Our Man From Hawaii

David Hahn


Saffron Boy Moves To The Big City

I was born and raised in Honolulu, Hawaii. A place that I've often heard touted as one of those wonderful Cultural Melting Pots (a phrase which never fails to raise the most disturbing mental images in me) which sprinkle this Great and Good Country of Ours. Well, don't you believe it! While it may be true that there is a wide variation of ethnicity in the Hawaiian populous, they all hate each other, and would enjoy nothing better than to feast on their neighbors' livers. Growing up under the tutelage of the choicest facilities of academia in that state, I recall such marvelously repulsive student "holidays" as "Slap-a-Jap Day" and "Kill Haole Day". Slap-a-Jap Day was held on December 7th, the day Pearl Harbor was bombed, and as the name implies, on this date it somehow became culturally acceptable to go postal on the Watanabe Jr.'s of the student body. Kill Haole Day, well, that was usually on the last day of school. "Haole" is the Hawaiian word for "white" but through the years it has become somewhat of a euphemism along the same lines as "whitey" or "cracker"...and, well, I think you get the picture.

I'm Korean-American myself, and at least on these dates, managed to avoid a sound beating. By the way, can someone tell me why it is necessary to add that little ethnic rejoinder to my socio-cultural affiliation: Korean-American, Native-American, African-American, etc.? I've never been able to get away with saying I'm just plain American, when confronted with the ugly and insulting question, "What are you?" Even though I was born in this country and English is my native tongue and I've never lived in Korea, one look at these freakin' slanted eyes and I'm somehow required to label myself with that freakin' ethnic albatross. And yet somehow it just doesn't sound right or even necessary if someone were to say they were English-American, German-American, or French-American (accept perhaps if you're talking about a war). Just an observation.

In any case, living in the Isle of Smiles, I was bombarded by a veritable plethora of stereotypes: the Koreans or Yobos were quick tempered and ate dogs as did the Filipinos or Flips, the Samoans were slow and violent, the Chinese were cheap and so on and so forth. I learned to be pigeon-holed like all the rest in some vast and hideous system, generated by us, the fair denizens of this horrible Devil Rock in the middle of the Pacific. However, after what seemed like a couple of eons, I finally graduated, and managed to escape with my sorry ass hide relatively intact.

After college, I eventually gravitated to yet another ethnically diverse metropolis, "The City", San Francisco. During the nigh on 10 years I've lived in the Bay Area, I've been beaten and mugged, hassled by the Man, conned out hundreds of dollars and spat on, but like an abused housewife that still goes back to her twisted hubby, I have to say I still love it here.

And I think one of the reasons I do is because that pigeon-hole I lived in back in Hawaii is a lot bigger. When people look at me they don't see a Yobo, they see a generic slant. Granted it's a far cry from your average Cultural Melting Pot (yech!) if such a thing really exists, but I can deal with it here a lot better. So when someone asks me if I speak Japanese, or if I can recommend a really good Chinese restaurant, I can't help but chuckle a bit, while I work my fists o' steel into their pancreas, and think to myself, "At least it isn’t Hawaii."