Understanding Hawaiian Ohana and the American Culture: Looking in between

written by Exan Sharief from the Philippines

The Hawaii community is an interesting place to unlearn in order to learn things in another perspective. While my first week exposure on the American culture started in Washington DC where I had the opportunity to talk to the ordinary people I met on the streets regarding their views and practices as part of the continental US, I could not deny my excitement as I listened to the stories of diversity by the people of this Hawaii island territory. It is a blessing that I was placed for work at EPIC Ohana where family is given a prime importance. In the same fashion, I am lucky to be hosted by Uncle Roger, my parent from a Chinese descent.

Both of these fateful coincidence have taught me new erudition and continue to open my understanding on how the US and its American practices have truly influenced their ways of life. I came to realize then that our Professional Fellowship Program wasn’t just about the concepts, practices and strategies on economic empowerment. Sure it did provide a leverage on my intent to get a good grasp on how to raise the economic capacity of the community through getting involved in the planning and assessment of the existing programs of EPIC Ohana, but more importantly, I got the chance to meet brilliant individuals who have seen themselves how communities are empowered and how their potentials are directed.

During the first Friday of this month of May, our office did a lunch potluck with a mother’s day theme. Right there, everyone prepared a delicacy and shared its relevance with their family bond. I have been sitting to discuss with program managers on youth circle, ohana conference, ohana connections, HI HOPES and youth leadership board, but at that quick one-hour lunch period, I acquired knowledge that are more than what is written on reports and proposals. I had the first-hand experience of behavioral uplift translated into an informal cultural exchange but institutionalized as a working office policy. Birthdays and graduations were announced, exemplary works were complemented and because I was new to the family, I had the privilege to start the informal sharing before the meal. What I brought was a “palapa,” a Meranao homemade spices, put in bread appetizers while others brought “Poke,” Spanish delicacies, French salads and many other mom’s recipes. I saw the assortment of food palate but one was a common favorite to everyone – the American dessert, Ice Cream. More than that, I had chit chats with my officemates on their admiration for the Filipinos in Hawaii who have ventured in making good businesses either in food, service or accessory items. Not far from the Filipino culture, the Hawaiian community, while diverse in composition, truly values family bonds especially with that of a mother to a child. So, I took advantage of the moment to share to them how a typical Filipino family looks like in the Philippines aside from those they came across here in the US.

On a separate occasion, I was able to share the concept of the Filipino “Bayanihan” spirit in one of the program conceptualization for Princess Lili’oukalani Trust for the native Hawaiian children. I was in full admiration on how the Federal government manages to respect the multi-ethnicity composition of its population. I then attended this International Trade Seminar through the invitation of the International Hospitality Center, where I was able to connect the interrelation of the economic activities of the general American Hawaiian population with those from other countries. I understood how income and business unites the different cultures existing in Hawaii into exporting a single brand that represents them all.

The past two weeks in Hawaii gave a learning experience within and outside my work placement. I usually make the most of my stay here, so immediately after work, I visit different areas in downtown Honolulu. Several times, I got the casual talk with both the locals and the visitors who come from continental US. From them, I learned the importance of tourism as part of the State’s economic activities. Very significantly, I learned from them the power of referral between family members and circle of friends. This is nothing new to what I hear almost every single day from Uncle Roger, who happened to be a restaurant owner in Oahu. He shared how he had his education in the mainland before coming here in Hawaii. So, I had a bunch of comparative notes on the economic behavioral pattern from the mainland to the pacific. More than what I hear from him and the theoretical discussion, I was fortunate to be introduced to his American Chinese family as well as made part of the family workforce as each one contributes something to the family business. Luckily, my share was to simply help in the purchasing while I enjoy being treated with a tasty meal which I would take as more than just a compensation. Hearing all these stories on startup capitals that turned into successful businesses and the sacrifices of moving from Southern China to mainland US before going to Hawaii, I have seen the transitional progress into the American standard of living and kindness extended by the American culture in embracing newcomers from a variety of lineage.

Like that of a tree where branches grow in different directions yet united by a single trunk, the different backgrounds and origins of the families or Ohana living in the US, more particularly in Hawaii, are united by the common adherence to the American family values.

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