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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, July 14, 2002

Hawai'i boasts ethnic tapestry

 •  State's racial mix leads nation in ethnic diversity
 •  Special report: Hawai'i Census 2000

By Rod Ohira
Advertiser Staff Writer

Mixed marriages were not uncommon in Hawai'i 50 years ago but it was a new experience for Pauline Lindberg and her family.

Jordan Ichiki, kneeling, washed his grandmother Nancy Akahane's car at a recent family gathering in 'Aiea. From left, Steven Toy, Nancy, Travis Ichiki, George Akahane Jr., Michele Akahane and Charlene Lee (with hose).

Deborah Booker • The Honolulu Advertiser

Of pure Korean ancestry, she was the fifth eldest of six children. Her parents were immigrants from Korea who married here in 1919, settled in Wahiawa and owned four tailor/laundry shops around Schofield Barracks.

Formerly Pauline Chun, she met her husband, Charles Lindberg, at Schofield. They have been married for 47 years and split time between Hawai'i and their home in Spokane. He is a retired Army colonel. Her parents, she recalled, never pressured her to marry a Korean.

"Charles asked my mom if he could marry me," she said. "It was not a problem. I think when World War II came, it changed a lot of attitudes. A lot of the old country ways died with the (first) generation."

Lindberg's brother is married to a Japanese national and her married sisters have Italian and Caucasian spouses.

The Chun family experience is typical of what is occurring in the majority of Hawai'i's marriages.

The 2000 Census ranks Caucasians (294,102), Japanese (201,764), Filipino (170,635), Native Hawaiian (80,137), Chinese (56,600), Korean (23,537) and African American (22,003) as the largest ethnic groups in Hawai'i. Despite the ethnic diversity, it wasn't until the 1990s that mixed marriages among Island residents outnumbered the marriages between partners of the same ethnicity.

According to updated statistics from the state Health Department, 53.9 percent of 8,458 licensed marriages among Hawai'i residents in 2000 involved people of different ethnicities. In 1990, 54.6 percent of 9,726 local marriages were mixed.

Charles Lindberg, 72, grew up in Spokane where there was little interracial mixing.

"I think the Mainland was enclosed up until 20 to 30 years ago," he said. "When I came to live in Hawai'i in 1989, there was already a lot of intermixing."

Tony Sang, a Waimanalo homesteader, tried unsuccessfully to convince his children to marry Hawaiians to preserve a blood quantum level for public land trust benefits.

African American Kathryn Waddell Takara, center, and Harvey Takara, an Okinawan, have been married for 28 years. At left is their daughter Natasha.

Takara family photo

"My kids married outside," said Sang, a 75 percent Hawaiian married to a full-blooded Hawaiian. "You can't tell them who to marry. They're so exposed now to different ethnic groups."

Of the immigrant groups that came to Hawai'i in the 19th century, the Japanese were reluctant to marry out and turned instead to picture brides.

"I think my parents preferred that I married my own race but they never said anything," said the former Nancy Tanda, who has been married since 1954 to former city councilman George Akahane. Tanda is Japanese while her husband is of Japanese, Hawaiian and Chinese ancestry.

The Akahanes have five children, including two daughters — Charlene Lee and JoAnn Toy — who married Caucasians, one from Maui and the other from Corry, Pa. They have 11 grandchildren.

"Our grandchildren are a mixture," Nancy Akahane said. "When I look at them, I don't see color. I always told my daughters, it didn't matter what nationality they married as long as the boy loves you and takes care of you. Marrying the same race doesn't mean that's going to happen. It's the person you marry that counts."

Charlene and Henry "Red" Lee, a Maui native who is English, Irish and Hawaiian, have been married for 19 years.

"I went to Kamehameha and it was mostly blended so I never noticed ethnic differences," Charlene Lee said. "But I think where you are from is a factor in mixed marriages. My husband is local so our traditions, like family get-togethers, and tastes in food are the same."

Hawai'i's ethnic diversity and rate of interracial marriages go hand in hand.

In many cases, mixed marriages go back three to four generations. The blending of cultures and traditions has helped to make the Islands unique, and food is among the most noticeable aspects.

University of Hawai'i ethnic studies professor Kathryn "Kay" Waddell Takara, an African American born in Tuskegee, Ala., has been married for 28 years to Okinawan Harvey Takara, a house painter who was raised in Manoa.

With contributions from her 90-something-year-old father, William H. Waddell IV, potlucks at family gatherings include everything from sushi and namasu to sweet potato pie, apple cobblers, collard greens and lamb or meat roasts.

"She's pretty much local, probably more than me," Harvey Takara said.

JoAnn and Steven Toy were married 18 years ago.

"There are food and cultural differences," JoAnn Toy said. "When we used to go to grandma's or auntie's house for holiday get-togethers, we had sushi and tofu salad. We'd always have to stop at Burger King on the way home because my husband was still hungry.

"He leaves milk and cookies out at Christmas," she said, "but we were never allowed to do that because my mom didn't want ants."

Steven Toy, sales consultant for Shell Oil Products in Hawai'i, has lived here for 21 years.

"I eat everything now except poi," Toy said. "The bottom line with mixed marriages is we're all the same inside."

Reach Rod Ohira at 535-8181 or rohira@honoluluadvertiser.com.