Producing Okinawan cultural identity in Hawai`i's 'multicultural paradise'

Allen, Matthew (2015) Producing Okinawan cultural identity in Hawai`i's 'multicultural paradise'. The Asia-Pacific Journal, 13 (9). 4292. pp. 1-10.

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Cultural identity, Stuart Hall reminds us, is not fixed; it is 'always in process, and always constituted within, not outside, representation' (Hall 1990: 222). This paper highlights some of the issues associated with the fluidity of identity, and the processes involved in constituting cultural identity within specific types of representation. It uses as a central platform the case of a third generation Japanese/Okinawan boy born in Hawai`i diagnosed with encephalitis, who was healed contentiously by modern US medical science, Okinawan shamanism, or charismatic Christianity, depending on the perspective of the observer. The father's response to his own identity crisis triggered by his son's illness and recovery provides an interesting example of how individual agency can lead to the transformation of cultural identity within a highly specific representative context.

This article uses interviews as a basis – and one interview in particular – conducted with a high-profile, highly accomplished Hawai'ian-born second generation Japanese/Okinawan musician, teacher and community leader, Grant (Sandaa)1 Murata, the father of the boy, recorded in Honolulu in November and December 2004.2 In the decade or so that has passed since these interviews were recorded, Grant has cemented his reputation as a senior, committed community leader of Okinawans in Hawai`i. Although the story he narrates about his son below is important, the focus of this essay is on the impact of the events described in the story on Grant's own identity construction. Demographically a member of both the Hawai`i an-born Asian/American majority and the Okinawan minority 3, his identity in contemporary Hawai`i is contingent on his choice of ethnic and cultural orientation. And since the events described below, he has identified primarily with his Uchinaanchu (Okinawan) heritage.4 Grant's story reveals a number of themes about the processes involved in identity formation, and transformation, located in this case within contemporary Hawai`i.

Hall's suggestion that identity can only be constituted within representation is a useful starting point from which to think through the messages in the story below. Indeed how Grant made the transition from Japanese American/Asian American to Uchinaanchu revolves around this premise. Until he was able to identify as Uchinaanchu he was unable to resolve many aspects of his life. His son's illness and his 'miraculous' recovery were the catalysts that enabled Grant to make the discursive transition to becoming Uchinaanchu, and to develop his subsequent position on both the role of Okinawan culture in healing his son, and his views on Hawai`i an-born Okinawans' lives and identities. This consciousness occurred within his representation of himself as first Japanese American, and then as Uchinaanchu in Hawai`i.

Item ID: 39295
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1557-4660
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Articles at The Asia-Pacific Journal are published under a Creative Commons license. Permission is granted to forward electronically to others and to post Asia-Pacific Journal texts for non-commercial purposes following Open Source guidelines, provided they are reproduced intact and the source indicated and linked.

Date Deposited: 29 Jul 2015 01:26
FoR Codes: 21 HISTORY AND ARCHAEOLOGY > 2103 Historical Studies > 210302 Asian History @ 80%
21 HISTORY AND ARCHAEOLOGY > 2102 Curatorial and Related Studies > 210202 Heritage and Cultural Conservation @ 20%
SEO Codes: 95 CULTURAL UNDERSTANDING > 9503 Heritage > 950303 Conserving Collections and Movable Cultural Heritage @ 10%
95 CULTURAL UNDERSTANDING > 9505 Understanding Past Societies > 950502 Understanding Asias Past @ 60%
95 CULTURAL UNDERSTANDING > 9503 Heritage > 950306 Conserving Pacific Peoples Heritage @ 30%
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