Glenn K. Miyataki, Ph.D.
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald

While the legacy of the Sansei is still being written in many countries, I accepted an invitation to write this essay because of the unique circumstances that distinguish Sansei in Hawai‘i from Sansei in the continental United States and other countries.

What is it about being a Japanese American Sansei in Hawai‘i that makes this distinction, and what can we do to continue its heritage while our legacy is still unfolding?

Issei Built the Foundation; Nisei Built the Bridge; Sansei Crossed It

Sansei are grateful to our Issei and Nisei, who laid the foundation and built a bridge of opportunity for Japanese Americans. The stories of their trials and tribulations are well documented and we are forever indebted for their contributions.

With each generation, horizons were broadened, and the Sansei crossed the bridge to pursue opportunities both in Hawai‘i and by traveling and living abroad. In charting our own journey, Sansei often became more adapted to American life than the Nisei in behavior and language and in facets of home, careers and communities. On one hand, we appeared to be venturing further away from our home culture. But, on the other hand, we were forming a unique culture that coveted an undeniable spirit of being Hawaiian at heart.

Wherever we grew up, whether on the plantations or in the city, we were part of the Hawaiian culture and residents of the ‘äina. Also, sugar and pineapple plantations developed on the neighbor islands and those immigrants experienced similar plantation life and the Hawaiian culture found on O‘ahu. Throughout the islands, the aloha spirit was an integral part of our daily lives, including the speaking of pidgin English.

A Nisei colleague who spent his childhood years in downtown Kaka‘ako related to me that he grew up as an “internationalist” since he had classmates who were Filipino, Chinese, Korean and Japanese and some native part-Hawaiian neighbors. They grew up color blind going through elementary, intermediate and high school, and he couldn’t recall having a “haole” friend until later in life.

Many of us who were nurtured and grew up in the plantation environment felt this uniqueness, too. Our daily lives were blessed with interacting with individuals who resided in Filipino Camp, Spanish Camp, Portuguese Camp, and Japanese Camp, and through others who lived in the town who were native Hawaiian, part-Hawaiian, Korean and Caucasian. It was an indelible experience getting to know each other through work, play and school.

When we shared aloha, we felt a good sense of togetherness toward our family, friends and even strangers visiting our islands. This feeling came naturally, as we were born into this context and there was an undefined element of trust.

Part of my cross-cultural work of 40 years covered more than 25 countries in Europe, Asia, and the South Pacific and enabled me to interact with thousands of students, professors, administrators, government officials, business professionals and executives from different cultures. It was delightful to know that no matter where I went, one thing remained abundantly clear: Almost everyone thought of Hawai‘i as a special place — a paradise in the eyes of many, a dream for others.

This distinct aura went beyond our beaches, trade winds and the hula. This cultural uniqueness of Hawai‘i had traversed the world and was viewed magically.

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