I began my Pacific Island adventures in Hawai’i with the understanding that while the island nation is unique in many ways, she bears also many similarities in U.S. metropolitan areas. In urban O’ahu (not the touristy kind), there are freeways, Gillig Low Floors, neighborhoods, suburbs, schools, museum and traffic. Among some Pacific Northwest influences: Boeing 777 (Seattle), Sportworks bus bike racks (Woodinville), Safeway (American Falls, Idaho), Starbucks (Seattle), and “The Handi-Van” (King County).
I was quite impressed at the possibility I could otherwise overlook Hawai’i’s history and issues she faces as a U.S. state. Prior to attending college, I thought of Hawai’i as an island paradise. My mother impressed this romanticized view of the island nation, as she often dreamed of taking vacations on Waikiki. I later found out Hawai’i is not exactly an island paradise, as I—or anyone who has never been to Hawai’i—imagine. Coursework in Hawai’i’s literatures introduced me to issues involving U.S. colonialism: the illegal overthrow of Hawai’i’s monarchy, its relationship to the interests of white plantation owners, and Hawai’i’s struggle for self-determination and sovereignty as a metropolitan U.S. state.
At King and Punchbowl, I slipped on a pair of headphones and toured ‘Iolani Palace. Having previously read Hawai’i’s Story by Hawai’i’s Queen, I focused on how indigenous Hawai’ians use the space to process a painful past and envision a hopeful future. As an outsider who knows the history of Queen Liliuokalani’s overthrow in 1893, I tread lightly through the Queen’s prison room, for, it was not going to be an easy area to look at.
Amid rapid urbanization and suburbanization is Hawai’i’s struggle for sovereignty and self-determination. The voices of kanaka maoli—backed by at least 2,000 years of oral genealogies—are very much alive and fighting for recognition. Even as I learned and re-learned parts of Hawai’i’s history, something doesn’t feel right. Where are the kanaka maoli in Hawai’i’s stories?
“My name is Fa’aumu Elsea, and I go to school at University of Washington, which sits on indigenous Coast Salish lands. I double major in medical anthropology and global health and sociology with minors in diversity and oceanic and Pacific Islander studies.”
I do this not to piss my peers off, but to build relationships with the locals. Actually, I didn’t care if I pissed off my peers. The world needs to be reminded of our institutions’ colonial legacies. I guess that comes from my pushiness, my fierce determination to turn the status quo upside down even at the inconvenience of others. No one really cares about my attitudes towards decolonization. Except for Joshua Cooper: “Way to acknowledge indigenous peoples!” All this to say, the pālagi folks in the room instead get uncomfortable.
The most I offered to my peers that week: “Sorry if my intro is long.”
“It’s alright,” said Sabrina as we stepped out of the East-West Center on the UH campus. “You’re educating people.”
I couldn’t really tell if that was consolation or lack thereof. All I knew was, I’m wading into muddy waters alone. And I’m doing it in places where I have yet to learn the histories, ways of building relationships with people to work towards a better future. I knew these next 15 weeks will be tough.