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The US in HAWAII, the PHILIPPINES and LATIN AMERICA in the 1920s (1 of 6)

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The US in Hawaii, the Philippines and Latin America

Territory of Hawaii | Rule in the Philippines | The US and Cuba | Marines to Honduras | Intervention in Nicaragua | Good American Neighbors

Territory of Hawaii

By the 1920s, the number of full-blooded Polynesians in Hawaii was only 25,000, down from 40,000 in 1900 and 300,000 in 1800. Whites were in political control of the Hawaiian Islands. The descendants of the missionaries had become owners of large tracts of land and had become dominant in sugar growing. It was they who in 1893 had engineered the coup that overthrew Hawaii's last ruling monarch, Queen Liliuokalani, and it was they who had crushed the armed response by Hawaiians that had soon followed.

The official US annexation of the Hawaiian Islands had come on June 14, 1900. Hawaii had become a US territory and Hawaiians had become US citizens with full civil rights, including the right to vote for anyone over twenty-one who could speak, read and write either English or Hawaiian.

With the right to vote, a  Hawaiian political party developed – the Home Rule Party – whose slogan was "look to the skin," and soon after the annexation they became the overwhelming majority in both houses of Hawaii's legislature. Acting to preserve Hawaiian culture, they passed a law that would have made the Hawaiian version of witch doctors licensed physicians, but the US-appointed governor-general of Hawaii, Sanford B. Dole, vetoed it.

The white establishment fought against Hawaiian power in other ways. Using wine and women, they overcame the shame of their missionary forebears and managed to seduce a Hawaiian prince, Jonah Kuhio (called Prince Cupid by the whites), to switch from the Home Rule Party into the Republican Party. Prince Kuhio had a darker skin than the leader of the Home Rule Party, Robert Wilcox, who was half white, and Prince Kuhio enjoyed the prestige of being Hawaiian royalty. Wilcox lost to the prince in his appeals for support, and Prince Kuhio succeeded Wilcox as Hawaii's delegate to Washington and as the nominal political leader in Hawaii. Prince Kuhio was able to lead enough Hawaiian voters from the Home Rule Party to the Republican Party that the Republican Party became dominant in the islands. It controlled Hawaii's legislative and executive branches of government – a success aided by workers on plantations having been intimidated into voting solidly Republican.

Prince Kuhio hoped to build Hawaii's Republican Party into a political instrument for Hawaiians. His slogan was "Hawaii for the Hawaiians," but by 1920 the Hawaiian islands were filled with Chinese, Portuguese, Japanese and Filipinos who had come to work on the plantations. The Hawaiians did not like plantation work. They preferred to cultivate their own little taro patches in the coolest hours of the day.

By the twenties, pineapple growing had become a part of the economy, and tourism had grown. Hawaiians had been doing well enough on their diminished properties, but many had migrated away from their fishing villages into urban areas – mainly to Honolulu's poorest neighborhoods. Some of them worked at government jobs or as stevedores. And some contracted those diseases common in the poorer areas of town, diseases such as tuberculosis and syphilis, and the death rate of these Hawaiians was twice that of Hawaiians living outside the city.

The influx of white tourists and a few white settlers made the old white establishment nervous. But tourism was good business and tourist money was needed for buying goods from the mainland and necessary for a balance of payments with the mainland. In 1925, at Waikiki Beach, the pink Royal Hawaiian Hotel was built, eclipsing a couple of smaller hotels there. Honolulu now had paved streets. Pineapple canneries were along its waterfront and what had been a small port town during the nineteenth century was now a center of trans-Pacific commerce between the Americas and the East.

There had been a belief among the white establishment in Hawaii that the Japanese migrants would never assimilate – part of an old belief that the East was East and the West was West and never would the twain meet. But the sons and daughters of immigrant labor, Japanese, Chinese, Filipino and others, had become Americanized by attending public schools, creating a generation gap with their parents. What Hitler feared would happen with his country's weakness – an interbreeding among people of different races – would now increase in Hawaii. People living in the Hawaiian islands were becoming a blend of peoples.

Copyright © 1998-2014 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.