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Lovely Hula Hands Essay

Trask’s object of study is the historical and contemporary American popular conception of Hawaii, Native Hawaiians, and Native Hawaiian issues, such as rights, sovereignty, tourism, and institutional racism. Trask primarily interrogates the issues of colonialism, neocolonialism, and sovereignty in Hawai‘i and how these debates are framed in disparate contexts/around different foci; Hawaiian nationalist, cultural, international human rights, Oceania, tourist, and academic (ie. Historian, anthropologist, American studies).

Trask’s key research questions are answered with powerful, persuasive, and cogent expertise made both accessible sans intellectual jargon and intimate by her personal herstory of colonialism and sovereignty struggles in Hawai‘i. To her credit, Trask pulls no punches in telling of struggles for hegemony and the legacies of violence preserved in everything from images of bombed aina, to institutional racism and sexism in our own American Studies department(! ), to the “lovely hula hands” of dusky, dancing Hawaiian maidens that are drooled over in international imaginations.

Doing so, Trask participates in many important practical and theoretical debates, and writes purposefully and passionately against the continued violence against her land and people beyond mere consciousness-raising and, reasonably, on the offense. What is interesting about Trask’s writing is her clarity. She tells tourists not to visit, Hawaiians not to practice their indigenous culture peripherally, historians to be more self-reflexive, and haole’s to unpack their knapsacks of white privilege and colonial histories.

It is also clear what is at stake in her interrogations and resolutions; the survival of Native Hawaiian people, rights, culture, and lands. Trask’s text, in presentation, appears more like a collection of journalistic articles and essays than a singular sustained argument around a specific cultural “text”. For this reason, it is somewhat unclear in what ways we should answer her call for change first and most importantly. An advantage of this organization, however, is the ability of her text to speak “from a native daughter” perspective to a multitude of audiences, interdisciplinarily, across many different aforementioned debates.

Trask’s text in its entirety is very appropriate for this week’s discussion on identity politics and there are many strands of Trask’s text that piqued my interest. Her coverage of Hawaiian history and historiography helped enrich my sensitivity of how Hawai‘i is conceived in my own studies. When I am to write my histories, what audiences will I be writing for? Will it be through an inherently Western lens for the consumption of Western eyes/consumption? How does one avoid this? Did Trask succeed in avoiding this?

I appreciated Trask’s writing on the New World Order and her resistance to cultural uniformity. Trask’s reading of hegemonies in Hawaii is a good contrast to other overly-economically-deterministic readings of Pacific-Rim discourse (see Arif Dirlik’s “The Asia-Pacific Idea: Reality and Representations in the Invention of a Regional Structure”). I enjoyed Trask’s discussion of local leaders, politicians, and academics in regards to mana and Hawaiian culture because it re-situated my perception of the continuing complicitous and counterhegemonic efforts of contemporary individuals.

I was introduced to the context of international human rights versus civil rights approaches to Hawaiian sovereignty and American domestic policy at large. Trask’s dismantling of the arguments against Hawaiian sovereignty seem like good models, or at the very least inspiration, for further works counterarguing in theory and application existing conditions that preserve inequality and colonial legacy (i. e. gay and lesbian liberation movement, etc. ) I found Trask’s discussion on academic institutional racism, sexism, and the white hegemony on campus to be critical for my personal academic and professional journeys.

Although she includes her definition on racism, I would have liked to know how Trask conceives of “race” and “racial ideology” in Hawai‘i as it has changed throughout pre-haole until present times. It seems, how Native Hawaiians, missionaries, businessmen, and various government officials usage of race or similar concepts would be an important approach to understanding its legacy relative to dominant/marginal ideologies/hegemonies (i. e. colonial, gender, sexual, cultural, and such. ).

Moreover, how do we, as students and educators, continue to facilitate/obstruct the further unpacking of white privilege on UH campus? It might seem audacious to ask, but out of curiosity, how have racism and sexism changed/persisted on campus/in our department, since Trask’s hiring events? It seems like there was an individual and collective element to the discrimination Trask experienced, how does this help us be more self-reflexive of our complicity in maintaining hegemonies? How have institutional policies/practices been changed (or not) protecting from such events re-occurring?

Relevant to more recent events in our department, is it comparable to question heterosexual privilege? To analogize Trask’s rhetoric, how can beneficiaries of heterosexual privilege come to see that homophobia is not only a matter of sexuality but of history and power? It seems this leads to more questions our class will have to discuss. Is the preferable approach one of common interest to enable coalition building across identities or one of episodic gains within different particular sites of struggle?


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