When religions collide

I suppose you would call me multiethnic, though I’m not a fan of the term. There’s always so much more history behind the vague word. Generous heapings of Asian, Pacific Islander, and Caucasian, laced with aloha and laid-back island style, a dash of polar religions, and a fresh pinch of Southern California make up my life recipe.

Even the colloquial language that we speak in Hawaii, Pidgin English, hints at the range of cultures represented in the melting pot I call home. Pidgin is a conglomeration of bits and pieces of different languages, representing the diverse cultures that merged together during Hawaii’s plantation era. I am a product of the native Hawaiians who first inhabited our island chain, the Japanese who arrived to work in the sugar cane fields, the Russians who were attempting to escape poverty, and the Portuguese who worked as the paniolos or cowboys who managed the plantation workers.

And with a hodgepodge of cultures comes a mixture of religions.

Although I was primarily raised in the Buddhist faith, I attended a Protestant school and spent most of my childhood with my Catholic grandmother. It would seem that I would be confused by the onenju or “thought beads” bracelet that I donned each Sunday at our temple, the purple rosary that my Grandma held in her hands each night as she put me to bed, or the What Would Jesus Do? wristlets that they handed out at school. But I didn’t allow these religious symbols to define me.

I was six years old when my younger cousin told me that I was going to hell when I died if I didn’t accept God as my savior. Naturally, I spent the rest of that day saturating my mom’s T-shirt with my tears. But like many children, I was surprisingly resilient. Because of my Buddhist upbringing, which instilled in me compassion, tolerance, and reflection, I realized that my cousin, or anyone else, cannot be at fault for personal beliefs. How we choose to express our beliefs is what matters when we interact with others.

I am grateful for my exposure to different religions at a young age and for the accepting, supportive atmosphere that I grew up in, however unconventional it may seem. And I know that I won’t always find people who agree that knowledge of other religions is a step toward much-needed tolerance. But that’s exactly the point. We may not agree and we certainly don’t have to. But take it from the woman who’s packing four different ethnicities and a handful of religions in her back pocket. To my conservative, closed-minded extended family: Show a little respect for other cultures and religions, even if you don’t care to understand them. That’s just about all I’ve ever really asked.

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