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Hawaii's Latinos Defy Stereotypes

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Hawaii’s Hispanic Population

After growing slower than the general population in Hawaii for 20 years, the number of local Hispanics increased three times as fast during the first decade of this century:

Source: U.S. Census



What Do We Mean by Hispanic?


People of Hispanic heritage trace their origin to Spain and areas dominated by the Spanish Empire in what is now called Latin America. The related term Latino refers specifically to people from Central and South America, which includes Brazil and its Portuguese-speaking people.

Most Spanish-speaking people with ancestry from Latin America use Hispanic and Latino interchangeably, a tendency also followed in this article.

The U.S. Census relies on people’s self-identification, so Hispanic can be viewed as a cultural marker attached to any race or ethnicity. Many Hispanics who also have European, African American or Native American heritage identify themselves in the Census as belonging to “two or more races” or “some other race.”



Increases in Different Ethnic Groups

Population increases or decreases in Hawaii by ethnicity from the 2000 Census to the 2010 Census:

Source: U.S. Census



Pan-Hispanic People

Augie Rey Fernandez
Singer, financial advisor, VP of Honolulu Elks Club. Of Cuban and Puerto Rican descent. Came to Hawaii in 1969.

Joaquin Diaz
Safety director at Hawaiian Dredging Construction Co. Cuban American from Florida. Came to Hawaii with Marine Corps
in 1996.

Jose Villa
Journalist, entrepreneur and chairman of Latin Business Hawaii. Of Puerto Rican/African American descent. Came to Hawaii with Air Force in 1986.

Mari Roma Villa
Media advisor and
communications instructor. Originally from Mexico. Moved to Hawaii in 1990.

Grissel Benitez-Hodge
Dean of students at
Chaminade University. Born in Puerto Rico. In Hawaii for the past ten years.

Steve Colon
President of Hunt Companies - Hawaii Region. Of Puerto Rican ancestry. Moved to Hawaii with the Navy in 2002.



Latino Tourists

Combined number of visitors from Brazil, Mexico and Argentina

Source: Hawaii Tourism Authority



Growing Markets for Tourism

Hawaii is becoming a more popular destination for tourists from Latin America. A record total of 25,593 visitors came to Hawaii last year from the well-populated nations of Brazil, Mexico and Argentina, according to the Hawaii Tourism Authority. That’s a 15.7 percent increase over 2011, which itself enjoyed an 11.7 percent increase from 2010.



Long History in Hawaii

These tourists are affluent. HTA data shows that, on average, they spend more per trip than visitors from any other major market.The first Spanish speaker arrived in Hawaii in 1794, and Hispanics have lived here ever since.

The young sailor Francisco de Paula Marin, originally from southern Spain, arrived here just six years after Capt. James Cook’s first visit, and became an advisor and a physician to King Kamehameha I. Marin reportedly introduced grapes, pineapples, coffee and guava to Hawaii.

The first large group of Hispanics came in 1830, when Kamehameha III brought 200 cowboys from California, a part of Mexico at the time, to Hawaii Island. The Hawaiian word for cowboy, paniolo, was coined as either a local variation of the ethnonym Español or the Spanish word for neckerchief, pañuelo.

More significant to traditional Hispanic presence in Hawaii was the arrival of about 5,000 Puerto Ricans as plantation workers in 1900 and 1901. Many stayed and provided the foundation of Hawaii’s Puerto Rican community.



Delivered Fresh from Next Door

Photo: David Croxford

“We didn’t plan to be tortilla guys,” says Cuauhtemoc Macias of Sinaloa Hawaiian Tortillas, but his family has been making and selling them locally for 18 years. Now, the family has opened a retail shop next to their tortilla factory in the Honolulu Airport area to sell all kinds of Mexican and Latin American foods.

Cuauhtemoc Macias and his brother, Xicotencatl (their names are Nahuatl, the ancient Aztec language), run the day-to-day business of both the factory and the shop.

Patriarch Ysidro Macias and his wife, Veronica, started the family business with a restaurant in Hanapepe on Kauai.

The couple came with their five children on a Hawaii vacation in 1989 and loved it so much they moved to Kauai from Fresno, Calif. Ysidro Macias, a personal injury and workers’ compensation lawyer who represented migrant farm workers, had no experience in the restaurant business when he opened Sinaloa Mexican Restaurant.

The restaurant has since closed, but the tortilla company creates about 50,000 tortillas a day. The store, Sinaloa La Tiendita, opened on Dec. 13, but don’t expect a typical food-company thrift shop.

“We don’t sell day-old tortillas. It’s the freshest you can get since the production line is right here,” says Cuauhtemoc. “We carry things you can’t find in stores, like dry tortillas for frying your own chips. Fry these up and they’ll taste like the same chips at your favorite Mexican restaurant.”

Mexican cheeses, sodas, hot sauces and other Latin staples are shipped in regularly and you can also buy 12- and 13-inch tortillas that are hard to find elsewhere.

“The next step will be to carry fresh salsas and guacamole at the store,” says Cuauhtemoc. “But that will come in time.”

Sinaloa La Tiendita
3239 Koapaka St.
Open 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Monday to Friday.
Closed Saturday and Sunday

Hawaii Business magazine invites you to comment on our articles and the issues they raise. Comments are moderated for offensive language, commercial messages and off-topic posts and may be deleted. Some comments may be chosen for inclusion in the magazine on the Feedback page.

Old to new | New to old
Jul 5, 2013 10:10 pm
 Posted by  Lorena


I am surprised to learn a large professional Latin community exists in Hawaii ! I recently moved to the area after completing my doctoral degree at the University of Washington. I am a US born first generation Mexican Latina and am really hoping to connect with the Hispanic community. Are there Latin groups in this area? I am excited to provide medical care in Hawaii! And am looking forward to visiting the Hispanic store mentioned in this article.


This has been flagged
Aug 28, 2013 01:44 am
 Posted by  Candy

This is awesome, moving to Maui next month

Oct 8, 2013 12:40 pm
 Posted by  Jesus Velazquez

Hi all,
I'm a local film-maker and small business owner. Currently, I'm in the early stage of producing a documentary focusing on the lives and origins of Mexicans in Hawaii. I'm looking for participants to get on camera and tell their stories as to how they came to Hawaii.

Are any of you interested in participating in this documentary, as a feature story? I can provide specific details about the entire project.
Please contact me at:

Jesus Velazquez

Oct 8, 2013 12:43 pm
 Posted by  Jesus Velazquez

Hi Lorena,
I'm from Seattle and a Huskie too.
Is there any way to perhaps talk to you about my documentary project. I'm looking for people to share their stories and would love to talk to you about it more details.

Are you at all interested?
I know this is a bit random, but as you already know it can be challenging finding raza out here.
Thank you and please let me know.
Jesus Velazquez

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