by Victory Witherkeigh
This is a phrase I’ve heard since I was a small child, sitting on my father’s workbench as he brushed the sand away from his yellow surfboard. It’s been one hundred and twenty-seven years since the United States illegally annexed our islands. They ousted our Queen from her throne at the request of foreign landowners who were interested in the Hawaiian islands for pineapple and sugar. While the damage had long been underway since the British missionaries’ first arrival to our shores, eradicating our languages and culture, this act was the final blow for my fellow mid-Pacificers. For generations, we watched our sacred dances become fodder for travel brochures and posters. Like so many island nations, we buckled under the tourism trap of exploiting our heritage to attract travelers to our shores to spend money. We were the “chop-suey” of the U.S., simmering in anger and festering in rage against the Haole. Over time, we banded together to create pockets where the Haole were unsafe to travel unless another local was with them, taking minor victories where we could.
The tide rolled in and out, year after year as we pushed back against the denial and non-recognition the United States gave Hawaii after its colonial conquest. In 1998, we received a “formal” apology from the government, but not our land back, our Queen again, or our nationhood. We were tired of arguments that went nowhere. Our people debated what sovereignty would look like and how we could interact as a small nation in the middle of the Pacific. We’ve wondered if the decades of trauma and hurt could be forgiven and reworked into something positive for us. Much like the founders of the United States, Hawaii held its own Constitutional Convention in 2016. We were hopeful then — Obama grew up on our islands, had some understanding of what we were fighting for. Then came the elections that fall, and our hope fell silent.
When the first whispers of the pandemic came from the mainland, the Ohana of the island banded together, pushing to keep travelers away. We put quarantine requirements in place to keep travelers trying to escape the disease’s misery on the mainland in their hotel rooms. Those who disobeyed, we dealt with swiftly, dispatching police to arrest and detain any who tried to bring further ruin to our lands. What started at fifteen cases grew to millions. Every day, more news came of the death spreading across the states. We watched the stories of jobless claims rising and cabin fever growing. Pele’s fires burned in the background as the Black Lives Matter movement took hold. This was our chance.
Marches began as word spread about the mainland protests. For the first time in years, discussions about white privilege and systemic racism penetrated the popular culture. Books about anti-racism flew off the shelves. The racism surrounding the virus’ origin story and the ongoing police protests pushed our island’s history of military occupation to the forefront of the conversation. People flooded the streets against fully armored and weaponized police officers, pushing back against the system that had been set up against our brothers and sisters. Night after night, we stood our ground together, standing against police violence: tear gas and rubber bullets. False propaganda called for law and order as the virus numbers climbed.
We let our island push away those who could not withstand the changes. People who fought against science and nature got sick, died slowly, even painfully as we watched. The night watchers and our ancestors seemed to rise as though sent forth from Pele’s fires to wreak vengeance on the mainland. The world watched as the United States, once a dominant world power, fell into ruin and degradation. While the White House raged on about protecting Confederate statues and white power, the people declared a new civil war against those trying to hold us back. We formulated battle plans with our brethren on the mainland — coordinated attacks against the leadership’s food supply chains, targeted water contamination, and time. We waited as the infections spread further and further into the beast’s belly. Those who spouted hateful rhetoric against my brown brothers and sisters watched as Fox News faded into darkness.
We who were left alive rose from the ashes and spoke about the wasteland that once was a nation. Our push for sovereignty was now just a formality being finalized by the new coalition of survivors. World leaders, still locking their borders against the desperate, watched. Land rights returned to Hawaii, North and South Dakota, Arizona, etc. — to each native sovereign. Oil pipeline deals became the new swear words as those who tried to stand for the old system were prosecuted and sent to prison.
The tides still rise and fall just as the sun rises and sets. But Hawaii steps into the future as its own nation once more. Our people look to the ancestors and the gods to make our path. Our schools and teachers have expanded Polynesian history in the curriculum. Ancient Hawaiian, Tahitian, Samoan, and Maori will be taught to students starting in preschool this year. Funds once allocated for tourism have been redistributed towards conservation, and public and mental health. For the first time, we wake up from the violence and lies of the “American” dream into one of our own making. We say to the world: we are a people with “kuleana,” or responsibility, to our land and to our ancestors, and now we honor that responsibility freely.
My father was right. The islands have spoken, calling us home.
Victory Witherkeigh is a female Filipino author originally from Los Angeles, CA. Victory was a finalist for Killer Nashville’s 2020 Claymore Award, an Honoree for Cinnamon Press’s 2020 Literature Award, and Wingless Dreamer’s 2020 Overcoming Fear Short Story award. Her work has appeared in online literary magazines, Allegory Ridge, Bad Bride, Thought Catalog, Masque & Spectacle, For Women Who Roar, Fright Girls Autumn, Mason Street Review Blog. For print media, she has fiction short stories published in Red Planet Magazine, From the Farther Trees, and Pussy Magic Magazine. Her work has been anthologized in the The Hollow Horror Anthology Book #3, as well as in Overcoming Fear, through Breaking Rules Publishing and Wingless Dreamers, respectively.