Immigration by Accident

When I lived in Pittsburgh, it seemed to me that no place in the United States could possibly be less touched by Hispanic culture than that city. The few Mexican restaurants there were tucked in remote, faceless strip malls. Ketchup appeared to still outpace salsa in condiment sales. And, at least when I was living there, the largest Hispanic enclave was in Beechview and numbered a whopping 147 people (according to the 2000 Census). Then this fall I went to Hawaii, which usually ranks at or near the bottom of all states for percentage of Hispanic residents, and I found a world where even Taco Bells are scarce. However, there is one large immigrant population from the Spanish-speaking world in the state, and it draws ire from the locals of course. That would be the infamous Puerto Rican coquí frog, which made its way to the islands probably in ornamental plant shipments sometime in the mid-1990s.

Friend or Foe?

Now coquís are cute little guys, and they have one very distinct feature: their vocal endowment. The males of the species spend evenings, nights, and early mornings belting out a repetitive onomatopoeic co-QUI, co-QUI, co-QUI over and over and over again. And let me tell you, size means nothing. Apparently they’ve been measured at 100 dB. The frogs are adored in their native Puerto Rico. They are a kind of unofficial state animal of the territory, and you can easily find toys, CDs, T-shirts, stickers, buttons, and whatnot featuring them there. Locals claim to find their call soothing and an integral part of Caribbean nights. In Hawaii, it’s a different story. Most people there think they’re irritating pests. They’re loud, they’re changing the ecosystem, and…gulp…they might affect tourism! Some take this “pest” problem into their own hands, which usually hold a hammer of some sort. Others have grown to love them.

Dolphin Bay Hotel: Site of Future Immigration Sting?

I encountered their choruses while spending a pleasant few nights at the Dolphin Bay Hotel in Hilo on the Big Island (a great place to stay, by the way). Apparently the hotel has gotten plenty of complaints from folks in the past–each room is stocked with ear plugs. (Never seen that before!) While I understand the threat that coquís present, especially for forest birds, it seems to me that they are permanent residents now. And personally, I found their night songs incredibly peaceful and easy to sleep by. Judge for yourself…

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