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The UAA Hawai'i Connection, Part 2: Hawaiian Culture

The UAA Hawai'i Connection, Part 2: Hawaiian Culture

While UAA student-athletes from Hawai'i represent multiple nationalities and backgrounds, there is one constant among them: a strong respect for the culture of the island.

"The most significant aspect of Hawaiian culture to me is respect," commented Patrick Sheehan. "The ancient Hawaiians had a great respect for the land; this respect is continued by modern day Hawaiians. In grade school students are told 'Malama I Ka Aina' or 'Care for the Land.' This respect flows into all aspects of life, and guides the choices we make."

Photo: 2015 NYU graduate Patrick Sheehan

He sees wrestling as an extension of the same ideals he grew up around. "Respect is ingrained within the sport of wrestling and takes years to earn," he said. "At the beginning of every wrestling match, both athletes shake hands to signify their respect for each other and the sport itself. To become successful, an athlete must respect themselves, the sport, and their team."

Sheehan and Shanna-Lei Dacanay have another thing in common other than growing up in Hawai'i as both are considered 'hapa' - a term describing a person with Asian/Polynesian and Caucasian parentage. Sheehan's mother is Okinawan and his father is Irish. Dacanay's father is Filipino and her mom is a combination of Irish, English, German, and Dutch.

Photo: Shanna-Lei Dacanay, 2009 Washington University graduate

"I do not have any Hawaiian ancestry, but growing up in Hawai’i I have always respected and appreciated the culture," Dacanay said. "The experience of living there is very unique with a melting pot of nationalities. In short I am 'hapa' as are many of the kids who grew up in Hawai’i."

"Hawai'i will forever be a part of who I am," commented Andrew Skalman. "One of my favorite parts of the culture is the emphasis on family and friends. To that point, in Hawai'i it's normal to call your friends' parents 'Uncle' and 'Auntie.' Because I didn't have extended family in Hawai'i (it was just me and my parents), it was always comforting to feel welcomed into my friends' families like another son. The other thing I really love about Hawai'i is cliché, but that it is a melting pot -- whether it's food, language or customs, it's really cool to live in a place with so many different cultures intertwined."

Josiah Situmeang concurs with Skalman's assessment. "Something that I love about the culture in Hawai'i is its close-knit, family feel. For example, as strange as it sounds, we use the terms "Auntie" and "Uncle" to refer to an elder whether or not we are actually related. The term "Auntie" applies to my mother's sister as well as it applies to the old woman behind the counter at the grocery store."

Alyssa Poentis also appreciates the family atmosphere on the island. "In Hawai'i, it's almost expected that everyone you meet is like family," she stated. "I call my friends' parents and even people I just met either "Auntie" or "Uncle." My high school has an alumni association in New York City and even though most of the people in the association have grown up and settled in the city, they always made me feel welcome and offered to help if I ever needed it. To sum it up, local culture to me means family. It means I am fortunate enough to have people willing to help me even if we aren't related by blood."

Photo: Junior Alyssa Poentis of NYU

"Hawaiian culture is very laid back as it is portrayed in movies and television shows," said Austin Darmawan. "Everything is less about quickness and efficiency and more about relaxing and enjoying the ride. Business attire is a Hawaiian shirt and khakis. There is a phrase 'I stay on Hawaiian time,' which basically means you're 15-30 minutes late for everything. Every time I get caught up in all of my work here at school, I like to sit back and relax for a couple of minutes and pretend that I don't have three tests and four games next week. The Hawaiian culture allows me to escape my stress and keeps me in balance when I need it the most."

"There is a common spirit that everyone carries," said Tristan Medios-Simon. "I consider myself a real local boy and a lot of us speak Pidgin with one another. I can hear someone speaking Pidgin anywhere in the world and I know they are local Hawaiian. The 'Aloha Spirit' is about incorporating everyone and is a big part of what I like to include in my attitude: Always be inclusive, make sure everyone is nice and courteous."

Photo: L: Aaron Yanagi (Whitworth College) and Tristan Medios-Simon (NYU); R: Medios-Simon

Pidgin English or "Hawai'i Creole" developed out of the need for a common language among such a diverse population with multiple languages. It became one of the official languages in the islands in a list released by the U.S. Census Bureau, in November 2015.

The census list includes more than 100 languages spoken in Hawai'i with the list based on an American Community Survey of more than 320,000 people in Hawai'i between 2009 and 2013. The top languages spoken on the islands after English are Tagalog, Ilocano, Japanese, Spanish, and Hawaiian.

"Although I am not Native Hawaiian, I have great respect for the culture," said Marissa Miyagi. "I have danced hula since the fourth grade and have taken a Hawaiian studies class. Last semester, I took linguistic anthropology and did my final project on Hawaiian Creole English. Having been born and raised in the islands, I am extremely appreciative of the atmosphere that has made me who I am."

"The combination of cultures has really taught me to appreciate people's differences, and embrace everything," Christine Tamura said. "I have absolutely loved growing up eating all these different foods, because I think it has allowed me to be someone who is more open to trying new/different things."

"Hawaiian culture is part of who I am, my identity as I am ethnically 1/4  Native Hawaiian," said Quincy Marting. "It is the basis for my life choices, morals, values, etc. Each day I try to embody culture, from the way I treat other people, to the way I treat the world we live in."

Photo, L-R: Osamu Fukuyama, Washington University graduate 
Quincy Marting, 
Kelvin Naito 

Marting's native Hawaiian ancestry comes from his mother's side, which also includes Chinese, Japanese, and German heritage. "My 'mixed plate' of race is fairly common in Hawai'i and is becoming increasingly more so," he stated. "Another interesting anecdote is that with all of this mixing there is the slow fading of the Native Hawaiian ethnicity. That is not to say the culture is fading however, because even though the Native Hawaiian blood is diffusing out over many people, the Hawaiian culture is coming back strong from a recent attempt at extinction during the periods of annexation and the fall of the Hawaiian Monarchy. Some people have even discussed the concept of a two-culture state. There is the old traditional Hawaiian culture set forth by our ancestors and there is the new Hawai'i, the melting pot of Asian-Pacific cultures to form one big Hawai'i culture."

"The local culture is extremely important to me and I don't think that will ever change," Blayne Fuke stated. "I’m still a local boy at heart, trying to spread the 'Aloha' up here in New York. I miss it because my family and friends are back there. I also miss the food and being able to talk in Pidgin English, but I do get plenty of all that when I go back and visit."

"It is a very laid-back culture and people are a lot more trusting," University of Chicago sophomore Spencer Oh said of Hawai'i. "I am very family-oriented and the culture has led me to be very welcoming of new people whenever I meet them. I consider anyone I meet almost like family. There is truly an 'Aloha vibe' that I carry with me."

Photo: Spencer Ho and friends in Hawaii

"I really value the culture of Hawai'i and I try to keep it in my heart wherever I go," commented Nick Kwon. "I appreciate the way the people of Hawai'i value family, humility, and respect. At the same time, I think it's important for me to learn about and appreciate the culture of wherever I live and for now that's Cleveland."

Photo, L-R: Mana Kaohi, Vance Fuchigami, CWRU senior Nick Kwon

"The culture is a key part. It is all around you as you grow up," said Daniel Pietsch. "Being fully white is a little bit different. I don’t have that racial mix, but having that all around me was very influential. It was a really interesting way to grow up and shapes how I view the world. It is really weird to be anywhere on the mainland. People interact so differently with each other. It was a culture shock for me the first couple months away from home and was quite an adjustment for sure."

Photo: Emory University junior Daniel Pietsch 

"Growing up there I didn’t even notice the way people looked," Pietsch added. "I just knew how friendly everyone was, whether it was when I was living in Maui or Oahu. I didn’t even realize I was the only fully white person in my class until second grade."