Diverse Feelings About Statehood
Wednesday - August 26, 2009
Hawaii officially commemorates 50 years of state-hood this month.
Notice the verb. Not celebrate, commemorate. A celebration marks an event by “festivities or other deviation from routine” (say the dictionary keepers). A commemoration? Well, it means a little less - a mere “call to remembrance.”
So in 2009 we remember the realization of statehood. But in 1959 the vast majority of Hawaii’s people got festive. Real festive. And they deviated from the routine. A young, part-Hawaiian boy living on the Hamakua Coast of the Big Island remembered March 12 of that year, the day the United States
House of Representatives voted its approval of the Hawaii state-hood bill.
“They literally stopped the school. School let out, and the kids went downtown to little Honokaa, and people were driving their cars up and down the street, tooting their horns, and we were walking around cheering and shouting.At that moment people felt they really were American.”
John Waihee, that Hamakua Coast schoolboy, went on to become the first Hawaiian governor of the State of Hawaii.
Jean Davis and her husband were new to the Islands. They watched the festivities in Honolulu. “We went down to the beach to watch the celebration, and there were people dancing on the beach and there were strings of firecrackers hanging from the trees.
“There were bands playing and ukulele playing, and people jumping up and down and dancing. It was very exciting. And all of a sudden we saw a great, big bonfire and we walked down to the beach to see it.”
On June 27, 1959, Hawaii’s people voted 132,938 to 7,854 on a state-hood referendum. The only precinct that failed to support it was the privately-owned and entirely Hawaiian- populated island of Niihau. In the Islands’ other 243 precincts, the lowest pro-statehood votes were to be found in the haole precincts of East Honolulu.
Naomi Losch’s father was not among those supporting union with the United States. Losch was an a eighth grader at the time. Her father worked at the sugar mill in Kahuku. As a Hawaiian, he viewed statehood as the final indignity visited upon his people.
“He didn’t think it was good, because then it would open the doors, and all the riff-raff would come,” Losch remembers. “It seemed to him we’d have more control as a territory. But as a state, we’d be just like any other state. And so people would tend to come here and settle here. And he just felt that it was a bad idea.”
Losch was not alone. A prominent Hawaiian, Kamokila Campbell, had testified against statehood for Hawaii before various congressional committees. On the day statehood passed, she held a luau wake.
Maui activist Charlie Maxwell remembers his father “crying like a baby in 1959. I said ‘Papa, aren’t you happy?’ He said, ‘You will see. Time will tell, this is the worst thing for the Hawaiian people, and you will see it in your lifetime. . . . What more can they do to the Hawaiian people?’”
Some Hawaiians who accepted statehood in 1959 would regret it later.
A graduate of the Kamehameha Schools, Dr. Kekuni Blaisdell studied medicine on the Mainland, served in the United States Army during the Korean conflict, and returned to Hawaii to help found the University of Hawaii’s medical school in 1966.
He refers to himself in that period of his life as “colonized. I never stepped out of propriety,” he says.
He began to do so in 1983 when he was asked to draft the health section of the Native Hawaiian Study Commission Report. “I was stunned to find how serious our health plight was,” says Blaisdell. “The shortest life expectancy, highest mortality rates for the major causes of death: heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes.
“Statehood is really part of furthering colonization and attempting to permanently control our lives for what is now United States global economic and military ambitions. We’re just pawns in that process.”
Many of us still celebrate Hawaii’s statehood. Many of us will remember - for both good and ill.
Dr. Blaisdell’s voice along with those of Naomi Losch, Charlie Maxell, John Waihee, George Ariyoshi, Dan Inouye and several score others can be heard in State of Aloha, a documentary on statehood that will debut at 7:30 p.m., Thursday night on PBS-Hawaii.
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