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  • Diasporic Deracination and "Off-Island" Hawaiians
  • J Kēhaulani Kauanui (bio)

In 1894, a year after the US-backed overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom,1 August Jean Baptise Marques—a French physician and founder ofthe Portuguese-language newspaper O Luso Hawaiiano—published an article in the Journal of the Polynesian Society titled "The Population of the Hawaiian Islands," which asked in its subtitle, "Is the Hawaiian aDoomed Race?" (Marques 1894, 23). In answering that question, ­Marques focused on important topics needing further consideration at the time: the rapid depopulation of "full-blood" Hawaiians and underestimated counts of the so-called half-castes, whose numbers actually were increasing. He surmised that "this race was...condemned to utter extinc­tion in a very short lapse of time, an idea repeated as a certain fact of many would-be authorities who ought to know better...the broad notion of the impending extinction of the Hawaiian race is, to say the least, premature." Furthermore, Marques argued, "it is quite safe to conclude that the mere point, that the foreigner happens to outnumber the native, cannot allow the former any just preponderance over the latter, nor does it diminish the native's sovereignty." He also noted that such eager notions about the decline of the Hawaiian population in the Islands did "not allow for any estimate of loss from emigration." Marques described "emigration" as "the most obscure factor of Hawaiian decrease, about which one can proceed only by conjectures, as all available official statistics fail to throw the faintest lights on it, and no documents are known to exist, by which the numbers of aborigines could be ascertained, who did leave the country at any time, whether to return or not" (1894, 256–258, 263).

Today, over a century after the publication of Marques's article, Hawai­ians are facing very similar issues—deracination linked to issues of movement, migration, different forms of outnumbering, and the appropriation [End Page 138] of their Native positionality.2 To deracinate is to displace a people from their own territory, place, or environment—literally, to uproot. This is anenduring problem for off-island Hawaiians, because forms of Hawai­ian deracination are produced through out-migration from Hawai'i and Hawai­ian diaspora.3 On one hand, there is a common misunderstanding that any and all who once lived in Hawai'i are, therefore, "Hawaiian." On the other hand, when Hawaiians who have never lived in Hawai'i identify themselves as Hawaiian and invoke their specific connections, the politics of reception is often such that the listener will expect them to have been "born there." The confusion between (or conflation of) Native­ness and nativity is persistent and often defended on the grounds that "Hawaiian" is a term similar to "Californian" (as a state residency designation). However, people seem to have varied investments in such configurations of Hawaiianness that go beyond mere nomenclature. Related to this is the common declaration, "In Hawai'i, they're all mixed anyhow," which is, too often, extended to the notion that "[therefore], they're all Hawaiian"—or worse, that there are no Hawaiians (left) at all.

In an attempt to address this predicament, I focus here on what I consider to be three linked factors that contribute to this process of deracination, as defined above. The first is the invisibility of off-island Hawaiians—to each other, to Hawaiians in Hawai'i, and to non-Hawaiians both in Hawai'i and on the North American continent. This invisibility has self-reproducing effects and stems from a lack of baseline knowledge about Hawaiian history and presence outside of Hawai'i. The second factor is the appropriation of Hawaiian identity by non-Hawaiians, especially those who refer to themselves as Hawaiian once they have left Hawai'i. The third factor comprises the overdetermined narratives about Hawaiian race mixing, which would have Hawaiians disappear to become just another racial minority without sovereignty rights attached to indigeneity or prior, unextinguished nationhood status.4 Notions of Hawaiian racial hybridity are not merely descriptive nods to the fact that the 2000 US Census confirmed that Hawaiians are a diverse people, where approximately two-thirds...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-9464
Print ISSN
1043-898X
Pages
pp. 138-160
Launched on MUSE
2007-01-17
Open Access
No
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