Saturday, March 14, 2009

Fifty Years Ago

Click on photos to enlarge!Ted Trimmer: Golden Dream

By building relations we create a source of love and personal pride and belonging that makes living in a chaotic world easier.

Susan Lieberman"

Royal Hawaiian Band on the steps of Iolani Palace, 1906

"The past actually happened but history is only what someone wrote down."

A. Whitney Brown

Dan Axler: Indiana Sky

"There is not a liberal America and a conservative America - there is the United States of America. There is not a black America and a white America and latino America and asian America - there's the United States of America."

Barack Obama

It was 50 years ago this week that the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Hawaii Admission Act by a 323 to 89 vote. One day earlier (March 11) the Senate had granted their "yay" by a margin of 75 to 15.

With the expected signature of President Eisenhower it would be up to the citizens of the Territory of Hawaii to give their assent. A mere 66 years after the overthrow of Queen Liliuokalani's monarchy, just 42 years after the old Queens passing, the Territorial Legislature sat in morning session at her Iolani Palace while Congressional delegate (not representative!) John A. Burns relayed his account of the historic vote by telephone from Washington DC, where afternoon shadows already lengthened.

When Territorial House Speaker Elmer Cravalho announced the final affirmative tally, the representatives took to their feet spontaneously to sing the "Star Spangled Banner." Then they sang the Isle anthem, "Hawaii Pono`i." With the future (the Sixties!) and a young President right around the corner, American optimism swept the isles in a tsunami of excitement and opportunism. With full citizenship rights and voting representation, it was hoped, the strangle-hold of the old Big Five companies would be broken. Then a post-missionary, post-colonial, post-plantation-oligarchy, multi-ethnic society might bloom and prosper after lifetimes of labor, denigration, and exclusion. The Japanese-American veterans who we saluted last week:
deserved no less. Even the frank southern racism of certain U.S. senators and representatives, fortified by the anti-communist/anti-labor organizer sentiment of the day, ultimately withered before the evident justice of Statehood. If Hawaii was too different, then the decision to admit Alaska first, as 49th US State, might be viewed as an easy step in America's westward expansion.

Not everyone was celebrating. Hawaiians who had endured "future shock" cultural dislocation, genocidal health emergencies, and political dispossession, still felt a deep pulse of love for their nation and their Monarchs. Many Hawaiian families still cherished elder members who had been born in the waning days of an Island Kingdom. These kupuna passed on stories of a stolen past that they had overheard in small kid times as their parents, who had lived through it all, quietly talked into the evening. The mother tongue, Olelo Hawaii, was spoken in private homes, and hula & chant never really died.

Nevertheless, the momentum seemed ordained. 99 % of the 140,744 local voters who cast their ballots in the June 27, 1959 statewide plebiscite favored statehood. America's "affair" with the brown hula girl was rendered respectable as she assented to become Uncle Sam's latest wife.

On August 21st President Eisenhower signed papers dissolving the Territory and establishing the 50th State of Hawaii. "Us guys stay EQUAL now!" Soon jets would bring newly prosperous visitors from the continent, many of them WWII veterans who had forged an emotional attachment with the isles. I still see the hula girl tattoos fading on their tired arms as they sun on da beach with their Midwestern wives. Pearl Harbor continues to welcome daily visitors from all over the world; Many Japanese visitors pay their respects to this day. The planeloads of visitors did come to "get lei'ed" and to catch a whiff of Elvis. They followed their dreams of an American paradise. Did you see Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson's incendiary send-up of island tourism on last week's Saturday Night Live?

Far far away from the islands, in every way that places can be distant, lived a very young Me who watched "Hawaiian Eye" and "Adventures in Paradise" on a small, family black and white Philco television. It had rabbit ears, I wore Mickey Mouse ears. Already longing for escape from the conformity of 1959, I dozed off on the living room carpet dreaming of an endless summer of no school, no bullies, no stultifying arithmetic lessons.
Somewhere distant in that long ago night, a train howled and chattered; a Harley Davidson backfired, a finned convertible wheeled past my first window blaring Doo Wop. Stirring slightly in my baby sleep, my lips practiced once again the lovely words I had "sounded-out" from the pages of the National Geographic. "Aloha" means "hello" "goodbye" and "love." A porch (my grandma had a Philadelphia "stoop") is called a "Lanai."

But first I had to grow up and move on to second grade. . .

A L O H A! Cloudia

ps: it still means "love!"