What Makes Hawaii Unique, Part 3 of 5

Multiethnic, multicultural Hawai‘i

Author’s Note: Here are links to Part 1 and Part 2 in this series of posts.

Demographics: The Genesis of “Local Culture”
Hawai‘i is America’s most culturally and ethnically diverse state. As shown in the following table, no single group constitutes a majority.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2010 census
Note: These numbers should be taken with a grain of salt since in the census some people declared more than one race (those identifying with two or more races total 142% of the entire population thanks to being counted in more than one category) while some declared only one race (these totaled about 71% of the entire population, although few local residents would be likely to believe that such a high proportion is pure-blooded in any racial group). What seems clear is that haoles account for about a quarter of the population while Asians and part-Asians account for between one and two thirds.

Caucasians comprise about a quarter of the state’s population, non-haoles about three quarters. Asians and part-Asians are the largest group.

Multiethnic “Local Culture”
Self-identified (for Census purposes) Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders comprise less than 10% of the population. Residents with Native Hawaiian ancestry, most of whom are either part-Asian or part-haole — or both — account for a little over a fifth of the population. In any case, “local culture” has many of its roots in the Hawaiian “host culture,” which has been woven into the Islands’ multiethnic and multicultural “local” style.

Language, religion, cultural and social practices, and food differentiate the state’s many Asian ethnic groups from each other. The following table shows the populations of the major Asian ethnicities, but even this does not tell the full story. New immigrants are often closely tied to the culture they left behind while many families of Asian ancestry have been in Hawai‘i for generations and are as American as apple pie, as Hawaiian as “shave ice” (the popular local improvement on a snow cone).

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2010 census

Island history over the past century and a half has been marked by the immigration of various races and ethnic groups. Over time, many in these groups intermarried, often with Native Hawaiians, and produced bi-ethnic and bicultural children. Those children in turn intermarried, producing multiethnic, multicultural children. “Local style” is a social interaction that mixes culture, race and history with an emphasis on family and genealogy.

Families have continued to practice their own cultures, but have also helped create an Island culture that blends contributions from a mix of ethnic groups. In Hawai‘i, “culture” is readily accessible across lines of ethnicity and race. Many people participate and are generally welcome in the cultural activities of other ethnicities, regardless of their background.

The Islands’ diversity is exemplified in the ranks of state employees. In November 2005, former Governor Lingle accepted the Diversity in Government Leadership Award for the state government’s emphasis on promoting diversity and advancing minorities and women in the workplace. In accepting the award, she described the reality with simple eloquence: “Diversity is not a statistic with us — it’s a way of life.” She added that Hawai‘i is a model for the world of how people from different backgrounds can live and work together.

Politics, Business and Labor in Hawai‘i
In addition to understanding the cultural and social influences that have shaped the Hawai‘i market, it is important to be aware of the history of politics, business and labor in Hawai‘i and how events of the past have shaped the business environment of today.

Before 1944, attempts to organize labor unions were made on several occasions, but defeated, some forcibly. However, between 1946 and 1949 the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) was able to successfully organize two key sectors in Hawai‘i: first the sugar and pineapple plantation workers, then Hawai‘i’s port workers. Because both sectors were so vital to the economy, and because the plantation workers were so numerous, the ILWU has played an important role in Hawai‘i’s economy ever since.

The ILWU began playing a central role in Hawai‘i politics too. Its major battles with the Big Five coincided with the period in which second-generation Japanese (nissei) and Chinese were coming of age and could vote, unlike their parents. As discussed in the section on history (see Part 2 in this series), while the Republicans shortsightedly turned their backs on them, the Democrats embraced them. The ILWU-Democratic Party alliance was a natural one, with the union turning out an army of campaign workers to support pro-labor candidates.

The result: the Democrats won a majority in the Legislature in 1954, and the governorship in 1962, establishing a dynasty that still controls Hawai‘i politics today. Despite the loss of the governorship to Republican Linda Lingle from 2002 to 2010, the Democrats made gains in the Legislature in 2004, 2006 and 2008 and controlled both House and Senate with solid veto-proof majorities throughout Lingle’s tenure. In the 2010 election, the Republicans picked up two new seats in the House while losing one in the Senate — which still has just one lonely GOP member. Today, Hawai‘i’s Legislature is more overwhelmingly Democratic than any other state legislature. [And no Republican has occupied the governor’s residence since Lingle left office in 2010.]

Particularly in the 1960s, with the advent of jet travel, Hawai‘i’s economy began noticeably shifting from agriculture to tourism. During this period, other unions emerged as major political forces, including Local 5 — representing hotel workers (mainly on O‘ahu; on the neighbor islands, most are represented by the ILWU).

As Hawai‘i’s economy began to change, many workers took jobs as state and county government employees. As a result, Hawai‘i’s public employee unions — given the right to organize by the pro-labor, Democratic Legislature — grew into political juggernauts. Today, their combined membership of about 68,000 constitutes roughly 59% of all union employees in the state, and many observers consider the alliance between Hawai‘i’s Democrats and the public employee unions almost incestuous, with the Legislature inclined to give the unions most of what they want, often at the expense of other public priorities, while the unions turn out armies of campaign workers on behalf of pro-labor (i.e., mostly Democratic) candidates. The major public employee unions are the Hawai‘i Government Employees Association (HGEA — white collar), United Public Workers (UPW — blue collar; both the UPW and HGEA are affiliates of AFSCME, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, one of the largest unions in the AFL-CIO), and the Hawai‘i State Teachers Association (HSTA). The smaller University of Hawai‘i Professional Assembly (UHPA) has lately taken a less predictable political path, backing Republican Linda Lingle in 2002 and 2006, but returning to the Democratic fold behind the candidacy of Neil Abercrombie in 2010.

Today, while the Big Five has long since evaporated as both a political and economic force, Hawai‘i’s unions remain strong, although their membership has been slowly declining since the 1970s. Despite this waning membership, Hawai‘i’s workforce is still the nation’s third most-heavily unionized (after New York and Alaska) at 21.6% (2012 figure), nearly double the national average. There are currently about 116,000 union members in the state. (Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, www.bls.gov/news.release/union2.t05.htm)

Please stay tuned for Parts 4 and 5 of this series.

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