ANALYSIS: Race in Hawai`i, By the Numbers

Listen to this Article
4 minutes
Loading Audio... Article will play after ad...
Playing in :00

Welcome to part two of “By the Numbers,” our ongoing look at the 2012 Hawai`i State Data Book. To catch up on part one, regarding romance, click here.

Hawai`i: the great melting pot of the Pacific. A point of pride (and occasionally prejudice), our islands are famous for their multi-colored beach bodies. Here are a few shallow facts regarding what we look like.

Going Native

Hawai`i Island boasts the highest percentage of residents claiming primarily Polynesian heritage. Made up mostly of Hawaiians, 12.1% of Big Islanders identify themselves primarily as either ethnic natives or the descendants of Polynesians.

Maui ranks second at 10.4%. Kauai on the other hand, has the lowest proportion of people claiming Hawaiian/Polynesian roots, at just 9% of residents.

In all, a total of just under 130,000 people in the state classify themselves as primarily Polynesian or Hawaiian.


What’s in a Haole?

On a different side of the color palette, Maui is home to the highest proportion of people identifying themselves solely as “white” on their census forms, at 34.4%.

Coming in second, 33.7% of Big Islanders identify themselves this way. Somewhat surprisingly, despite all the pale beach-goers found wandering its shores, only 20.8% of Oahu’s full-time residents consider themselves primarily Caucasian.

white people

“Haole” can mean different things to different people. Image file from University of Texas.

Although what people in Hawai`i consider white or “haole” can differ wildly depending on who you ask, we do have a few numbers on which European ethnicities our residents identify themselves with.

Leading the pack are Germans, representing 6% of Hawai`i residents overall. They are followed by the Irish at 4.6%, and the English at 4.1%.


Argue all you want over whether they’re “haole,” but the fact remains that over 55,000 residents (4% total) classify themselves as “Portuguese.”

Asian Eyes

While Oahu may not have many full-time white residents walking its streets, 43.9% of people living there identify themselves primarily as “Asian.” By contrast, only 22.2% of Big Islanders classify themselves as such.

But “Asian” is a broad classification representing many cultures. Although US supermarket freezers are packed with generically labeled “Asian Cuisine,” the Census Bureau has thankfully bothered to give us a more precise picture of exactly which ethnicities make up the over 480,000 Asians living in Hawai`i.

Surprisingly, despite their heavy presence in the islands, the number of residents identifying themselves as primarily “Japanese” fell 8% between the years 2000 and 2010.


During that same time period, the number of people reporting themselves as “Filipino” increased 16%. Filipino residents now make up the most common Asian ethnicity in Hawai`i, representing a full 41% of all Asians living here.

Hawai`i’s ethnic Japanese come in second at 38% of all Asians, while Chinese have maintained their third place position of 11% over the last decade, and Koreans have held steady at 5%.

The number of Thai, Vietnamese and Laotian residents has grown considerably over the last 10 years, but all together they still represent less than 3% of Hawai`i’s Asians.

Debes Aprender Espanol

Following a trend that started in the mainland US, Hawai`i is home to a steadily increasing population of Hispanic/Latino residents.

The number of ethnic Latinos is growing steadily in Hawai`i. Image courtesy Emory University.

The number of ethnic Latinos is growing steadily in Hawai`i. Image courtesy Emory University.

Just over 120,000 people in Hawai`i classified themselves as Hispanic or Latino in 2010, with Puerto Ricans and Mexicans making up most of those reporting.

The Big Island hosts the largest proportion of Latino residents in the state, with just under 12% of people in Hawai`i County identifying themselves this way. This makes Latinos now almost as common as Hawaiians and Polynesians on the Big Island.

Roughly 10% of Maui and Kauai residents identify as Latino, while just 8% of Oahu residents identify themselves with this ethnicity.

Blacks: A Small Minority, But Not the Smallest

Despite being a very diverse state, Hawai`i is surprisingly devoid of African Americans.

Less than 3% of Hawai`i residents identify themselves as black, or just under 39,000 in total.

The vast majority of African Americans live on Oahu (just under 33,000), while only 1.6% of Big Island residents and 1.5% of Maui residents identify themselves primarily as black.

Most striking is the population of African Americans on Kauai, with less than 800 living on the Garden Isle as of 2010, making up less than 1.2% of residents there.

But any blacks in Hawai`i feeling isolated should take heart, for despite their sparse numbers, they are far from being the rarest ethnicity to grace our shores.

Hawai`i's Bhutanese residents probably represent the slimmest ethnic minority in the islands.

Hawaii’s Bhutanese residents probably represent the slimmest ethnic minority in the islands.

That honor may actually fall to the Bhutanese, of whom there are a total of seven living in Hawai’i.

There are so few of them, even Rep. Hanohano may not know the slang term for their ethnicity.


See part one of this series here: Romance in Hawaii, By the Numbers

Sponsored Content

Subscribe to our Newsletter

Stay in-the-know with daily or weekly
headlines delivered straight to your inbox.


This comments section is a public community forum for the purpose of free expression. Although Big Island Now encourages respectful communication only, some content may be considered offensive. Please view at your own discretion. View Comments