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Published: Wednesday, 1/21/2009

Honolulu residents celebrate their native son

BY MARY ALICE POWELL
SPECIAL TO THE BLADE
Students and faculty at the Punahoe Schools watch the inauguration. The President graduated from Punahoe in 1979. Students and faculty at the Punahoe Schools watch the inauguration. The President graduated from Punahoe in 1979.
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HONOLULU - The excitement, pride, and hope witnessed before, during, and after the inauguration in Washington yesterday reverberated in President Obama's home city.

As celebrations unfolded before daybreak and continued into the late hours, the citizens of Honolulu went all out to show their approval of President Obama and claim him as a native son.

In the Pacific time zone 4,380 miles from the nation's capital, joining in the festivities and watching the TV reports from Washington meant getting up long before sunrise. Because of the five-hour time difference, the first celebrations were in full swing at 6:30 a.m. with hundreds of people in high spirits having breakfast and sitting on the edge of their chairs so as not to miss a picture or a word of the inauguration ceremony.

An inaugural gala, sponsored by the Democratic Party, was held at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel last evening. The $250 black-tie affair also served as the reopening of the historic Waikiki hotel after a multimillion dollar renovation. Former Hawaiian Democratic governors George Araiyoshi, John Waihee, and Ben Cayetono were honored.

Other events on the Honolulu social calendar included a reception at the Japanese Cultural Center and the Rainbow Inauguration Ball at the Queen Kapiolani Hotel, sponsored by the Honolulu Gay and Lesbian Foundation.

At Don Ho's Grill at the Aloha Towers there were already more than 200 people gathered at 6:15 yesterday morning. Ruth Auld, who owns the restaurant named for Hawaii's famous entertainer with her husband Ed, explained they planned the public gathering because "we like a party."

Obama T-shirts were the common attire of the day and several guests remembered to bring their American flags to wave when the mood hit or to cheer after the swearing-in ceremony. Tears were shed, applause was thundering, and an Obama chant was contagious.

Executive Chef Robert Dennis prepared great mounds of fried rice with Portuguese sausage for the buffet table. It is a favorite food of the Obamas, the chef said.

A woman draped in an American flag scarf hugged me and tearfully shouted, "Congratulations, you have a new president!" What could I say but "We all do."

Jim White, who served as a co-chairman on the national Veterans of America committee with President Obama when he was a U.S. senator, defined the occasion as sharing fellowship on an important day in American history.

"We are all so proud of his roots. Now we have to argue with people in Illinois and the Midwest. They think they own him, but we do," said Mr. White.

At the 21st floor Plaza Club in downtown Honolulu where a 6:30 breakfast celebration also drew a big crowd and a second party was to be held in the evening, Rene Greenwood expressed the pride the Hawaiian people have for the new President.

She is on the executive committee of the NAACP and secretary of the local African-American Association.

"My hope is that the world will come to experience the Aloha spirit. We now have a President who evokes that spirit," Ms. Greenwood said.



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