Asian & pacific islander heritage month

by Lauren Dubravec
May 13th, 2021

It ‘s Asian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month and we need to talk about American imperialism in Hawaii.

The colonizer’s understanding of the colonized will always be inherently flawed. Hierarchical relationships don’t exactly set us up for mutual understanding. When it comes to the relationship between the US and Hawaii, the narrative of Hawaii told by non-indigenous people, or haole, is extremely different from the reality that indigenous Hawaiians face. In her book "From a Native Daughter", Haunani-Kay Trask describes a scholar’s panel she spoke at where the native sentiment surrounding the annexation of Hawaii was discussed. Trask describes a debate she had with another scholar who insisted that there was no evidence of resistance to annexation from the native Hawaiians. She shared a song written in Hawaii that condemns the appropriation and exploitation of the Hawaiian homeland, reading, “Annexation is the wicked sale / Of the rights of the Hawaiian people.”

The haole, or non-Hawaiian historian, insisted that this song did not constitute “historical evidence” of opposition to annexation. Even after Trask told a personal story passed down in her family of a “great wailing” that flooded the islands after the overthrow, the scholar maintained that “this sort of evidence” is not adequate historical fact. Who determines what “counts” as historical evidence and what does not? Trask writes that the Hawaiian people did not express themselves through writing, but rather primarily through singing, dancing, and building, a way of life that Western scholars historically assume is “primitive.”

The history of Hawaii and countless other colonized nations is written by haole who do not speak the language and who have been educated in Western academia. They have limited knowledge of the Global South and its customs and are heavily influenced by the Western imperialist mindset. Oblivious to the harmful history the Western world is perpetuating, many of us continue to use Hawaii for vacations and natural resources, throwing “Hawaiian-themed” parties with plastic coconut bras and paper “leis.” The Hawaiian people continue to fight for their right to exist in their native homeland while many use the culture they’re struggling to preserve as a costume.

Despite the disease, poverty, suppression, and exploitation that native Hawaiians experienced throughout colonization and annexation, they still managed to preserve their native language and traditional Polynesian voyaging practices and are working to heal from their immense historical trauma. It is vital that federal and local governments take steps to restore Hawaii’s ecological and cultural indigeneity and begin to repair the damage that American imperialism has caused. We can start by fulfilling Public Land Trust Revenue to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA), supporting the Department of Hawaiian Homelands, providing affordable housing to native Hawaiians, protecting sacred lands and natural resources, and giving Native Hawaiians a platform to control their own historical and modern narrative.