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  • Rennie Mau

No More Chinaman’s Hat

Rennie Mau, Hawaii PAAM Moderator, Pastor of Ewa Community Church

I had a knee-jerk reaction when I was invited to write a short article on the present “Stop the Hate” situation happening in America and in Hawaii. I do not feel that a “Reader’s Digest” version of the issues and concerns could be addressed adequately. But I do hope in this short report to convey a needed perspective on AAPI hate. There may be various reasons for the hate attacks. But I would like to share one opinion perspective WHY of “Asian Settler Colonialism.”

Settler Colonialism is a relatively new field of multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary research, involving areas like history, law, genocide studies, indigenous, colonial and postcolonial studies, anthropology, historical geography, economics, politics, sociology, international relations, political science, literary criticism, cultural and gender studies and philosophy. As a college professor teaching on these subjects it has been a painful process researching and finding the false or romanticized narratives and half-truths I have grown up with in Hawaii and also in our Hawaiian church history.

I have Polynesian blood, but most of my bloodline is Chinese “Hakka” from my father and “Lungdu” from my mother. My Asian American side goes back five generations! I feel I can talk about this from an AAPI perspective.

My Asian ancestors like many immigrants and migrants came to America seeking a better life. Unfortunately, most never asked permission of the indigenous natives of the land to enter. Many were escaping harsh poverty, hunger, refugee and asylum status. Some came because our Hawaii ali’i had arranged and invited contract laborers - so we don’t say they were uninvited. But many came with little or no knowledge of the local indigenous people. Settler colonialism addresses this failure in protocol. It would be likened to me walking into your home and opening your refrigerator and helping myself to whatever was inside and making your home my home. Currently, Hawaii PAAM has partnered with PJRC (Pacific Justice and Reconciliation Center) to host a six-week book study on “Unsettling Truths: The Ongoing Dehumanizing legacy of the Doctrine of Discovery.” We are reminded that the Doctrine of Discovery “papal bulls” were a series of ecclesiastical documents used to colonize and de-power and de-humanize indigenous people.

Settler colonialism erases local history and culture. For instance, I grew up on the Windward side of Oahu learning about “Chinaman’s Hat” but decades later I learned of the true name and story of Mokoli’i Island. With the military and plantation era . . . much of Native cultures and name places were erased. Much of the land was bulldozed over. Today many community neighborhoods and businesses are owned by Asian entities. The cost of living here continues to escalate because of “investors.” At neighborhood community based meetings have you ever heard a local person ask a newcomer. . . . “Are you going to be a life-long resident or a short-term investor?”

I often hear of the need for immigrants/migrants to “assimilate” to the American (Western) way. Settler colonialism doesn’t acknowledge or chooses to not know the local indigenous people history, culture, education systems, etc. If anything - it usually wants to commercialize the culture or use it for “marketing” purposes. Short term “buzz words” or proof texting Hawaiian concepts to silence even our kupuna. The kanaka maoli share aloha with all. But some have taken advantage of that aloha. The “model minority myth” of Asians has been used to shame and demean. We heard about it growing up - that the immigrants are the ones who can come and make something for themselves and their children because the local natives are too lazy to study and work. Underlying all of this is a deep and hidden resentment and anger by local people towards other immigrant/migrant groups who do not seem to appear “successful” according to colonizer standards. People of color are pitted against each other for a piece of the left-over pies. Often this is an intentional distraction as the privileged continue their greed to gain more while people of color duke it out and gain less.

Whereas some complain about white privilege - we must be able to talk about the elephant in the room - of Asian privilege - especially in Hawaii. In the States we hear of the Asian mom-and-pop groceries stores in people of color neighborhoods. In Hawaii - Asian privilege is in almost all facets of government, insurance, health care, education, legal court system, banking systems, grocery stores, agriculture, and even in church governance.

I am going to stop here as I know some of you may think I am being racist. There is no excuse for physical harm or hate on AAPI or on any person no matter what color. But as we ask the questions WHY is there this hate or sense of battle between the haves and the have-nots. . . . we must go back to one of the root causes - “settler colonialism.”

Hawaii PAAM endeavors to help our immigrants/migrants - many who are themselves AAPI to not just “start in the middle” but to learn from the beginning about Hawaii and to have respect for the local indigenous people and cultures. We must acknowledge the first nations people. The Chinese diaspora all over the world are encountering this challenge.

Hawaii PAAM also seeks to give voice and comfort to those who do not understand the “systems of privilege and racism” so pervasive in Hawaii. Paternalism and benevolent parent systems exist and continue to be fostered on many levels. The new norm - “equality/equity” must not be a fad, but the norm. We are the United and Uniting Church of Christ. But too often our experience has been the opposite.

A challenge is brewing for redress, reconciliation and restoration. One example on Oahu is the issue on the renaming of McKinley High School back to its original name of Honolulu High School. But that’s another article - but I briefly mention it because it will become front and center soon. And we pray that it doesn’t become racially ethnically contentious. But presently the debate in the Hawaii State capitol and social media is about addressing the false narratives of the Treaty of Annexation - and much of the divide has been among Asian privilege lines.

In Deuteronomy 28, the people of the land can choose to be “Blessed or Cursed.” The scripture speaks of the people of the land being the “head” and not the “tail.” The foreigners came and became the head. But now is the time to “huli” that.

Indeed, there are many reasons for “Hate towards Asians and Pacific Islanders that are not related to “Settler Colonialism”. But perhaps now is a time to start at the base foundation for real healing to take place. Time for the 3 R’s to be lifted up: Redress, Reconciliation, and Restoration.

We renounce the false narratives and instead reclaim the historical narratives of the people of the land. No more calling it “China Man’s Hat!”

For more on “Asian Settler Colonialism” join or follow our Hawaii PAAM Facebook Group for upcoming workshops, articles, and publications.

(An excerpt of this article was originally published in the May 2021 issue of The Friend.)


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