How multicultural Hawaii shaped Obama

politics and culture — By on June 3, 2008 at 2:02 pm

U.S. News and World Report has a story this week that explores how the multicultural nature and “aloha spirit” of Hawaii helped shape the beliefs of Barack Obama as a young man. It’s a glimpse into the culture of one of the most famous but perhaps least understood states in the U.S. An excerpt from the article:

In Hawaii, they call it Barack Obama’s ohana or family—a reference to his philosophy that America at its best should be a big, harmonious community like his idealized version of the Aloha State, where he was born and spent his boyhood and adolescence.

Of course, Hawaii has its own history of conflict and prejudice, but that’s not the part of the islands’ culture that Obama chooses to emphasize. Instead, it is the parallel tradition of respect for diversity, tolerance, and inclusion that he prizes as a model for what he hopes to bring to the country if he wins the presidency this fall. In fact, his Hawaiian background is, in many ways, a key to understanding who the Democratic front-runner really is and what an Obama presidency would mean.

There are other important parts of Obama’s past that also provide insight into his values and his modus operandi, but Obama says the “aloha spirit” remains his personal and political inspiration.

“I do think that the multicultural nature of Hawaii helped teach me how to appreciate different cultures and navigate different cultures, out of necessity,” Obama says. “That carries over now to the work that I do because obviously that’s part of my job, not just as a candidate but also as a senator. The second thing that I’m certain of is that what people often note as my even temperament I think draws from Hawaii. People in Hawaii generally don’t spend a lot of time, you know, yelling and screamin’ at each other. I think that there just is a cultural bias toward courtesy and trying to work through problems in a way that makes everybody feel like they’re being listened to. And I think that reflects itself in my personality as well as my political style.”

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