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Politics // Mostly Politics
Dan Boylan

History That Shaped Modern Hawaii

In 1961, Harcourt, Brace and World published Hawaii Pono: A Social History by Lawrence H. Fuchs. “One of the major purposes of this book is to celebrate Hawaii,” Fuchs wrote in his preface. ” … In the Islands, people of many races and cultures … offer the world’s best example of dynamic social democracy.” Hawaii pono, Fuchs told his readers, meant Hawaii “right or excellent.”

Overstated? Perhaps, but compared to the Mainland at mid-century, Hawaii’s multi-ethnic society must have looked good to a Mainland scholar. Throughout the American South, churches and KKK-constructed crosses burned, public facilities remained segregated and poll taxes blocked blacks from voting.

As much Hawaii dazzled Fuchs, however, it did not blind him. The Brandeis University professor brought with him a scholar’s objectivity and dispassion. And he knew when he penned his preface that people would be offended: “Many readers may infer criticism from my words, because history, dealing with real people and events, like a painting, inevitably judges what it depicts.

“It troubles me to realize that some individuals may be hurt because words they spoke or things they did many years ago are related in these pages. But a man who vigorously opposed labor unions in the 1920s or who was a Communist in the 1930s should not be judged by the standards of the 1960s.”

In his first chapter, Fuchs offered a 36-page history of Hawaii through Annexation. Then he turned to an ethnic portrait of the Islands in the prewar period, beginning with the haoles, a socially insulated elite of missionary descendants who were “Born to Rule.”

A chapter on the Hawaiians followed. They knew both “Pilikia and Aloha,” pilikia in Honolulu ghettoes and rural poverty; aloha that they willingly spread among the ethnic groups with whom they lived and intermarried.

The Chinese who came to work Hawaii’s sugar plantations knew urban ghettoes as well. They packed Honolulu’s Chinatown in the 19th century, but through industry, thrift, intermarriage and ethnic cohesiveness “Success, Pake Style” resulted in their dispersion throughout the community.

Japanese constituted 40 percent of Hawaii’s population in 1958 when Fuchs conducted his interviews. They too came to work the plantations. The Japanese clung to their customs, organized the first major labor strike in 1909, and sent for picture brides to maintain their ethnic homogeneity and fill the Territory’s schools with children.

The Gentlemen’s Agreement ended the importation of Japanese workers in 1907. Filipinos supplanted them. They were, wrote Fuchs, “Strangers and Afraid,” bachelors who longed for their homeland and their eventual return to the barrio.

Fuchs’s devoted five long and detailed chapters of his book to “The Web of Oligarchy” – how the haole elite used political manipulation, union-busting, interlocking directorates and monopoly to control Island life.

But the oligarchy couldn’t last. “The Dynamics of Democracy” found their origins in progressive education, demographics and labor militancy. Successful sugar and dock strikes in the late 1940s empowered Island labor, and the children of Asian immigrants, educated in public schools and tempered by World War II, provided the numbers that remade Island politics.

“Hawaii illustrates the nation’s revolutionary message of equality of opportunity for all, regardless of background, color or religion,” Fuchs wrote. “This is the promise of Hawaii, a promise for the entire nation and, indeed, the world, that people of different races and creeds can live together, enriching each other, in harmony and democracy.”

Larry Fuchs died recently at his home in Canton, Mass., at age 86. His Hawaii Pono: A Social History, required reading for anyone who would understand this place, is out of print.

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