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Episode 48: Statehood and Americanization with Walter Ritte

In March of 1959 huge headlines across the Islands carried the news: Statehood! Five months later, on August 21, the United States declared Hawai‘i its fiftieth state. The Cold War was raging and the US was trumpeting capitalism across the globe. In Hawai‘i that added even more currency to the idea that land was simply one more commodity to be bought and sold. Walter Ritte of Moloka‘i, who fifteen years after statehood would help lead a David-and-Goliath fight against the U.S. military’s bombing of Kaho‘olawe, remembers being a boy in those days.

“Prior to the 1970s, there was a plan to make us all Americans, to make us all become a melting pot, that’s the term that was used and taught to us in school: We’re all going to melt into this one thing called Americans.”

Kaho‘olawe, says Ritte, stopped that.

“Kaho‘olawe became a Hawaiian issue. It was Hawaiians trying to protect the land from dying, it was Hawaiians trying to protect all of the cultural resources that were being bombed daily by the military. It was as if we could see ourselves being killed as far as our culture, so this movement became like the bottom of the well and from then on the fall was going to stop and it was going to turn everything around and we were going to become Hawaiians, we were going to become viable and alive again. That was the feeling of Kaho?olawe.”

researcher, writter, and narrator of Aloha Aina. She is currently an editor at Hawai‘i’s largest magazine, Hana Hou!, where she has written and edited numerous award-winning articles about Hawai‘i. She was the founding editor of Honolulu Weekly. She holds a BA in Pacific history and journalism from the University of Hawai‘i at Mänoa and a JD from Stanford Law School.
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