Friday, August 21, 2009

Ambivalent Statehood Day!

Fifty years ago today, Hawaii became the 50th State. And like an Upper East Side socialite about to turn 50, they don't intend to celebrate. Honolulu Advertiser has a good article about why the state didn't plan any public celebrations. The short version is that they didn't want to offend anyone. A gung-ho, hurray-America party would result in anger and protests by the Native Hawaiian population, who are still kinda pissed off over that whole, illegally-overthrow-your-democratically-elected-monarch-to-protect-American-business-interests thing. An anti-America, hurray-sovereign-Hawaii party would upset, well, Americans.

Not that Native Hawaiians aren't Americans--or that people who support America aren't ignorant of history or unsympathetic toward Native Hawaiians--or that either group is totally cohesive in their opinions--or mutually exclusive--argh! It's too complicated! No party for anyone!

Of course, the decision to let the day fade quietly into just another long weekend perfect for a campout on the beach makes perfect sense to me. "Come from away" people (thanks to my Canadian coworker for providing me with this new phrase) often try to pick apart Hawaii's political attitudes and get frustrated when nothing we do or say fits into their preconceived notions of a region's political life. Hawaii votes Democratic, but its citizens are deeply religious. Hawaii opposes gay marriage but embraces pro-environmental legislation. We care deeply about local political figures but could give a Spam musubi about national politics. Heavily masculine in culture, but more than willing to have women in control of businesses and government. Disdainful of military presence, but respectful of the warrior spirit. Contemptuous of tourists, but renown for our friendly demeanor and Aloha Spirit. More ethnically mixed than almost any other place in the country--excluding New York--but gosh, do we love our racist jokes! I learned most of my dumb-Portagee jokes from public school assemblies and Frank DeLima.

Paul Theroux, who is my least favorite come-from-away person in Hawaii ever since I read "Hotel Honolulu," nevertheless wrote a good op-ed in the New York Times about these seeming contradictions that define the nation's 50th state.

Of course, most people here in New York City don't often have a reason to throw a Hawaii-themed party for fear of looking unhip. (Even I don't wear Aloha prints in Brooklyn, and I was born in the islands.) But politics aside, it IS Statehood Day, and massive amounts of tourists are learning hula in Times Square as I write this. So I'll end with an article by my friend Margot Seeto, published in Honolulu Weekly, about how you can throw your own Hawaii Statehood Day party and eat pineapple 'til you puke.

Actually, I'll end with the state motto. Ua mau ke ea o ka aina i ka pono. The life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness. Ambivalent Statehood Day to all!

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