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Reimagining Paradise: Public Culture and the Los Angeles Hawaiian Community, 1950s-present

Creative Commons 'BY' version 4.0 license

The Hawaiian community remains central to southern California life. From early public surfing exhibitions to aloha shirts to Hawaiian BBQ, “Hawaiianess” has permeated mainland U.S. culture. This dissertation brings visibility to a Los Angeles Hawaiian community, a presence that goes undetected since it lacks a residential center. I offer insight into the politics of place and Hawaiian racial hybridity as a means to track not an exclusively “Hawaiian” ethnic group, but rather to locate self-identified Hawaiians who navigate within a system of constant appropriation of Hawaiianess whether from the islands or from U.S. consumer culture. I examine the interregional network of a “diasporic” Hawaiian community in southern California and the ways in which Hawaiians in Los Angeles create community practices based on historical memories. I argue that their notions of Hawaiianess are negotiated through a “transgenerational imaginary,” the ways in which cultural knowledge transfers from one generation to the next and at times produces new expressions. The Hawaiian mainland community encompasses a broad identity beginning with those of native Hawaiian ancestry; people of other ethnicities born in Hawaii; individuals born on the mainland with ancestors from Hawaii; and spouses married to Hawaiian community members. Focusing on the production of identity and social agency, I investigate how Hawaiianess manifests itself on the mainland through the experiences of families, community members, civic clubs, the growing food circuit, and community-driven projects like the Hokulea sailing canoe. I track the manner in which “Hawaiianess” develops in Los Angeles through ethnic foodways and how food identity is represented in the larger culture. I consider how issues around food become sites for identity formation and the extent to which ethnic entrepreneurs, as operators of these establishments, see themselves as connected to foodways in Hawaii. Hawaiianess also remains in dialogue with commercial appropriation or “contesting alohas” – competing ideas, representations, and discourses of the meaning of “Hawaiian.” Hawaiian migrants and their families, however, maintain their ties to the islands and self-identify as “Hawaiian” across ethnicities and in the process navigate a system of a constant commercial appropriation of Hawaiianess.

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