We all helped kill aloha and we all can save it
The aloha spirit is dead on Oahu. The dual question is, Who killed it and how? While it is early to assign blame -- witness the heading of a July 6 letter in the Star-Bulletin, "Tourists are rude and should go home" -- the truth is that it is not just the tourists. Ultimately, it is all of us and our neglect. The average Hawaiian American reading this will deny that they have lost the spirit of aloha, because it means also the loss of identity, maybe the final loss, but it increasingly seems that the once welcoming islands of Hawaii no longer are and maybe haven't been for some time now. Perhaps it began with the all-but-criminal annexation a century ago, or the all-absorbing statehood in 1950, but no matter when it began, it has continued down to and through us all and has reached a crisis. What was once a point of pride and pleasure has stretched to become a taut line drawn in the sand between the islands and the mainland.
I know this because I felt it this past Fourth of July week in Honolulu. When we should have been celebrating our unity, I felt instead the harsh glare and heard the hard words: outsider, interloper, destroyer.
I heard an educated and sincere man, proud of his heritage and grieving for its history, describe Charles Reed Bishop as not being a haole because Bishop had the best interests of Hawaii in his heart and mind. And I felt the stinging implication in his words and the disdain in his sad but hard eyes that said that I didn't, that those like me couldn't.
In Waikiki I smiled at a small child and saw the suspicion and dislike on her parent's face for the haole who surely must be looking down on them. I read the letters in the Star-Bulletin from merchants who complain about the rude tourists for whom nothing is good enough. I read the letters from the tourists who complain about the rude bus drivers who close their doors to them when they ask for help. I see the pain and I feel the pain and I know the pain -- the pain we share. The pain of the death of the aloha spirit.
Oh, it is still in the shops and the restaurants and the places that cater to tourists, but it is not real aloha. It is hard and shallow like a coral reef -- inviting but sharp-edged. Don't try to hold lest you be hurt. But some of us do try, and some of us do get hurt. Because while it is hard to love that which abhors you while it lies to you with false smiles and empty aloha, many still do, islander and mainlander. We do so because while it is heartbreaking to admit that your love is lost, it is tragic to realize that you have played your part in the loss.
In the end, there is no one villain here, neither you nor I; it is us. The us who came and come and will continue to come, looking for aloha but unable to ever fully leave our emotional or cultural baggage at home. And it is the us who welcome with leis and promises of paradise but with expectations that can never really be realized in a modern world. It is the ugly Americans, islanders and mainlanders alike, who seek and give aloha with their lips but harbor disdain, distrust and dislike in their hearts who set the crushing wheel in motion, but we killed aloha. You and I killed it through neglect and a lack of nurture. But it can be resurrected. We need only invoke its spirit and find and encourage and live the common love that we share not just for Oahu, but for what it is -- the meeting place of family, islander and mainlander -- and welcome each other home, in aloha, once again.
Geoffrey K. Watkins lives in Walnut , Calif.