Manhattan needs more cultural awareness

Lexie Santana, Guest Columnist

Cultural appropriation according to the Oxford Dictionary, means “unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of the customs, practices, ideas, etc. of one people or society by members or another and typically more dominant people of society.” Cultural appropriation is all around us, whether we’re aware of it or not. 

We have been taught that racism is a horrible thing to do, that the color of one’s skin and where someone is from does not define who they are or what they could do. We’re taught that African Americans have suffered for many decades, that only now are they treated with the same respect as a white man (sometimes). 

We are taught about Japan and Hiroshima — all the lives lost on this tragic day. We are taught about the Native Americans, their stolen land and the mistreatment of their people. In school, we are required to learn and know all these historical events. 

However, as a native Hawaiian, I was required to not only learn my ancestors’ history but also the mainland version of history. I was born and raised in Hawaii for 13 ½ years, I’ve adopted their unique accents and my ancestors’ brown skin. I was absolutely disappointed when I moved up here to not only realize that people treated me differently but also that most people didn’t even know Hawaii was a state.

They called me exotic and said I looked like I was from another country. They asked if I lived in huts and wore hula skirts and coconut shells for a bra. I was dressed just like them. One girl even took it upon herself to tell my sister to go back to Hawaii. I told my sister to tell her to pay for our ticket. I’ve had people try to correct me on how to pronounce Hawaiian words as if I hadn’t lived there my whole life. I’ve had people make fun of how I looked solely because they couldn’t tell if I was Black, Mexican, Asian or both. 

If you can’t already tell, this is racism. You don’t need to be Black, Mexican or Asian to experience it. We’ve grown up thinking you can only be racist to those races, and that any other race is less significant because they are talked about less. 

How is it that Hawaii seems so foreign to the United States? Why does it feel like the topic of Hawaii is only brought up because of Pearl Harbor and spirit week where people dress up “like Hawaiians?” Too many of my classmates know so little about Hawaii itself, yet they like to flash their Aloha print shirts and fake leis. 

I can recall one moment when I overheard one of my classmates arguing about the Hawaiian theme for Homecoming, saying, “This is how you’re supposed to dress; this is how Hawaiians dress.” 

This wasn’t just one incident, this happens more often than you think. Everyone sees Hawaii as their dream vacation, yet they know nothing of our people, our land and how we suffered as a whole. Hawaiians are a dying race; in Hawaii just 10.4% of the population is Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander. 

I’m proud of my Hawaiian blood; however, it brings me great sorrow to know that I’m an American citizen, yet my own country doesn’t even know we exist until they want something from us. If we are so educated as a country, then why is Hawaii so overlooked? Put forth some effort in educating the whole country’s history before you move on to another one.