I spent significant time in my post-secondary years considering imperialism of all stripes. I spent a lot of time thinking about the way it shaped maps, attitudes, wars, economics, development, and pretty much everything else. But I think Americans spend little time thinking about how American imperialism shaped the boundaries of our own nation. If you have spent five minutes thinking about it, then any visit to Hawaii should render America’s imperialist legacy shockingly visible. Hawaii is still a place of shocking contrasts aside from its natural landscapes. It is a place where the native population was subdued and expected to work in America own “plantations” for cash crops, so in that way, it makes it far more like places in West Africa or Latin America than other places in America (In the lower 48 after all, we had to import our workforce, since we just killed off the largest portion of the native population). At the same time of Pax Britannica, we pretty much were trying to emulate our British forebears in the small island paradise of Hawaii. And that legacy is still quite visible today. Hawaii is the state with the largest percentage of its citizens belonging to ethnic minorities, but Native Hawaiians often live very different lives mainlanders who have immigrated there. The wealth gap in Hawaii is incredibly stark. If you keep your eyes open driving around for five minutes in Hawaii, this becomes shockingly apparent. Look, I am no expert when it comes to Hawaiian history or its current sociological problems. I don’t want to belabor this, because I was on vacation; but, I wish that we would sometimes think about these things a little more.
I just have some kind of mental defect that I can’t stop and enjoy a place without thinking about the social issues that may be affecting that place and then worrying about whether or not I am making the problem worse or better. When it comes to tourism, that is generally the way I travel. “Look at that beautiful beach! Oh, and is my presence here helping to kill a unique culture and consumerize a place?” One minute I feel like I am helping bring dollars to help “develop” a local economy, and the next minute I am wanting to punch myself in the face when I see one more landscape destroying “resort” that my tourism dollars financed. Does anyone else have these problems when they go on vacation? Or is that why most people just drink lots of alcohol on vacation – to stop them from having existential crises?
I had to find other ways to distract myself. . .
I tried to ignore those landscape destroying golf courses, as we opted for tennis instead.
Take a grueling hike on the Na Pali coast. After all, no people live there, and the slippery rocks and mud will ensure that your mind has to only be focused on where you take your next step so you don’t slip and fall off the cliff into the churning Pacific Ocean below.
Along the way, get stuck trying to cross a river because you scrambled over a boulder and now you can’t figure out how to get out of there. Make sure that you get stuck at a spot where there is stagnant water and thousands of blood-thirsty mosquitos. When you get caught in a complete panic attack, you will soon find that you forget all about social problems. It’s called self-preservation.
When you do finally make it to the beach at the end of the trail, though, just sit on a rock and relax. That panic attack has now cleared your head of everything.
Then, with a cleared mind it is easier to enjoy the difficult trail on the way back.
Visit other beautiful island locales like Waimea Canyon, the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific”
Or the Kalalau Valley overlook in Ko’kee State Park:
Or visit the decaying lava tube known as “Spouting Horn” and contemplate the volcanic origins of the islands.
There’s nothing more helpful in getting me to forget the problems of people than to visit a place with endangered species. I become less sympathetic towards all humans when I think about what we have done to the animal inhabitants of this planet. So a visit to the Kilauea Lighthouse and National Wildlife Refuge was definitely in order to see some endangered shore birds as well as humpback whales.
Finally, my attempts at avoidance of people only works for so long. So on Friday night, we went to the Art Walk in the small town of Hanapepe and as it turns out, maybe most people who live there do after all think Hawaii is still paradise. I mean look at the faces of these kids? Right? So, let’s forget about the social problems for another day and enjoy a good hokey pokey.
Rainbows all around!