In a recent interview, I was told I am “still American” even though I’m from Hawai'i. This happens to me a lot. Hawai'i has long been seen as a mystical tropical paradise, which has led to a harmful dynamic wherein people go to Hawai'i to exploit the land and dehumanize its people. One of the clearest memories from my childhood is the “Clean Up the Beaches” campaign led by Governor Linda Lingle’s administration that led to several of my family members and friends being forced from their homes. Policies enacted to create a more “palatable and tourist-friendly” Hawai’i Nei leave Native Hawaiians with no choice but to leave their sacred land. Only 10.06% of Hawaii’s population is Native Hawaiian – what is wrong with this picture?
This colonization and gentrification is not new. Over the past few years, several protests around sacred lands and monuments have made national news, but still I am bombarded with stories of vacations to new resorts, water parks, and attractions being built anywhere and everywhere. Several Hawaiian Culture activists are leading the charge on the “anti-tourist experience” including Kyle Kajihiro and Terry Keko’olani of DeTours, an educational group. They hope to expose visitors to Hawaii’s history without the luaus, tikis, and small umbrella drinks. They hope to bring awareness to the long-term harm caused by the colonization that took place even before the forced annexation in July 1898.
I was taught the history of Queen Lili’uokalani at a very young age and it is still relevant to this day: Queen Lili’uokalani was the first woman ever to rule Hawaii and the last sovereign of the Kalākaua dynasty, which had ruled a unified Hawaiian kingdom since 1810. Queen Lili’uokalani fought against the U.S. annexation of Hawai'i, but the U.S. forcibly overthrew her and annexed Hawai'i anyway. Queen Lili’uokalani was imprisoned in the ‘Iolani Palace during the annexation of Hawai'i and used her song Aloha ‘Oe to bid farewell to her beautiful Hawai’i Nei.
Native Hawaiians continue to ask for their land back. As they continue to fight, celebrities are buying large amounts of land while touting Hawaii as the “it” place to live. If you find yourself wondering, “How is that fair?”, well, it isn’t. And, I repeat, this colonization and gentrification is also not new.
The next time you think of Hawai'i for your upcoming vacation, wedding, or getaway, please consider the impact. Think of all the Hawaiian history you don’t learn when engaging in typical tourist activities and the contributions your presence makes to sustaining the harm being caused. Instead, consider doing the following:
Donating to the activists and organizations linked above and below:
Native Hawaiian Education Association
Learning more about Hawaiian culture and history
Detours: A Decolonial Guide to Hawai’i
Educating others on Hawaiian culture and history
In the future, I hope to see people stop taking unnecessary vacations to Hawai'i and telling people from Hawai'i about frivolous experiences there, and instead taking time to learn more about Hawaii’s history – without the luaus, fruity drinks, and tikis.
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