Contributor and University of Hawaii at Manoa student Soohee Cho lets us in on all the insider secrets of life in Hawaii.
Hawaii is one of the must see destination spots for vacationers around the world, but to me it is my home. I am a Korean American and I have lived in Hawaii for the past six years. From my past experiences here in these wonderful islands I have made many memories that I feel only could have been possible here in Hawaii. Here are five reasons (in no specific order) why it is great to be Asian American in Hawaii.
1. We Rule
Asian Americans are practically the majority in Hawaii. The 50th state has the nation’s highest percentage of residents of Asian descent — 41.6 percent in 2000, when its Asian population numbered 503,868. As a result, more political leaders in Hawaii’s government are of Asian descent. James “Duke” Aiona served as Lieutenant Governor of Hawaii from 2002-2010, and he is of Hawaiian, Chinese and Portuguese descent. Hawaii’s congressional representation is entirely made of Asian Americans: Daniel Inouye (Japanese), Daniel Akaka (Chinese-Hawaiian), Charles Djou (Chinese), and Mazie Hirono (Japanese). There is also a larger percentage of on-air Asian Americans on local television than in the rest of the country. One of the most well-known faces in the industry is Stephanie Lum (Chinese) of KGMB and KHNL Hawaii News Now, who is arguably considered a local celebrity here in Hawaii.
2. The Food
One of the best things about living in Hawaii as an Asian American is definitely the food. Food is a big way in which both the Asian culture and local Hawaiian culture meet, and create an entirely new menu just for the people of Hawaii. Restaurants incorporating the Asian American local lifestyle include Shokudo Japanese Restaurant & Bar, with items on their menu such as the Sushi Pizza; Zippy’s, famous for their Zip-Pac; and Big City Diner, which features dishes like Grandma’s Incredible Kim Chee Fried Rice.
Big chain brands such as 7-Eleven and McDonald’s also cater to the local taste buds. Unlike most 7-Eleven stores on the mainland, those located in Hawaii offer spam musubi and other Asian-Hawaiian snacks daily. Also, McDonald’s offers a breakfast menu exclusive to the islands, including items like Portuguese, Eggs, and Rice, or Spam, Eggs and Rice.
3. Landmark Family-Owned Businesses
When visiting Hawaii, it is important to have a checklist or a to do list of where you would like to visit. Most people choose to visit the typical landmarks of Hawaii, which includes scenic locations such as Diamond Head, Hanauma Bay and the Pali Lookout. Other popular landmarks of sorts revolve more around the retailers that have been around for generations, and gained popularity throughout the years. These include stores such as Matsumoto Shave Ice, owned and operated by a Japanese family and known for their absolutely delicious shave ice, as well as 88 Tees owned and operated by a Korean family and known for their, well, “tees.”
4. The Tourism Industry
The state of Hawaii is strategically located between East Asia and North America. Between its convenient location and its amazing weather year round, Hawaii is the perfect choice for foreign travelers for their vacation destination. Due to the importance of tourism and its impact on the business market of Hawaii, most businesses try to boost their company’s customer service by placing importance on the ability to speak Japanese, as well as other languages. There are also many restaurants that stay true to the Japanese palate around the Waikiki area, and stores like Don Quijote (a super store originating from Japan) offer otherwise Japan-exclusive items (makeup, food products, hair and body products) to both tourists and residents of Hawaii.
5. Diverse Asian Language Studies
The University of Hawaii at Manoa offers one of the most largest and diverse academic course availabilities for Asian language studies, including Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Cambodian, Chamorro, Hindi, Indonesian, Thai, and Vietnamese. The University of Hawaii at Manoa also is home to the Center for Korean Studies buildings, completed in December 1979.