Obama’s Hawaii origin can produce insight
Hawaii has attracted attention as the place where the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee was born and raised.
It comes as no surprise that Sen. Barack Obama's Hawaii origins and the tourist industry's success in marketing "paradise" have produced flawed stereotypes of the islands during the presidential campaign. Fortunately, the attention also is resulting in unprecedented serious observations of Hawaii in the media. Both simplistic and analytical perspectives are sure to continue, and mainlanders should learn to distinguish between the two.
Commentator Cokie Roberts chastised Obama this month on ABC-TV and National Public Radio for vacationing in Hawaii because it seems like "some sort of foreign, exotic place," neglecting to mention that the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee was visiting family where he was born and grew up. A spokesman for Sen. John McCain, his Republican opponent, needled Obama last week for having vacationed "on a private beach in Hawaii," unaware that the state where McCain met his present wife prohibits private beaches.
David Maraniss of the Washington Post offered a more insightful examination on Friday of Obama's upbringing in Hawaii that undoubtedly will be circulated this week at the Democratic National Convention in Denver. "One of the most multiracial places in the world ... has its own difficult history of racial and cultural stratification, and young Obama struggled to find his place even in that many-hued milieu," he wrote.
Obama chronicled his childhood in Honolulu in his 1995 memoir, "Dreams from My Father," reminiscing about the search for his identity. Obama used composites and pseudonyms to protect his companions' privacy, but many of their real names have surfaced, giving journalists an opportunity to dig deeper.
Maraniss noted that Obama eventually settled in Chicago, "the antipode of remote Honolulu, deep in the fold of the mainland. ... Yet life circles back in strange ways, and in essence it is the promise of the place he left behind - the notion if not the reality of Hawaii, what some call the spirit of aloha, the transracial if not post-racial message - that has made his rise possible.
"Hawaii and Chicago are the two main threads weaving through the cloth of Barack Obama's life," he added. "Each involves more than geography."
Maraniss is perceptive in comprehending that Hawaii is paradise and then some.
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