Novelist Junot Diaz interviewed on NPR on Thanksgiving, a topic that was on theme of our panel discussion:
On Tuesday, November 25th, we held our first panel discussion, “Views from the Shore: Impact of Immigration on Hawai’i Past Present and Future.”
Traditionally, the Thanksgiving holiday is an event in which Americans commemorate the way in which citizens have come together, across cultures, to build prosperity and bounty in our country. It is also a time of reflection, as the nation honors its first peoples.
“Views from the Shore,” offered the opportunity to acknowledge and reflect upon the ways in which as settlers, Hawai’i ethnic communities have both impacted and been impacted by the culture of Hawai’i as they have sought prosperity and bounty.
There were 11 people on panel– too much some thought– but we wanted to represent the immigrant communites that have played a significant role in Hawai’i history from the kingdom or territory years into statehood.
The term immigrant itself was complicated and could be interpreted to be drawn along racial lines. We went with a traditional view of immigrants being contracted laborers, meaning Asians, Puerto Ricans, Portuguese, other Pacific Islanders, and white or haoles as having a different status as missionary or white settlers. This, of course, is recognized by most as being an unfair division, but in the context of kingdom-era Hawai’i, the division was much clearer as immigrants were generally imported contract workers while the Kanaka Maoli were the dominant or host culture. Haoles were missionary descendents, they were “migrants” who arrived after the Civil War and the Gold Rush, sailors or whalers who jumped ship, and generally those of British or European descent, arriving in search of opportunity.
There were certainly other ethnicities as well, for example, Brazilians, Mexicans, African-Americans, other Pacific Islanders, and even though their contribution is noted in our history books, it is arguable that they had played a less defined cultural role in our move from territory to statehood.
Anyway, we invited writer and historian Tom Coffman to lay down a history of immigration which many of the Asian or Pacific Islander settler groups could respond to, as well as Eiko Kosasa to introduce the political aspect of Asian Settler Colonialism and what that might mean, socially and politically, to Native Hawaiians.
I had originally considered having a Native Hawaiian representative on panel as well, but didn’t know who would represent that perspective. Should it be OHA, someone from the Center for Hawaiian Studies, someone representing Independence and Sovereignty (here, here, here…), a respected legal scholar like Keanu Sai, someone from the Association of Hawaiian Civic Clubs, or someone representing the Native Hawaiian Chamber of Commerce. It was a decision that was fraught with more difficulties. We then considered a representative of each, but that was unmanageable for our two hour panel! We finally decided to invite everyone to come and participate as an audience member during the Q & A section.
When that decision developed into controversy, the solution was then to sponsor a separate panel, a follow-up, whereby the various perspectives would be represented. Currently we are discussing our next panel: Views from the Shore: Native Hawaiian Perspectives on the Impact of Settlers in Hawaii: Past, Present, Future.
This may end up being a half-day event.