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Obama's an American, like other kamaaina

By Cynthia Oi

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 02:21 a.m. HST, Jan 06, 2011



At the risk of provoking the birther beast, let's talk about Gov. Neil Abercrombie's unrealistic quest to put down the delusion that President Barack Obama was not born in the United States and thus is ineligible to be its leader.

The governor surely understands that reason and evidence will never convince birthers that they are wrong.

Their irrationality will not be dissolved by facts because their notion is rooted in an inability to accept that an African American man was duly elected to be leader of this nation. Focusing on his citizenship allows them to camouflage bigotry while pretending they are nobly defending the Constitution.

It's a free country so they get to express themselves, no matter their objective.

But why isn't Abercrombie letting sleeping dogs lie? Why revive the hoo-ha conceived by the birther cult?

For one, the governor sees birthers' claims as insulting to Obama's parents, who were his college friends. But an unnamed Abercrombie aide in a Los Angeles Times article offered another explanation of the governor's motivation.

To quote the Times, the aide said his boss was "voicing the frustration of many Hawaiians who continue to be troubled by the rumors, which they see as emblematic of the view that Hawaiians are not Americans in the same way as those who live in the continental United States."

I'm pretty sure the aide didn't use the term "Hawaiian" to describe the general public here because local people know there's a difference.

The aide, however, did bring up a good point.

Whether because of distance, lifestyle, culture, composition of the population, mythical concepts of an island paradise, Arthur Godfrey or tourist industry promotions -- or all of the above -- mainlanders do look upon the 50th state as outside the American convention.

Through that lens, matters as small as a bureaucratic recording of Obama's birth become magnified. Serious issues like keeping out brown tree snakes strike them as mere quirks. They see defense spending as only good for the islands without recognizing the toll the military presence exacts on civilians socially and economically, and its effects on the environment.

When former presidential candidate John McCain mocked appropriations for the Polynesian Voyaging Society, he also belittled the importance of the islands' host culture and the knowledge westerners have gained about navigation and ocean sciences from Hawaiian and Pacific Island sailors.

When differences between mainland and local make us look good, we embrace them. Islanders like the idea that we are a kinder, gentler community that welcomes diversity, that what we have here is a model for other places. Still, ethnic diversity has become less distinct on the continent as mixing of races and cultures blooms through generations. The achievement, then, is not in just having a multicultural society, but extracting the best from it.

While it seems that few outside the state grasp Hawaii's fragility, the same is true of those of us who live here. Many here use limitations as an excuse for not trying to solve problems, such as reducing food and energy dependence.

Maybe people in Hawaii aren't the same as people on the mainland. Or maybe we're too much alike: all of us Americans with an inconsistent measure of ourselves.

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Cynthia Oi can be reached at coi@staradvertiser.com.






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