese. With the exception of me, the mayor and Gene Moon, the Korean, the rest of the staff were all born and raised here in the islands. I must say I found it all fascinating when I first arrived here. Still do, if I stop and think about it.
That is not to say it’s perfect here. When I first arrived in the early 60s and was looking for an apartment to rent, it was common to see classified ads in the daily newspapers tagged with a phone number and the words “ORIENTALS PREFERRED” or “AJA ONLY”—an abbreviation meaning “ Americans of Japanese Ancestry”. That kind of discrimination is no longer permitted, of course, but it took me by surprise at the time. I do remember thinking that it was probably not a bad growing-up experience for a privileged young white guy from New England to find himself on the short end of the racial stick.
Things have changed a lot and even minor racial incidents here are rare. I think most people just think only stupid people indulge in racism and react accordingly when they encounter it.
Some months ago, I was sitting in my dermatologist’s waiting room when the office door opened and the mailman came in, followed by a 50ish Caucasian woman who was there to pick up a prescription. The doctor’s receptionist is a very attractive woman, who immigrated to Hawaii a dozen years ago from the Philippines. She had the prescription ready and began asking the women about her insurance coverage.
“Please repeat that,” said the woman irritably, “you have such a heavy accent, I can’t understand you.”
The mailman had just dropped the day’s mail on the counter and was heading out the door. He paused, smiled innocently at the woman and, in a confidential tone said, “Just speak to her in your Tagalog or Ilocano, ma’m, and you’ll have no problem. Have a nice day.”
I’d give anything to be able to come up with a line like that!