Hispanics in Hawaii, A Well Kept Secret

By Jose Villa (NBCLatino.com)

“There are Hispanics in Hawaii?” After living in Hawaii for 25 years – and publishing the only Hispanic newspaper – I get asked that a lot by individuals outside Hawaii. It always makes me smile. Our state’s Hispanic population is rapidly approaching 10% (currently 121,000 residents). It grew 40% between 2000 and 2010. But, apparently, our mid-Pacific enclave is still a well kept secret.

Hispanics were one of the earliest non-Polynesian people to settle here. Capt Cook “discovered” the islands in 1778. In 1794 Spaniard Don Francisco De Paula Marin became a resident of Honolulu. In 1830 200 Mexican vaqueros were brought in from California to teach the Hawaiians the art of cattle ranching. And from 1900-1901, 5,000 Puerto Ricans came in to work on Hawaii’s plantations. So we’re not the “new kids” on the Hawaiian block. There’s been a continuous Hispanic presence in Hawaii for 218 years.

Hawaii’s Hispanic community is different from typical Hispanic communities on the U.S. mainland. Many of those communities have Latino barrios. There are none here. People live wherever – island, city, town, etc. – they choose to live.

We celebrate all our Latino cultures. So it’s not a “Mexican thing” or “Puerto Rican thing.” It’s a “Latino thing.” Last year a mariachi group came from L.A., a flamenco group came from Spain and the Afro-Cuban All Stars came. We went to see them all.

Another area where our community differs from mainland Hispanic communities is in our incredible lack of the most basic Hispanic community infrastructure. We don’t have: any Spanish-language channels on our basic TV cable system; Spanish television or radio stations; or Hispanic storefronts – other than Mexican restaurants, one Cuban restaurant, and some small mercados.

I believe 2012 will be the “Year of the Latino” in Hawaii. Why? Several of our state’s key political campaigns – including a U.S. Senate and U.S. House seat – will be hotly contested. Every vote will count. What our community does have – and is on the verge of leveraging – is an emerging societal segment that has traditionally been underserved, underrepresented and underappreciated. Now that our “voting age” population numbers have increased substantially, our community can no longer be overlooked.

There are 76 members – 51 representatives and 25 senators – in our State Legislature. Based on our population, at least six of those seats should be ours. One is occupied by a Hawaii-born, part-Latino. The others are occupied by non-Latinos.

Our republic was founded on the concept of “taxation without representation.” That’s the situation Hawaii’s Hispanic community still finds itself in today. That situation can– and must – change. So our newspaper and Latin chamber are seeking Latinos/as interested in running for office in the state of Hawaii this year.

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Categories: NGLC Conference

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