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  • Gateway State: Hawai‘i and the Cultural Transformation of American Empire by Sarah Miller-Davenport
  • JoAnna Poblete
Gateway State: Hawai‘i and the Cultural Transformation of American Empire. By Sarah Miller-Davenport. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2019. xii + 277 pp. Appendices. Notes. Sources. Index. Illustrated. $35.00 cloth

Sarah Miller-Davenport has written a monograph that inserts continental U.S. ideas and images about the perceived multiculturalism and racial harmony of Hawai‘i into mainland U.S. social, political, cultural, and economic struggles in the post-World War II period. Various stereotypes about the culture and practices of people living in this archipelago became integrated into American initiatives of tourism, international diplomacy, and the creation of social stability during the tense and tumultuous times of civil rights, power movements, and the Cold War. Gateway State explains how “postwar liberal multiculturalism was developed in Hawai‘i as a tool of global power, and then embraced, reformulated, and contested by ordinary Americans (pp. 6–7).”

In general, the central arguments of most chapters in this book cover ideas previously studied and discussed about Hawai‘i, particularly within Asian American and Pacific Islander Studies, such as debates over statehood analyzed in chapter one, the use of multiculturalism in Hawai‘i as a pro-U.S. government tool for the Cold War examined in chapter three, U.S. tourism in Hawai‘i discussed in chapter four, the commodification of exotified Hawaiian culture detailed in chapter five, and Native Hawaiian protest movements summarized in the epilogue. However, this text does provide some interesting new insights to and examples of American uses and meanings of this multi-racial society in the middle of the Pacific Ocean that became the 50th state of the union in 1959. In chapter two, Miller-Davenport highlighted the ways inter-racial relations in Hawai‘i provided members of the African American Civil Rights Movement inspirational ideals and connections. In particular, the postwar black press often framed Hawai‘i society “as a rebuke to mainland race relations. A consistent trope was the notion that Hawai‘i could serve as a racial refuge—a haven for African Americans who were tired of the daily struggle on the mainland (p. 59).” In chapter four, a specific focus on the uses of Hawai‘i for rest and recreation among married military men and their families also complicates the picture of general tourism to Hawai‘i at this time. Chapter five helps to nuance understandings of the Hawaiiana culture craze in the 1960s and 1970s, particularly on the U.S. West Coast, by detailing aspects such as the substitution of Asian-style food, such as Japanese sushi and Chinese flavors and preparations, as more palatable than traditional Hawaiian food, like poi, in the rise and popularity of Polynesian cookbooks, high-end restaurants and backyard luaus in white suburbs. Those interested [End Page 198] in the history of the East-West Center and the development of ethnic studies at the University of Hawai‘i at Mänoa may also find chapters three and six of interest. In fact, this monograph provides strong continental U.S. context for initiatives and events in Hawai‘i throughout the text. For example, in chapter six, Miller-Davenport noted how “Ethnic studies activists in Hawai‘i were part of this broader national turn toward local and community concerns and toward distinct identities”(p. 195) in the context of the “crisis of authority” (p. 193) over the Vietnam War.

Overall, Gateway State is a narrative about continental U.S. experiences, needs, and events with connections to a variety of outsider imaginaries about Hawai‘i’s multicultural society. Images, stereotypes, and ideas about Hawai‘i, that were often inaccurate, impacted continental U.S. developments in American tourism, international diplomacy during the Cold War, domestic racial projects, and U.S. popular culture. [End Page 199]

JoAnna Poblete
Associate Professor of History
Claremont Graduate University


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