It was April Fools’ Day 2020 and we were near the peak of our first wave. All of the neighborhood dogs were suddenly barking like crazy.

It’s a very local neighborhood, so we’re talking mostly pit bulls and pig-hunting dogs but also some small yappy breeds too.

The Labrador Retriever is the most popular breed in the U.S., but there are no retrievers in my neighborhood. Some poi dogs may have retriever heritage, but there are absolutely no pure breeds here.

I looked out the window to see what the commotion was about and saw three millennials walking down the street. IDs hung from lanyards around their collared shirts like leashes. They glanced at phones and flapped papers while gesturing to each other as if looking for an address.

A Labrador Retriever. Dogs bark when strangers near. How will Hawaii welcome back visitors? Flickr: Kevin Rodriguez Ortiz

They were not from Malama Meals or Meals on Wheels because they didn’t have any food. They were wearing masks but it was clear to any local that they were not local.

The neighbor lady who was smashing beer cans in her yard picked up her shrieking Pekingese and went into her house. I wasn’t sure what these millennials were selling, preaching, surveying, or advocating, but I hoped they were not looking for my house.

Xenophobia And Racism

Thinking about it now, I realize that my feelings at that moment were xenophobic. It was xenophobia morphed out of hypochondria.

It bothers me because xenophobia is a calabash cousin to racism, but they are not the same.

In the Bay of Bengal is an island called North Sentinel. With zero outside contact, the indigenous Sentinelese people live exactly as their ancestors have for thousands of years.

They are the last isolated tribe on Earth and they exist without pestilence because they kill anyone who lands on their island. Other tribes in the same archipelago who were not as xenophobic have gone extinct.

Two years ago a young American missionary was killed when he tried to make contact with the Sentinelese. Before he made his attempt, he tried to recruit converted people from a neighbor island who appeared ethnically similar to the Sentinelese to accompany him.

These people refused. They knew the Sentinelese were not racist, they were xenophobic.

Whether we like it or not, our low COVID-19 numbers can be a fantastic tourism marketing boon. Millions of people around the world are wishing that they were right here, right now, right next to you.

My guess is that regardless of testing and quarantine policies, more of them will come. When they start coming, “local” will carry a new significance. The degree of someone’s “localness” will become the faulty measure of their likelihood or unlikelihood of contagion.

Millions of people are wishing that they were right here, right now.

There will be cases of mistaken identity, suspicion, and unfortunately, increased racism. Before a vaccine becomes universal, a tourism containment system is needed for contagion control, and to prevent increased problems within our own diversity.

As the millennials passed my house, I felt some relief but then began to reflect on how the neighborhood dogs don’t get hysterical about the mailman. I guess it’s because dogs are very perceptive and have a sense of smell that is exponentially keener then ours. Dogs recognize us by our unique individual scent and can even smell emotions. They can sense who belongs.

Think about mainland America’s most popular dog, the retriever. It’s a congenial tail-wagger with my neighborhood selectively bred out.

I don’t have a dog, but people in my neighborhood choose to have territorial maulers restrained only by fences. The neighborhood dogs definitely sensed intruders and so could I.

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