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Why Hawaii is not Quite Paradise

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One of the United States’ 50 states, Hawaii, is known for its beautiful sceneries and full of natural environments. Due to its geographical location, located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, Hawaii is fascinating enough to attract tourists and discover a long history and culture of Hawaii. However, the story behind Hawaii is quite ambivalent. Looking back at the history of Hawaii, as a result of globalization and expansion of capitalism, U.S had overthrown the Hawaii Kingdom in 1893 to convert Hawaii as an economic extraction for U.S capitalist and to seek greater opportunity to colonize East Asia and Pacific islands. Ever since then, indigenous people in Hawaii were bound to make living through tourism due to limited job opportunities and they are still struggling for the independence of Hawaii. Similarly, there are countless unwelcome consequences of capitalism throughout the world. The expansion of the United States’ under the patriotic commitment and justification provoked by the ideal “Manifest Destiny” made the country one of the powerful and dominant nations by utilizing the geographical location of the Pacific. However, the expansion of U.S capitalism rooted in colonialism and imperialism during the 19th century stigmatized as key actor of devastation of Native American communities in the North America and perpetuated the relationship of dominance and subordination in economically and socially over the pacific islanders and East Asia nations, deteriorating cultural conflicts and wealth polarization throughout the world.

To begin with, Native Americans have had productive lands over North America throughout long history. Rather than commodifying and destructing the natural environment and considering the land as “divine right” “exclusive possession of man”, they tried to conserve nature as a gift from god and approached harmonization between human and nature far off from the colonist point of view. Meanwhile, the madness of Western European powers throughout the world was prevailing and expanding their influences. For this reason, Americans decided to focus on expanding their powers toward the west to attain economic and political independence from their mother country, Britain. In the article “Transatlantic and Transpacific Connections in Early American History”, Yokota emphasizes the importance of expansion to the west. She states, “Long before the tenets of Manifest Destiny were formally articulated, ambitious individuals were looking westward from their settlements along the East Coast and imagining a sovereign territory that would eventually span the entire North American continent and thus connect Asia and Europe”. Under the justifiable belief that it is inevitable to rationalize the annihilation of the indigenous Indians from their homelands, their desire to play a role as a connection between Atlantic and Pacific trade not only completely deprived the freedom of indigenous people to live but also exploited them as cheap labor. Thus, it clearly shows how amplified capitalism brainwashed colonialist and imperialist to think of indigenous people as an uneducated, lascivious and unassimilable group and European powers as the admiration of achievement of capitalism, whereas Native Americans experience colonial violence which was not their choice but compulsion at the expense of conducting settler colonialism and extractive colonialism.

Next, as shown above, the importance of transpacific trade was significantly emphasized in the American expansion to strengthen their economic and political position between world powers. Before American colonials gained independence from Great Britain, they surely recognized that diminishing dependence of imports from the British was the solution to relieve the struggling economy of the nation. Britain’s taxation policies and regulatory practices towards tea rendered economic conflicts between British and American colonials escalated into a peak. Consequently, American colonials intrude on Hawaii Island and extend their influence to the East Asia – China, Japan, Korea, and the Philippines. At the same time, East Asia nations had been in political turmoil with government corruption, abuses, and taxes during the 19th century. American colonials were enthusiastic about the trade with East Asia nations because of their lucrative product, “tea”. According to the book “Beyond Hawai’i: Native Labor in the Pacific World” written by Gregory Rosenthal, the importance of Hawaii was on the rise to maximize their benefits:

All of these world powers – China, Russia, Britain, the United States – were simultaneously dependent on Hawai’i. There were no sea otters in Hawaiian waters, but Hawai’i had provisions. To get sea otter furs across the great ocean, foreign traders needed a midway rest stop: they needed a place where they could acquire fresh fruits and vegetables, freshwater, and labor. The late [eighteenth century] transpacific fur-and-tea trade was intimately dependent on Hawaiian labor and Hawaiian resources. . . . By one scholar’s reckoning, as many as forty-five ships visited Hawai’i in the years between 1786 and 1800. 

Geographically, because Hawaii is located in the middle of the vast Pacific Ocean, most of the world powers were completely bewitched by Hawaii’s economic potential of dominating a direct route to China. This chaotic movement disturbed indigenous Hawaiian societies and rendered them to rush into capitalism. Gradually, salt and sandalwood were favored products to capitalists and countless indigenous people had to work to supply the demand of the global market. Eventually, due to the insufficient labor which was not enough to cover worlds’ demand, in the nineteenth century, massive Asian workers rushed into Hawaii for capitalists’ tropical plantations. In the case of China, after the Opium war defeated by the British, they were the first victims of experiencing violence of capitalism on a large scale. The author of “American History Unbound Asians and Pacific Islanders”, Gary Y. Okihiro, explains:

Plantation owners preferred young, strong laborers to extract maximum possible labor for their money. Most migrant labor contracts stipulated ten hours of labor per day, with twenty-six working days per month. Of the 6,894 Chinese contract workers in Hawaii 1895-97, almost half were under twenty-five years old and nearly all under thirty-five. Opium, pushed by British colonizers in China, was legal in Hawai’i at the time and widely used by the men working on plantations. 

The colonists abused Chinese workers to maximize their wealth compelling workers to manual labor under the contract term and live in barracks with six to forty men in a room. This horrible treat not only encourages workers to have a mind to rebel but also to seek relaxation abusing Opium. Even the colonists tried to separate workers and diversified worker groups to eliminate further rebellion. Besides China, other aforementioned nations had suffered different forms of labor exploitation, but they all share a common point in a pattern – capitalism owing to wealth polarization or warfare deliberately dislocated East Asians from their home country and coerced into the workforce by taking over economic and military superior position which may seem like interdependent relationship; however, in the long run, this indicates a dependent relationship between core and periphery nations. Since considerable immigrants came to U.S and Hawaii to seek economic opportunities, cultural and societal assimilation into the community has happened automatically. Ultimately, this led to another conflict that Asian migrants wanted to be U.S citizenship, yet they did not fulfill the racial categorization of natural white.

To sum up, although expanding a nation in the nineteenth century was an inevitable part of history, it cannot be emphasized enough that capitalism and imperialism have brought about the unrecoverable situation throughout the world. In contemporary society, it is impossible to justify taking the land from other countries simply abusing the military powers. However, one can argue that indeed America is still continuously and unconsciously extending the influence of capitalism and imperialism whether it is direct or not. To relieve the danger of rapidly growing capitalism, not just the U.S., global society necessarily has to pay attention to the history of the past and provision of the future.

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