What does American liberty mean? It depends on whom you ask. While Independence Day is a joyful celebration for many Americans, for some Native Hawaiians, it is a painful reminder of the loss of sovereignty.
This July Fourth, Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu won’t be celebrating American freedom from Britain. She’ll be commemorating the loss of her ancestors’ independence at the hands of Americans.
As Americans gather in backyards and public parks around the United States, Ms. Wong-Kalu will be performing at the ʻIolani Palace, the cultural heart of Honolulu. There, she will be portraying Hawaii’s Queen Liliʻuokalani, who was imprisoned in the palace during the 1893 overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom by American businessmen and plantation owners. Within five years, the U.S. government annexed the islands, setting the stage for Hawaii to become the 50th U.S. state in 1959.
But Ms. Wong-Kalu doesn’t feel much like an American. She is first and foremost a Kanaka Maoli, or Native Hawaiian.
“I feel a sense of duty and obligation to Hawaii because Hawaii is my homeland,” she says. “It is the heart of my existence. This is the part of my life that is my dominant identity.”
Connecting with that identity has not always been easy for Native Hawaiians. And for some, America’s Independence Day is a reminder of that separation from their heritage.
Today, Ms. Wong-Kalu works to inspire young Native Hawaiians to learn about their cultural roots as a kumu, or teacher.
Kumu Hina, as she is known throughout Hawaii, splits her time between correctional facilities and local schools, where she promotes the Hawaiian values of aloha: love, honor, and respect.
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