I am thrilled to announce the launch of MEET THE LOCALS: a new series of interviews with local community members, leaders, entrepreneurs, musicians, athletes, and more.
It seems only appropriate that I kick off this series with my first attempt at candor – I am the first interview!
Rather than attempt to write this post in a typical question-and-answer format, I’ll simply start at the beginning…
Both of my parents were born and raised on O’ahu. My dad is an intimidating-looking lovable man, Navy Veteran, worked for Honolulu Police Department, and spent most of his younger days on a surfboard. My mom is easily the most beautiful person I know. A Waimanalo girl who danced hula for Kodak, she is a self-taught kitchen master and my all-time favorite chef (even though she used to eat avocados with sugar – I forgive you, mom.)
For many reasons they chose to move to Southern California. I was born in Orange County and have lived here for most of my life, aside from childhood summers spent with family in Hawai’i nei, and a brief stay in Washington DC where I worked for the National Archives and Records Administration – I’ll save that story for another time.
As the first person in my family born on the mainland, growing up proved to be both exciting and challenging at the same time. I was fortunate to attend private schools with small class sizes (my 3rd grade class had 11 kids) so I benefited from a lot of individualized attention.
It wasn’t until 6th or 7th grade that I realized I was the only Pacific Islander among my peers. My two closest friends just happened to be a hapa-Japanese girl and the only Filipina. Still, I was the only one with a curly, unmanageable mane. I did everything to change or hide my hair because I didn’t know how to tame it. No access to ceramic straighteners = a clothing iron and a terry-cloth towel with fried hair and a burned forehead.
High school was a culture shock because I started my very first public school. Even surrounded by 2,000 students I felt like I stood out, and not in a good way. While my teen years exposed me more to ethnic and racial diversity, there still weren’t any other Islanders in sight.
In most social settings I was “the Hawaiian girl” with the hard-to-pronounce last name, a fish in the water, played volleyball, had thick legs, and loved poi and Spam. Stereotypical.
But at home with my family I was the haole kid with fair skin and freckles who didn’t speak pidgin, sunburned easily and said words like “dude” and “awesome.” Never mind the flack I got when visiting Hawaii – even though the blood that courses my veins is half Native Hawaiian, I was treated like a visitor who chose to abandon my homeland.
I was simultaneously the most and least Hawaiian. I felt disconnected, constantly questioning my cultural identity.
HELELOA FAMILY TREE
As I got older I became keenly aware of the fact that I was the youngest living Heleloa. With no boys to carry on our family name, would it die with me? Overwhelmed and saddened at that thought, I vowed to make my husband change his last name.
That didn’t happen, but I am lucky to love a man who respects me and my culture so much that our son now carries on the Heleloa name. We became first-time parents in 2016 and my-oh-my this little boy owns my heart! I could never have imagined a love so pure, and I am most thankful that he chose me to be his mom.
At least for the foreseeable future my family will continue to live in Orange County, but we count ourselves lucky to have dozens of local Islander events overflowing with ohana and calabash cousins to help teach him about his Hawaiian heritage.
Over the years I have attended the local ho’olaule’a, became a Hawaiian Civic Club member, joined a non-profit board to support Pacific Americans, and ate to my stomach’s content at all of the restaurants in my directory. Creating and updating this blog has helped me connect to my roots and to the community in Southern California that is vibrant with culture and aloha. I am proud to be Hawaiian.
Favorite place to dine in SoCal?
My mom’s house.
…and what menu item do you recommend?
My favorite meal is/was hot dogs & beans & rice. I might not sound like much, but it’s perfection in a bowl.
Favorite Pacific Island to visit?
Most of my family resides on Oahu, and I hope to travel more as my son gets older.
Favorite island meal?
Laulau, poi, maui onion & rock salt.
Favorite island snack?
Kulolo, white li hing mui, rock salt plum, and chocolate haupia pie.