Orginal Publication Date
Explorations in Sights and Sounds
While the experiences of most ethnic groups are frequently overlooked, this is especially the fate of relatively small groups. Many small groups merit greater attention, for example the Okinawans who migrated to Hawaii from 1900-1924, worked on sugar and pineapple plantations, developed small businesses and community organizations, and achieved a measure of economic and social success. What makes their story of special interest is their ethnic status. At the time of their migration, the homeland of the Okinawans, the Ryukyu archipelago (which includes the island of Okinawa), was part of Japan as it is today. However, the Ryukyus have always been somewhat isolated from Japanese influences because of their location hundreds of miles southwest of the four primary Japanese islands. Okinawan immigrants were therefore Japanese but had many unique linguistic, social, and cultural characteristics. In Hawaii, the latter defined Okinawans, or Uchinanchu, as being different from other Japanese immigrants , or Naichi, and this difference contributed to friction between the two groups. Thus, Okinawans found themselves discriminated against by Naichi in addition to others. They also felt conflicting pressures to assimilate into Naichi society, to assimilate into white society, and to maintain their own characteristics. Over time, the Okinawans managed in varying degrees to do all three. The history of Okinawans in Hawaii therefore offers valuable insights regarding the shaping of ethnicity.
Copyright, ©EES, The National Association for Ethnic Studies, 1986