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Copyright (c) 2007 University of Hawai'i Law Review
University of Hawai'i Law Review

COMMENT: An Analysis of Hawai'i's Tradition of "Local" Ethnic Humor

Winter, 2007

University of Hawai'i Law Review

30 Hawaii L. Rev. 219


Karyn R. Okada 132


I. Introduction

[Question] In what neighborhood on Oahu are three languages spoken fluently at different times of the day or year?

[Answer] Kahala, where English is spoken at night, Tagalog during the day when the residents leave for work and are replaced by Filipino gardeners and maids, and Japanese during Golden Week.

-Frank DeLima, The Da Lima Code 1

In Hawai'i, the public performance of ethnic 2 jokes has long been a staple of island life, holding a secure and prevalent place in local culture. Although the jokes often target and victimize the various racial groups inhabiting the state, many Hawai'i residents not only tolerate the jokes, but actually embrace them as part of local tradition. On a more critical level, however, racial humor has long been an area of contention amongst Hawai'i-based scholars: while some view such jokes as harmless, others believe that the practice reinforces existing ethnic stereotypes and contributes to racial inequality. 3

Although there is no question that this type of humor is widely considered amusing, there are important social and legal questions that arise from its practice. 4 Just as it is important to preserve a tradition that many local residents consider to be a cornerstone of "what it means to live in Hawai'i," it is equally important to critically examine possible negative effects of "local" style racial humor. Even considering the observation that the population of Hawai'i is among the country's most ethnically diverse, as well as perhaps one of the most ...
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