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Aloha in Aloha

Native Hawaiians are small in numbers but bring island spirit to the area.


TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Edward Young, middle, watches family members apply banana leaves on a pit filled with pork butts and laulau to cook overnight for the O.H.A.N.A. Foundations luau the next day in Hillsboro. Leialohaokeanuenue Ka’ula doesn’t pronounce her adopted community “Alo-uh” the way most of her neighbors would.

She pronounces it “Alo-ha!”

“Even if people correct me, I say ‘Alo-ha,’” she said last week, taking a break from preparations for a giant luau she helped organize on Saturday at Hillsboro's Rood Bridge Park.

A day later, about 600 people dined on traditional Hawaiian foods and watched hula dancers on a warm summer evening that made some visitors almost forget that warmer currents of the Pacific Ocean were thousands of miles away.

Ka’ula, who was born on Oahu and grew up on Hawaii (the Big Island) and often goes by Lei or Leialoha for short, is one of the Native Hawaiians who helps bring the aloha spirit of her native islands to Aloha and surrounding communities.

She speaks Hawaiian. She runs a halau (hula school) in Reedville called Ka Lei Hali'a O Ka Lokelani, meaning “The Cherished Ones of the Yellow Rose.” She also founded the Aloha-based O.H.A.N.A. Foundation to promote education and culture.

Three generations of her family live in Aloha and a fourth, her grandparents, arrived to help with luau preparations.

Despite the presence of the area known as Aloha, demographically, Hawaiians have a relatively small footprint in the area.TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Grandmother Marie Young, middle, watches as family members and hula students make laulau for the O.H.A.N.A. Foundations Mahalo Luau the next day in Hillsboro.

In Aloha and across Washington County, people who identify as Native Hawaiians make up just one in 1,000 residents, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. (The number of area residents who describe themselves as natives of all Pacific Islands is larger, about five in 1,000.)

But their actual influence is larger than their numbers might indicate.

Many residents who are not Native Hawaiians may have grown up or lived there for an extended time. Aloha High School’s mascot is the Warrior, born not from indigenous Native American warriors, but from Native Hawaiian warriors. Hawaiian restaurants are increasing in number in neighboring Beaverton.

Local Hawaiians such as Ka’ula embrace the name Aloha as one of their own, and she related an old-time fable about a Native American son who fell in love with a Hawaiian girl as the seed that sprouted the community.

But stodgier history books point to a potential source as a 100-year-old misspelling of Aloah, named not for the islands but for a resort community in Wisconsin. The pronunciation stuck at the local U.S. Post Office, and for most of the 50,000 people who live in the unincorporated area today.

Today, many Hawaiians come to the mainland for economic reasons. The cost of living is higher in Hawaii, and there aren’t always enough good-paying jobs to go around, said Lisa Chang, the leader of a different Hula Halau and KIAKO Foundation, which is also based in the area.

Hawaiians of all kinds tend to embrace their Oregon friends as family, regardless of ethnicity, she said.

“We try to share that aloha spirit,” said Chang, who grew up on the mainland but married a Hawaiian and has immersed herself in Hawaiian dance and culture. “I doesn’t matter what they look like, where they come from.”

Frank Renslow can tell you that.

A huge group of people affiliated with Ka’ula’s halau, many of them originally from Hawaii, descended on Renslow’s Aloha backyard last week to cook the main dish for the Mahalo Lu’au in Hillsboro.

Renslow had offered a safe place to cook hundreds of pounds of salted pork butt — the whole pig was too expensive this year — and many hundreds of taro leaf-wrapped laulaus in a giant pit filled with hot lava rocks and covered in a layer of banana leaves.

“I don’t even know half these people’s names, but I’m ‘Uncle,’” said Renslow, who fell in love with the Hawaiian way of life while visiting Maui, where his parents had business interests, and sought it out back home. “Everybody’s so tight.”TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Lei Kaula, from left, Dino Almasin, Natlie Dutro and Clayton Chincio place a chicken-wire basket filled with pork butts in a pit of hot lava rocks to cook overnight for the O.H.A.N.A. Foundations luau.

Editor's note: Here are some more of photographer Jaime Valdez's photographs before and during a recent Mahalo Lu'au in Washington County.

TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Preparing laulau

TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Preparing banana leaves for the fire pit.

TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Meat is wrapped inside taro leaves to prepare laulau.

TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Preparing to wrap up pork butts in chicken wire to cook overnight in a covered pit.

TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Placing food on top of hot lava rocks.

TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Edward Young shows his hand-woven decorative baskets made from coconut palm leaves.

TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Edward Young can quickly weave baskets from coconut palm leaves he shipped to Aloha from his home in the Aloha State.

TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Young dancers demonstrate a traditional hula dance during the lu'au.

TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - A couple of girls watch as more advanced hula dancers entertain during a traditional lu'au.

TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - The dancers enjoy the hula as much as the audience.

TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Time for a break for Grandpa and Grandma Young, visiting from Hawaii to help family members put on a lu'au.