on being a hawaii-raised mainlander

My high school reunion is coming up soon, and following all the exchanges about it in our Facebook group has brought the nostalgia train big time. As some of you know, I was born and raised in Hawaii. We would go on vacations to the mainland during most summers to visit family, but the life I knew was the tranquility of the islands. Contrary to what many people thought, we did not live in grass huts or wear hula skirts all the time, but it was probably a different childhood than someone might have in the continental U.S.

For starters, things like designer labels and nice cars were completely off my radar. I’m sure some people wore/had them, but nobody that I knew really cared. Also, being a part of the (not necessarily overwhelming) minority of Caucasians, I didn’t even really think about race for the most part. Hawaii is actually heavily Asian (pretty sure they are the majority), though where I lived there were lots of Polynesians and a fair share of Caucasians. In short, it was a good mix. The island of Oahu is even known as “the gathering place”—a kind, happy name I’ve always felt described my home very well.

A favorite pic from childhood of my brother and me at the beach.

A favorite pic from childhood of my brother and me at the beach.

Hawaii was and is the most laid back environment I’ve ever known, with some of the nicest people in the nation. Going to the beach after school, walking to get everywhere (I didn’t get my license until I was in college), and being surrounded by the beauties of nature at its finest on a daily basis were things of which I took shameful advantage until I left home for good. (This Buzzfeed article gives a few more reasons why Hawaii is an awesome place to grow up. Like li hing mui ice pops… YUM.)

Another was finding amusement in simple pleasures. We didn’t have a ton of things to do in my town apart from go to the beach, go see movies, or go to Foodland (the local grocery store). I regularly threw parties and invited everybody I knew, but these consisted of hanging out at my house, talking, eating food, and occasionally playing outdoor activities like water balloon fights or four square in my driveway. Everybody came anytime there was anything going on, because there was rarely anything ever going on. (The idea of inviting people to parties and them not showing up was one of the hardest growing pains of moving to the mainland.)

Despite the happy existence I had growing up, I was in a big hurry to head off to college and see the world. Like most teenagers, I had big dreams for my future and felt Hawaii was too small to contain them. Plus, I think I felt like I was missing out on something. I always longed for the traditional high school experience I saw in the movies (no idea why the concepts of indoor hallways and lockers were so appealing to me), and I think anyone can get island fever when you live on a small speck in the middle of earth’s largest ocean. So off I went, never looking back until it was too late to change my mind.

The view from my front yard.

The view from my front yard.

I miss it a lot, of course. While the memories of my peaceful childhood still come easily, so many parts of me have faded from being gone all these years. The most obvious of these is my vocabulary. If you’ve lived in or visited Hawaii, you know there are several distinctly Hawaiian terms and pronunciations. I held onto these for as long as I could, but eventually I grew tired of people not understanding me and had to give them up. For example:

  • Hawai’i: While technically, the authentic pronunciation of our state name involves the Hawaiian V sound for the letter W, most people pronounced it huh-wuh’-ee. I always did, but on the mainland people just had no idea what I was saying. So I started saying huh-whyee to people when introducing myself, and eventually I stopped saying it the original way altogether.
  • Saimin: Also known as ramen. But nobody calls it saimin in the mainland, and, especially as a starving college student!, I had to adapt.
  • Slippers: People think these are those fuzzy shoes you wear around the house, but in fact they are what most people call flip-flops. And even though the term flip-flops is one of the most ridiculous things I had ever heard, I changed my ways so people could understand me.

There are plenty of other expressions unique to Hawaii, but honestly, if I start thinking about this anymore the missing will be too much to handle! I’ll just close with one thing that is extra hard not to have in the mainland: leis. You’ll see them from time to time, but they are just part of life in Hawaii. Any award, graduation, celebration—there are leis. When families would move away growing up, we would sing Aloha ‘Oe in church and everyone would bring up leis for our soon-to-be-departed friends.

Me and my insane stack of leis after high school graduation.

It was always easy to feel the love in Hawaii. I need to get back there soon!!


10 thoughts on “on being a hawaii-raised mainlander

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