I can’t express the depth of my admiration for the way my friend Weldon Kekauoha and his wife Rona have handled this incredible situation. Weldon’s wife Rona was approached by a security guard at the Halekūlani Hotel after another hotel guest suspected that they were not guests (because they looked local) and requested that security confirm that they were guests. After doing so, he refused to confirm that the complaining guest was a registered guest herself. The attitude of the visitor who initiated the incident, private security guard who first approached their ‘ohana, and supervisors up the line including the hotel’s general manager share culpability.
As this was going down, I couldn’t help but flash back to what happend to my family and I when we were turned away by an immigration officer at Dublin Airport. Not long after we returned, someone said to me “well, I guess you’ll never be going back to Ireland again”. To his suprised, I said, yes, of course I would. I couldn’t hold an entire country, land of many of my ancestors, to blame for the acts of a single misguided individual. Whether his actions were the result of discrimination against our multi-racial and multi-ethnic family (something I found hard to accept but suspected by our many friends there) or not, we’ll never know.
The hotel has reached out an apologizied to Weldon, a Grammy-nominated and Nā Hōkū Hanohano Award-winning recording artist. But one has to wonder if the “corrective actions” taken by the hotel will result in real change. I do take issue with their claim that they “have taken all corrective actions necessary”. How do we know what they’ve done? How does Weldon? I don’t believe that they should be the ultimate arbiters of what is necessary. Perhaps bringing in the The Native Hawaiian Hospitality Association (NaHHA) or the Native Hawaiian Chamber of Commerce or other agency is warranted. It seems that there needs to be an institutional intervention here, and not just one targetting the pesonnel involved in this event.
There are many out there, in discussion forums and Facebook comments, that they will never patronize Hakekūlani again. If any lesson can be learned here is that there is always something to learn, a way to make a negative into a positive. If there was indeed institutional discrimination, bias, or bigotry going on at Halekūlani or other hotels in our state, this is an opporunity to address it. They should be given the opportunity and motivation to do so.