Hawaii: America's Paradise? 'A Lovely Fleet of Islands'

By Burlingame, Burl | The World and I, August 2002 | Go to article overview

Hawaii: America's Paradise? 'A Lovely Fleet of Islands'


Burlingame, Burl, The World and I


Everyone in the world would like to come to Hawaii. The population is truly a melting pot; there are more minority peoples in Hawaii than in any other state. In fact, the minorities are the majority! According to the 2000 census, Caucasians are 19.7 percent of the population, blacks are 1.6 percent, American Indian and Alaska natives are 0.2 percent, Asians of all nationalities are 55.9 percent, native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islanders are 6.8 percent, Hispanics are 4.4 percent, and 11.4 percent are two or more races.

Although small compared to the wide-open spaces of Alaska, Hawaii has a large population. The census showed that Hawaii has a population of 1,211,557, making it the eighth-smallest state. About 73 percent of the population lives on Oahu. Since the city and county of Honolulu take in the entire island, Honolulu is the seventeenth largest city in the country, between Fresno and Houston.

Mark Twain called Hawaii "the loveliest fleet of islands that lies anchored in any ocean." Because Hawaii is covered with steep mountains, lush valleys, and rolling plains and has climates that vary from jungle to desert, it seems larger than it is. The landscapes are unique (as Hollywood has discovered). Elevations range from zero at sea level up to a snowy 13,796 feet on Mauna Kea.

Composed of 137 scattered islands and islets, the Hawaiian archipelago has eight major islands: Hawaii, or the Big Island; Maui; Kahoolawe (which is now being reclaimed by Hawaiian activists); Lanai; Molokai; Oahu, featuring the capital city of Honolulu; Kauai, home of "the wettest spot on earth," Mount Waialeale (450 inches of rain a year!); and little Niihau, a privately owned island whose residents still speak ancient Hawaiian.

Although we call the rest of the United States the mainland, we don't think of ourselves as a minorland. We're happy to be where the trade winds blow cool breezes that originate from Alaska's glaciers; to eat fish caught in the South Pacific and cooked with either Japanese or American recipes; to shop in Chinatown or a Vietnamese arcade; to play baseball or wrestle sumo-style. …

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