Multiethnic queen is the right thing in Hawai'i
By Keith Kamisugi
1998-99 president of the Honolulu Japanese Junior Chamber of Commerce
As the Honolulu Japanese Junior Chamber of Commerce crowns Catherine Toth as the 49th Cherry Blossom Festival Queen, it's worth noting that she is the first woman with a non-Japanese surname to win the contest.
Although I hope Toth's mixed-ethnic background remains a source of pride for the Japanese American community, there's a fair chance that some may disagree privately or in closed circles with the Festival's recent opening of the queen contest to multiethnic women of at least 50 percent Japanese ethnicity.
Toth is the second "hapa" queen. She succeeds Vail Matsumoto, who is also multiethnic. And prior to Vail, Alison Tasaka was the first multiethnic court member (she is part-Chinese).
Since 1998, when the chamber changed the rules of the Cherry Blossom Festival queen contest, many people have misunderstood the reasons we added racial diversity to the contestant ranks.
First and foremost, it was the right thing to do. We always promoted the festival as a representation of Hawaii's Japanese American community, yet the rules barred queen contestants who were not of full Japanese ancestry. It was disturbing that a hapa-Japanese woman could not represent her ethnic community through the festival.
We did not, as some people believe, change the contest criteria because we faced a shortage of participants. Festival volunteers have always done a good job promoting the queen contest, although such a problem could have developed later in this decade.
At the point where we were close to finalizing the contest rule change, a few people asked if we would still require a Japanese surname, based on the false notion that the queen and court visit to Japan would be less than ideal if the queen had a "haole last name." (A few individuals really said this to me.)
Absolutely not. A Japanese American woman named Toth is no less or more Japanese than a woman named Matsumoto. Pride in our Japanese heritage does not come from our birth certificate. It comes from our family, our community and our experiences as participants in that culture.
I'm gratified that the Cherry Blossom Festival has achieved such diversity in the queen contest. It is a true reflection of our Japanese American community.