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Davis, California

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Column: Spring Fake

It all started when my mom wanted to find out about Oahu’s Farmer’s Market.

My family was headed to the islands for spring break and, in accordance with our predisposition to non-normative travel, wanted to experience more local aspects of the islands that weren’t purely manufactured for the tourism industry. To my unpleasant surprise, I found that if you plug “Oahu” into the Google Machine, you find out it’s the most populous island, #1 Hawaiian tourist destination, “a tourism and shopping haven” (Wikipedia), “The most developed of the Hawaiian islands” (Lonely Planet) and “home to the only real metropolitan area in all the Hawaiian Islands” (WikiTravel) — all of which I read as “hella colonialized.”

For a little bit of context, colonialism is “a political-economic phenomenon whereby various European nations explored, conquered, settled, and exploited large areas of the world” (Encyclopedia Britannica). In Hawaii, this occurrence could be pinpointed around 1893, when the United States violently overthrew the Queen of Hawaii and put their own government into place.

Since then, mainland Americans came in and built high-rises and highways, much in the same way they did on Native American land — but in this case they kept natives around instead of driving them out, in order to exploit and bastardize the culture for profit.

Colonialism is the soundtrack to this column being the $99/person luau playing out a few feet from my balcony — turning a historically special and symbolic practice into a weekly event wherein dark-skinned people serve “traditional” food, wear “traditional” dress and perform “traditional” dance for their dominantly white-skinned audience.

Colonialism is an ad in Hawaiian Airlines magazine, a two-page spread in the hotel’s guest book and a four-foot poster in the lobby advertising “the world’s premier Polynesian encounter, featuring hundreds of warm, welcoming islanders and “Go Native” adventures” — accompanied with pictures of shirtless caricatured “natives” posing with tank-top clad tourists.

Some argue that “cultural immersion” programs like these are acceptable, or even beneficial, because you’re financially supporting local people and you’re appreciating and trying to learn more about their culture.

But that fails to take into account that colonialism and capitalism have erased a diversity of jobs, leaving locals economically dependent on resorts, “cultural shows” and other aspects of the tourism industry. (Also, it’s highly doubtful that the hula dancers and such-branded “Polynesian Natives” see much of the money that you pay — the hotels and tourist companies most likely gobble up the majority of your funds).

The unfortunate reality with all of this is that it isn’t a system I feel I can put a stop to, but it’s also one that I don’t want to support.

It’s a dilemma pretty much completely exclusive to middle-class socially-conscious college students: do I contribute to a system that I am fundamentally opposed to, or do I turn down a dope-ass free vacation?

Ultimately, I chose the former.

I went because I love my parents and it would make them sad not to see me. I held my tongue because they are good, hard-working people who don’t deserve my financially-dependent ass making snarky remarks about privilege and colonialism.

I winced walking past the luau, groaned at the “Go Native” ads, facepalmed when I found out a neighboring Marriott housing project was called “Coconut Plantation,” but for the most part, tried to relax and enjoy myself and not let the money my parents spent go to waste. I’m privileged enough that this sort of vacation is a reality for me, whether I asked for it or not.

So yeah, in some cases I’d say take the damn vacation. If you’ve worked hard and feel you deserve a break, go ahead and make awkward eye contact with that beautiful steward on the plane. If you acknowledge your privilege and give sincere thank-yous to the hotel staff, go ahead and fall asleep on the beach, giving yourself unseemly tanlines.

But steer clear of the “Go Native” events, grass skirts and coconut bras.   Colonialism and cultural appropriation are SO 1893.

To suck the fun out of anything with TANYA AZARI email her at tazari@ucdavis.edu.



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