State hosted Obama’s roots but isles don’t reap his fruits
It used to be that when mainland visitors came to Hawaii, they wanted to try surfing, go to a luau, take pictures of a sunset. Now, part of the Hawaii experience is to see where President Obama grew up.
Mahalo for reading the Honolulu Star-Advertiser!
You're reading a premium story. Read the full story with our Print & Digital Subscription.
Already a subscriber? Log in now to continue reading this story.
It used to be that when mainland visitors came to Hawaii, they wanted to try surfing, go to a luau, take pictures of a sunset. Now, part of the Hawaii experience is to see where President Obama grew up. How many times have you driven around McCully narrating the sites for cousins piled into your Kia Sorento?
This is the apartment building where he lived with his grandma.
This is the fancy prep school that he attended.
These are the basketball courts where he played pickup games after school.
This is the public library where he looked for a book about East Africa.
Except for Punahou’s lovely campus, Obama’s childhood orbit is surprisingly unremarkable. It is noise and traffic and precast concrete, not the kind of image captured on a postcard from Hawaii.
At the Baskin-Robbins on King Street where Obama worked his first job, there is no plaque, photo or indication of any kind that a future president once scooped there. The young lady behind the counter reports that people come in at least once a day and ask if it is indeed the Obama Baskin-Robbins. She tells them it is.
Inevitably, on these friends-and-family private tours, comes the larger question:
What has it meant to Hawaii, in the last seven years, to be the birthplace of the 44th president?
Hawaii did not get the presidential library. Native Hawaiians did not get federal recognition under a president who was born in the islands. His McCully neighborhood is just as scruffy now as it was in 2008 or 1978. Dan Inouye brought home more pork in pocket change than Obama has ever delivered as president.
Even his annual Christmas visits don’t make much of an impact. We don’t see much of the president besides distant photos from the golf course or glimpses of him eating shave ice. Other than having to put up with occasional traffic jams because of the motorcade, it’s like he isn’t even here.
Hawaii was never a hometown Barack Obama was determined to conquer or impress. But it would be a mistake to think this place didn’t leave its mark on him.
In his memoir “Dreams of My Father,” he wrote:
“Even now, with the state’s population quadrupled, with Waikiki jammed wall to wall with fast-food emporiums and pornographic video stores and subdivisions marching relentlessly into every fold of green hill, I can retrace the first steps I took as a child and be stunned by the beauty of the islands. The trembling blue plane of the Pacific. The moss-covered cliffs and the cool rush of Manoa Falls, with its ginger blossoms and high canopies filled with the sound of invisible birds. The North Shore’s thunderous waves, crumbling as if in a slow-motion reel. The shadows off Pali’s peaks; the sultry, scented air.”
What Obama’s presidency has meant to Hawaii will be easier to sum up in years to come. Such evaluations require the acuity of hindsight and the wisdom of time. And the more interesting question may be what Hawaii means to the 44th president, because clearly it’s deeper than a vacation destination.
But so far, the Baskin-Robbins doesn’t have a plaque.
Reach Lee Cataluna at 529-4315 or email@example.com.