Honolulu

Does Hawaii Have America’s Strongest Sense of Identity?

Photo courtesy of Hawaii State Archives.

Photo courtesy of Hawaii State Archives.

A Smithsonian/Zócalo “What It Means to Be American” Event
Moderated by Lee Cataluna, Metro Columnist, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser
LOCATION:
Artistry Honolulu
461 Cooke St.
Honolulu, HI 96813
Street parking is available. Valet parking is available for $7.

Hawaii’s geographic isolation, unique volcanic topography, complex colonial past, and vibrant ethnic mix keep it at a certain distance from the broader American historical experience. Ever since joining the union in 1959, Hawaii has maintained its distinct sense of identity, even while many of its citizens have built powerful business, political, personal, and cultural ties to the mainland. Bonded by pride and a need for shared spaces that remind them of home, Hawaii folk tend to seek each other out when they are away from the islands. Social distinctions that exist on Hawaii often melt away when its citizens travel or relocate—whether to study at college, savor the pleasures of Las Vegas and Disneyland, or take a new job—even as some part of their psyche clings to an inner tropical atoll. How does Hawaii’s fierce sense of exceptionalism influence its place in American culture? What’s happening to this sense of identity as more Hawaii residents leave and integrate with the world beyond its shores? The New York Times journalist and editorial board member Lawrence Downes, comedian Augie T., and graphic designer and founder of Osaki Creative Group Kurt Osaki consider the upside and downside of Hawaii’s balmy insularity (what we take, keep, and hold dear wherever we go) in a rapidly shifting United States and an aggressively globalizing world.

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