To Our Readers

By John Flanagan

Saturday, June 26, 1999

Local is
as local does

CHUNG Lee, a senior fellow at the East-West Center, said something curious to a group of local journalists this week. He said he was travelling in the Midwest recently and realized he felt more at home, more accepted, there than he did in Honolulu.

Of course, Dr. Lee isn't your average man on the street. He didn't "graduate McKinley," as we say, and I doubt he speaks pidgin as a second language. Still, he's put down credible Hawaii roots as director of the Center for Korean Studies at UH.

Lee's comment took this Irish-American haole (with occasional kamaaina delusions) by surprise. I'd expect a mainland Caucasian to say it, not an Asian college professor. Isn't Honolulu America's most Asian city? Doesn't our tourism strategy rely on Hawaii's being a comfortable, familiar place for Asian visitors?

Hawaii's local/haole distinction, however, isn't racial. When "local" is used as convenient shorthand for Asian/Pacific Islander, it's inaccurate. "Local" is about personal history and perspective. Unfortunately, it is often practically the same as provincialism. Worse, it can be the antithesis of aloha.

With so many millions of tourists passing through the islands, it's understandable that local people would set themselves apart from outsiders and value their Hawaii heritage, however long or short.

Local culture -- the sum of Hawaii's unique history, art, customs, fashion, architecture, music, sports, cuisine, religions, diversity -- is our most valuable resource. We are proud of it. Local ways, along with the physical beauty of Hawaii, are the irresistible magnet keeping our children and us here while attracting the visitors on which our economy depends.

It's only human nature, however, for "localness" sometimes to mask and justify feelings of inferiority, exclusion or even aggression.

I've lived in Honolulu longer than any other place. Unlike Lee, I feel at home. Still, I'll never forget the man in Kapiolani Park who greeted me one evening shortly after I moved here. "F - - k you, haole," he said. Got my attention.

John Flanagan is editor and publisher of the Star-Bulletin.
To reach him call 525-8612, fax to 523-8509, send
e-mail to or write to
P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu, Hawaii 96802.

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