Guest Author - Annie Billups
Hawaii residents literally wear their presidential pride on their sleeves. Walking through malls and Waikiki, you are hard-pressed not to find flashy t-shirts with Obama's face across the front. In a state where many locals feel neglected and exploited by the American government, the inauguration of a Hawaii-born president has offered a sense of belonging and importance. Perhaps equally pervasive as Obama's presidential popularity in Hawaii is his pop star status.
Many local companies have seized opportunities to capitalize on their homegrown president. Several tour companies such as Hawaii Obama Tour offer trips through his humble neighborhood, past his school, apartments, and other favorite haunts. Souvenir shops overflow with Obama bumper stickers, key chains, bobble heads and more. Children's books written by local authors grace the shelves of all the big booksellers here. These share the message that if Barack Obama, who scooped ice cream at Baskin Robbins and lived a short distance from Honolulu's most dangerous neighborhood, can become president, then anyone can.
Obama tours venture to the side of town most tourists don't see. Makiki, a neighborhood encompassing all living conditions from ghetto to mansion, was home to our president, and certainly not what most people imagine when they think about Hawaii. Here, visitors can see his alma matre, Punahou School. The school has had so much public attention since the election that it had to hire a person to accommodate the tourist traffic coming through campus. Punahou is one of the nation's best private schools in both sports and academics. It is proud to have produced two presidents: Obama, and Sun Yat-sen of China. Walking through campus, you can see where Obama scrawled his name in wet cement, practiced basketball, and took Advanced Placement U.S. History. Walking distance from Punahou sits the modest Poki walk-up where he lived with his mom and sister for two years in the 1970s. Several blocks from Poki stands his birthplace at Kapiolani Hopsital on Punahou Street. And a few blocks from there, visitors can see the apartment where he lived with his grandparents on Berretania Street, and the Baskin Robbins where worked in high school.
The most popular tour, Hawaii Obama Tour, also stops at Pearl Harbor and the Punchbowl National Cemetary. It was here that Obama's grandfather was buried and services were held for his late grandmother. This cemetery is considered the Arlington of Hawaii, burial place of many important military leaders.
Obama has also been seen numerous times at Wailoa Shaved Ice and Sandy's Beach Park. Waiola is rated Oahu's number one place for shaved Ice, and Sandy's is one of the island's most dangerous places to body surf. It's not surprising that on Obama's most recent visit to the island, he was not seen body surfing here. The original Waiola Shaved Ice is located in the rundown neighborhood of Moilili, just north of Waikiki. Sandy's is a popular high school hang-out on the southeast shore, en route to the more famous Makapu'u Beach.
Seeing Obama's Honolulu gives the impression of the American dream - that he pulled himself up by his bootstraps and succeeded against the odds. A jaunt through Obama's old neighborhood, and you could be sporting an Obama t-shirt like the locals.
See links below for more information on tours and places mentioned in the article.