Tourism and Militarism in Hawaii

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Tourism and Militarism in Hawaii

Post by kim » Sat Feb 02, 2019 1:57 pm

Today marks the 126th anniversary of the illegal overthrow of Queen Liliʻuokalani and the Hawaiian Kingdom.

In the post I talk about the history leading up to the overthrow, but today I want to talk about something else: tourism and militarism.

Like the vast majority of people, I was never taught in school how and why exactly Hawaiʻi became a state of the U.S., so I'm gonna do a thread on this chapter of Hawaiian history.Starting with tourism, a good base statistic is that Hawaiʻi has a population of about 1.4mil, whereas the number of annual tourists is about 9mil.This is hugely problematic for a number of reasons, but first I want to address how tourism got to be so big here.

After the overthrow in 1893, it was in the US colonizers’ best interest to secure a sense of legitimate ownership of the land.How to do that? Promote military expansion on the land & US consumption of the land, partly via tourism & immigration.The islands were advertised to the US as the “Paradise of the Pacific”, creating a narrative that the islands were welcoming to all to take from them.This narrative also helped erase the colonialism/ethnocide actively taking place in Hawaiʻi.

WWII further secured US military presence/expansion in Hawaiʻi with the military painted as ‘necessary’ to ‘protect’ this ‘paradise’.Really, US military presence made Hawaiʻi an active target, resulting in further destruction of the land & seizure of land rights from Kānaka.With Hawaiʻi’s landscape and governance radically changing due to militarization and its status as a territory, Hawaiʻi was eventually (illegally) annexed as a state in 1959.This coincides almost perfectly with the extreme rise in tourism on the islands.In the 60s especially, post-statehood Hawaiʻi was massively marketed to US tourists as a paradise.

With more accessible flights, and the rampant commodification of Hawaiian culture (e.g. surfing, ukelele, etc.), Hawaiian tourism boomed dramatically.Crucial to this expansion in tourism was the co-optation of aloha & the ‘aloha spirit’ of the islands.Aloha, a *large & complex* concept which I’ll loosely translate to ‘reciprocal love’ was used to advertise the islands as an unquestionably welcoming space.Aloha was used to paint Kānaka Maoli as passive & wanting as many guests as possible. Aloha was used to justify taking from the land.

Aloha is *still* weaponized against Kānaka Maoli fighting to protect these lands. I can’t understate the significance of this co-optation.And so, the legacy of the 60s has culminated into Hawaiʻi today: a highly militarized landscape with an economy that prioritizes destructive & exploitative tourists far over the land & Kānaka Maoli.

And the effects are beyond noticeable: the military owns over 1/5 of the land, Hawaiʻi imports ~85% of its foods, Kānaka Maoli experience extremely high rates of criminalization/houselessness/etc., there’s rampant sex trafficking, it's the 'extinction capital of the world', etc.Also, fun fact: Waikīkī is an invented landscape! Once precious marshlands, Waikīkī’s ecosystem was destroyed/urbanized to make room for tourists in the late 20s.Now, Kanaloa & sea level rise threaten to take back this violently constructed tourism hub.

And so why did I share this all? For one, to inform folks on histories of Hawaiʻi they might not know, but also to encourage y’all to think twice about visiting Hawaiʻi.Know the legacy, the violence, you’re contributing to when you visit.Do you need to visit Hawaiʻi? If so, how can you give your time/energy/money to give back to the land & people rather than being just an exploitative tourist?And again, do you *really* need to visit Hawaiʻi? Or do you just wanna fulfill some fantasy of an ‘unspoiled paradise’?

And I write this as a Indigenous settler in Hawaiʻi.Haunani Kay-Trasks’s writings have helped teach me the grave importance of using my positionally as a settler to fight for the lāhui and against settler colonial powers in Hawaiʻi Nei.Also, a critical lesson in this history is the damaging legacy of militarism. Militarization in Hawaiʻi paved the way for its annexation, and for the landscape we have today.

To fight for Hawaiʻi, we have to also commit to a fight against militarism.If you want a reading on this, I recommend Haunani Kay-Trasks’s book From a Native Daughter, as well as her paper Settlers of Color and “Immigrant” Hegemony: “Locals” in Hawaiʻi.Also, check out the book Nā Wāhine Koa: Hawaiian Women for Sovereignty and Demilitarization.And I’d be remiss if I didn’t give a shoutout to all the kiaʻi fighting to protect Mauna a Wakea from further desecration and destruction at the hands of violent colonizers who only seek to take from the land. #KuKiaiMauna #TMTshutdown

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