Break That Mold

Enough of this “cookie-cutter” notion of the Mainland.

In a recent column, a Star-Bulletin reporter discussed a new marketing business. It’s part of a franchise based in North Carolina, but, the writer assured readers, the work won’t “look like cookie-cutter Mainland stuff.”

During the last election, Gov. Linda Lingle accused Democrats of taking “a Mainland cookie-cutter approach.” Mainland consultants are also, according to a Puna-based journal, to blame for “cookie-cutter plans” to improve failing schools. Talking about a new neighborhood, The Maui News reported that “Home plans will echo local plantation-styled architecture, not Mainland-styled cookie-cutter developments.”

I can’t help but wonder, What shape is this cookie cutter?

Is it sized for ba’ba beh tamur, a Middle Eastern-style pastry? It would be, in Detroit, Mich., which has the largest number of Iraqi immigrants in the United States. Or does it cut out the rice cakes for tteokkuk soup, which you can enjoy in the company of the large Korean population of Urbana, Ill.? Maybe it creates the tasty, corn-cake-like arepas of south Florida. The perception that the Mainland is homogeneous—a vast sea of blondes eating Wonderbread—is a lingering one, and false.

In fact, there is “an extraordinary explosion of diversity all across the United States,” according to William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institute. Frey reported to MSNBC that minority groups make up an increasing share of the population in nearly every state. (The only exception is West Virginia, which has an economy so bad, no one seems to want to move there, from anywhere.)

Lingle has said, “Diversity is a way of life in our state.” Yes, and in most states. Hawai‘i, by the way, is actually one of four states where Caucasians are the minority. The others are New Mexico, California and Texas.

illustration: Andrew Catanzariti

In New York City, six out of every 10 children born since 2000 has at least one foreign-born parent. Foreign-born residents have, The New York Times notes, “transformed the city’s neighborhoods, schools and businesses, bringing sari shops to Queens, halal pizza to Brooklyn and Ghanaian preachers to the Bronx.”

Yet surprisingly, the state with the fastest growing immigrant population is not New York, but South Carolina.

Hawai‘i has a lot of Asian people, and—news flash!—they live on the cookie-cutter Mainland, too. There are 2.5 million Asian-Americans in California alone, twice the entire population of Hawai‘i. And when you picture a Gulf Coast shrimper, don’t think Bubba, think Trong Nguyen—thousands of Vietnamese people work in the seafood industry of Biloxi, Miss.

But the faces you see on TV, you may be thinking, are all the same. And I agree—there’s an inexcusable lack of diversity on networks. (A good example is the cast of the new MTV “reality” show purportedly set on Maui, which features four Kens, two Barbies and one guy who looks like comedian Carrot Top.) This kind of crud is what leads people to imagine a generic Mainland. But there’s also the Telemundo network, which reaches many of the 44 million Hispanics in the United States. Or the BET Network, which targets black customers and is beamed into 80 million households.

Diversity is, absolutely, a wonderful facet of life in Hawai‘i; yet as educated people, we can acknowledge that it does indeed exist elsewhere. There are 87 million people who are counted as part of a minority by the U.S. Census. To ignore them while boasting of our own melting pot makes us look like a bunch of yahoos.