Carole Whang Schutter was born and raised in Honolulu, Hawaii. She graduated with a degree in Psychology from the University of Hawaii and is an evangelical Christian. A widow, Carole has been a motivational speaker to live audiences as well as appearing on TV and radio shows. She now occupies her time writing novels, screenplays, and inspirational books. “September Dawn” is her first screenplay written in collaboration with Director/Producer Christopher Cain. She has had an enduring interest in religion and has researched most of the major world religions. A skier and a hiker, she has found Aspen to be the perfect place for her interests and a wonderful place to write. Carole has just completed the novel based on the movie “September Dawn.” Currently, she is working on several screenplays and a historical novel about her home state Hawaii. You can visit her at Carole Whang Schutter
A HYPHENATED NATION
It was only after I moved to Aspen from Hawaii almost twenty years ago that I discovered I was Asian-American. Before that, I considered myself just an American.
Growing up in multiethnic Hawaii was very different from the experiences of rest of the continental United States, which we “locals” called “the mainland.” For one thing, Hawaii had no majority population. It was one-third white and two-thirds everything else. People took pride and interest in their ancestry, while learning to live together in peace.
Wait! Isn’t Hawaii supposed to be a mecca of tolerance and racial mixing?
While studying psychology, one of my professors opined that if a dozen people of the same race were shipwrecked on an uninhabited island, they would find something other than race to be prejudiced against one another for. Prejudice, according to him, was not limited to the color of one’s skin.
My Hawaii was not the same Hawaii my parents grew up in. Prewar Hawaii was an oligarchy run by the ancestors of white missionaries whose children became extremely wealthy and powerful by sometimes taking advantage of the native Hawaiians. An additional advantage was their superior education and American citizenship at a time when the United States was becoming increasingly powerful. Money, power, and land drove the engine that was to become the State of Hawaii, and racism was one by-product.
Wave after wave of Asian immigrants poured into Hawaii to provide a labor force for the sugar and pineapple plantations. Each immigrant group was put into camps according to their race, and many of these first-generation people never learned to speak English. It wasn’t necessary. Their first experience in Hawaii was enforced segregation.
Through Congressional records and other archived papers, we see a plan to keep the whites, or “haoles” as everyone else called them, in control and in the money. Kamehameha School, set up by Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, a royal princess married to an American, was a private school for the education of children of Hawaiian blood. Unfortunately, the school, now one of the richest in the world, was run by the Judges of Hawaii who, at that time and for decades after, were all white. It was decided that the school would educate the native Hawaiians never to aspire beyond being a police officer or a schoolteacher. Not that these are not honorable professions, but it was a blatant resolution to keep money, power, and land in the hands of the haoles.
Asians on plantations were forced to work when sick; the women were sometimes raped by white plantation managers and overseers who saw it as their right; laborers were paid poor wages; and rarely were they promoted to any position above field hand, gardener, maid, or cook. They were little better than slaves.
These practices divided Hawaii for years and ironically created a fierce ethnic pride. In a racially charged atmosphere, the “local people” became defiant. Unfortunately, this often led to prejudice within their ranks.
World War II brought change. My mother said it was the first time she ever met poor or middle-class haoles. It was a revelation. All whites weren’t godlike rich people.
The “flower child” generation broke down the remaining barriers. My generation, the grandchildren of the first immigrants, didn’t suffer very many racist indignities. We had other problems. Most of us were told to marry members of our own ethnic race. We could befriend other races, but the line was drawn at marriage. The children of Diamond Head Crater celebrations and Woodstock largely ignored this parental demand. If anything, it fueled curiosity about other races.
However, I was not Asian-American, I was Korean-Japanese and an American. In Hawaii, everyone is fascinated with their roots. My generation thought it was cool to be multiethnic because people of mixed blood were considered better looking, and as my Japanese grandmother said, mixed blood children seemed to be “really smart.” During the late ’60s and ’70s, over 50 percent of all marriages in Hawaii were racially mixed. President Obama’s parents’ marriage was part of this new kind of normal. This reality portrayed Hawaii’s final embrace of true multiethnic living. Through the generations, the walls happily came down.
Writing The Ohana (“family” in Hawaiian) became a project of my lifetime. For now, I have put it aside to concentrate on screenwriting. However, Hawaii is close to my heart. I’m also writing a new screenplay about a multiethnic family in Hawaii as seen through the eyes of a transplanted rich “haole” from an ultra-chic, European boarding school, who is forced to live in a multiethnic family living “local style.”
On a trip to Brazil, I discovered that the multiethnic people there all called themselves Brazilian. It is my hope that someday Americans will take the hyphen out of our identities while still remaining proud of our roots. We want to remain conscious of our ancestry without letting it get in the way of who we really are: proud Americans.