Let me begin this discussion by stating that I pose the question below in all sincerity and in the spirit of learning. Recent Live and Let’s Fly posts on tourism in Hawaii have elicited viral responses, with the comments from Hawaiian residents overwhelming negative.
Do Hawaiian Residents Hate Tourists?
Notice I use the word resident here. This is not meant to be a racial (native Hawaiian) issue, though certainly issues of race and history cannot be separated from any discussion on Hawaiian tourism.
In addition to death threats (which were quickly deleted), three recent stories on Hawaii ended up being reduced to the author being labelled haole, a pejorative term meaning a person who is not a native Hawaiian.
Let’s try to move beyond petty name calling today.
A bit about me. I’ve been to Hawaii about 20 times, with most trips to Oahu. Over the years, I have encountered warm hospitably from residents–both locals (native Hawaiians) and transplants from the U.S. Mainland, Japan, or other places around the world. I’ve never been called a haole to my face or experienced any type of racism.
I’ve also ventured beyond the comfortable confines of Waikiki or Pearl Harbor and seen a side of Hawaii that most visitors will never experience. A friend of mine is part Hawaiian. His mother was born in Hawaii and later moved to California, but many relatives remain there. One time I was in Hawaii with him and we visited his family, who live in a modest dwelling in Waianae. I saw the poverty juxtaposed to the palatial homes near my hotel in the Kahala neighborhood.
While I do not purport to walk in the shoes of anyone but my own, I understand Hawaii’s history and how disease was brought to the islands by imperialist conquerers. Thus, fears over the spread of virus are not unreasonable, especially noting the high cost of healthcare and Hawaii’s more limited medical infrastructure.
Yet, I also note that human history is but a story of conquest and subjugation. That does not justify the historic theft of life, liberty, and property, but Hawaii, from my perspective, has firmly been established as part of the United States and there is simply no going back.
As part of the United States, U.S. citizens have an understandable desire to visit. After all, it is one of the most beautiful parts of the country with superb beaches, mountains, and weather. And this is not a mutually exclusive, one-way stream of benefits. Tourism makes up about 1/5 of the Hawaiian economy, providing vital employment to Hawaiian residents and tax dollars to support healthcare, infrastructure, and social services.
But the sentiment I have received lately, at least on Live and Let’s Fly, is that tourists are simply not welcome…and this goes well beyond COVID-19. Maybe I’m wrong, which is why I am offering this forum for discussion today, but it seems there is a rather large subset of Hawaiian residents who simply want visitors to stay away…permanently.
That strikes me as problematic. Obviously, I’d like the beaches and mountains to myself as well. But the issue goes beyond just tourism dollars. It goes to the heart of what it means to be an American, this notion of brotherhood from sea to shining sea and the old Woody Guthrie folk son “This Land is Your Land, This Land is My Land.”
Rather than dismiss those as the trite cliches of the imperialist, we would do well–especially during this incredibly divisive period in American history–to embrace one another, listen to one another, and seek mutual respect. Respect is a two-way street. Visitors need to respect the precarious situation many Hawaiian residents find themselves in. Hawaiian residents need to respect Mainlanders as their fellow Americans, not as trespassers.
Now my question is this: what would that mutual respect look like? As a Mainlander, how can I show respect to residents when I visit? (the answer stay away is not satisfying…) Would historical recognition of past wrongs against native Hawaiians be an important foundation?
Together, we need to overcome the virus…but make no mistake: even with proper testing, a vaccine, and a competent public health team, the virus will be with us for a long time. Hawaii cannot afford to say goodbye to tourism and the notion that such tourism cannot be done safely is simply a failure of the imagination.
But this goes far beyond the pandemic, striking a nerve that runs deeper. I’d humbly like to do my part to make the problem less of a problem. Change occurs one person at a time. I’m open to learning.
Thanks for your feedback below. I hope we can have a constructive, respectful exchange.