''I think that we're very American. And yet. . . ,'' Hawaii's Gov. George R. Ariyoshi pauses before continuing, ''we're very un-American also.''
Mr. Ariyoshi, Hawaii's first governor of Japanese extraction, doesn't use the word un-American the way Joe McCarthy used it during the red scare of the 1950s. Rather, he is summing up a life style, a way of thinking, that sets Hawaii apart from its 49 sister states.
It is a uniqueness born of the fact that Hawaii - unlike the mainland, with its history of ties across the Atlantic Ocean - is rooted in the Pacific Ocean. And it continues to be oriented to that vast body of water and to its nations and peoples.
''One important role that we play for the United States, which is very different from any other state, is our involvement in the Pacific Basin,'' says Governor Ariyoshi, during an interview. ''I think that the future is right here. Over half of all US trade is now in the Pacific Basin. I think that the rate of increase that will take place here is far greater than the rate of increase anywhere else in the world - increase in trade, increase in everything.
''We are in a Pacific-Asian Basin where we have a tremendous spirit of independence,'' he says. ''We have the fastest growing gross national products in the world in these countries. We have nations that are trying to reach their full potential . . . that are really bursting at the seams.''
''You're going to find these nations reaching their full potential,'' predicts Ariyoshi. ''And as they begin to do that, that's what provides this really great dynamic situation that exists out here. . . .''
For the visitor who spends more than a few days in the state and who gets beyond tourist-cramped Waikiki, it is almost impossible not to sense Hawaii's Pacific heritage. For one thing, there is the population mix: Hawaii is the only state in the country where every resident is a member of a minority group because no group constitutes one-third of the population. Most of the population is made up of Japanese, Caucasians, Chinese, Hawaiians and part Hawaiians, and Filipinos.
''We're a very diverse state,'' says Ariyoshi, who first took office in 1974. . . . ''We look at people who are different, who have different cultures, different languages,'' he claims, ''and we can understand and appreciate - not just tolerate, but really appreciate - the fact that somebody else is different. . . . That person gives us a different dimension, a different perspective, and that makes all of us broader.''
''Our feeling,'' he says, ''is let the island nations, the countries, the territories of the Pacific, begin to use their own imagination, develop their own feelings as to what it is they want, what is good for them. Then we are in a support position of saying that if you want it, we want to share some the resources we have developed here in our state.''