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The golden anniversary, the golden jubilee, the semi centennial: fifty years marking the span of time observed across generations; embraced as a once-in-a-lifetime occasion, the half century is a moment of both introspection and auspicious celebration.

Marking fifty years of Hawaiʻi statehood, 2009 is the first milestone in which a mature understanding of our civic and personal achievements can be presented as U.S. citizens, afforded with the full rights and protections guaranteed under our Constitution. Those who had been there, having participated or witnessed the change from territory to state, can now, with the hindsight of the last half-century, soberly reflect upon the benefits or disadvantages of statehood.  What stories do our kupuna, our parents and grandparents evoke as they describe the events of the last fifty years, events in the world, in the islands, of family, work, and home?

Stepping on the hems of her dress, a woman approaching her 70th birthday is in the kitchen muscling the 25-pound bag of rice, forcing room for the bulk of paper towels she purchased at Costco. The back door yawns on its hinges and a young boy shuffles in.

 “Eh, Tutu, they going tear down Arakawa’s!” he shouts as he turns the volume down on the TV.

Wedging the paper towels between the rice and the wall, a crevice previously reserved for the dog food, Grandma responds in disbelief,  “Keiki, who told you that?  That’s one landmark building that's why. They cannot knock ‘em down.”

The young boy empties his pockets on the table, scattering loose change from sand. “Tutu,” he asks, collecting the coins, “Tell me what you was doing when you was there then.”

Tutu’s discussion of the last fifty years suggests that it’s not all that long ago.  It was the year she was married, that’s all.  Chronicling her days as a young wife, a mother, working as cashier, then manager at Arakawa’s, she describes the yearly rooster crowing contests alongside the assassination of President Kennedy or Martin Luther King. 1959 does not seem so far off, not any further than governor John Burns, a man landing on the moon, or Watergate, events observed while working just off Waipahu Depot Road.

Before statehood, the attack on Pearl Harbor, WWII, martial law, and labor strikes, seem distant. Tutu was just a little girl then and those stories were not her stories.  Her stories of going to the beach, luaus, church and school, all the aunties and cousins that came to live with them off and on, were ignored by history and movies.  Her memory of the war was shaped more “From Here to Eternity” than from driving into town with her grandma, walking to the docks to bring her father a hot lunch. What tutu remembered most of her early days were the rules.  There were more rules then.

During the war, lights had to be dimmed at night. There was a curfew and many of the beaches closed.  As a territory, people could neither vote for their governors, nor for their judges; these were appointed by the president.  Even though in 1954, during what was then called the Democratic Revolution—when the Democratic party won the majority of seats in the territorial legislature—the appointed Republican governor wielded the power of the veto. The territorial years were a hollow form of democracy.

When tutu got married in 1959, Statehood had officially lifted the veil of restraint that many in the islands experienced as a territory, and her wedding day magnified that euphoria.  The day she remembered most, during the early years of Statehood, was when she registered with the Democratic party and cast her vote for the man who overwhelmingly won the gubernatorial election in 1962, James A. Burns.

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