The Fourth of July is my favorite holiday. You read that right. For me, Independence Day is better than my own birthday and better than Christmas. Perhaps it’s because I grew up with two very patriotic former military parents, or perhaps it is because the firework laws in my home state are so lax that every person in my neighborhood can set off their own Super Bowl halftime show once the sun sets.
Whatever the reason, I have always loved the day of celebrating red, white, and blue. In Hawaii, however, all of the residents do not equally receive this sentiment. See, it is sometimes easy to forget the single page of our United States history textbooks that details how the Kingdom of Hawaii was overthrown by the American government against the wishes of the native people. During the time between the overthrow and statehood, American influence poured into every aspect of Hawaiian life. Statehood was subject to mixed reviews by the people from the land, as I’ve been told by many of the kupuna, or elders, that frequent my placement site, the Waipa Foundation.
At Waipā, the focus is on traditional Hawaiian practices. This ranges from cultural education, sustainable agriculture, and increased community involvement. There are childrens’ camps offered throughout the summer that aim to educate the youth about Hawaiian ancestry.
On the day of the Fourth, I was out on a va’a, or canoe, with a middle school group of campers. Prior to departing from shore, there was a lesson about the cultural importance of canoes in the Hawaiian community. The canoes were the vessels that the Hawaiians used to come to the islands through their way-finding techniques. For fishing, the ancestors used small canoes, similar to the ones we paddled on that particular day.
We paddled around Hanalei Bay, looked at the reef, and attempted to catch fish. Around midmorning, one of the lifeguards who was aboard the vessel as a safety precaution, asked the head kumu, or counselor, if the kids got to do anything special for the holiday.
The head counselor let out an unrestrained laugh and said, “Like hell we’re going to celebrate America at a Hawaiian culture camp!”
That line stuck with me.
In the afternoon when I left the canoe to go help with Waipā’s Farmer’s Market, I couldn’t help but keep a mental tally of each time a tourist asked about the best place on the island to celebrate the holiday.
Even after the workday was over and our DukeEngage group returned to our house, I still kept hearing the single line ring in my head, along with what I know about American-Hawaiian history.
Our host, Uncle Gene, graciously threw a cookout for his family, friends, and our group of DukeEngage students. We constructed an epic slip-n-slide in the backyard, ate hamburgers and hotdogs, and sat by the fire while roasting s’mores.
It was an evening full of the best parts of my favorite holiday (except for fireworks, which don’t get too rowdy on this island), yet there was an ever-present feeling that celebrating the United States in a place that had been corruptly deposed by the American government was not the best thing to do.
I was raised to be very patriotic and to love this country. My peers and I will have to learn to walk the tightrope between our American citizenship in a place that still does not feel fully American.