Saturday, May 19, 2018

So Your Character is From Hawaii ... Featuring Taylor Bennett

It's time for this week's So Your Character is ... Post! This is a weekly segment where I interview lovely volunteers from around the world to give you a firsthand account of being a citizen of their respective country or having a disability. I'm hoping to encourage international diversity, break stereotypes, and give writers a crash course on how to write a character from these different places on our planet. If you haven't checked out last week's  So Your Character is from Grenada ... be sure to hop on over there and give it a read!

Disclaimer: The content below may be culturally shocking to some. Each of these posts is as uncensored as possible to preserve the authenticity of the cultures of each of the interviewees.

(None of the Images are Mine)

Homeschooled since kindergarten, Taylor Bennett is the seventeen-year-old author of Porch Swing Girl, which will be released by Mountain Brook Ink on May 1st. When she’s not reading or writing, Taylor can be found playing her violin or taking walks in the beautiful Oregon countryside. She loves to connect with readers via her author website, as well as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram (her favorite!), Pinterest, and Goodreads

What do you feel is unique to your country? Landmarks? Celebrations?
Hawaii is one of the most unique, un-American states in the US. Perhaps because of its late admission into the union, Hawaii still hangs on to many cultural quirks. It’s also one of the most unusual states—it’s home to active volcanoes, some of the world’s tallest sea cliffs, and it’s one of only two US states that commercially grows coffee. 

Due to its remote location, Hawaii has few native animals, and snakes are virtually nonexistent. Visitors might run into the occasional wild boar, and chickens are a common sight. In the water, there is a host of beautiful fish, as well as one of Hawaii’s most famous residents: the humpback whale. Humpbacks visit the warm waters of Hawaii every year, usually staying from December-May.

While Hawaii celebrates the conventional US holidays—Independence Day, Veterans’ Day, and the like—there are also state-specific holidays such as King Kamehameha I Day. The public school system is also a bit unusual, with students starting classes in early August. They also take a week-long break in the fall in addition to winter and spring breaks.

Tell me about your country's environment. What are some of your favorite places?
Hawaii has so many different climates! I’m a Maui girl, so I mostly have experience with that island. But even just in Maui, there are so many different mini-biomes—the West side is flooded with sunshine and warmth, while the Upcountry is cooler and more prone to rain. The east side of Maui (home to Hana) is very rainy and lush. Then there’s Haleakala, which is actually a dormant volcano! It gets super cold up there in the morning, but the views (and those sunrises!!) are legendary.

Photocredit: Taylor Bennett

Photocredit: Taylor Bennett
My favorite places are Lahaina, which is on the West side of Maui, and Kula, which is nestled in the upcountry. Lahaina is packed with beautiful views, delicious restaurants, and lots of local flavors. Kula isn’t a town as much as a collection of charming attractions—there are lavender and goat cheese farms, as well as a botanical garden filled with tropical plants and shaded paths. I also love Ka’anapali, which is a little more action-packed and touristy…but it’s a fun place, anyway!

Tell me about your country's food. What are some of your favorite dishes?
Okay, so Hawaii definitely has some quirky food! For starters, there’s the ubiquitous plate lunch—meat, plus two scoops of sticky white rice and a scoop of macaroni salad (Hawaiians are die-hard carbo-loaders)—and poke, a traditional dish of marinated raw fish. Then there’s Spam, the beloved ham-in-a-can that is served in a whole slew of ways. You might find it perched atop a lump of white rice, complete with a seaweed wrapper, or nestled next to a serving of sausage and scrambled eggs.

Photo credit: Taylor Bennett

Another local favorite is loco moco, (fun fact: it’s translated “crazy booger”) which is a dish of white rice, topped with a hamburger patty, gravy, and a fried egg. Are you sensing a pattern here? Hawaiians looove their white rice! In fact, they love it so much that they even make dessert out of it: mochi. Traditionally a Japanese preparation, this treat made from pounded rice is dense, sticky, and absolutely DELICIOUS!

Taro is also used in a variety of dishes—the most famous of them being poi, a sort of mashed-taro that is gluey, gummy, and every local’s favorite treat. I…don’t agree. BUT taro can also be used to make bread. Surprisingly, it tints the bread purple!

And then there’s the favorite: shave (not “shaved”) ice. This tropical treat is legendary…and NO. It’s not a sno-cone! Shave ice is literally shaved off of a giant block of ice, then saturated with house-made syrups, drizzled with sweetened condensed milk, and topped with coconut. You can even get ice cream in the bottom of the cone…yum!!

Tell me about any different speech patterns in your country. Slang? Idioms? Words for things such as “biscuits” instead of “cookies”?
Hawaii is one of the only states that has more than one official language (English and Hawaiian) but it also has an unofficial language: pidgin. A grand mash-up of many languages and dialects, pidgin is a delightfully local way of speaking. Even people that don’t speak pidgin have a few unusual words and phrases. Here are a few:

  • Slippas: Flip-flops! 
  • Mahalo: Thank you.
  • Shaka: In Hawaii, you don’t wave, you flash a shaka—the traditional “hang loose” sign with thumb and pinky extended
  • Broke da mouth: Literally “broke the mouth,” this is one of the biggest compliments you can give someone. It means that their food is DELICIOUS!!
  • E komo mai: Welcome
  • Haole: A white person—in Hawaii, there is no majority, and mixed-race people are quite common.
  • Keiki: Children
  • Ohana: Family—but in Hawaii, family applies to anyone you are close to, whether you’re related by blood or not!
  • Tutu: Literally “grandma,” also applies to any older woman you’re close to
  • Auntie/Uncle: Used to refer to anyone outside of your biological family that you’re close to
  • Stink Eye: When you’re mad at someone, give them the stink eye!

Describe briefly a regular day in your country.
A regular day in Hawaii is filled with friends and family, sunshine and celebration. What are the locals celebrating? Life! In Hawaii, it’s about the big picture—the simple joys of everyday life—that keep people smiling. One might wake up with the sun in order to spend a few hours in the warm, frothy surf before heading to school or work. 

On the weekends, most choose to get together with their ohana (remember, that means family AND close friends) for a beachside barbeque. Parties and potlucks are just as common as quiet nights spent at home. Communities get together for massive street parties, and the whole town of Lahaina comes together to celebrate the Great Banyan Tree’s birthday in the spring. In general, though, Hawaiian life is similar to life in the rest of the States—but with the added benefit of family, community, and—of course—that beach.

How does your country compare to others? Environmentally? Politically? Culturally?
Well…Hawaii is an American state but, as the youngest state in the union, it is inhabited by many who remember the pre-US Hawaii. Because of this, Hawaii still retains many customs that relate to its pre-colonized, monarchial days. For example, many primary schools in Maui have names such as “King Kamehameha Iii” and “Princess Nahienaena.” And street names? Forget about it! Unless you’re a local or speak fluent Hawaiian, expect to stumble over names such as “Pulelehua” and “Waianae.”

Hawaii also has a few customs which might be considered odd in the continental US. For example, most locals wouldn’t dream of stepping inside their house without first removing their shoes. Shoes stay on the front porch—a cultural remnant left over from when the Japanese immigrated. Also, horn honking is considered RUDE!!

Another odd thing that makes Hawaii feel more like a foreign country than a far-away state is the fact that visitors must fill out a form before their plane lands. They are required to list any and all potentially invasive belongings, which include insects, plants, and even fruit! If passengers have something with them, such as a banana, they are required to dispose of it before landing in a Hawaiian airport.

In Hawaii, there is no racial majority. Most locals are mixed race, though those with some amount of Asian ethnicity are popular. Generally, Hawaii is a giant melting pot of a host of different Asian, Pacific Island, and European nationalities coming together to create something distinctly Hawaiian.

Briefly describe three of your country’s historical events that you feel are important.
One of the most important events—obviously—was the settling of Hawaii, which began in approximately AD 500. Settlers came from the surrounding Polynesian islands and began to make their homes in these magical, uninhabited islands. It wasn’t until much later (approx. 1795) that Hawaii was united as one kingdom under the rule of Kamehameha I.

Another monumental moment in Hawaii’s history was the arrival of European and American missionaries (approx.. 1820.) Although their attempts to save the pagan souls of native Hawaiians was admirable, they attempted to obliterate cultural staples, such as hula and the traditional Hawaiian language.

There are so many more important events in Hawaii’s history, such as the overthrow of the monarchy and the bombing of Pearl Harbor, but I can’t skip over the day when Hawaii became an official US state (August 21st, 1959.) Honestly, many native Hawaiians wish that their state had never been accepted into the union, which is one of the reasons why the Hawaiian culture and language is being integrated into many school curriculums. Locals and natives alike are determined to keep their traditions alive!

What are some stereotypes about your country that irk you? What media portrays your country badly be it a movie, a book, or a TV show?
I can’t think of any media that does a poor job of portraying Hawaii (mostly because I’m not a movie/TV nut!) but there ARE some seriously frustrating stereotypes. For example, it’s common to hear tourists/mainlanders call Hawaii locals “natives” or “Hawaiians” but this is NOT ACCURATE!! The only real Hawaiians are those who have Hawaiian blood running through their veins.

And another thing: it’s SHAVE ICE. There is no “d”!! No, it’s not grammatically correct, but few things are in Hawaii.

What media portrays your country well be it a movie, a book, or a TV show?
Honestly, there are few books/movies/etc. set in Hawaii (at least that I know of!) but Robin Jones Gunn has written a few books with this setting. A Hawaii local herself, Gunn gets everything perfectly. Also, the American Girl doll company put out a few chapter books/middle-grade novels many years ago that were very accurate.

Who are your top three favorite fictional characters native to your country in books, movies, or shows?
As I said before, I haven’t found a ton of media that features residents of Hawaii. The amount of books/movies that feature native Hawaiians is even smaller. So…I honestly can’t think of any characters off the top of my head. Sorry 😊

Kamekona Tupua from Hawaii Five-0
Thank you, Taylor, for this very informative post! Come back next week for a post all about Brazil! Do you want to read a book all about Hawaii? Taylor's debut novel Porch Swing Girl is available on Amazon!

What if friendship cost you everything? 

Stranded in Hawaii after the death of her mother, sixteen-year-old Olive Galloway is desperate to escape. She has to get back to Boston before her dad loses all common sense and sells the family house. But plane tickets cost money—something Olive gravely lacks.
With the help of Brander, the fussy youth group worship leader, and Jazz, a mysterious girl with a passion for all things Hawaiian, Olive lands a summer job at the Shave Ice Shack and launches a scheme to buy a plane ticket home before the end of the summer.

But when Jazz reveals a painful secret, Olive’s plans are challenged. Jazz needs money. A lot of it. Olive and Brander are determined to help their friend but, when their fundraising efforts are thwarted, Olive is caught in the middle. To help Jazz means giving up her ticket home. And time is running out.

Are you interested in participating in this project? Check out the tips archive to see which countries have been filled and if you're from a different country, shoot me an email at howellvictoriagrace(a)gmail(dot)com. I'm especially looking for Cuba, Venezuela, Switzerland, Zimbabwe, and Iraq.

Do you have any characters from Hawaii? Did this inspire you to write a Hawaiian character or set a book in Hawaii? Are from this or been to this country and you have further input? Feel free to share! Do you have any questions for Taylor? Be sure to thank her!

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