Hawaii school named for alumni of US leader Muddles
By JENNIFER SINCO KELLEHER, Associated Press
HONOLULU (AP) — In Hawaii, a common question is asked in the islands’ pidgin language: “Where did you go to graduate?”
Knowing where someone went to high school has long been an important identity marker for Hawaii residents and helps connect people in the state’s close-knit communities. It’s an affiliation that goes far beyond rooting for a certain team or intercity rivalries.
“That’s how you understand your place in Hawaii and your belonging,” said Ty P. Kāwika Tengan, a professor in the departments of ethnic studies and anthropology at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. “He tells all these stories about race and class and other things that are kind of underpinned by the school and the communities that you imagine going there.”
But for some, answering that question gets complicated when the school is named after President William McKinley, whom many Hawaiians despise for his role in annexing the Hawaiian kingdom to the United States. And now, a proposal to change the name of McKinley High School in Honolulu has sharply divided graduates, often along generational lines.
Sautia Tanoa, a 2005 graduate, said changing the name to Honolulu High – the name the school had before it was changed to McKinley in 1907 – is appropriate and would help rekindle her pride in the school.
“As I grew and got to know the story…all those names that were chosen or celebrated were the very ones that took over the place,” he said . “In a sense of historical justice, if I can be one of many voices asking to restore the name, I can be a little prouder to be part of the effort and to be part of this school as well.”
But even talking about changing the school’s name brings 1979 graduate Suzanne Chun Oakland to tears.
“It was like stabbing me in the heart,” the former state lawmaker said upon hearing about the effort. “It’s like walking into your family and saying you need to change your last name.”
The debate comes amid a growing movement across the islands to restore traditional Hawaiian place names to honor and respect native Hawaiian culture and history.
What was once known as Barbers Point in western Oahu is now Kalaeloa. In Kauai, Fort Elisabeth State Historic Park has been renamed Pa’ula’ula. Iconic Diamond Head is increasingly called Leahi and some people prefer to say Puuloa instead of Pearl Harbor.
The movement back to traditional names extends beyond Hawaii, with ongoing efforts across the United States. One of the most publicized name changes also involved McKinley: North America’s tallest mountain, which was named after the former president for more than a century, reverted to its former name, Denali , in 2015 to honor Alaska Natives.
But the attachment many in Hawaii feel to their high school is proving an unlikely stumbling block in the islands’ growing quest for authenticity, where some public schools are named after their location and some are named after people. , including the businessmen who dominated Hawaii’s sugar plantation past.
Less than 2 miles from McKinley High, Central Middle School changed its name to Princess Ruth Ke’elikōlani Middle School – a change that some say was easy because “Where you went to graduate” still refers to high school.
The Hawaii State Public School Teachers’ Union supported plans to change McKinley High’s name.
The “school’s name glorifies a man who illegally annexed a country against the wishes of her queen and her people,” the union wrote last year, urging members to support a legislative resolution on the issue.
The resolution stalled in the last legislative session, as did another call to restore Captain Cook’s Big Island community to its original name of Kaawaloa.
“I think we’re in this period where people are really starting to recognize the changes that need to be made, the historical wrongs that have been done to Indigenous and Indigenous peoples, and the importance of restoring place names,” said declared the state. Rep. Jeanne Kapela, who introduced the name change resolutions.
Kapela said she understands people may resist renaming places they feel connected to.
“I have my own affinity with my own alma mater, but the reality is that whatever the name of the school, that school is in one place,” said Kapela, a graduate of Konawaena High School, this which means downtown Kona, where it’s located. “It’s the community that built us. And this community is based on a place name. In order to honor this community, we must honor where it is.
In arguing to keep the name, McKinley High principal Ron Okamura also cited the connection between identity and high school, saying it goes “deep into the makeup of who we are”.
“We are often asked ‘Where did you get your degree from? “and the answer is always the name of our high school,” he wrote in testimony opposing the change. “It’s not about who carries the name of the school, but about the ‘brand’ of school culture that is attached to that school.”
Keeping the name also ensures history is learned and not erased, he said.
Efforts to change the school’s name continue.
Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu, a Hawaiian cultural practitioner who didn’t date McKinley, said it was insulting to keep a name honoring a man who “wasn’t a friend of Hawaiians.”
“It would be one thing if you said, get rid of school,” she said. “But to change the name is to speak of the dignity of a people.”
The importance of the question “Where did you go to graduate” has its roots in Polynesian culture, which emphasizes knowing where someone is from, but it has also been co-opted by foreign colonizers who became Hawaiians, she said.
“Because when you say, ‘Oh, where are you from,’ they can’t claim the land itself because they know that’s not where their family is from,” Wong-said Kalu. “But you can claim the school.”
Nanette Kaiwi, a Native Hawaiian graduate from the class of 1967, said she meets with some of her classmates every week and they discuss plans for their upcoming 55th reunion and their strong feelings against the name change. .
Kaiwi said she and her classmates worried about the answer they would get when asked, “Where did you go to graduate,” a question Kaiwi was confronted with repeatedly during college. a recent family reunion. They even worry about how their descendants will remember them.
“It wasn’t wanting our grandchildren, great-grandchildren to say, ‘What school did Tutu go to? Oh McKinley, where is that?'” Kaiwi said, using a Hawaiian term from affection for the grandparents. “It was the idea of losing the identity of the school where we went.”
Kaiwi said she also wants to keep McKinley’s name and a statue that stands on campus so past injustices are not forgotten.
“I want him to stay because I don’t want people to forget that the book he is holding is not a treatise,” she said of the statue. “It’s a lie and that our lands have been stolen.”
Catherine Anderson Orlans, a 2005 graduate, said she learned of McKinley’s true place in Hawaiian history not at school but from her kupuna, or elders.
“It’s kind of like that goofy elephant in the room,” she said of McKinley. “As a Hawaiian student, you kind of always know the true meaning of who he is…but it really wasn’t taught in school.”
Although she is still proud to have graduated from the school, she believes changing her name will help heal a deeper loss of identity for her fellow Native Hawaiians.
“I have no problem saying in the future, ‘I graduated from Honolulu High School, formerly McKinley High School,'” she said.
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