HONOLULU (CN) — It is the untoward dinner party joke, the flatulence in the elevator, the elephant in the room. Nobody celebrates Hawaiian Statehood Day anymore except perhaps as an excuse to get out of work.
Observed (or not) each year on the third Friday of August, Statehood — nee Admission — Day commemorates Hawaii’s entry into the Union on Aug. 21, 1959.
There were purportedly huge celebrations. The notion of statehood had been floated as early as 1919 by territorial congressional delegate Prince Kuhio Kalanianaole, then again in 1935, 1947 and 1950 before finally being passed by Congress, ratified by 93 percent of the Hawaiian population and signed into law by President Dwight Eisenhower.
But by the 50th anniversary of statehood in 2009, nobody was in the mood to throw a parade or dance hula.
The Hawaiian renaissance begun in the 1970s, with its focus on reviving traditional cultural practices of healing, dance, music, language, ecology, spirituality, mythology, and voyaging and agricultural technology had taken root, and the idea of celebrating events formalizing the illegal overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy was anathema.
Much recent Hawaiian history has been essentially a crash course in reconciling past and present.
Between the extremes of some several thousand Hawaiian independence advocates who would turn to the past and those privileged Hawaiians who parlayed land holdings into millions early on, are a conflicted majority — 78 percent of whom said in a survey conducted in 2006 that they would vote for statehood all over again.
This ambivalence is perhaps the very cement that holds the islands’ diverse population together. Identity — Japanese, Chinese, Portuguese, Korean, Scottish, Filipino, Samoan, Micronesian — is subsumed by a desire to be here. To be “local.”
Even those Sanford Doles, despite all else, were captivated by a sense of place. And the Islands have a way of sorting out interlopers. Those who don’t get it don’t tend to stick. Explorer James Cook had his Kealakekua. Former Gov. Linda Lingle her Superferry. The end of the road for both — physically for the former and politically for the latter.
Statehood, for all its encroachments, has not changed that.
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