It all started with a conversation that I had recently with a classmate. I responded to her Instagram story, which said that she bought “Hawaiian donuts” from a bakery in California. When I saw the post I laughed because I had no idea why they would call them Hawaiian donuts, they were just donuts with a slightly different shape. I jokingly asked her if that’s what they called it on the mainland. I was surprised by her response and what came after it, besides saying “Yes that’s what they call them” we started having a conversation about how other people’s cultures are often misinterpreted and misrepresented. People of color often see their culture appropriated by others in all aspects of life: food, fashion, dance and other traditions and mannerisms. The following list explains how to navigate another person’s culture and some of things I learned about my culture and cultural appropriation from people who have never experienced it.
Jumping onto Trends
One of my biggest pet peeves is when people pronounce poke bowls like (poh-kee) when it should be pronounced (poh-KAY). Poke, a staple Hawaiian food, is a perfect example of how cultural food is inaccurately portrayed to the larger national and international community due to cultural appropriation. Poke bowls are becoming a food trend, especially in California, with shops popping up across the state. The poke bowls that they serve on the mainland aren’t exactly right. Instead of marinating the fish in sauces, they simply pour it over the top. They also add various sides such as salad, avocado, edamame, seaweed, radishes, and quinoa, instead of just serving raw marinated fish on rice.
These restaurants are marketing to younger customers who want to eat food based on its appearance, making the food trendy and totally Instagrammable. What’s even worse is that some of these shops don’t even spell poke correctly. They spell it like “poki” or even add an accent over the “e” (poké) to show people how to correctly say it. First of all poki is incredibly wrong and poke with the accent is a little better but not entirely correct. In moments like these it is hard to find a compromise between introducing a cultural food to others but also keeping the integrity of the culture. This is a big piece of cultural appropriation.
People Often Don’t Understand Your Background
Growing up on island literally in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, I learned that people have a lot of misconceptions about the lifestyle I live. Because Hawai‘i is so far removed from the rest of the United States, some people still believe that we live in grass shacks, ride our dolphins to school and surf every day. Perhaps the last one may be a little true but other than that, Hawai‘i is just as developed as a city on the mainland. I’d say there is a pretty good combination of city and nature. Although Hawai‘i refers to a singular state, people often forget that the state is actually comprised of multiple islands, with each island having its own way of life and local culture. Furthermore, the culture in Hawai‘i versus the mainland is very different.
First of all, local Hawaiian culture is a mixture of various races, stemming from Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Portuguese, and other immigrants who came to the islands to work on plantations. Often times it is difficult to distinguish one specific culture from the combination that is local Hawaiian culture. Secondly, because of this history of immigration, Asians are the majority in Hawai‘i with whites being a minority, which is completely different from the mainland. People in Hawai‘i are also very welcoming and family oriented. Most homes in Hawai‘i are multifamily homes and everybody calls adults, relatives and non relatives, aunty and uncle. Calling someone aunty and uncle is used as a sign of respect. Also, a good to thing to note is that you can’t call people from Hawai‘i “Hawaiian.” Unlike California or Texas where you can call people who live in the state Californians or Texans, Hawaiian is an actual race. People often assume I’m Hawaiian, but I’m not. I simply refer to myself as a local from Hawaii or as a Hawaiian at heart.
Open Your Horizons to Learn About Cultures That Are Not Your Own
One thing I really appreciate as a person of color is when people are genuinely interested about my culture or where I grew up. What surprised me the most when I got to college was people’s lack of interest in the fact that I was from Hawai‘i. When I would tell people that I was from Hawai‘i, they would say, “I’ve been there before,” but honestly there is a real difference between being a tourist and a local. Talking to some of my friends from back home, they said that they experienced the same thing. Students were often more interested in their peers from small towns on the mainland that they’ve heard of or live near to rather than places they’ve never been before.
Now I’m not saying that I want to be the center of attention and I want people to swarm and talk to me because I’m the “girl from Hawai‘i,” but I do want to educate people about the place I grew up and the cultural differences we have compared to people on the mainland. I feel as if people tend to not care about things that don’t affect them, but they should care. I am always glad to educate people about Hawaiian or Filipino culture as long as they are willing to listen and have an open-mind. I think it’s important for people to be aware of the world around them, the injustices others go through and the rich culture that people have to offer. In my opinion, educating people about all cultures will eventually create a more understanding society in which everyone will be treated with respect and pave the road to equality no matter our differences.
Don’t Be A Know-It-All
Last but certainly not least, please do not be a know-it-all when it comes to a culture that you personally did not experience. Do not be that person who thinks they can speak for an entire race or culture just because you have a friend that taught you about it. Yes, I am happy that you learned all this information, but you do not have the right to speak of our struggles and our traditions as if they are your own.
When it comes to the topic of culture and cultural appropriation, it can be difficult and complex, but this shouldn’t hinder you from learning about and experiencing other people’s cultures. Know that they are glad and willing to share their culture with you, but you must not overstep your place and take advantage of what is being given to you. A good rule to follow is to practice cultural appreciation NOT cultural appropriation.