Aloha in Aloha
Native Hawaiians are small in numbers but bring island spirit to the area.
Leialohaokeanuenue Kaula doesnt 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.
Kaula, 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.
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 Schools 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 Kaula 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 arent 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 doesnt matter what they look like, where they come from.
Frank Renslow can tell you that.
A huge group of people affiliated with Kaulas halau, many of them originally from Hawaii, descended on Renslows Aloha backyard last week to cook the main dish for the Mahalo Luau 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 dont even know half these peoples names, but Im 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. Everybodys so tight.
Editor's note: Here are some more of photographer Jaime Valdez's photographs before and during a recent Mahalo Lu'au in Washington County.