The first time I learned that I was a different race from most of my friends was in a kindergarten classroom about 3,000 miles west of here, in Honolulu. We had to find out where our ancestors were from, and then put a sticker on the giant map in our classroom. Mine was the only sticker on Europe.
“I’m part Chinese and part Danish, but I don’t tell people I’m Danish because then they think I’m a pastry,” one boy said. It seemed like skin color and country of origin was insignificant as long as everyone knew he wasn’t breakfast.
Another girl said, “I am a person” when asked about her race. This moved me because many older and more educated people could learn so much from her simple answer; whatever color you are, you are still a person and maybe that’s what should matter most.
Another part of the exhibit that spoke to me was a photo of two boys, one was white and in street clothes, and the other Native American and dressed in traditional garb. The caption under the photo said that on the outside these boys looked very different, but under an x-ray or ultrasound they would look nearly identical.
Where I come from, white people are not the majority. I grew up with the stereotype of being the “haole” kid, the white kid. Even though I could walk barefoot on burning pavement — a talent of all kids from Hawaii — and I would eat ahi poke over a cheeseburger any day, I would never be considered local because of my blonde hair and green eyes. However, if you were to x-ray or ultrasound me and someone who looked more local, you probably would find the same thing; skin damaged from the sun and battered bones from outdoor adventures.
The section about being racially identified by the census spoke to me the most, but probably not for the same reasons that it spoke to a lot of other people. If I were to check a box saying my ethnicity, I would say Caucasian, but honestly I know nothing about my history as a Caucasian person.
I grew up in a place where I was teased for being white, but I also grew up in a place where they use the word “aloha” to say hello, goodbye, and I love you; to say hi to someone is to love them. I grew up learning Hawaiian history and how immigrants from around the world moved there to work together on plantations, which created the melting pot of races that live there today.
My home is a place where you can tease someone a little bit for her race, but it is not based in hate. Everyone gets teased a little because there are numerous races living together and each has its own idiosyncrasies.
This exhibit reminded me that the rest of the world isn’t like Hawaii, and that the rest of the world needs a lot more aloha. We need to remember that racial identity is so much more than a box we check on a census, and that it’s not our heritage but our experiences that shape who we are.
My ethnicity is Caucasian but my history and a big part of my heart comes from Hawaii.