Learning something new that challenges what you have always believed to be true can be a tricky thing to do..
Hawaii “Statehood Day” is celebrated on August 19th. Public schools are out and some businesses close for the day. I grew up on Oahu, and Hawaii being the “50th State” was just accepted as fact and another day off of school. When I learned that Hawaii is still being illegally occupied, and actually isn’t a state at all, I didn’t accept it right away. In reality, it took me some time to process the information and all of the emotions that came with it.
I want to share my personal educational and emotional journey in case you can relate and in hopes that you will know you’re not alone if you experience something similar.
By 2017 my husband, Malu, and I had been studying the Hawaiian language for about a year. When you study a language, it opens the doors and flows into everything else like culture and politics. In Malu’s study of the language, he came across videos done by Dr. Keanu Sai who has a doctorate in Political Science, specializing in Hawaiian Constitutionalism and International Relations. I overheard the videos as Malu watched them and he would talk with me about it afterwards.
In a nutshell, Dr Keanu Sai has proven through extensive research that Hawaii is still a Sovereign Nation, that it was illegally overthrown and is still illegally occupied. I won't delve into the facts here, but that’s essentially what he has discovered.
My first reaction was complete doubt. Almost in a condescending way..
“There’s no truth to this.”
“This is not what I was taught in school.”
“I’ve grown up in Hawaii and lived here my whole life, so I know better.”
Malu and I had plenty more conversations, and I listened to more of Dr Keanu Sai’s research and during one of his videos he laid everything out so clearly that it just clicked for me. I couldn't deny that it was true any longer. He had proven it was true.
When I realized that what Dr Keanu Sai was explaining was the truth, my heart just sank. I already knew how terrible it is that Hawaii lost its monarchy, culture, and way of life - but to learn that it was done illegally - no, illegal isn’t the right word - to learn that it was done so deceitfully and unlawfully made me sick to my stomach.
There is nothing good or redeeming about the way that Hawaii became “part” of the United States. Knowing this makes everything that happened after even worse: the brainwashing of Hawaiians to believe that they are American, allowing the banning of the Hawaiian language in schools and making Hawaiians feel ashamed to be Hawaiian. How could the US Government condone this?
Yes, after the hurt and sadness, anger showed up.
I don’t really know who I was even angry at, but it was there. I guess I was angry at the United States and the people who let this happen.
I was angry that Hawaiians are in this situation. Why didn’t we know this? Why the vast majority of Hawaiians know so little about our history and culture. So much knowledge has been lost - no, it was taken away. It’s more than not even being able to afford to live here, we don’t even know what “here” is. I think this is where a lot of Hawaiians relate.
After the anger mostly passed, and now that I knew what I knew, I felt a kind of shyness.
When something is not exactly socially accepted - if it’s not something I grew up doing, like speaking Hawaiian as a family (not something that most people do), or grew up knowing, like that Hawaii is illegally occupied (still not a normal/common thought for people living in Hawaii), I get shy about sharing what I do and know because it’s not simple to explain. It’s not as simple as saying, “the sky is blue” - I can’t prove or fully explain anything in one sentence - it’s a whole journey to educate people on so many things.
It was, sadly, from my personal experience, an embarrassing thing to say that Hawaii is still illegally occupied and actually isn’t the 50th state. I knew people were going to be looking at me thinking I’m crazy when really they just didn’t understand the things I’ve come to understand.
Eventually, I developed tougher skin and resolve. I grew more comfortable with the awkwardness of people thinking I was crazy and not understanding what I did, and I felt pushed and inspired to educate and share with as many people as possible. This is where I am now.
When I have had the chance to share what I’ve learned with others, the most common responses have been, “Okay, but the United States won’t just leave us! or Yeah, but then Russia/China will just take over…” They have 100 questions and an attitude of “Now what? That’s great that you figured that out but it doesn’t mean anything…”
Along with the resolve to educate, I also experience feelings of patience.
All that I’ve learned about the past and where Hawaii is currently is really important to understand - but I don't have all the answers. I don’t know what comes next for Hawaii, or what will happen. I’m not in charge here. I know I have to be patient, and that can be hard. When I get new information, or there’s a situation like the Mauna Kea protest in 2019, I cycle through all of those emotions again (doubt, hurt, anger, shyness, a desire to educate others) and I always come back to patience.
Now, none of this would really matter if I didn’t feel hope. I believe in knowledge and hope that more education on this subject will result in real change for Hawaii and Hawaiians. We may not all have the same role in that change, but we can all play a part.
*To learn more about this topic, search “Dr Keanu Sai”. You can also see two of my illustrations regarding Hawaii’s “Statehood Day” on Instagram, here and here.