by Siena M.*
What’s life like in Hawaii? Paradise? Heaven? In a way, one could say so. For as long as I can remember, I have believed Hawaii to be a place free of racial tensions – a perfect place where one person is not better than the other because he/she is a different race.In my public high school of 1,000 students, in any given classroom, I’m sitting with kids who are Asian, Filipino, Portuguese, Hawaiian, Micronesian, you name it. Recently, I had some experiences that proved that not all of America is this way.
During my recent fall break, I was fortunate to travel on my own to New York to visit my grandfather. One afternoon I was eating at a comfy little pizza place for lunch when all of a sudden, a couple of dozen students poured in. After ordering, some sat down at one long table but only the white kids. A few tables back, a couple of black kids were sitting by themselves. It was an odd feeling to me, not seeing kids of different races hanging out with each other.
Over the course of my trip, I again witnessed racial segregation in person. On the subway, I would see white people shy away from a black man. I rarely saw people of different races walking together around the city, eating at the same table, or even sitting by each other on the bus. This made me think, was Hawaii really all that different?The answer? No. Looking at Hawaii now, I see we are sadly a shadow of the mainland. At my school, Micronesians tend to hang out together and don’t have many friends outside their ethnicity. And although we tend to use “racial slurs” such as haole, meaning white foreigner or someone who doesn’t belong, it’s more of a joke to poke fun at people who aren’t Hawaiian, and haoles here use it all the time to make fun of themselves. I’ve never realized it, but in our own way, we discriminate against other cultures despite our experience with diversity.In response to my experiences on the mainland, I have become more aware of the social injustice plaguing communities nationwide, even in Hawaii. While the segregation I’ve seen and use of slurs I’ve heard here don’t feel to me like they carry as much weight, I’ve come to realize we are not the “perfect society” I thought we were.* This is an edited version of an application essay Siena wrote and gave permission to use. Hope you enjoyed!