Hawaii’s World

By A.A. Smyser

Thursday, July 3, 1997

Preserving racial
harmony in Hawaii

INDEPENDENCE Day 1997 finds the president of the United States stressing that America is undergoing a distinct change of color. Today, he has said on several recent occasions, Hawaii is the only state without a white majority.

In a few years California will be State No. 2. Half a century from now there will remain some states with white majorities, but the national majority will be non-white.

Latins, blacks and Asians will grow in numbers sufficient to cause these changes.

Will it be healthy for the United States? The Hawaii experience says yes.

Since statehood in 1959 we have elected a rainbow of governors -- two Caucasians to start with, then a Japanese, then a Hawaiian-Chinese, now a Filipino.

The rainbow reflects the political necessity of ethnic cooperation. No party based on a single ethnic group can carry Hawaii.

The Democrats have remained top dogs in Hawaii because they have passed the goodies around, ethnically speaking. In heartening numbers, candidates who have preached hate have been defeated.

Imperfect as we are, and we are imperfect, we have been the world's most successful mixed ethnic community. Let us remain so.

Bright in my memory is a 1948 round-the-islands trip with a U.S. senator sent here to report back to the Senate on our suitability for statehood.

Guy Cordon of Oregon looked at us with an outsider's eyes. He was touched that school students with Asian faces spoke, joked and had attitudes much like kids in Oregon. He was touched by the sacrifices in World War II of young Japanese-American men who had to fight to be be allowed to join the U.S. Army.

They wanted to prove their loyalty to the U.S. They then did it with a trail of Purple Hearts, Silver and Bronze Stars. The names of the fallen were still fresh on a memorial plaque outside the Kauai county building where he held a hearing.

But he may have been impressed most of all by discovering how race-conscious Hawaii was, yet how different our race-consciousness was from the 48 mainland states. The key: Ethnic leaders here took a positive approach to race problems as they arose. They worked together to resolve them, not exacerbate them.

Today we are being tested quite sorely by the rising demand for more rights for Hawaiians to bring them to greater social and economic equality with the rest of the population.

There is a generally sympathetic response in principle from the rest of the population, but particular claims and assertions are raising many hackles.

To resolve these in a principled, democratic way is the challenge we face if we are to remain a successful mixed ethnic community, the kind of moral beacon President Clinton suggests we are.

I hope our leaders on all sides retain the commitment to positive approaches that so impressed Senator Cordon in 1948.

WE have a South Pacific neighbor facing similar equity demands from another disadvantaged Polynesian population. New Zealand's Maoris and part-Maoris make up about 15 percent of its population versus about 20 percent in Hawaii when blood quantums as low as 1 percent are counted.

Maoris, too, lost their land in the 19th century. Unlike Hawaii, thousands of natives were killed as Europeans violated a treaty to respect their land rights.

Even so, I recently found a widely shared sense of forward progress in New Zealand, including even Maori activists. Some see the adjustment processes as not fast enough. Differences on goals remain.

Yet there is overall optimism -- more so than here. Hawaii will need to cross a similar threshold if we are to remain a beacon for the U.S. and the world.

A.A. Smyser is the contributing editor
and former editor of the the Star-Bulletin
His column runs Tuesday and Thursday.

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