By Leon Siu

The 1993 observance of the 100th anniversary of the illegal seizure of the Hawaiian Kingdom produced official apologies by the U.S. and expressions of regret by the State of Hawaii. One of the unexpected consequences of these statements of remorse was that it seriously dampened future celebrations of Statehood.

A sense of awkwardness for the offense caused the celebration of statehood to peter out. Since 1993, the only inkling of the event was advertising of “Statehood Day” sales by retailers, and of course, a day off for public workers, schools and banks.

But along comes this pesky 50th anniversary of statehood. The state had to do something! So a Statehood Celebration Commission was dutifully formed and a budget of $250,000 provided to preen and gloat over this jubilee.

The commission started with big dreams, but along the way, perhaps feeling a tinge of guilt, the commission decided to downplay its celebration to accommodate those (native Hawaiians and others) who have come to regard the State of Hawaii as a usurper, a fake state.

The commission decided to call the 50th anniversary a “commemoration” rather than a “celebration” to be, in the words of commission-member, the late Ah Quon McElrath, “sensitive to those who have opposed statehood.” It was a noble gesture of showing some restraint while rubbing salt into this open wound.

Then, instead of having the main public event at Iolani Palace (the scene of the delirious 1959 celebration), they decided to hold the festivities on the grounds of the State Capitol. That way they avoid a possibly embarrassing confrontation with Hawaiians who regard the palace as a sacrosanct symbol of their nation stolen and now occupied.

(An attempt two years ago to have a small statehood celebration at Iolani Palace was disrupted and frustrated by Hawaiian protestors.)

As it approached, the March 18 “commemoration” at the State Capitol kept being scaled down. It got to being so low-key that it was in essence, a secret meeting. The event on March 18 was an hour-and-a-half long program of introductions, songs and congratulatory speeches in the chamber of the House of Representatives, where public attendance could be strictly limited and controlled by a small army of state sheriffs.

The only outward signs that a statehood “commemoration” was underway was a navy band playing American patriotic Souza marches in the rotunda, and two air-guard jets in a fly-by, just before the house chamber ceremonies began.

That was it! That was the extent of what was expected to be the grand 50th anniversary public celebration/commemoration of statehood. The next public event, scheduled for Statehood Day, August 21, is… a seminar!

The fifty or so who went to the capitol with messages of “FAKE STATE,” “A HISTORY OF THEFT,” “HAWAIIAN INDEPENDENCE,” in orderly, peaceful demonstration completely stole the show. By retreating and hiding out in the chambers for their celebration/commemoration, the state had “sensitively” left the capitol, the rotunda, the steps, the entire exterior, open to the voices of opposition.

Thus, to the public — the tourists visiting the capitol grounds, the people in passing cars, the legislative staff peering over the railings, the deputy sheriffs, the local and international press looking for pictures and sound bites — the distinct message that day was: “the State of Hawaii is a Fake State.” It was all over the internet, MSNBC, even in far off India; “Hawaii is a Fake State!”

What was intended to be the big 50th anniversary celebration was completely co-opted for the exact opposite message than the State of Hawaii intended.

Leon Siu is the Minister of Foreign Affairs for Ke Aupuni O Hawaii, the Hawaiian Kingdom, and has served in that capacity since 2000.