BY SYD SINGER – Hawaii is overrun by aliens.  According to,  “Hawaii has the nation’s highest percentage of Asian residents—41.6% in 2000, when its Asian population numbered 503,868.
In the same year, Pacific Islanders numbered 113,539 (including 80,137 native Hawaiians), 22,003 were black, and 3,535 were American Indians or Alaska natives.
About 87,699, or 7.2% of the total population, were Hispanic or Latino in 2000. Foreign-born residents numbered 212,229 in 2000, or 17.5% of the total state population—the 5th-highest percentage of foreign born among the 50 states.”
Native Hawaiians constituted only 6.6% of Hawaii’s population in 2000.  Aliens made up 93.4%.
Of course, all these alien peoples brought with them alien plants and animals, which in many places also now outnumber the natives.
You would think that this preponderance of aliens would make Hawaii a mecca for immigrants.  To the contrary, alien people are derided as “haole”, and alien species are maligned as “invasive”.
While the nation is struggling with immigration reform, the fact is that being an alien makes one a target of derision and abuse.  Even the word “alien” conjures images of monstrous beasts busting through one’s chest, Hollywood style.  Nobody wants to be called an alien. It means you don’t “belong”.
There are many reasons why people are ostracized and alienated from society.  Sometimes, it’s based on race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, disability, or other traits.  Using these differences to hurt someone, say by calling them an ethnic slur, or a sexual deviant, is nowadays considered hate speech.
Calling someone an “alien” is a form of hate speech, too.  It means that person “does not belong”, and should not be accepted as part of society.  Unfortunately, the native versus alien distinctions made by our modern culture and codified in our laws that protect native over alien species feed this hate, and continues to harm people whose lineage is from somewhere else.
This hate speech was recently used by the Honolulu Star Advertiser in its January 17, 2014 editorial entitled, “Fund Fight Against Alien Pests”.  While the pests referred to are alien plants and animals, the use of the qualifier “alien” is hate speech against people, as well.
Of course, the problem with pests is real.  From the small fire ant to fire weed, there are pest plants and animals which need control and management.  However, it doesn’t matter if these pests came from Africa, Brazil, Japan, or are native to Hawaii.  A pest is an animal, plant, or person that is bothersome and undesirable, from the point of view of the person being pestered. The key point is that the pest has some qualities or actions that make it a nuisance.  It does not matter where that pest came from historically.
When a person acts as a pest, we would easily see it as hate speech to call that person a “Japanese pest”, or a “Filipino pest”, or a “Mainlander pest”.  National or racial descriptors would be not only irrelevant, but would be racist or xenophobic.  Calling them an “alien”, or “haole”, (which is a Hawaiian term for alien, immigrant, white person, or newcomer, and has clear pejorative connotations), is clearly hateful and a form of bullying by those considering themselves native or local.
When referring to pest plants, insects, and other animals as “alien”, it is still hate speech against human immigrants.  It turns being an immigrant into a negative quality, reinforcing the bigoted, anti-immigration view that only natives “belong”.
I must confess a personal agenda.  I have concerns for human safety in Hawaii when the government attacks species because they are immigrants.  The arguments made against immigrant species and cultures are the same, i.e., competition for space, resources, and opportunities.  Xenophobia parallels bioxenophobia.  As an immigrant myself, I don’t want to disparage other immigrants for their foreign history.  This breeds hatred that knows no species bounds.  I prefer encouraging tolerance and acceptance of immigrant peoples and species.
I also believe there are weeds and pests, and I do not object to responsibly controlling both.  However, I do not call a species a pest or weed simply because it comes from somewhere else.  That, to me, is as irrelevant in environmental affairs as in human affairs.  Those who believe otherwise regarding humans are considered bigots, racists, or xenophobes.   This breeds a violent nationalism that attacks foreigners along with the species that they introduced.
There are many pests that need management and control.  We should support efforts to prevent their introductions and reduce their impacts.  But we must remember that it is not their “alien” status that makes them noxious.  It’s the things they do.  Like immigrant peoples, it is the qualities and behaviors of immigrant species that make them desirable or pests.
There is nothing wrong with being an alien, just as there is nothing inherently right about being a native.



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Sydney Ross Singer is a medical and environmental anthropologist, author, and director of the Good Shepherd Foundation, located on the Big Island. Sydney is a pioneer of applied medical anthropology, and he is also the director of the Institute for the Study of Culturogenic Disease.