Editor’s Note:This article is part of a series by participants in a free, public forum on Monday Feb. 28 at the University of Hawaii, bringing together authors from The Price of Paradise books from the 1990s and The Value of Hawaii collection of essays from last year. Learn more.
The change in Hawaiʻi over the past two decades is more spiritual than tangible. In 1990 we were closing in on a million residents, and now we have about 1.3 million. We were dependent on tourism then and anticipated 5 million visitors a year. Now the industry worries that we cannot get 7 million or more. Hawaiians were protesting evictions, urbanization of agricultural lands, and Hawaiian burial grounds, and concerns about the overwhelming American military presence. I think more of Hawaii’s residents then were confident that the social and economic transformations that had ended the plantations would now focus more seriously on native Hawaiian issues and would soon produce a society in which a sovereign Hawaiian government would coexist with the 50th State.
Partly as a result of a national movement to the right, a movement that produced, among other things, an economic free for all that has made Hawaiʻi more expensive and less concerned about social justice, more Hawaiians now fight to distance ourselves from Americans, convinced that the United States has forsaken its idealism in its preoccupation with commercial and military power. In Hawaiʻi the social activism of the unions and the Democratic Party is conflicted by their efforts to protect the status quo. Hawaiians have become the visionaries and that is a more portentous sign than anything else in Hawaii’s political culture. We know that we are in a struggle with a powerful nation, yet we believe that we can shape our own history through our struggle to be ourselves.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jonathan Kay Kamakawiwo‘ole Osorio, PhD, is Professor of Hawaiian Studies at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, a historian of the Hawaiian Kingdom, and a practicing musician and composer. He has been an advocate for the restoration of Hawaii’s political independence, and writes about the sovereignty movement in Hawaii. He and his wife Mary live in Palolo, and have sent all of their children to public schools and Kamehameha High School.
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