I just want to share my experience:
Two days ago I went to Sea Life Park with my mom and kids. Growing up in Kailua and having a fun mom, we used to go there all the time. I remember how much fun and magical it was. The first initial fish tank was huge and full of a rainbow of sea creatures. The show with the pirates always pulled me into the story and the rescue mission. The multitude of sea lions barking for fish always frightened me and the touch pool was one of the first places I ever held a sea cucumber. If we were good we would sometimes get dippin dots before calling it a day and heading home.
Those are the things I remember as a child and I’m sure the children today see things through similar eyes, but going there as an adult was different. I almost wished I had a child's eyes so that I could ignore some of the things that were around me: The empty tanks. The de-barbed fishes and stingray. The green growing on the tanks, turtles, and sea lions like they were artifacts not animals. The fact that if you just looked up past the walls of glass you could see the vastness of the ocean to which they all belonged. Surely this park is not the true home for these magnificent creatures...
But that’s not even what I wanted to talk about right now - it only heightened my prying eyes and piqued my curiosity as to what else felt off about this place. It was in that state of mind that we watched the dolphin show. The dolphins were great. I was even impressed and entertained with how beautiful and strong they were as they did their tricks and routine. It was the speech that really had me squirming in my chair and cringing at almost every word.
First of all there was this jingle for the show, “alooooohaaaaaaaaa, nai aaaaaaaaaa….” that repeated over and over. Then there was this story about how the naia would play with children on the beach and their coconut. Then there was the random use of Hawaiian words throughout the speech, majority of which were being mispronounced by the guide with the mic. Then to end it all they threw out there the line we’ve all heard a million times: “Aloha, doesn’t just mean hello and goodbye, but it also means love…” Aloha actually means a lot of things and is really cut short when we only list the three. A more appropriate explanation would be something like, “Aloha in Hawaiian means a lot of things. It means love, compassion, sympathy, kindness, and more, which is why Hawaiians used it as one way to greet someone and also to part ways.
Hearing that line in the show is really where I cracked inside and thought to myself as all the tourists cheered and repeated the prompts of the guide, “What are we doing here?” And I didn’t just mean at the park or just me, but all Hawaiians and Hawaii. What are we doing here? Is this what we have to show for this beautiful land that we live in? Do we even know the misinformation that we’ve been fed as children?! Are we feeding it to our children? Do we know who we are?
This is not Hawaii. It’s wrong to show Hawaii for what it is not, in a promotional way, to people who know NO better and will take it home to tell their friends about the aloha naia and their coconuts. They might be thinking it’s all just entertainment, but it’s not just entertainment - it’s education!!! And we are not focused enough on that part. Not enough in our homes, not enough in our businesses, not enough in our communities.
The show and the whole experience just made me think more and more about how tired I am of Hawaiians being represented and misrepresented by tourism. Now I’ve heard the argument that it’s too late and Hawaii is too dependent on tourism to do anything else, but I’m saying today that in my opinion that is the biggest lie we have ever been told second only to one: that this is the United States not the Hawaiian Kingdom.
Why do we believe it?? Why do we feed into it? When will we start to believe otherwise? Why can’t we start our own businesses? Why can’t we get the education we need for the careers we want? Who is telling us that we can't?!
I don't think tourism is going anywhere any time soon or should, but I have a problem with the state of mind of people who come to Hawaii and think the beauty of this place is in what they see and are entertained with. It’s not. The true beauty of Hawaii is its people -
People that are moving away because they can’t afford to live here anymore! People that have to abandon their love of fishing, farming, weaving, and spending time with elders and family so that they can get a 9-5, support their family, and get full health benefits. People that are behind the scenes in their own birth land, because they were forced off of their lands.
It’s the people and the land that we strive to protect. It’s the people and that land that everyone else should strive to respect.
Going to Sea Life Park, I didn’t feel respected as a Hawaiian, but I did feel used. I felt used to make a cute show and a quick buck.