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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, May 18, 2001

Hawai'i's mixed plate of races complicates census

 •  Chart: Hawai'i by the numbers, 2000 and 1990
 •  State ranks among highest in life expectancy
 •  Drop in Native Hawaiians attributed to new options
 •  Advertiser special: Hawai'i's Census 2000

By Tanya Bricking
Advertiser Staff Writer

Throughout the 1990s, Filipinos were regarded as the fastest growing single ethnic group in the state, but census statistics released today indicate that race in Hawai'i is much more complicated than that.

Predicted to make up 20 percent of the state's population by 2000, U.S. Census Bureau figures show that while the Filipino population here grew by nearly 2,000, the percentage fell slightly.

Filipinos now make up 14.1 percent of the state's population.

"This is probably an undercount, since this is the first time the Census allowed people to choose more than one race," said Belinda Aquino, director of the Center for Philippine Studies at the University of Hawai'i. "The more you are in terms of raw numbers, the more you're able to parlay that into a need for more services. It's in the interest of ethnic groups to enlarge their numbers."

The complication of mixed-race categories could be skewing 2000 census numbers and hurting service providers, Aquino said.

It is a complication that is playing out among all race categories in Hawai'i, where people are 10 times more likely than the rest of the nation to be of mixed race.

While the rest of the country is surging in Hispanic and Latino ethnicities, the emerging portrait of Hawai'i is a racial and ethnic blend with an Eastern influence. Five percent of all Asians in America live here, and only California, New York and Texas outnumber Hawai'i in raw counts of Asian Americans.

But the wide range of data released by the Census Bureau today also give a demographic snapshot of the state that extends beyond ethnicities.

This is a state where divorces are on the rise, but where married-with-children households still outnumber single adults living alone.

It also is graying population, with a higher percentage of senior citizens than the rest of the United States.

"What it does is it confirms a lot of notions people have about Hawai'i, like our mixed ancestry," said Dean Alegado, an ethnic studies professor at the University of Hawai'i. "It gives us a better appreciation of how complex people are."

Households in Hawai'i have more women, fewer babies and toddlers, more teens, more middle-agers and more elderly than they did a decade ago.

Mirroring other American regions with stagnant economies, Hawai'i's population of 20- to 34-year-olds fell in the 1990s, as young adults left to seek better job opportunities.

And the "Happy Days" era of 1950s, when 78 percent of households in America were occupied by married couples, is fading fast. Married couples now live in 53.6 percent of Hawai'i households, down from 59.1 percent a decade ago.

Bucking the trend of the rest of the nation, married-with-children families still make up 24 percent of households in Hawai'i, outnumbering 22 percent of households where single adults live alone. So the 'ohana is still intact, at least until the next census count.

Where Hawai'i differs most in the nation, is in its percentage of mixed-race Americans.

Fastest-growing group

Jerry Wong was part of a movement in the 1970s to simply get the U.S. Census Bureau to count Asians and Pacific Islanders.

Three decades later, Wong, now an information services specialist with the bureau's Los Angeles regional office, has seen Asians in America soar to 10.2 million in the 2000 census, making them the country's fastest-growing racial group.

Half a million of those Asians live in Hawai'i, where Asians make up 41.6 percent of the state's population, more than any other race.

The complication comes in the way the Census Bureau is counting race this year, Wong said. Because this census allowed people, for the first time, to choose more than one race, numbers of single-race Asians in Hawai'i appeared to shrink in this census, Wong said.

But that's because 21.4 percent of Hawai'i's population consider themselves multiracial. Hawai'i has the highest percentage of mixed-race people in the nation, followed by the increasingly diverse state of California. The difference in Hawai'i, he said, is that there really is a sense of "aloha."

"In Hawai'i, there is an affinity among people," Wong said. "Previous prejudices that are found elsewhere in the country are reduced."

Unlike the rest of America, where Chinese are the largest Asian ethnic group, Japanese remain the largest Asian group in Hawai'i, making up 16.7 percent of the population. They are followed by Filipinos, with 14.1 percent of the population, and Chinese, with 4.7 percent.

Mixed race; mixed numbers

America has considered race in its statistics since the first census, and categories over the years have been flexible and fluid — from the days when slaves were counted as four-fifths of a person to the not-so-distant past, when census takers decided the ethnicities of those counted.

Today, Native Hawaiians have a separate category, and Hispanic and Latino ethnicities are being studied more closely.

While the census confirms that Hawai'i is a rainbow of ethnicities, the new categories for people of mixed ancestry complicate things for marketers, demographers, government officials and others crunching the numbers.

The race data aren't exactly comparable to the 1990 census. New multiracial choices make for complicated comparisons.

"It's very hard to decipher that information," said Bill Emmsley, chief executive officer of the Samoan Service Providers Association, who is waiting for more detailed data about Samoans "hidden" in mixed-race categories.

The numbers are important for things such as writing grants and making job training, business development and educational seminars available for people who need it, he said.

"It makes my job difficult," he said.