In 1972, our family moved from Greenwich, CT to Maui, Hawaii. It was 6,000 miles and another world away.
In Greenwich, I attended a prestigious Montessori school with sons and daughters of the Rich and Upper Middle Class of the area. I’d had a best friend since Kindergarten named Steve who was Black. I could certainly tell my skin color was different from Steve’s, but I didn’t think about “Race.”
Obviously, in Greenwich, my family was part of a White majority. But I wouldn’t have been able to articulate that as a child.
Once we arrived on Maui, my whole world shifted. We were eating new foods (like rice and teriyaki chicken at home), wearing flip flops for shoes, and my father traded his suits and ties for Aloha shirts, but the biggest change was that my brother and I were practically the only White kids at our school.
Hawaii is called a Melting Pot, and it was pretty well melted in 1972. There were Japanese kids, Chinese, Portuguese, Filipino, Native Hawaiian and a few of us White kids – and all the combinations of those you can imagine.
On one of my first days at Kula Elementary, my new school, someone asked me what Nationality I was. I had no idea what she was talking about. I honestly thought maybe she was asking if I was not an American.
What she wanted to know was if I was a Haole. Haole is Hawaiian slang for White.
The kids all around me made sure I knew I was a Haole, all right. White Girl. Not from around there. Not like the Locals.
And I hated it.
I had never before felt different in that way. I had never seen skin color differences and thought they made any difference in how I treated other people or how they treated me.
It was a rough start to the new life we had on Maui, but it was not to last. I was an athlete as a kid, and in the 1970’s there was a wave sweeping the country that even reached Hawaii: AYSO Soccer.
They personalized it as MYSO (Maui Youth Soccer Organization) and it caught on like wildfire, crossing all racial and socio-economic boundaries. All you needed were a pair of cleats and a ball to practice. And practice we did.
The kids played, the Dads coached and acted as referees, and the Moms brought snacks and drove us to games, cheering us on. And I got pretty good at it.
There was a team out in Hana that was legendary. Hana was then, as now, one of the most beautiful places on Earth where Locals and Tourists alike would visit. And in the early 1970’s there was no TV in Hana.
So those kids practiced All The Time.
They creamed every other team on Maui, regularly. And they were tough. I remember this one girl, their team captain, who was huge. She literally terrified her opponents as she ran toward them on the field, which meant most people got out of her way.
Well one game I just refused to do that. I got in her way, stole the ball a few times, and just kept at it. I had never been a really tough kid and I don’t know what possessed me that day, but whatever it was helped us win the game. It was amazing.
Afterwards, as my team was enjoying the victory, the really tough Hana girl and her teammates came walking over to me. For a moment, I really thought they were going to beat me up and started to panic.
But when they got close she said, “Hey – what’s your name?” I told her who I was and she said, “You’re really tough. You played great for a Haole. You’re OK.”
She was smiling, not hating. I had gained her respect. And from then on, I was a minor celebrity in Hana, treated like a Local Girl and no longer like a Haole.
Eventually I found my place. A Kama’aina. Local enough. Not a Tourist. But still White. And still in the Minority.
This is the first in a series of posts about Race, inspired by the upcoming documentary Race 2012: A Conversation About Race & Politics in America, which can be seen on PBS October 16, 2012 (Check Local Listings). To follow along with this conversation, please Like Race 2012 PBS on Facebookand Follow @PBSRace2012 on Twitter.
Sarah Auerswald is a Haole Girl and the co-Founder of MomsLA, a Community of the Top Mom Bloggers in Los Angeles and Orange County.