HONOLULU — Contrast the hellish visions of the Mideast, where different peoples seem only to want to kill each other, or South Asia, where Indians and Pakistanis seem rooted in a festering horrid past, with the real-world achievement of a multicultural society like Hawaii.
“Hawaii is not just multicultural,” explains University of Hawaii Professor Arthur Richardson. “It’s intercultural.” People don’t simply coexist grudgingly; they have tried to obviate the dreaded downside of the American melting-pot dream (violent ethnic tension and racial clashes) to make diversity work as a powerful economic and humanitarian force. Hawaii, in a sense, is the future — or, at least, a sane model for the world.
For all its achievements, though, Hawaii is currently undergoing an identity crisis. A recent conference organized by the Pacific Asian Management Institute, an important branch of the University of Hawaii’s College of Business, focused on how to better secure Hawaii’s place in the brave new world of globality. Tourism, conferees agreed, will always be an economic constant for Hawaiians, but they understand that tourism isn’t going to be enough to fuel the islands’ full potential. They want to enlarge their own “knowledge economy” — and fully promote it internationally — to diminish their economic dependence on tourism and enhance their attractiveness as a place to establish a new business.
In their desire to diversify, they are a kind of reverse mirror image of Singapore, which has emphasized the need to build up a top-notch “knowledge economy.” Having done that, Singaporeans are now starting to play up their green, clean and safe country image to leverage it into a first-class tourist destination and a place for talented foreigners to settle.
In effect, Singapore, with its own ultra-clean beaches and cultural attractions, is trying to look to the outside world a bit more like Hawaii.
Both will have to work hard to overcome the leaden images handed them by the world media. Just as Hawaii is a lot more than surf, sand and hulas, Singapore is much more than its Western media image of laws against selling gum and punishment by cane. It has one of the highest per capita incomes in the world, one of the lowest crime rates, one of the greenest environments, one of the highest rates of home ownership and one of the best-educated populaces.
Even so, its leaders are increasingly convinced that in this age of global competition, Singaporeans by themselves may not be able to assure their country’s continued success. So this heretofore tight little island is trying to open wide its doors and attract foreigners not only to come and work in its multiethnic, albeit largely Chinese, culture, but also to stay, plant roots and thrive.
Former Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew puts the challenge this way: “A way for talent nurturing, which is a rather complex process, is through interaction with foreign peers, be it locally or overseas. That is why we have to welcome foreign talent and persuade them to stay, for our own good.” No country, the elder statesman suggests, can be successful if it remains inward-looking.
Too bad others cannot find the wisdom to realize that including “the other” or the feared “them” in their future is a formula for success in a globalized age.
Whether in the Middle East, South Asia or anywhere, a touch of Hawaiianization is good for everybody — and not just economically, but also spiritually. The ability of different peoples to get along better, respect each other and build a better life together is the foremost issue of our time — and the bottom-line challenge of globalization.
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