Not that the deaths of Michael Jackson or Farrah Fawcett have much to do with the recent riots over the reported fraudulent Iranian election, or the United Nations Decolonization Committee’s call for a change in Puerto Rico’s status. Their deaths however (Farrah from cancer at age 62 and Michael from a heart attack at 50), reminds me simply that nostalgia has gravity. The weight of nostalgia is an emotional and maudlin sentiment that binds us simultaneously in both collective reflection and mourning. Even now, just two hours after the announcement of Michael Jackson’s passing, a crowd has formed outside of UCLA’s Ronald Reagan Memorial Hospital.
The Statehood commission is promoting a nostalgic event, resurrecting memories of a time when statehood represented the promise of freedom and the exercise of democratic principles. In their 50th anniversary of statehood PSAs, videos focus on the nostalgic and steers clear of any substantial issue. Certain phrases repeat like the chorus to “Remember the Maine” a patriotic song repeating, “remember, remember, remember… the Maine.” Instead, we hear, “we got to vote… we got to participate in the democratic process…remember the sacrifices of those from the 442nd and 100th…” Each of these sung praises are worthy and exceptional by themselves, however, in this right that we have earned, why are we not celebrating our rights by publicly engaging in a critical analysis of the issues that confront and challenge us today. The chorus of this statehood nostalgia lulls the public from engaging in any real discussion on statehood.
In the fifty, one-minute spots being aired, what issues should be confronted? Let’s take a look:
Besides the economic challenges confronting the U.S., there is homelessness, mental health, water, sustainability, commercial development, tourism, employment, education, burial sites, budget crisis, prison issues, insurance, health-care, food sovereignty, military development, governmental outsourcing of state projects, big agriculture, Hawaii as military target for N. Korean missile test, civil unions… is there even a list? As an exercise, one should name 50 issues the state might promote and discuss as to why statehood has been good for Hawaii. With these unremarkable, redundant and nostalgic PSAs, the state has lost 50 opportunities for engaging the public in a service for which public dialogue might have championed statehood, rather than lulled the citizenry.
It should be the obligation of the state to celebrate statehood by engaging the public on issues, and not simply devising and scheming solutions by outsourcing projects to “mainland” companies. One of these outsourced events– the upcoming August 21st, 50th anniversary celebration at the Convention Center– how many of the gold or platinum sponsored booths offering solutions to alternative energy, sustainability, food, housing, technology, etc, involve strategies that have publicly engaged local communities?
Why has statehood been good for Hawai’i? For those following Puerto Rico’s decolonization, it might be useful and informative to study the marketing and lobbying strategies employed by those campaigning for the three-way split between statehood, independence, or remaining a commonwealth. Except for the N. Korean missile test and the burial issues, all issues mentioned above are issues that are also at the forefront of Puerto Rico.
Let’s also not forget that Cuba is celebrating it’s 50th anniversary of independence at the same time people in Hawai’i are becoming educated and beginning to discuss its options for self-determination. Without the imposed US blockades, Cuba’s economy will likely once again be vibrant. Puerto Rico’s economy has been held back by the United States in determining what countries Puerto Rico can trade with. Now, Puerto Rico has the option of establishing new trading partners with it’s South and Central American neighbors while Hawaii remains locked to the continental United States.
When the Soviet Union began to collapse, the Baltic states who were already at that time in the midst of their own independence struggles were able to de-occupy without tragic incidence. Could Puerto Rico’s decolonization effort be compared to Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia? Is there an historical symmmetry between the collapsing value of the dollar as the international trading currency with the 1989 collapse of the Soviet financial system?
Looking at these historical metaphors, the 50th anniversaries of Cuba’s independence and Hawaii’s statehood mirror each other like the once-was twin towers of sugar based colonialism and commodities, and the example of Puerto Rico should beacon a light of inspiration
These signifiers are a paradigmatic exercise of US imperialism. How is it that Michael Jackson died during his 50th year and taken to the hospital named after the president who negotiated the staged hostage rescue in the Iran/Contra scandal. How is it that the greatest American sexport after Marilyn Monroe, born the same year that the U.S. officially submitted its territories to be placed on United Nations list of Non-Self-Governing Territories should fatally succumb to a very public bout with cancer at the same time that Congress takes up the issue of Puerto Rican independence? We can mix and match these metaphors over cocktails, and that would be more substantial than what the State of Hawaii has been doing with their 50th anniversary of statehood observations.
In closing, yes, I will miss Michael and Farrah. I miss the posters and music which reminds me of a magical time in my youth, a specific time between childhood and teen-angst, a time of discovery, of coming into my own. When I took down the Farrah Fawcett posters and sold my Michael Jackson records, it was a gesture of evolving, maturing, and preparing myself for both intoxicating liberation and sober independence.]]>