True Life: I’m From Hawaii

By Ama Debrah

Every year, my old high school holds a panel where the recent graduates come to talk and answer questions from the current seniors and juniors about what it’s like to be in college. Along with the usual questions of, “How much work do you have?” and “Does everyone really drink all the time?” there’s the question, “What’s the best way to meet new people?” The response to this question is always the same:

“Tell them you’re from Hawaii.”

Now, being real, I’m not what first comes to mind when you picture someone born and bred in Hawaii. My parents moved to Hawaii for college from the mainland and Ghana, so while I’m technically “local,” I’ve never really felt completely at place with the culture and social life in Hawaii. Sure, I love going to the beach, but I can’t surf, I can’t hula (you really don’t want to see that), and I can’t speak pidgin, (or Hawaiian Creole as wikipedia so bizarrely calls it), to save my life. That being said, what’s interesting about being born and raised in Hawaii is that you never quite acknowledge the novelty of residing in a “paradise” until living elsewhere. Of course, I appreciated the amazing weather, diversity, and the self-proclaimed “aloha-spirit,” but for most of my life, I took these things for granted, and although I had been to the mainland several times to visit but I didn’t realize how skewed my perception of the continental United States was until coming to college last year.

The biggest adjustment has probably been just dealing with the differences in culture on the mainland. Even though Hawaii is extremely diverse, its customs and way of life are very distinct. For example, there’s the food. Although I was not expecting to easily find traditional Hawaiian food, such as lau lau and poi, on the mainland, I was surprised at the kind of cultural-taboo against Spam. In Hawaii, we eat Spam all the time. They sell Spam, eggs, and rice for breakfast at McDonald’s, and a local favorite is “spam musubi,” which is essentially Spam and rice wrapped up in nori, or seaweed. There was also the issue of local vernacular. Anyone natively from Hawaii will cringe at the usage of the word “flip-flops” for what we term “slippers.”

And obviously, there was the issue of winter. In Hawaii, “winter temperatures” on average tend to range from 65 degrees (at the dead of night) to around 80 degrees, and the only real distinction that can be made differentiating winter from any of the other seasons is that it rains a little more frequently. I remember in my junior year of high school, Hawaii experienced a historical low temperature of 58 degrees, and it was, essentially, the end of the world.

This, combined with my early childhood reading of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s The Long Winter, lead me to believe that winter was a horrifying nine-month block of endless blizzards, negative 40 degrees temperatures, and inevitably having to live on potatoes and brown bread while using twisted straw for fuel. So, although I’m will not go as far to say that I enjoy winter, compared to my initial perceptions of winter combined with this pseudo fall/winter we’re currently experiencing, it really hasn’t been that bad.

What I’ve come to realize after living a year and half on the mainland is that even if I’ve never felt like I completely “belonged,” at the end of the day, after living eighteen years in Hawaii, its culture and traditions have become a part of me, and even if I never go back to living in Hawaii, I’ll always carry a piece of it inside.

Ama is a sophomore at Barnard and Food Editor for The Nine Ways of Knowing.

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