Chinese Visitors Get Some Aloha

Hawaii may soon see more Chinese visitors in the islands, according to local tourism officials. They will become a major market like the Japanese did 30 years ago. This means a boost in Hawaii’s economy and job market, and yet another dash of multiculturalism added to our melting pot of the Pacific.

Chinese festivities color the streets of Chinatown on Oahu.

However, two major issues have stifled this growth in Chinese tourism:

(1) Having few direct flights between China and Hawaii, and

(2) The lengthy and strict visa process. Chinese obtaining a visa usually wait about two months. The U.S. Senate recently advanced legislation that would add 20 more consular officers who process visa paperwork in America. This could potentially cut down the waiting period to five days.

Hopefully these issues have been discussed during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC). But despite the flight and visa limitations, Hawaii tourism officials expect 90,000 Chinese visitors this year. Maybe this means we’ll also start to see a revival in Hawaii’s Chinese culture. It’d be more than just a bunch of chop suey and dim sum restaurants popping up. But rather a push for cultural awareness through various community initiatives. It’d be nice to hear more from the quiet Chinese community in Hawaii that usually only makes an appearance during the annual Chinese New Year festivities in Chinatown.

The first Chinese came to Hawaii in the mid-1800s and worked on the plantations. And with many different ethnicities mingling, it became a challenge in keeping authentic cultural rituals alive. The Chinese (like other ethnicities at the time) banned together to preserve the art of kung fu, lion dancing and various Chinese practices. They formed communities that eventually evolved into what is now our modern-day Chinatown. They even published several newspapers for the Chinese who moved to Hawaii.

Although I may not look it, I’ve got about half Chinese in my blood. My great-grandparents emigrated from China and worked in the rice fields here. I would gladly welcome the positive cultural revitalization should the predicted rise in visitors prove true. I admit that while I’m not actively involved in the Chinese community, my family and I still practice a few traditions unique to the culture. I remember interviewing my Grandpa Chang and writing a long research paper about his family history, like how they used to make gau (a rice based dessert, similar to mochi in the Japanese culture) for good luck every new year. I just couldn’t believe what life was like for them (and how cheap things were!). Perhaps this is the kind of enlightenment Hawaii needs when it comes to bringing back a sidelined culture. And with help from China, Hawaii can continue to preserve a footprint left here centuries ago.


Posted by: Bruce Fisher