Under the Sun
How about we agree to call Obama hapa?
"Tonight, I can stand before you and say that I will be the Democratic nominee for president of the United States."
Barack Obama delivered these words last week without the grin that usually creases the faces of candidates laying claim to the title. He said it soberly, solemnly, with full and fitting understanding of the historic moment. A black American man had slipped the once-solid confines of political achievement made pliant, ever slowly, ever surely, through generations of evolving attitudes and considerations.
It was chicken-skin time to have witnessed through the past 15 months another piece of the "no can" rock chipped away by an exceptional man who is claimed as a local boy because he was born here and spent formative years in the islands.
As I write this, I hesitate to use the expression. Though in this context it seems appropriate -- a commonly used identification of pride in Hawaii -- it could be taken as a put-down because even as we try to set racial bigotry behind us, there remains a valid sensitivity to disparaging terms.
Like the kind of pride local people take when one of their own succeeds in the larger world, African Americans take great satisfaction and place great value in Obama's against-the-odds nomination. Though accurate, having him described as biracial could be regarded as offensive, as if to cover his self-identity as black with a gossamer of white when throughout American history, a drop of black blood was considered a stain.
While much of the national discussion on race focuses on black and white -- with the imprecise designations of Hispanic, Latino or Asian thrown in only from time to time -- Hawaii has more fractured deliberations.
The islands are supposed to be a model of tolerance brewed from a melting pot of races and ethnic groups. But those who are honest will acknowledge that there are underlying tensions here that surface in myriad ways, in countless public and private encounters, in general and person-to-person dealings.
Like in the rest of America, however, the colors and countenances that set people apart will wane as will the tight grip of those imprinted in self and soul with an accumulation of quiet slights and overt malice. Not completely, of course, for as long as there are human beings, conflict will exist.
But I cannot help but believe that the ones based purely on skin tone and physical features will melt away. I have seen changes take place. I have seen fears of "others" that ruled behavior and relationships evaporate, replaced by a willingness to take into account differences without insinuating ill will. I have watched people cross wide, shaky bridges to find kinship.
If anything, Obama could be legitimately be called hapa, the Hawaiian word meaning fraction or part. His racial components, his experiences from Hawaii and Indonesia to Chicago and New York, his appeal to an assortment of Americans complete a whole.
There is much to celebrate in Obama's realization of a dream a long time in coming. A finer one stands ahead, when the accessories of a person won't matter so much, when someone will be seen as simply a woman, a man, a human being.
has been on the staff of the Star-Bulletin since 1976. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org