50 | 5 QUESTIONS, 50 ANSWERS
A matter of opinion
By Burl Burlingame
Fifty years, half a century — it’s a milestone, all right, a reason to commemorate, but it’s also an artificial number. We hit it, we move on. When we look at the past, it’s through a rearview mirror as we rocket headlong into the future.
Hawaii officially became a state 50 years ago this month, although we had been American in our hearts for some time already. Looking back upon becoming part of the United States — and, by extension, part of the American dream — what has worked out for us, what has not? Is being American all it’s cracked up to be? Is the future as unknowable as the past is debatable?
We asked 10 people five questions about statehood and got back 50 answers. They come from a wide variety of political backgrounds and cultural skill sets, but what they all have in common is that they think about Hawaii every day: where we come from, who we are today, what we’ll be tomorrow.
Their answers in this print edition have been edited for space reasons. Their full responses are available online at starbulletin.com.
George R. Ariyoshi, Hawaii’s third and longest-serving governor, was the first American of Asian descent to be elected a U.S. governor. After leaving office, he was appointed by President Clinton to his Advisory Committee on Trade Policy & Negotiations and by Japan to the Japan Foundation for Global Partnership. He also serves as chairman of the Board of Governors of the East-West Center.
Dan Boylan teaches history at the University of Hawaii-West Oahu, writes a political column for MidWeek and is host of the “Insights” public-affairs show on PBS Hawaii.
A historian specializing in the cultural history of 20th-century Hawaii, DeSoto Brown is collection manager of Bishop Museum Archives and author of a number of influential visual histories.
State Rep. Corinne W.L. Ching serves District 27 historical corridor (Nuuanu, Liliha, Alewa Heights, Puunui and Kapalama). She is the founder of the Hawaii Heritage Caucus and heads the revitalization of Liliha town.
Big Island artist Rocky Ka’iouliokahihikolo ‘Ehu Jensen has worked most of his career trying to get the world to recognize Hawaii’s native culture. An indigenous artist practicing traditional and spiritual techniques with modern flair, Jensen’s creations have become cornerstones of Hawaii’s cultural landscape.
Son of a Hawaii territorial governor and still a working federal judge in his 90s, Samuel Pailthorpe King was co-author of the groundbreaking newspaper essay “Broken Trust” and co-author of a book by the same name. Born in 1916 in Hankow, China, King is also a Navy veteran of World War II.
Hawaii playwright Victoria Nalani Kneubuhl has had more than a dozen plays produced, some touring the world. Her fiction focused on juxtapositions of Pacific history, Kneubuhl has also written documentary scripts and worked as a museum educator.
Nanette Napoleon is a freelance historical researcher in Kailua, Oahu. She was one of the lead researchers for the documentary film “State of Aloha,” which premieres on PBS this month.
Since 2006, Arnie Saiki has been the project director of Statehood Hawaii, an independent and nonprofit Web site promoting open public dialogue on the issue of Hawaii’s statehood, as well as producing panel discussions and videos. Saiki also received a research grant for a presentation on governmental correspondence in regard to Hawaii’s statehood process.
A member of Hawaii’s 1968 Constitutional Convention — the first convention after statehood was declared — Patricia Fukuda Saiki also served 12 years as a schoolteacher, 14 years in the state House and Senate, then was elected as Hawaii’s first Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives. She was later appointed administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration by President George H.W. Bush.
How is Hawaii a different place, for better or worse or both, than it was 50 years ago? What have been the advances and disappointments in Hawaii since statehood?
Statehood gave us control over our destiny. Where our leaders were appointed in Washington, statehood gave us the right to select our governor and judges and gave us a vote in the U.S. Congress and Senate.
It put Hawaii on everyone’s map. People the world over, as well as Americans, became aware of Hawaii and wanted to come to see a new state. In the first year of statehood, our visitor count increased by 40 percent.
During the first decade, we witnessed tremendous growth and our population grew about 2.5 percent annually, three times the national growth of eight-tenths of 1 percent.
Around this time, we were being impacted by circumstances around us. Japan was rapidly recovering from World War II and we began talking about the “Age of the Pacific.” Native Hawaiians began raising issues related to the overthrow of the kingdom and annexation by the U.S. The Vietnam war continued dividing us politically and emotionally. Turmoil and dissension reverberated around our nation.
Since 1959, Hawaii has known political equality with the rest of the nation. We have two votes in the United States Senate – the same as each of the other 49, two votes in the House of Representatives, and – since January 20, a keiki o ka aina sensitive to Hawaii’s needs in the White House. In 2009, it is difficult to imagine an admiral in the United States Navy threatening Hawaii’s sovereignty, as Yates Sterling did in 1934 during the Massie case, or a general in the United States Army exercising martial law over the Islands, as they did during World War II. Former Capt. Daniel K. Inouye, now chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and his Hawaii colleagues in the House and Senate might have something to say about similar actions.
As a one-party state – for better or for worse – Hawaii’s congressional delegation enjoys great seniority. That has meant federal dollars (some of it fatty pork in the eyes of critics) out of proportion to the amount of money Island taxpayers send to Washington. That was not the case prior to statehood.
The greatest disappointments of the last 50 years? Probably over development of some of the most beautiful real estate on the planet and the failure of Hawaii to develop a more diversified economy – one capable of supporting adequately a large middle class.
We’re far more developed, for both residents and for tourists. Areas which were agricultural spaces, or which had nothing at all, have been built up for residences or other local needs, as well as for resorts. The latter includes massive golf courses. Honolulu in particular has gone from having a handful of highrises — none over 20 stories — to having more than 400 buildings 12 or more stories in height. It also has gone from one short section of freeway (Old Waialae Road to Keeaumoku St.) to having three entire freeways.
We’re far more in touch with the rest of the world, through electronic communications, which is true for the entire globe. And even more dependent on the outside world for food — not a good thing when the next shipping disruption occurs.
We’re more outward-looking, for less-significant things like clothing fashions, to more-important things like young people moving away permanently to live elsewhere.
We’re probably less divided strictly by ethnicity, and more by a shared sense of “localness” — EXCEPT for Hawaiians. People now are far more likely to play up their Hawaiian ancestry, if they have it; this can be politically adventageous as well as a matter of individual pride.
Advancements have been more in the realm of physical possessions and style of living. Just things like air-conditioning, for example, unthinkable for most people 50 years ago.
Disappointments? Continued loss of traditional Hawaiian culture in what has been passed on, even as the language has been nurtured and other aspects of the culture have thrived, like hula. Still, in the last 50 years, much knowledge has been lost from those who didn’t find anyone to teach it to.
Although born after Statehood, my memories are still vivid of the early ’60s. Hawaii has, of course, changed in terms of the “small town” atmosphere that was much more a part of everyday life. It has grown up into a metropolis with the excitement, benefits and, of course, challenges that come with growth. A few advances special to Hawaii include initiatives which have capitalized on the unique East-West connection that permeates culture here, found in academic institutions such as the East West Center and the International Center at Punahou. It’s even permeating into food with Hawaii Regional Cuisine chefs around the world showing the world how well east and west blend.
Disapppointments: congestion, lack of community cohesiveness in certain areas and pressure on natural resources that culminate into a number of quality-of-life issues, including crime. The lack of a thoughtful urban plan that involves preservation has contributed this situation.
Asking this question of a Hawaiian will elicit a very different answer from one who is not, so I am speaking purely from my place as a Kanaka Hawai’i Maoli. Having said that, where do I begin? Fifty years ago, I was 15 years old, and the Hawai’i I knew then was very different from the Hawai’i of today. I have mixed feelings when it comes to how my land has been developed since.
When I was 15, I didn’t think there was anything wrong with the governmental system. We lived within our ‘ohana limits, and it serviced us well at the time. What did I expect then of a system put in place by our leaders to benefit the whole? Not much!
As the islands were further developed progress was made in education, creating Hawaiian organizations to benefit our people, plus cultural visibility. But, then, when studied, you see that this was all a transparent veneer. Speaking from an artist’s perspective — the veneer covers the fact that these islands, as they progressed, distanced us from our rightful place as iconographers of our culture.
Case in point, only one example from hundreds, the Convention Center. A process that many of the artistic and cultural leaders of these islands had input in creating, including myself — and yet when it came time to “decorate” the center, none of our work was commissioned or displayed. This is also true of hotels, airports, state buildings, and all other places that should allow for the native to exclusively communicate the sense of place.
For the second part of the question, I’ll cite the homestead example. Yes, we have a positive situation in that the Homestead Act of 1921 was created to benefit the 50 percent Hawaiians — and yet, since statehood, which should have ushered in a positive progression to champion putting all Hawaiians on the land, it didn’t. The homestead situation is abysmal — only addressing a handful of Hawaiians, and from that handful, only a handful — with so many more on the waiting list. Since statehood the whole program has been mismanaged.
While annexation solved some problems, it created others. As a territory, Hawaii was subject to the whims of highly placed politicians in Washington. Until an “equal rights” congressional act required presidential appointees to Hawaii offices to have lived in Hawaii for at least three years before appointment, Hawaii was an attractive place for national officials to reward political supporters from one’s home state. With statehood, this practice disappeared.
Statehood also solved many other problems. In fact, Hawaii has done well for itself by gaining important muscle in the United State Senate, especially with Senator Inouye, and even providing a president who was born in Hawaii. Hawaii is also of national historical importance.
Victoria Nalani Kneubuhl
I was 10 years old and living in Honolulu when Hawai’i became a state. Sometimes it seems like it is difficult to recognize the place I grew up in. I would call that a definite change for the worse, because I grew up in a beautiful environment with a great balance between residential and “developed areas,” and rural, “agricultural areas.”
I did a documentary once that included sequential pictures of the Waikiki skyline just before statehood and ten years after statehood. It was frightening. Since statehood the economic development in the islands has for the most part been rash and short-sighted. The things that I consider advancements in our society, such as greater opportunities for women and minorities, better medical care, and a concern for preservation of environment, place, and culture, are due to our progress as human beings, and not because of statehood.
As a Kanaka Maoli, I have very mixed feeling about Hawai’i statehood. On the one hand, I know from studying Hawaiian history that the push for annexation and statehood in the 1800s was driven primarily by sugar barons bent on toppling the monarchy, which they saw as an impediment to their financial ambitions. Particularly galling was the fact that the citizen’s of the Kingdom of Hawai’i were not given the opportunity to vote for or against annexation, even though an overwhelming majority of the population signed their names to an anti-annexation petition which was sent to Congress, but was never acknowledged. What happened to Hawai’i in regards to the demise of the monarchy was one of the darkest and saddest chapters in Hawaiian history.
Do I now want to replace the State of Hawai’i with some form of monarchic rule? No, I do not. I don’t see that as being remotely possible, and even if it were, I do not want to lose the many benefits of being part of the United States democratic system. But I do support the sovereignty movement in regards getting a higher level of federal recognition and greater reparations in the form of land and money, which would be managed by an independent Hawaiian entity.
Personal struggles today seem much more personal and emotionally severe than they did in the ’50s. My family doesn’t dwell on the trauma of WWII or Hawai’i having been placed under Martial Law. Conversation about the Big Five’s control over our islands never grazed our dinner table and they barely recall a time when Hawai’i’s citizens were unable to vote for governor; or that our representatives in congress had no vote; or that we were taxed without representation. These historical events don’t compare with today’s evictions, homelessness, the drug epidemic, rising mental-health disparities, cost-of-living costs. Even the larger issues of the current military buildup and aggression, and the disproportionate prison occupancy rate of native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, carry a weight of sadness that is more personal than Hawaii’s territorial years because these seem to be directly inherited from the overthrow and annexation.
As the list of issues and problems affecting us — or those in our families — have no end, these issues, stacked one atop the other are imposing, and make it difficult to see how statehood has advanced the collective quality of our lives.
For this reason, if over these past fifty years our only measurement for success has been one of personal material gain or gains that would’ve occurred regardless of our political status, we would mostly agree that we’ve advanced remarkably well. Beyond this material gain however, I do not know whether statehood has lived up to the principles that define Hawaii’s unique identity. What do principles such as aloha, malama aina and pono mean to us today? Are they still relevant in today’s economy? Are they still important?
The state of Hawai’i appropriated “Ua mau ke ea o ka aina i ka pono” as its motto in 1959. Kamehameha III, originally pronounced these words in 1843, after Queen Victoria restored to the Hawaiian Kingdom its sovereignty after a five-month long British occupation. What is contained within this motto should be the principle that determines the success and failures of statehood.
During the past 50 years Hawaii has become a better place if not only because of the melding of the races. Through inter-racial marriages which became the norm, inter-cultural sharing made Hawaii truly a melting pot.
Hawaii’s biggest advancement was in education when the community colleges were created and now flourish. The biggest disappointment over the past 50 years has been the complacency of the voters to exercise their right. Whereas in 1959 when statehood was declared, 90 percent of voters turned out to vote, the steady slippage of voter participation has dwindled to 52 percent in 2008. We have the lowest voter turnout of any state in the nation.
Was American annexation and statehood inevitable for Hawaii, and what were the consequences? Do you feel that Hawaii is treated equally among the states?
Annexation was not inevitable but once annexed, statehood became inevitable. U.S. citizens in Hawaii were living as second-class citizens. The desire for full citizenship rights was inevitably going to push us to seek all rights leading to control of our own destiny.
With a delegate without a vote, we were at the mercy of Congress. But with full representation in the U.S. House and Senate, we now have equal powers as any other state. Not only do I believe we have equal treatment, but I believe we have better treatment because Hawaii is recognized as a special place and this equality has also led to leadership roles of our elected officials.
Historians harbor little fondness for the word “inevitable.” Let’s say instead that annexation and statehood became highly probable when sugar became the backbone of Hawaii’s economy. Sugar interests needed the vast American market. Thus they urged King Kalakaua to negotiate the Reciprocity Treaty in 1876, supported the overthrow of Liliuokalani and sought annexation to the United States in 1893, and became advocates of statehood during the early years of the Great Depression.
The consequences? Equal treatment? See question #1!
Control of the Hawaiian Islands by a larger power was inevitable during the late 19th century and early 20th century. Colonization had gone on worldwide for centuries, since the 1500s, and although much of this has ended, there are scattered colonies still in existence today. Some argue that this category includes Hawaii.
One of the main arguments in the American press after 1893 was that, if the USA did not take control of Hawaii, some other country would — Britain, Germany, or Japan. Each of these was actively expanding and claiming territory at the time. For many Americans, this threat needed to be prevented.
The American influence that arrived with the first missionaries in 1820 was in fact the foundation of the overthrow and annexation more than 70 years later. Those initial missionaries could not have had any concept that this would occur, but their interactions from the start with the alii placed them in positions of power. Their descendants, and the other Americans who joined them in Hawaii, continued this role, while simultaneously promoting Americanism in many forms. Each of the ruling monarchs from Kamehameha IV onwards was educated by Americans — meaning that, from middle 1800s onwards, close interactions with the United States were assured.
Once annexation happened, statehood was a matter of time. It’s important to remember the mindset of nearly all the citizens of Hawaii in the later territorial period, that we were “second-class citizens.” This had been demonstrated repeatedly during the 20th century, when local people had been pushed around for political and military reasons. There were mainland politicians high-handedly saying that “those people” out there in Hawaii were not good enough to be considered full Americans. That awareness inspired people here to actively fight to attain what was considered then to be not only what we deserved, but what was the most desirable thing in the world to be.
Consequences? A far higher standard of living (or, conversely, a far more materialistic and wasteful way of life.) Loss of many aspects of Hawaiian culture in favor of the English language and American culture. For some people, Hawaii is still too small, too far away, not “like us” racially (and therefore not as good), too expensive, too closed-off and unwelcoming if you’re not from here. Being small and different has meant that the military has been stronger in claiming land for its needs than it could in many other areas of the USA. Being physically far away means that ordering merchandise from the mainland often makes Hawaii residents pay far more for shipping due to arbitrary decisions by uncaring companies. Having a small population means less attention paid to the population’s needs at a federal level — which would be far more noticeable if not for our powerful Senator Inouye.
I cannot say if statehood was inevitable — however, we are very much who we are because we ARE a state. We have enjoyed the benefits of funding from Congress thanks to our senior senators. However, the fact that many still use the expression when leaving for the mainland as “going back to the states” reveals that there’s still a great deal of education that needs to be done.
After the American overthrow, American annexation became inevitable. Statehood merely justified and condoned the wrongs done, causing an absolute that not only distanced the Hawai’i Maoli people from their rights, but created a divisiveness between Hawaiians and state.
Yes and no to consequences!!! Yes, as a state, we have many opportunities, more so, because of Senator Daniel Inouye! And, as citizens of the state, each and everyone has the opportunity to do and be anything they like. However, for the Maoli people, for those who do not buy into the Americanization of the indigenous place or philosophy, it is a resounding NO! There are so many exterior, interior, political, social, economical and philosophical struggles that continue to define the Hawaiian place, that it boggles the mind on how ill-informed the public and the other 49 states, inclusive of those who call Hawai’i home, are to the status of Hawaiian issues and the debasement of Hawaiian people because of these very issues.
While statehood has benefited most groups in Hawaii, an important segment of our population has been denied the recognition which should come to them as the original inhabitants of these lovely isles — those of substantial Hawaiian ancestry. One need not cite the negative statistics in this regard to notice that “native Hawaiians” are more economically deprived than other racial groups. Some of this is the result of Hawaiian culture which rewarded cooperative action by the makaainana rather than individual effort. A major cause has been the dispossession of the makaainana of their rightful share of the lands of the Kingdom of Hawaii. Hopefully with OHA and other programs some corrective action is taking place.
Victoria Nalani Kneubuhl
No, annexation and statehood were not “inevitable.” That is a concept used by people who refuse to acknowledge the blatantly aggressive and illegal injustice of the overthrow of the Hawaiian Nation. The consequences for the Hawaiian people and the archipelago were devastating. Do you think our Lahui would have allowed the exploitation of people, culture and land that has taken place since? I don’t think so.
Whether Hawaii is treated equally usually depends on whether there’s a Democrat or a Republican in the White House, or whether there’s more Democrats than Republicans in Congress.
Although annexation and statehood were inevitable, given the American belief in Manifest Destiny, and its history of asserting its expansionist power outside the U.S. — as seen in the U.S. takeover of the Philippines in 1898 — the fact remains that the initial impetus in obtaining statehood was based on an illegal overthrow of a sovereign Hawaiian nation by a country which had vowed, through a treaty agreement, to protect Hawaii against foreign invasion. Statehood, therefore, was built on a very dark foundation.
With statehood came more political clout and more economic aid from the federal government, but at the same time it opened the door to an immediate surge of tourism, new residents and land development, which caused conflicts on many fronts, particularly in regards to the host Hawaiian culture, which became even more marginalized than during the territorial era. However, it was this great statehood surge which also spawned the Hawaiian renaissance movement in the 1970s — in all of its social, economic, cultural and educational forms — which created a greater appreciation of all things Hawaiian.
Neither annexation nor statehood was inevitable. Some, however, would and continue to argue that the 1959 plebiscite represents this inevitability by alluding to a 94 percent vote in favor of Hawai’i becoming a state rather than remaining a Territory.
The 94 percent vote for statehood becomes less and less credible as we introduce excluded data from the formula. Usually, we are told that 132,773 people voted for statehood while 7,971 voted against statehood, and this is how one arrives at the 94 percent statistic.
On that day however, it turns out that 171,383 people voted in the general election. This means that 18 percent of those who voted in the general election did not vote “yes” or “no” in the plebiscite. 30,639 voters abstained which would then conclude that only 77 percent of the voters actually voted for statehood.
Furthermore, when you consider that Hawai’i had a total of 381,859 people eligible to vote and more than half, for numerous reasons, chose to not participate, that is also a variable to consider. In an election that would determine ones future form of governance (surreptitiously, our only options were either for statehood or to remain a territory), you could also lay to claim that the 249,086 majorities did not actively vote for statehood and that only 35 percent of Hawaii’s eligible voters actively voted for statehood.
In other words, to unconditionally insist that 94 percent of the people voted for statehood is as much a misapplication of our history and an over-determination of “representative democracy” as it is to assert that only 35 percent of the people voted, especially now, when the discussion has turned to the prescribed options that were denied the voters in 1959.
It would be good to see a legitimate revisit of the plebiscite with the real conditions for self-determination discussed and brought to our full-attention as it should have been in 1959.
Annexation to some country, be it Germany, Japan or China was inevitable. America was aggressive in the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy to make the claim. The following territorial status and the move toward statehood was predictable. The consequences suffered by the native Hawaiian people are being felt today where some feel they were disenfranchised. I’m glad not to speak German today.
Hawaii is being treated equally among the other states legislatively since we do have representation in the Congress. I used to say to my colleagues in the House of Representatives — “I do have a vote, and it doesn’t wear a hula skirt!”
Has Hawaii’s unique Pacific culture been altered by American culture or ideals of democracy? Is the cultural and racial “melting pot” metaphor still a democratic ideal?
Hawaii’s unique culture has been evolving and changing not because of Statehood, but more because of internal and generational changes.
I have never liked the idea of a “melting pot.” My preference is “mixing pot” where we come together, sharing our cultures but retaining our own identity, rather than melting and becoming similar or alike. Like a stew dish with many ingredients, mixing and becoming a tasty dish, but each retaining its “identity.”
The main part of our culture is the feeling and respect for other people and that is the Aloha Spirit. It exists now, and will continue, but only if we all work at it.
Beginning in 1852, the immigration of 46,000 Chinese, 15,500 Portuguese, 180,000 Japanese, 115,000 Filipinos, 8,000 Koreans, 5,800 Puerto Ricans, and assorted Russians, Germans, and Norwegians to work in Hawaii’s sugar fields inalterably altered “Hawaii’s unique Pacific culture.” The ideals of democracy came with the textbooks and the teachers in Territorial classrooms. In his “Hawaii Pono: A Social History of Hawaii,” Lawrence Fuchs has written about the extraordinary influence of the Hawaii’s public schools in creating a democratic culture in a territorial economy and society that was otherwise demonstrably plutocratic. The result has been a society in which different ethnic groups, whatever their cultural prejudices, have had to make alliances with others in order to achieve democratic majorities.
Hawaii as a “melting pot” is no longer a metaphor; it describes the product of our bedrooms. Nineteen-eighty-six marked the first year in which Hawaii resident births surpassed 50 percent. In this, our fiftieth year as a state, more than 60 percent of all resident births are of mixed ethnicity. And I believe Hawaii just gave the nation its first hapa-haole president. That’s the melting pot writ large! A democratic ideal? Mug shots of the membership of the Hawaii state Legislature and County Councils demonstrate that it’s a reality, not an ideal.
Absolutely, but this occurred well before statehood. All through the 19th century, there was a steady push towards a more-American style of government — private land ownership (the foundation of “the American dream”), representative government instead of absolute rule by monarchs, elections instead of named alii successors to the throne, a judicial system instead of royal pronouncements, etc. But this too was an inevitable process, which every culture worldwide has undergone since.
There will always be alteration of a culture when different cultures are added; Hawaii is no different. As we have had benefits and challenges to growth, there will be challenges and benefits to the host culture. It seems as long as we can still simultaneously preserve what the individual essence and greatness of each culture, we can still consider the melting-pot metaphor a democratic ideal. Certainly the Hawaii culture has become its own individual culture. Like food style, a blend of many individual-tasting foods tasting great together.
Of course, it’s been altered! And tragically so! For example the fabrication of HAWAIIANA CULTURE is a mimicry of AMERICANA, and influenced solely by that. That is what changed the mindset for everyone, including our own. Because of this, it ushered in the loss of our intrinsic, esoteric philosophy — that which kept body and mind sound. Instead, it was replaced by that veneer, set up to merely entertain the tourist trade. Ideals of democracy? For Hawaiian or for Hawai’i nei? It’s always been an “us” and “them” society.
No, no, and no, Hawai’i is not a “melting pot” — just because we all live together in one place does not make it so. Instead, Hawai’i has become a very large stove with many, many different pots boiling on many, many separate burners — each burner servicing a separate culture. Let me put it this way: “Mr. San-cho Lee has plenty lychee, but he no give to me …” Oh yes, that they all live here in our land — that they all intermingle on some impersonal level is true! But do they fight for us, stand with us? For the most part no, they don’t. It might be an ideal, but not of this world. In fact, where in the world does this work? Actions speak louder than words.
Inevitably the world’s increase in population has affected Hawaii, where Honolulu counts more than one million residents, not including military personnel or visiting tourists. Much of the increase in population in Hawaii has come from mainlanders moving here. An important contributory attraction is Hawaii’s still active “melting pot,” its informal interaction between different cultures.
Victoria Nalani Kneubuhl
What exactly is American culture? What exactly are American ideals? With the huge diversity in America today of race, social class, cultural values, political and social ideals, there is no single definitive “American Culture.” It isn’t American culture or democratic ideals altering things today — it’s corporate culture that is altering the world. Fortunately, many ethnic groups recognize the inherent value of their own cultures, and many seek to protect and perpetuate their land, language, cultural values and ideals in order to maintain a communal identity in the onslaught of global homogenization.
The “melting pot” is an illusion. Nothing melts here. Racial groups don’t melt into each other. People still maintain cultural identities and values, even when they are of mixed racial heritage. Having democratic values does not mean everybody morphs into each other and becomes the same. Our “local culture” can share social and political values, and groups within the local culture can still maintain their distinct ethnic and cultural identities. We are not a “melting pot”; we are a rich and racially diverse community.
Statehood was one of the major events in the history of Hawaii that forever changed the social, political and economic landscape of the Islands. In good ways and in bad ways: Hawaii was a territory for nearly 59 years before becoming a state; longer than any other territory waited for statehood. This was so primarily because of an underlying racial prejudice against Hawaii’s mixed racial population — manifested in the so-called “yellow peril” mindset, which did not subside until after World War II, when Hawaii’s Japanese soldiers proved their nationalism on the battlefields.
President Lincoln delivered his Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863, which was the executive order that declared the freedom of all slaves. Eleven years earlier, in the 1852 Constitution, under the Declaration of Rights, Kamehameha III stated in Article 12: “Slavery shall, under no circumstances whatsoever be tolerated in the Hawaiian Islands: whenever a slave shall enter Hawaiian territory he shall be free …”
Also, in his King’s Speech at the Opening of the 1850 Legislature, and despite complaints by some of his missionary advisers, Kamehameha III also encouraged inter-racial marriage, which the U.S. at that time vehemently and legislatively opposed.
If anything, the influence of American culture and democratic ideals on the issue of culture and race in Hawaii have been over-determined since annexation policies were asserted in the Organic Act in 1900. It was only after annexation that Hawai’i saw stricter immigration policies imposed. It was at this time that the forced assimilation of the Kanaka Maoli to American culture began through the institutionalized displacement of Hawaiian language and culture.
If anything, Hawaii’s unique culture has enhanced American culture. The melding of the races has shown others in America that the “melting pot” metaphor does not equal less democracy, but, more understanding and appreciation of the ideals of democracy. No doubt the influence of mainland attitudes and trends affect people here, not always for the good, but, overall the isolation of the islands tends to subdue the bad.
Is Hawaii sustainable — economically, culturally, socially — without being under the wing of a larger nation?
We will be sustainable if we remain a state, different from others, and growing on our natural advantages.
We are an island State, separated from other land masses, surrounded by great ocean resources, almost equidistant from mainland U.S. and Asia-Pacific nations.
We are American, and we can be international. We do not have to mimic and emulate other states. We can be our own, seeking out the opportunities from both sides and building our future on the best resources available to us. With the right leadership and citizen participation I am confident about what we can become, what our future can be.
Culturally and socially? Sure. Economically? Probably not. We can certainly become more economically self-sustaining, particularly in regard to energy and agriculture. Hawaii possesses all the resources necessary for near energy independence: wind, solar, geothermal, wave, and bio-fuel. We also have abundant lands available for agriculture. But to develop those energy resources and to get farmers onto those highly valued lands, we need greater political will than we have demonstrated heretofore.
No. Cuba is a good analogy to Hawaii’s status. When Castro took over and ended the USA’s indirect control (mostly economic), he was compelled to replace America with Russia as the main supporter of the economy. When the USSR fell, Cuba was economically shattered for years. Cuba also has seen sugar gradually fail as the mainstay of its economy, to be replaced by tourism, just like Hawaii. Even so, Cuba as a separate country cannot keep itself going without outside help. It is too small. Hawaii would function similarly without being a part of the USA. Every resident would sacrifice a substantial amount of what we consider to be requirements of our lives were we to no longer be a part of the United States.
I don’t know. What I do know is that the benefits of statehood influence our everyday choices and opportunites far more than we realize.
‘A’ole makou a’e minamina / I ka pu’ukala a ke aupuni / Ua lawa makou i ka pohaku / I ka ‘ai kamaha’o o ka ‘aina … (We do not value / The hill of dollars of the government / We are satisfied with the rock / The wondrous food of the land …)
For the Maoli people it was a done deal — one only need read Captain Cook’s journals, and the writings of those “visitors” who stopped over, in their description of the many plantations and fishponds that covered the countryside on each island. It can no longer be, for our rivers, streams and ocean are polluted. Our fish ponds have been filled in for home tracts and hotels — just look at Keaukaha, Pearl Harbor, Waikiki, Kane’ohe Bay …
…Whose culture are you speaking of? Hawaiian, Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, Korean, Portuguese, Puerto Rican, Vietnamese, Caucasian, and now, the latest import, the Marshallese? Whose? Or are we all lumped into the American place — is that the new culture that we all to adhere to? American is not a culture, but a polity! The only culture that can achieve a modicum of sustainability is the Hawaiian culture — we are from this land, if need be, we know the way to survive with merely the stones!!!
Once the United States expanded to the Pacific Ocean, the future of the Hawaiian archipelago as an American frontier became inevitable. The Hawaiian alii preferred Great Britain and made unsuccessful attempts to seek the protection of that country. Kamehameha III went to England to ask King George to accept Hawaii’s cession, but the Hawaiian King, and his Queen, died before he was able to gain an audience with the English monarch. There is evidence in any event that Great Britain was willing to defer to the United States in this regard. Hawaii’s business interests on the other hand were increasingly involved in trade with their nearest markets on the “mainland” where they suffered discriminatory tariffs until annexation made us all one country. The military value of the Hawaiian archipelago also made it United States policy not to allow the other nations who were busily seizing island groups in the Western Pacific to gain a foothold in the Hawaiian chain of islands.
Victoria Nalani Kneubuhl
I’m not sure if we are economically sustainable the way we are right now, but things can always change. We are islands. We have limited resources. We have too many people. I think there is great room for agricultural diversity and that with the right support we could produce much more of our own food. You know, there are lots of different and creative relationships that smaller nations can have with larger nations. Look around the Pacific. Smaller nations can benefit from relationships with larger nations without being swallowed up.
While I don’t think that it is now possible for Hawaii to become a self-sustaining, independent nation, I do think that there should be an independent Hawaiian “nation within a nation” that is recognized and financially supported by the federal government, that would address the needs of the indigenous peoples of these islands on a level on par with Native American Indians.
Is Hawai’i sustainable now? From the point-of-view of economic sustainability, the argument that Hawai’i fly beyond the wing of the United States becomes more realized when we consider the unrealized historical potential of the Hawaiian Kingdom.
To be an independent and industrious society in the international Family of Nations was an objective of the Hawaiian Kingdom. Since annexation, Hawaii has been thoroughly dependant on the United States for nearly all our food and imports. This dependency has stunted our potential for creating our own technologies, our own manufacturing and agri/aquacultural industries.
Before the overthrow, new industries conformed to the 19th-century Hawaiian Kingdom, and well-entrenched principles of international commerce were negotiated and practiced with other nations. After annexation however, Hawaii primarily turned its attention to cash crops, and the U.S. sugar market forced Hawai’i sugar growers to assimilate to the fluctuations of its commodities market. To the disappointment of Hawai’i sugar growers however, sugar from Hawaii was still manipulated through quotas and tariffs and held in direct competition with other U.S. territories, particularly Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines.
Statehood ended sugar tariffs, and eventually the local sugar industry. Statehood also redefined our relationship with the continental US through the one industry in which we developed a first-class technology, tourism.
If Hawai’i appears unremarkable and stagnant as if held in a state of arrested development, I would suggest that we pay closer attention to tourism. However distasteful tourism sounds to some, it remains to be the one economically viable model through which we have cornered an internationally recognized brand.
If aloha, malama aina and pono lay some of the principle foundation of what defines Hawai’i, we must then consider these to be our most valuable exports. If we are to control our own resources and place cultural and environmental sensitivity above other interests, like commercial real-estate development for example, it follows that we should pursue the educational, environmental, and social technologies that best perpetuates these factors.
As some of Hawai’i’s better hotels offer “Hawaiian sensitivity classes” to their guests, does this represent a shift in which Hawaiian independence is already recognized? Is self-determination a model for 21st-century tourism?
Economically — NO, but culturally and socially, YES. We are a separate state with a different historical background. More so than any other state, we treasure our many and varied ancestries. I doubt that we must depend on a larger nation to influence us culturally and socially.
What will Hawaii be like 50 years from now? Will we still be the “Aloha State” or will things change even more?
No one can predict what Hawaii will be 50 years from now, but I believe it will depend on what we want it to be. Construction, condominiums and resort facilities, retention of our important conversation and agricultural lands, our open space and recreational areas, our rate-of-population increase and growth will have great impact on Hawaii’s future. It will require the right kind of leaders asking, “What kind of place do we want Hawaii to be 50 years hence — what’s our preferred future?”
We must look at the growth taking place now and ask the questions, growth for whom, and is it good for the people of Hawaii?
Oh my, I don’t have the foggiest notion. I have some foggy fears, however, principal among them the state’s economic future in an age of rising oil prices. Can mass tourism survive in a world running out of cheap oil? I also worry about global warming. We live, after all, on islands; and much of our housing and most of our commercial buildings sit close to the ocean.
Aloha will survive. Again, we live on islands; thus, we must get along. And our host culture — that island people who journeyed here to take up residence in Hawaii so long ago — has shown all of us who make the islands our home how to live together in harmony. To the warmth and love of Hawaiian culture, Chinese, Japanese, Filipino — and yes, we much-maligned Caucasians — have added, I think, more good than bad. We all understand the need to include, to embrace. I’m confident that our descendants will as well.
A separate Hawaiian government, with ethnically Hawaiian people being recognized as Native Americans. Otherwise, more of the same. More people, more buildings, less open space. Probably personal transportation that doesn’t use petroleum as much. More electronic communications. All this supposes that our present way of life — particularly in energy use — can be sustained.
Still being the Aloha State depends on the leadership, not only of decision-makers of industry and politics, but on the will of the residents, the citizens of Hawaii. Making sure we instill the values which made us the Aloha State, by making it relevant to young people, or those who decide to relocate here, is probably the key. Of course the change is permanent; however, guiding that change is the key to preserving what we love about this state. We cannot merely rely on the natural beauty of Hawaii. Culture is an important asset of any state.
We will be overcome with flotsam and jetsam!
Looking forward, the past can instruct us. I’d like to quote from Sereno E. Bishop, a friend of our historian David Malo on a request that was made on his deathbed. “He (Malo) said this land would fall into the possession of foreigners. Land in Lahaina would be valuable. The graveyards, enriched by the remains of the natives would be coveted, and the contents of the graves scattered abroad. He wished not his bones to be disturbed. Let him be buried on that summit where no white man will ever build his house.” He was buried at Pu’u Pa’u-pa’u, on the hill called Mount Ball that stands back of Lahainaluna.
Whatever happens, the future will be as different from today as today is from 50 years ago. I was born when there were no radios, no television, no computers. It is predicted by some that the oceans will rise a few feet, which, if it happens, will pretty much wipe out half of Honolulu. Yet we will still be the “aloha State” because the Hawaiian concept of “pono” will continue to provide the basic philosophy with which to deal with our fellow men and women.
Victoria Nalani Kneubuhl
I have great faith and hope in our younger generation. I’ve met so many young people who are determined to change things, young people who want to protect, sustain, and clean up our environment, who want to perpetuate our Hawaiian and Polynesian cultures, who want a meaningful life that is not devoted to materialism, who believe that the world can solve its problems through diplomacy and only the very judicious use of military power. I am hoping that their mana and vision will set the standard in Hawai’i for this century.
Sorry, I can’t relate or respond to the term “Aloha State.” I don’t know what it means. Sounds like an advertising ploy to me. If the question is, do I think “local culture” will endure? Yes, we have a very strong and unique local culture that continually reinvents itself.
Hawaii became the “Aloha State” because of the Hawaiian culture, and if this culture is not nourished and supported, this concept will no longer exist and Hawaii will never be the same.
Today, most of our grandparents remember the territorial years and statehood; some even remember the adoption of the Hawai’i Constitution in 1950. In the last fifty years those of us who afforded to remain in Hawaii and have prospered, have actively participated in sending our representatives to Congress, even to the White House. Now there are a growing number who understand what was lost by not being given the opportunity to engage in the option for self-determination. Although we may not know where this may lead Hawai’i in the future, we can now at least understand the implication for asserting change.
It is the leadership of today that will determine our course over the next fifty years. The question remains however, will it be the leadership of an economy collapsing under the weight of its own hubris, or a leadership that understands the movement of peoples and their will for self-determination? What kind of leadership will we choose if granted a referendum that would allow us to elect our post-statehood form of governance, and of equal importance, who will vote?
As much as the “Aloha State” could mean “Hello,” it could also very well mean, “Goodbye.”
Hawaii 50 years from now will become more and more dependant on the mainland for growth and development. We have lost our basic source of income – our agricultural industry and depend a great deal on tourism to sustain ourselves. Tourism is very dependant on world conditions and has its ups and downs. There are those who hope that a high tech industry could flourish, but that takes young people and the cost of living here is too high to entice these young people to invest their lives here. We’ll always be the “Aloha State” but unless the voters and the political leadership changes and a new direction is set, we will continue to struggle economically.
Fifty years, half a century — it’s a milestone, all right, a reason to commemorate, but it’s also an artificial number. We hit it, we move on. When we look at the past, it’s through a rearview mirror as we rocket headlong into the future.
Their answers in this print edition have been edited for space reasons. Their full responses are available online at starbulletin.com.