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What does it mean to be local? Oʻahu native on new book about growing up in the islands

Jessica Machado
Courtesy Dandelion PR
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What does it mean to be local? That’s a question that Oʻahu native and NBC News editor Jessica Machado examines in her new memoir entitled, "Local.” Machado’s father was Hawaiian-Portugese and her mother was from the American South.

While growing up, she wrestled with her multi-ethnic identity and often questioned whether she was truly 'local.'

That conflict caused her reckless spiral as a young adult, something she was able to come out of after embracing her Native Hawaiian identity. The Conversation sat down with Machado to discuss identity and what it means to be local today.

She states that there are many different nuances to coining the term 'local' in Hawaiʻi. Growing up, she said there was always a certain way one had to act and look to own that title — typically under the stereotype of having a specific skin color, speaking a bit of Pidgin and having 'chill tendencies.'

Since Machado has gone away and returned to the islands, she said she finds there has been a cultural shift in the way people now go about their everyday lives on the islands, sometimes mindless of Hawaiʻi's history.

"These are people who kind of want to have this exclusivity, instead of caring about integrating and caring about the land, and wanting to be part of it, and wanting to understand why do we eat mac salad with all of our meals," Machado said.

She said what makes her feel local, is her care for these small accuracies and her ability to make these connections with the land.

"Aloha is overused sometimes, but I feel real aloha is coming in open and like, really wanting to get it and understand the culture here," she said.

At times, Machado said she felt isolated growing up. Those feelings stemmed into rebellious ambitions, resulting in times when she didn't quite inhabit those quote-on-quote 'happy local' characteristics.

She moved to the mainland after college for a change of scenery, where she said she had a "disconnection she had to mend."

"And even like, moving further and further away, now I live in New York, I think it really took being that far away to sort of understand what I had been missing," Machado said.

Her book, "Local," expands on the work she did to better understand her own identity in times of personal adversity and how her experience growing up in Hawaiʻi differed from most local kids.

This interview aired on The Conversation on Jan. 23, 2023. The Conversation airs weekdays at 11 a.m. on HPR-1.

Russell Subiono is the executive producer of The Conversation. Born in Honolulu and raised on Hawaiʻi Island, he’s spent the last decade working in local film, television and radio. Contact him at talkback@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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