Hawaiians today: Victims of history or resilient, self-determining people?
POVERTY still grips Hawaiians," the headline on a Nov. 14 Star-Bulletin story
about data in the Census Bureau's Community Survey, sends a depressing message that Hawaiians as a group, particularly those living in Hawaii, continue to struggle economically, educationally and socially. When compared to other ethnic groups, the Hawaiians' troubling profile is a red flag for even more alarming discussions.
This portrayal of Hawaiians leads one to conclude that Hawaiians have not made measurable progress in spite of the millions and millions of federal and state dollars provided directly or through agencies such as the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands over a period of more than 20 years. The article casts doubt upon the effectiveness of programs designed to improve upon the educational, economic, spiritual and social well-being of the Hawaiian people as a whole.
Worse yet, the story portrays being Hawaiian or part-Hawaiian as the root of these ills and paints a picture of Hawaiians as victims of a society, or at least an island situation, that continues to undermine the best of their intentions to dig themselves out of this seemingly black hole of ineffectiveness. Some will lean on these data as evidence that Hawaiians are not motivated to improve.
STRANGE AS IT might sound, there is reason to have a more optimistic picture of the Hawaiians, for there is more to this story than has been presented. We should be concerned by the conspicuous absence of vitally important data from the same 2005 American Community Survey. For one, nearly half of the Hawaiians live on the continental United States, and their profile is not revealed even though the data are available.
If there is anything the 2000 Census showed, it was the simple fact that the majority of Hawaiians are multiethnic. This fact must be taken into account. For example, when examining the 2000 Census data from the perspective of multiethnicity -- such as being of Hawaiian-Caucasian, Hawaiian-Chinese, Hawaiian-Japanese or Hawaiian-Filipino ancestry -- we discovered a dramatically different profile of poverty, educational attainment, income, housing, family size and employment status.
Along with vulnerability we saw profiles of resilience, efficacy, economic and educational achievement, as well as social and employment strengths in multiethnic Hawaiians. These findings were clearly demonstrated in recently released reports prepared jointly by the Center on the Family at the University of Hawaii-Manoa and the Pacific American Foundation. We have every reason to expect similarly resilient profiles to emerge from the 2005 American Community Survey.
The article's generalizing of Hawaiians does not suggest that it should be dismissed. To the contrary, it is an important analysis that draws our attention to the Hawaiians living in the islands and questions whether they struggle and suffer more at home. There is much more to the story, and the answers might surprise many.
WE MUST FIND answers to the key questions. What programs work? To which services has the money gone? Which services to Hawaiians have made a difference, and which have not? During the past 20 years, what improvements have we made in our programs to increase their effectiveness? If we focus on educating the best and the brightest, will this make a difference in the overall education and poverty profile of Hawaiians?
The data would suggest that a broader range of interventions are needed and targeted to those with potential and in greatest need. We are compelled to move beyond the "poor me" data and drill down to identify the specific Hawaiians at risk, who they are, where they live and what their circumstances are. While dramatic, and the headlines do get our attention, the information as presented in the Star-Bulletin does not guide decision-makers to shape and improve upon our educational and social programs.
Underlying the article is the human price for the Hawaiians' loss of culture, language, land, disrespect for our beliefs, practices, protocols and historical trauma. On one hand, the political conclusion is obviously pointing to the revival of self-determination and self-governance.
WE MUST REMIND ourselves that the Hawaiian population has changed in ways forecast by our kupuna and alii. When Queen Liliuokalani married John Dominis and Bernice Pauahi Bishop married Charles Reed Bishop, both men of European ancestry, they knew that future generations of Hawaiians would evolve into a multiethnic Hawaiian population. The mixture of races has reshaped the landscape of our values and beliefs that we have passed on to our keiki and future generations. Our lifestyles also are different -- shaped by family practices, eating habits, child-rearing practices and aspirations from a mixture of ethnic backgrounds.
We now pay respects to a mixture of ancestors with different languages and protocols. Changing our names from Chinese and European to one more Hawaiian does not change who we really are, our ethnic profile or our heritage.
These obvious facts confirm the need for gathering and presenting multiethnic Hawaiian data as a fundamental requirement if there is any intention of using data to evaluate the impact of programs and to plot the profile of Hawaiians in the years ahead. I for one, a graduate of Kamehameha Schools, socialized in western ways, committed to decolonizing methodologies, have the highest respect for all my ancestors -- Hawaiians, Japanese and Caucasian -- and believe that they together shape my identity.
Hamilton I. McCubbin is a research scientist at the University of Hawaii-Manoa School of Social Work. He is the former chief executive of Kamehameha Schools.