October 24, 2007
Written by C.N.
As we all know, the debate over affirmative action is still quite intense and fraught with controversy and strong emotions on both sides. Unbeknown to most people however, is that very similar debate going on in Hawai’i about who qualifies to be Native Hawaiian and therefore gets to enjoy the various government programs that, at this point, only Native Hawaiians qualify for:
Under a program created by Congress in 1921, Native Hawaiians with strong bloodlines can get land for a home for $1 a year. Those with more mixed ancestry still receive many other benefits, including low-interest loans and admission for their children to the richly endowed and highly regarded Kamehameha Schools. . . .
About 400,000 people claim Native Hawaiian ancestry nationwide, two-thirds of them in the Hawaiian islands, making them a minority in a state of 1.2 million. Roughly 60,000 of those who consider themselves Hawaiian claim at least half Hawaiian blood.
Proving Native Hawaiian ancestry is a big deal. Without it, you can be born in the islands but can never call yourself Hawaiian. No blood or DNA test exists to determine who is or isn’t Hawaiian. Instead, people have to prove their ethnicity through birth certificates, marriage licenses, census records, family trees or newspaper obituaries.
Like I said, like affirmative action, this issue regarding who qualifies to be “Native Hawaiian” can be quite controversial. At this point, I do not feel that I cannot make a definitive judgment on the issue one way or the other. However, I would like to point out that this debate illustrates a very important point when it comes to the Asian American community — that not all Asian Americans are the same.
In other words, while there are some Asian Americans who are undoubtedly doing well, there are many others who may be struggling and therefore, may be entitled to certain benefits or programs designed to rectify historical disadvantages. Of course, a big part of the debate on this Native Hawaiian issue and on affirmative action in general is whether such historical disadvantages still directly hamper particular individuals of such groups today.
On that question, the debate is likely to rage on for quite some time.
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Suggested reference: Le, C.N. . "Debating Native Hawaiian Identity" Asian-Nation: The Landscape of Asian America. <http://www.asian-nation.org/headlines/2007/10/debating-native-hawaiian-identity/> ().
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