The announcement that Hawaii will host APEC in 2011 prompted talk about security: Are we prepared to handle an event with leaders of member countries as diverse and important as Russia, the People’s Republic of China and Japan, as well as 17 other member economies?
Pundits talk about what the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation can do for Hawaii — if we manage the conference successfully. This means mounting security tantamount to or better than that required by President Barack Obama’s visits, having ultra-nonfailing connectivity for Internet and all high-tech devices, including those that will be invented this year.
It means possible business opportunities for Hawaii with the country leaders and giant corporations in attendance; speculations about side-door meetings with deals concluded in 15 minutes. For Hawaii, already established as a tourist destination, APEC offers Hawaii the chance to establish itself as a place to do "serious" work.
Talk of high-tech, little of high touch. We need to remember what we can do in hosting this event as Hawaii.
APEC events honor the traditional costumes of the host countries. President Obama has remarked about "grass skirts and brightly colored shirts" in Hawaii.
Most likely Obama’s invitation to APEC to meet in Hawaii was born of his belief that "What’s best in me, and what’s best in my message, is consistent with the tradition of Hawaii … Hawaii’s spirit of tolerance might not have been perfect or complete but it was, and is, real. The opportunity that Hawaii offered to experience a variety of cultures in a climate of mutual respect became an integral part of my world view, and a basis for the values I hold most dear."
Those who think Hawaii is just another tourist destination miss the point. Visitors return here repeatedly because almost everyone, no matter where they are from, finds themselves at home in Hawaii. The peace and power of Hawaii is lost on very few who live or visit here.
In the mid-1980s, before the fall of the Berlin Wall, at the Governor’s Congress on Tourism, Kent Keith gave a speech about Hawaii as a place of peace and healing — a place where people come to have their spirit rejuvenated, to be healed.
Acknowledging that peace is the one-to-one business of all humanity, Keith said Hawaii had the power to spread aloha, which means love, to its visitors — who can take that love home with them and spread it around the world. APEC is a perfect opportunity for us to open our hearts and be that place, be those people.
Embedded in our host culture is the idea of hooponopono. In a global way, APEC conferences are hooponopono on an international scale. How many cultures have Pu’u Honua? Hawaii is a place of refuge.
No place in the world has a mix of cultures that is closer to APEC’s membership. Attendees will recognize themselves in our faces.
It is Hawaii, not high-tech conductivity, that can make their experience unique, make them feel safe and cared for, and give them a place where people-to-people meetings trump texting.
We say we are "lucky to live Hawaii," and it is true. We owe it to Hawaii to present ourselves in a way that expresses our true values, to welcome the APEC members as we do all visitors to our islands, and to focus on the best in ourselves and others.
Cynthia Oi’s "Under the Sun" column resumes next Thursday.