Ethnic Kaleidoscope

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While perusing the books at Goodwill the other day, I stumbled across this treasure.  It is a photographic gem of Hawaii’s beautiful mixed children.  Opening with a descriptive introduction and cute poems, it contains page after page of photos of cute kids in Hawaii with an accompanying list of ethnicities they represent.  Some have two or four, but many have five, six, or even eight!  For example, Haley (pictured on the cover) is Filipino, English, Chinese, Irish and Spanish.  A little boy named Lark is Hawaiian, Chinese, Portuguese, English, and Scottish.  Nanea is he heavy hitter with eight ethnicities: Irish, English, Spanish, Russian, Scottish, Dutch, Hawaiian, and Cherokee.  Often in our InterVarsity group, we introduce ourselves and also list our ethnicities.  Often I hear 5-8!

Globalization has done some colorful things to our human gene-pool.  Even in countries like Japan which remained ethnically homogeneous for millennia, cross-racial marriages are becoming more common and more acceptable.  But the Hawaiian island chain, straddling the great Pacific tops the charts with the place with the highest population per capita of people with mixed ancestry!

When JFK visited Honolulu in 1963 he stated that Hawaii “represents all that we are and all that we hope to become.”  The population of Hawaii has gone from being about 25% of mixed racial ancestry in the 1950s, to more than 35% mixed in the 1990s, and estimated to be over half by now.  Author Richard Fassler asserts that in the midst of the many racial tensions in our nation, the children of mixed marriages may be the answer for, “It is difficult to hate someone of a different ethnicity if that ethnicity is shared by your spouse, your children and your grandchildren!”

“We are blessed with [mixed people] because the people who are native to these Island and those who came here from cultures and lands far away did more than respect each other, or appreciate and admire each other.  They fell in love.”  Says Hawaiian comedian Fran DeLima.  He used to joke, “In Hawaii, no matter how ‘ugly’ the parents are, if they are of different races, the kids will turn out cute.”  People laugh because they know it’s true!  He goes on to say, “I believe that if there is a racial recipe for beauty, the more ingredients the better.”  Living in Hawaii it’s often hard to tell who is Asian, European, Polynesian or a mix of all–there are just so many beautiful sun-tanned people!

People of mixed heritage have a unique and often complex ethnic identity journey.  A friend of mine who is African American and Chinese was not easily accepted by her Chinese grandparents who had a prevailing prejudice toward people of African descent.  Another friend who is half Mexican, half white has identified mostly with her majority-culture side, but as she tries to enter into the Mexican community is not easily accepted since she speaks little Spanish.  Another woman was born to a Cherokee mother and white father.  Because she looks white, many assume she will act like a majority-culture American, but she was raised in a Native American community and clearly carries herself as a Cherokee.

While being mixed has it’s challenges, it also carries incredible blessings.  Mixed people can be bridge-builders in ways that others cannot.  Miss Universe in 1998 was Brook Mahealani Lee from Hawaii who is Hawaiian, Korean, Chinese, Dutch, English, French & Portuguese.  As she has traveled, the people in nearly every country she visits identify with her saying she is “one of them.”  One of my international students is ethnically Korean, but has a Chinese passport, and spent most of her life in Japan.  She speaks all these languages and is now mastering English!  She can switch from language to language without batting an eyelash and easily gathers friends around her from all of these groups.

I love Hawaii’s rainbows.  The people too are also like rainbows–an ethnic kaleidoscope spanning the great Pacific and beyond!

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