“We can laugh at ourselves”: Hawai’i ethnic humor, local identity and the myth of multiculturalism

Roderick N. Labrador

Abstract

Hawai’i’s multiculturalism and perceived harmonious race and ethnic relations are widely celebrated in popular and academic discourse. The image of Hawai’i as a “racial paradise,” a rainbow of peacefully coexisting groups, partially stems from the fact that among the various racial and ethnic groups there is no numerical majority and from the common belief in equality of opportunity and status. Hawai’i ethnic humor is part and parcel of the maintenance and continued reinforcement of the notion of Hawai’i as “racial paradise” with underlying racializing and stigmatizing discourses that disguise severe social inequalities and elide differential access to wealth and power. In this paper, I examine the intersection of language, humor, and representation by analyzing the linguistic practices in the comedy performances of Frank DeLima, a pioneer in Hawai’i ethnic humor, and excerpts from Buckaloose: Shmall Keed Time (Small Kid Time), a comedy CD by Da Braddahs, a relatively new but tremendously popular comedy duo in Hawai’i. Central to these comedy performances is the use of a language variety that I call Mock Filipino, a strategy often employed by Local comedians to differentiate the speakers of Philippine languages from speakers of Hawai’i Creole English (or Pidgin). A key component to understanding the use of Mock Filipino is the idea of “Local” as a cultural and linguistic identity category and its concomitant multiculturalist discourse. I argue that the Local comedians’ use of Mock Filipino relies on the myth of multiculturalism while constructing racializing discourses which position immigrant Filipinos as a cultural and linguistic Other, signifying their outsider status and their subordinate position in the social hierarchy and order. The linguistic practices in the comedy performances are thus identity acts that help to produce and disseminate ideas about language, culture, and identity while normalizing Local and reinforcing Hawai’i’s mainstream multiculturalist ideology.

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