What Defines Local


Ashley Onzuka

Throw a shaka to those who are local and think they’re local.

As a 20-year-old woman, born and raised on the island of Oahu, by definition, I am local. Even though the beach hardly makes it on my to-do list, hence my skin being the glowing shade of pale, I am considered local.

According to the Oxford Dictionary, the term local is defined as, “relating or restricted to a particular area or one’s neighborhood,” in which I would say, especially in Hawaii, is extremely unhelpful in determining what it truly means to be local. In Hawaii, what defines local is an exceedingly gray area. Do you have to live here your whole life? Or maybe just raised here? But at what age is still considered “being raised?” Do you just have to act local? Maybe adapt to the “Hawaiian style?” The list of questions and factors goes on and on.

Through my experience in Hawaii as a local, I have categorized people into three groups: Are Local, Aren’t Local, and Act Local.

Right off the top, those in the Aren’t Local group are basically the people who may live in Hawaii but weren’t born or raised here. They have accepted the fact that they just aren’t local. Simple as that.

Now, this is where it can get a little messy in the gray areas of what defines local. Those in the group Act Local can be broken down into two subgroups: the Wannabes and the Wanna-learns. The Wannabes are the people who take embracing the culture in Hawaii to a stereotypical level. They constantly argue that the three years they’ve lived in Hawaii have turned them into an aloha-spirited local. To prove that they are “local,” they constantly overuse (and sometimes misuse) Hawaii slang by basically speaking like any whitewash Hollywood movie that is supposedly based on Hawaii. The Wannabes think that because they act local, they are local. Unfortunately, no matter how much they argue that they always go to the beach, enjoy eating poi, and wear board shorts and slippers, it just doesn’t cut it. Wannabes can only act local.

The Wanna-learns are fairly sweet and simple. Just like those in the Aren’t Local group, they have accepted that they aren’t local. However, this doesn’t stop them from respectfully embracing and joining in on the Hawaii culture. They enjoy the beach as much as the Wannabes, try local favorites at mom-and-pop shops, and acknowledge those who are actually local. Wanna-learns don’t pretend to be local nor do they overly do the local vibe.

Those who Are Local are, again, a deeply gray area. For starters, the people who are born and raised here get the free pass of being “geographically” local. However, as we dive deeper into the gray area, there are just too many subgroups that could fall under Are Local: “born here, raised there,” “born there, raised here,” “born here, raised there, brought back here.” It just gets too messy.

As a local, I feel that where you were born is slightly irrelevant to an extent. To be defined as local, there are two paths one could have taken. One, you must be either born here or brought here as an infant to approximately the age of 5. At the age of 5, you enter kindergarten, meaning as an individual, you are influenced by new surroundings and peers, and are exposed to more than just your parents and the lifestyle they provided.

The second path focuses on not so much where you were raised but how you were raised. Being local is not an ethnicity you were born as and not a trend that you can just wake up one day and choose. Being local is a lifestyle that you were raised with. It’s the morals you pride yourself with, the ethical decisions you choose to make, and the mentality you were taught to have.

So no, I don’t go to the beach on a weekly basis and believe it or not, poi is not my favorite food in the world. I sometimes fail to understand certain words in the Hawaiian language and unlike my father and half of my family, I can’t speak pidgin to save my life. My father was born and raised in Waianae. My mother was born in southern California but raised in Honolulu, Hawaii from the age of 2 by parents who were born and raised in Hawaii. It’s a confusing, gray area of a mess, but I was raised local and I strongly define myself as local, with my glowing pale skin tone and all.