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Thread: "Uncle," "Auntie" on the Mainland

  1. #1
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    Default "Uncle," "Auntie" on the Mainland

    This may seem like a stupid question, but it's an issue for me here on the mainland, especially in a place where I don't have Hawaiian community.

    Everybody knows the whole "uncle/auntie" thing, and in Hawai‘i, we do that naturally. We just "know" when someone's ohana, and nobody ever really thinks about it; we just end up calling people "uncle" or "auntie."

    Even here on the mainland, I grew up that way. But it's been a long time, and my dad is gone now, so whatever connections I make, I make on my own.

    My mainland family is mostly from Louisiana culture, and the "Southern way" is to call elder family members "Miss Somebody" or "Mr. Somebody."

    Now, the thing is, there are Hawaiians (from another family line) in my family now, by marriage via the haole family line, and the elder generation of Southerners naturally teaches the younger generation to call the Hawaiian family members "Miss Somebody" and "Mr. Somebody."

    That was all fine, but we've all gotten closer, and my natural inclination is to call these people "Uncle" and "Auntie." You know what I'm talking about? It's almost reflexive.

    But the "Southern Way" kindof makes me apprehensive. This is yet another example of cultural collision. I can't help but think the Hawaiian family members probably feel the same way and would appreciate us all calling them "Uncle" and "Auntie," but a part of me wonders if anybody would be offended or think it was weird.

    Any thoughts on this?
    ~'Ailina

  2. #2
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    Default Re: "Uncle," "Auntie" on the Mainland

    I encountered a similar situation here in Kea'au on the Big Island. As a board member of one of my children's school, I have been addressed by a Louisiana transplanted young female teacher as Mr. Watanabe. I told her she doesn't have to be so formal and to call me Craig. She responded that her Southern ways made it uncomfortable for her to address me anyway else so I respected her feelings and she calls me Mr. Watanabe.

    Now on the flip side, I personally don't like to be called Mr. Watanabe because as a child when I would get into trouble (like almost burning down our home) my mom would say, "Mr. Watanabe get your okole in the kitchen right now!" So when she would call out to me when at meetings or anytime on campus, I would shudder and wonder, "oh man what did I do now".

    As for the Uncle and Auntie thing, being raised in East Oahu as a sheltered child in a Japanese family we only addressed our parents siblings as Uncle or Auntie. It's a title they achieved simply because they are family. Japanese culture doesn't allow for a person to be hanai'ed (is that correct) into a family, so it was as uncomfortable for me to accept the title of Uncle whenever my children's friends would come over and say hi (my wife is part Hawaiian).

    But in respect for another's culture, I accept the title of Uncle or Mr. Watanabe even though I cringe inside whenever I hear it. As for that Louisiana teacher, I tell her likewise not to feel offended when I call her by her first name simply because calling her by her last name is not something I'm accustomed to doing unless I want to speak sternly with her.

  3. #3
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    Default Re: "Uncle," "Auntie" on the Mainland

    Mahalo for sharing your experience, Craig. That's eye-opening, seeing the dilemma from the flip side. Lots of cultural collision and overlap for you, too. I've been on the mainland so long, I tend to forget Hawai'i's a melting pot. I'm guilty of remembering island culture as single and unified. But it's the mix and melting that makes it what it is.

    It seems to me you've found an acceptable balance. Ironic, the Louisiana teacher. And typical, "Mr. Watanabe." If your family knew hers personally, you'd be "Mr. Craig." That's the Southern "personal" way. lol!
    ~'Ailina

  4. #4

    Default Re: "Uncle," "Auntie" on the Mainland

    Some of my children's friends from school (military kids) would call me "Miss" while their friends who were born and raised in Hawaii called me "Aunty". Either one is fine with me, as both titles are addressed to show respect. That's how I see it.

  5. #5

    Default Re: "Uncle," "Auntie" on the Mainland

    I will go with any as long as it's not sarcastically used.

    For children to get used to southern or hawaiian or whatever way I find is good. It's difficult when children are used to relating to someone using their first name because it's not very respectful at occasions.

  6. #6
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    Default Re: "Uncle," "Auntie" on the Mainland

    My family definitely called every friendly adult "uncle" or "aunty." Heck, if you were a particularly friendly waitress, by the end of the meal you were an "aunty" too.

    Of course, I learned what "aunt" and "uncle" meant in the dictionary sense before understanding what it meant to locals, so for a while I was astounded by just how many siblings my parents had!

    It is one of the things transplants to the islands have to get used to. My kids have bid a fond farewell to "aunties" who didn't quite know what to make of the title. Then again, times are changing -- our neighbors' kids refer to everyone, their own parents included, by their first name. Reminds me of how Bart Simpson just calls his dad "Homer."

  7. #7
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    Default Re: "Uncle," "Auntie" on the Mainland

    Yikes. It makes me cringe when I hear kids from ANYWHERE call adults by their first names. Ugh.

    ...for a while I was astounded by just how many siblings my parents had!


    I know! lol! When I was real small here on the mainland, my dad had Hawaiian Club, and everybody was "Uncle" and "Auntie," and you know, NOBODY in town but all those folks were brown, so of course I assumed we were all family somehow.

    So funny, when I got old enough to realize we weren't blood. But no one else in this mainland town ever asked questions. They all assumed we were all related, too.
    Either one is fine with me, as both titles are addressed to show respect.
    I agree completely. And hopefully, I'm bringing my kids up so they'll be respectful no matter what culture they're in. Ideally, they'll be able to gauge the situation, and use the most appropriate title for the time. Of course, it's SO much easier for kids to catch on to that stuff than it is for adults.
    ~'Ailina

  8. #8
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    Default Re: "Uncle," "Auntie" on the Mainland

    What astounds me is some of my caucasian friends who after growing up into adulthood, started calling their parents by their first names.

    I ask them since when did their parents lose their title of Mom and Dad? They reply, "I'm an adult now so we're equal". I tell them, "but they're still your mom and dad. I would never call my parents by their first names in their presence or even when addressing them when talking to my friends and I'm 44.

    To my friends' parents I call them Mr. or Mrs.

  9. #9
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    Default Re: "Uncle," "Auntie" on the Mainland

    I first encountered this "Uncle" thing when I went to India in the early Seventies. Evidentally, the children there are instructed to call any older person "uncle" or "auntie".

    These days, on Oahu, I'm happy to be called "uncle" instead of "pops" or "gramps".

  10. #10

    Default Re: "Uncle," "Auntie" on the Mainland

    In Ndn country and around the circut, young'uns call their elders Aunti and Uncle all the time, and if they want to show lots of respect they'll call you Grandmother or Grandfather (even if your only in your 20's...it's a knowledge/respect thing more so than an age thing sometimes). Peers call each other Brother and Sister unless it's a formal respect thing and then it can flow into the Aunt/Uncle/Grandmother/father thing.

  11. #11
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    Default Re: "Uncle," "Auntie" on the Mainland

    No forget the cousins!

    In any event it is one thing to tell kids to call older people uncles or aunties but sooner or later you need to explain the actual relation.

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