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Ethnicity and Inequality in Hawai'i

Jonathan Y. Okamura

Publication Year: 2008

Challenging the dominant view of Hawai’i as a “melting pot paradise”—a place of ethnic tolerance and equality—Jonathan Okamura examines how ethnic inequality is structured and maintained in island society. He finds that ethnicity, not race or class, signifies difference for Hawaii’s people and therefore structures their social relations. In Hawai’i, residents attribute greater social significance to the presumed cultural differences between ethnicities than to more obvious physical differences, such as skin color.

According to Okamura, ethnicity regulates disparities in access to resources, rewards, and privileges among ethnic groups, as he demonstrates in his analysis of socioeconomic and educational inequalities in the state. He shows that socially and economically dominant ethnic groups—Chinese Americans, Japanese Americans, and Whites—have stigmatized and subjugated the islands’ other ethnic groups—especially Native Hawaiians, Filipino Americans, and Samoans. He demonstrates how ethnic stereotypes have been deployed against ethnic minorities and how these groups have contested their subordinate political and economic status by articulating new identities for themselves.

Published by: Temple University Press

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pp. ix-xi

I have long wanted to write this book.As a high school student, after my family had moved in 1964 to what would eventually become Silicon Valley, California, I naively offered to write an essay on ethnic inequality in Hawai‘i for Life magazine. I recall being very disappointed that such a major magazine did not even reply to my letter, especially...

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1 Introduction

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pp. 1-20

At a 2005 University of Hawai‘i (UH) Board of Regents meeting in Honolulu, I presented testimony in opposition to proposed tuition increases throughout the UH system. My argument was based on knowledge of how disastrous the consequences had been for Hawai‘i students, especially ethnic minorities, when tuition was raised substantially in 1996 and 1997...

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2 Changing Ethnic Differences

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pp. 21-41

This chapter is concerned with various social and demographic processes that contribute to the increasing complexity of ethnicity and ethnic relations in Hawai‘i. It seeks to demonstrate that, as a result of these processes, ethnic identity and ethnic relations are far more problematic and complex than might be assumed from the islands’ reputation as a veritable “racial paradise” and multicultural model for other racially and ethnically divided societies...

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3 Socioeconomic Inequality and Ethnicity

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pp. 42-63

This chapter is concerned with determining the relation between socioeconomic status and ethnicity in Hawai‘i; that is, ascertaining the significance of ethnicity as an organizing principle in the allocation of socioeconomic status. I review 2000 U.S. census data on occupational status and income level as objective indicators of socioeconomic status of eight major ethnic groups in Hawai‘i....

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4 Educational Inequality and Ethnicity

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pp. 64-90

Education has been used by racial and ethnic minorities in Hawai‘i and elsewhere in the United States as a means of both individual and collective social mobility. In Hawai‘i, ethnic groups that started on the plantation, such as Chinese Americans, Japanese Americans, and Korean Americans, were able to use the public education system to...

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5 Constructing Ethnic Identities, Constructing Differences

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pp. 91-124

This chapter is concerned with the construction and continuing persistence of ethnic identity among groups in Hawai‘i, despite the assimilation that has obviously occurred since immigrants began arriving in the early nineteenth century. The shared identity of an ethnic group is perhaps its most enduring feature, long after it has lost ...

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6 Japanese Americans: Toward Symbolic Identity

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pp. 125-154

In contrast to the ethnic groups and their cultural and structural processes of identity construction discussed in Chapter 5, Japanese Americans do not have to become actively engaged in the formation of their identity because of the dominant social status they hold in Hawai‘i. For the same reason, Chinese Americans and Whites are other examples of such ethnic groups in Hawai‘i...

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7 Filipino Americans:Model Minority or Dog Eaters?

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pp. 155-186

Since they were recruited to work on the plantations in 1906, Filipino Americans have encountered great difficulty in asserting their own conception of their ethnic identity and having it accepted by other groups. Instead, in many ways, Filipino American ethnic identity has been and continues to be defined by non-Filipinos through racist stereotypes and other denigrating representations that are pervasive throughout Hawai‘i society...

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8 Conclusion

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pp. 187-202

In spring 2007, as I finalized the manuscript of this book, three highly publicized ethnicity-related incidents occurred in Hawai‘i, two of which were extremely violent. These ethnic altercations captured the attention of Hawai‘i residents because their violent and abusive nature represented such a stark challenge to the prevalent view of cordial and tolerant relationships between individuals from different ethnic groups...


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pp. 203-214


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pp. 215-228


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pp. 229-238

E-ISBN-13: 9781592137572

Publication Year: 2008