I spent the first 18 years of my life on a beach in Hawaii.
My childhood home was built, quite literally, on the beach, and waking up every morning to a wide-window view of pink and purple skies, rolling waves, and dark, palm tree silhouettes swaying in the wind was my “normal.”
I lived so close to the shore, in fact, that one of my clearest childhood memories today is being 10 years old, complaining to my parents in the middle of the night that I couldn’t sleep because the ocean was “too loud.”
In retrospect, I realize how ridiculous a complaint that was.
Growing up in one of the most coveted vacation spots in the world, needless to say, had its perks. The beaches were amazing. I still miss the food. And yeah, summer all-year-round wasn’t bad. But perhaps my favorite part about Hawaii was the strong sense of tradition and culture I felt from people all over the globe every single day. The island I lived on was truly a cultural melting pot where people came as one in ways unheard of in the rest of the country. As a biracial American with an immigrant mother, Hawaii was my haven. I made lifelong friends from all walks of life. But it was also all I ever knew – to me, that was “normal.”
In Excellent Sheep, William Deresiewicz writes, “What I saw at Yale I have continued to see at campuses around the country. Everybody looks extremely normal, and everybody looks the same. No hippies, no punks, no art school types or hipsters, no butch lesbians or gender queers, no black kids in dashikis.”
“32 shades of vanilla,” he goes on to describe it.
While I won’t use this blog to type up a book report or make arguably political stances on minorities, diversity, and the like, what I will say is this: It wasn’t until coming to Mizzou for college that I saw what “normal” really was. Like Deresiewicz appropriately put it, everybody to me looked exactly the same. Perhaps it was because of my own cultural background. Perhaps it was because of the unique place I grew up in. But in any case, my freshman year in college proved to be an extremely difficult one as I grew into what I know now to be the biggest transition of my life thus far. Not only was I struggling to figure out my own identity just like every other young person in the world, but I also faced the pressure to fit into a mechanized mold in an area of the country I’d never visited, where the universal “normal” seemed to contradict everything I was.
“No hippies, no punks, no art school types or hipsters,” Deresiewicz says. No tiny, biracial girls from Hawaii wearing printed, floral leggings in the dead of winter to remind her of sunnier days, I’d add.
Naturally, I felt out of place. And naturally, it made sense. I’m an outlier here no matter how you slice it. I mean, I should have expected it from the get-go. I’m from Hawaii. I’m half Japanese, raised by a mother from Okinawa, Japan. My dad’s an American from California, but he lives in Qatar, as he has for the last 4 or 5 years. My stepmom’s from Thailand. I have family from everywhere. I come from everywhere. I guess you might say I’m just a culmination of weird things from every random corner of the world. For years, I tried to shake the uncomfortable feeling I had, being an outlier in the middle of Missouri. For years, I tried so hard to be “normal.”
But recently, I’ve come to the realization that I will always BE an outlier. That’s just who I am. I will always feel out of place, because I am out of place. There’s no such thing as a comfort zone for me here because that simply wasn’t the path I chose. I didn’t come here for that.
Since my first year in Missouri, I’ve learned to take that feeling of discomfort as the token “girl from Hawaii” — and thrive in it. I would hope this shows through the people I meet, the friends I make, and the work I produce. Consequently, I have thrown myself into the things I find important, because after all, that’s what I’m here for.
But it’s also important for me not to lose sight of who I am and the things Hawaii has taught me in the process.
It’s equally important to find a balance. To find peace. To take time for myself. To observe the town I live in beyond the constructs of my own perceptions, and let the people I meet do the talking.
So, that’s where this comes in. For the next eight or nine weeks (at least), I intend to use this blog as a platform to go back to my roots and find more of a balance toward a healthier, brighter, and more enlightened life. For at least once a week, I’d like to stop the clock and find a little “Hawaii” in Mid-Missouri. This means meeting more people who aren’t like me – and learning from them. Doing things I’m not used to doing – and learning from that. This might be through books, or through food, or through music. Through anything really!
I also hope to use this platform to reveal a little more about Hawaii beyond the constructs of the glitz and glamour of Hawaii 5-0 and whatever else you people watch. No, I don’t do hula. No, I don’t surf (have tried – failed miserably). And no, not everything with pineapple on it is Hawaiian.
Most importantly, I’d like to see this blog as a record of growth and progression during perhaps the one semester that calls for these things the most.
Thanks for listening 🙂