At Pacific University, we boast a large population of students from Hawaii. Many students will meet these Hawaiians and experience the island culture. The food, greetings, music, and their Pidgin (or Hawaii Creole English) will seem very foreign. Even I, who was born and raised in Hawaii, was initially unfamiliar with it.
I am what people call the first generation. My parents, born in Japan, immigrated to Hawaii where I was born on the island of Hawaii (same name as the state). They both lacked the ability to speak English fluently so their community consisted of fellow immigrants from Japan. That is why I grew up in a culture that was halfway between the Japanese culture and the local Japanese-American culture.
The first time I heard people talking in Pidgin was when I entered middle school. By then people who knew how to speak Pidgin knew how to distinguish the authentic Pidgin and the mimics. Like all middle-schoolers, I was trying hard to fit in, and I didn’t want to risk being outed for being a fake so I gave up on speaking Pidgin.
For the most part I have a feeling most of the islanders gain their cultural experience through the gathering of their relatives and/or their parent’s friends. From what I noticed, the relatives of the cultured islanders all live near or on the neighboring islands. On top of that their parent’s friend who decides to stay on the island all live close together. After all, the most you will have to drive is probably 1 to 2 hours if they live on the opposite side of the island.
Because they have friends and relatives nearby, they have more opportunities to have gatherings and parties. There, the kids will mimic how all the adults speak and eventually learn how to speak in Pidgin, just like how I learned to speak Japanese. There, they will experience the friendly greetings and kisses from their relatives.
For me, all my relatives lived back in Japan. Unlike most of friends who went back to Japan every year, I only got to visit Japan once every 5 years or so. That’s why I don’t have the experience of meeting with my relatives over holidays. I never grew up with the island style gatherings.
It was a strange experience when I first visited the Hawaii house. Let me describe that moment: at the door, I hear the muffled island music that I never really listen to. As I walk in I am greeted with hugs and smiles from strangers that I have never met. People laughing and talking in mixtures of proper and Pidgin English.
As I sit down on the sofa, bewildered and confused, someone tosses me a bottle of Heineken.
“Cheers, braddah” he says.
I enjoyed the rest of the night with these friendly strangers who treated me as if I was part of the family already. The house had a special kind of welcoming feel that is unique to the islands.
When I came to Pacific, I was excited for the new mainland experience that everyone back home talked about when they went to college. But I never expected to learn something about my home during my stay here. While many people experience the diverse cultures of other places in their stay here at Pacific, I don’t think many people get to experience the diversity of their home.
By: Michael Sakai