What It's Like Being Raised In Hawaii

Me giving a shaka on the shore of Kihei, Maui.
Me giving a shaka on the shore of Kihei, Maui.

I was requested to write a Hub on what it is like to be raised in Hawaii. I get that question a lot and even when I'm not asked that question I still find myself harking back to my homeland. When people find out that I'm from Hawaii they often ask why I ever left and I simply respond by saying, "I got island fever."

Growing up in Hawaii, I often stared at the empty horizon with its broad arms encompassing my vision and wondered what was out there. When you are on any of the eight islands of Hawaii, you can't escape the fact that you're in the middle of a big, big ocean. During my childhood, I never wanted to stay and when I got the chance I would fly over the Pacific and experience the excitement of the "mainland" (what locals call the rest of United States).

Now that I have been residing in San Francisco for almost six years, I can't stop prefacing a lot of what I say with "In Hawaii..." or "Back home...". And this knee-jerk reaction to reference my origins used to make me feel frustrated because I would remember how much I wanted to leave Hawaii when I was young. But now I realize that it's where I'm from that makes me who I am and I can't escape that.

To describe what it’s like to grow up in Hawaii is to tell a story filled with color, smell, and taste. I grew up in a small valley called Pauoa and it is located in the state's capital, Honolulu. The air in Hawaii smells like a mixture of Plumeria (a fragrant flower that grows rampant in the islands), grilled meat, (strange but true, Hawaii locals loved their special take on BBQ), and the faint smell of rain. The greens, blues, blacks and reds are so vibrant in Hawaii. I don't know why but maybe it has to do with the way the sun hits everything or maybe it’s the reflection of the surrounding ocean that gives everything a certain gleam. There is a lack of footwear in Hawaii. I remember during my first year in foggy San Francisco I refused to wear shoes. I told people I don't like the way covered footwear makes my toes feel claustrophobic, but I soon realized that my frost-bitten island feet needed the warmth of socks and shoes plus slippers (what locals call flips flops) are a city fashion no-no.

I'm Filipino-Irish and my background is just a sample of patchwork of ethnicity in Hawaii. My ancestors, on both my mother and father's side, arrived to the islands to work on its numerous plantations. My mom's family grew up on a pineapple plantation on Maui.
I still don’t know anyone who can cut a pineapple as fast as my mom. My father's family worked on a sugar plantation on the North Shore of Oahu. My narrative is so common to the islands. Most of my friends are a hodgepodge of cultures, reflecting Hawaii's plantation workers, from Chinese to Puerto Ricans, who arrived in Hawaii to build a better future for their children.

I think growing up Hawaii has also made me look at cultures differently. For example, Asian and Polynesian cultures are so familiar to me because I was surrounded by it. But when I moved, I was exposed to European, Latin, and Middle Eastern cultures. The sheer exposure to what lies beyond the horizon made me realized how sheltered I was. I lived in paradise and I didn't know anything else. I guess in that sense, my experience is similar to anyone who lived in a small town in the middle of nowhere. I still believe that growing up in Hawaii gives way to a certain naiveté, but maybe that can be said for people growing up anywhere.

The diversity and hybrids of culture in Hawaii can be seen, tasted, and heard. I can figure out if someone is from Hawaii just by listening to that person speak. Pidgin is defined as being a simplified version of a particular language used to make communication easier. Locals love to speak pidgin. "Ya" "Da kine" "Laddat" are all phrases that come from Hawaiian pidgin. I also consider the local patois of Hawaii a type of creole because it combines the languages of those who lived on plantations. You can hear Hawaiian, Japanese, and Chinese words laced throughout locals' everyday speech.

Let's not forget the food of my childhood. From Japanese ramen and Chinese dim sum to Hawaiian Luau and Filipino lechon, Hawaii's local cuisine is anything but bland. You can also count on everything being served with rice- two scoops of rice to be exact. And it’s not a myth - local Hawaiians love to eat Spam. I remember growing up and eating Spam and eggs for breakfast, a Spam musubi for lunch and then Spam saimin for dinner. This luncheon meat delicacy has a special place in my heart (and not just for its high cholesterol value). Locals living abroad often have at least two cans of Spam in their pantry. Trust me, fried Spam, eggs and rice is the best hangover cure.

I guess finally for this trip down memory lane I can't leave out the importance of Aloha. This is one touristy thing about Hawaii that's true and I often get slightly irritated when I see any Hawaiian stereotype (because it’s not all about grass shacks and coconut bras). Aloha is a Hawaiian word that means many things. From hello to goodbye to kindness and love, Aloha means a lot to locals and it's what I think hypnotizes those who come to the islands. It's not just a saying that tourists learn to say at luaus but it's a motto, a mantra, a way of life. The Aloha spirit is welcoming and loving. It will feed you and make you laugh. It will never leave you even if you're not in Hawaii. Maybe that's what makes me the person I am today, not Hawaii but Aloha.

Comments 3 comments

Pamela Kinnaird W profile image

Pamela Kinnaird W 6 years ago from Maui and Arizona

I enjoyed your article. Aloha to you from Kihei. Live

aloha and you know you will be happy wherever you live.


Mj 6 years ago

Amen to your Aloha reflection. Keep it up.


kelsey 2 years ago

I love your post. im not sure if you even check it but I just thought id tell you that :) im 21 from Chicago and want to move to Hawaii no set plans its just been an idea in my head since I was very young. If I did move there and end up having kids I was wondering if that's a good way for them to grow up or a too sheltered way. I feel itd be a bit of both.

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