I am an American of Hawaiian ancestry. I am proud to be an American. I am equally proud to be of Hawaiian ancestry. Whew! There, I’ve said it. I’m finally dealing with a self-inflicted identity crisis. It’s been a very confusing emotional passage since 1975 when I first became a Hawaiian activist. This coming out creates some anxiety for me because I am a political figure flirting dangerously with a subject of intense passion for many people. In my years of activism I’ve struggled my way through the maze of the volatile question of Hawaiian nationhood. What does it mean to me to be an American? What does it mean to be a Hawaiian? Are the two reconcilable? How are we supposed to feel about the American overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom—an illegal condition that continues to today? I may pay a price for this declaration of political loyalty to a nation whom others see as the enemy, and to those who are adamant about a total separation from the United States. To them I offer my respect and say follow your heart and do what you are compelled to do in pursuit of your dignity and sense of justice. But I would humbly ask that in your pursuit of a vision of a Hawaiian future that you argue your case with respect for all voices, and absent malice for those who may not agree.
America’s history is one of a nation shamefully peppered with many dark stories of social, political, and economic injustice. Much of it still screams for resolution. So, in my declaration of national loyalty I would be the last one to deny that America’s history is scarred with injustices of every dimension. In my younger years, as a folk-singer traveling the country during the 60’s and 70’s, I was fully engaged in the calls for justice on questions of racism, sexism, indigenous people’s rights, income inequality, Vietnam…all those things that blighted, and continue to blight us, as a nation. I have not changed. I continue to pursue the same set of socio-political challenges that I did then.
On the question of Hawaiian nationhood I would vociferously argue for reconciliation. We can’t ignore the overthrow, annexation, and subsequent injustices, but it’s time to shape a model of reconciliation. I believe that a Hawaiian nation within a nation relationship will emerge that not only brings closure to our long-standing grievances, but also provides new opportunities for all of Hawai‘i. Hawai‘i’s people, long divided by the question, cannot become whole until this question of nationhood is resolved. And it must be resolved by including the rest of Hawai‘i in shaping the solution.
For myself, I cannot imagine giving up my U.S. citizenship. I cannot imagine defining my existence as separate and apart from a lifetime of friends of every ethnicity, relationships forged in the joy and pain of pursuing the American dream as fellow Americans. And my beautiful hapa-haole family– I cannot and will not leave them behind.
I leave you with my conviction that the Constitution of the United States, as the very foundation of the nation, is a brilliant document. It is especially brilliant because realizing its sweeping promise of equality, justice, and opportunity for all can never be fully achieved. Not because the document is flawed…but because we, the people, are flawed. And so, we must keep working to improve on our performance as citizens of the world’s greatest nation. God bless America. God bless Hawai‘i. God bless the Hawaiian people.