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Hawaii Is a Paradise, but Whose?


Locals say that resorts are often owned and run by non-Hawaiians, with Hawaiian people employed in the lower-paying service jobs, and that development often benefits outsiders at the expense of native and local well-being.

“There historically hasn’t been enough consideration for how tourism and tourists can contribute to making life sustainable and really livable for the locals who serve them here,” Mr. de Venecia said.

The feeling of escape — of fleeing to a nearby paradise with stunning beaches and luxurious resorts — has long been Hawaii’s appeal to the traveling public. While the hottest trends in travel now are the search for authenticity and ways to experience local life, many people who visit Hawaii are looking to get away from daily life. They come to sit on the beach and drink a matai without thinking about much else. Their interaction with local culture is often limited to watching a hula show at the hotel luau.

“We realized a lot of folks who would visit us who would normally have more consciousness about history and social justice concerns seem to turn off that part of their brain when they think about Hawaii,” Mr. Kajihiro, the activist and lecturer, said, adding that people treat the islands as a “play land.”

But this decision to turn off their brains is hurting Hawaii and Hawaiians, he said.

While working for the American Friends Service Committee, the Quaker peace and justice organization, Mr. Kajihiro and his colleague Terrilee Kekoʻolani studied the environmental and social effects of colonization, militarization and overdevelopment of Hawaii. They learned that tourism was one of the industries with some of the most damaging effects on Oahu, he said, citing overcrowding, a higher cost of living and higher prices for goods.

The pair began offering alternative tours of the island, which they call DeTours, in 2004 and have seen increased interest in recent years. Their work was included in the recently published Duke University Press book “DeTours: A Decolonial Guide to Hawaii,” a collection of essays, interviews and family histories about ethical and contextualized tourism in the islands.

The tours are given to groups of people who want to learn about Hawaii from the perspective of local Hawaiians. They include a deep history on the ways military life is hidden across the island. During a typical tour, guests go to Iolani Palace, the Hawaiian royal residence, then to Chinatown and some of the old neighborhoods where new immigrants to Hawaii traditionally settled. The next stop is usually Fort Shafter, the headquarters of the United States Army Pacific; then Camp Smith, but the main part of the tour is Ke Awalau o Puʻuloa — Pearl Harbor.

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