In Unsustainable Empire: Alternative Histories of Hawai‘i Statehood
(Duke University Press, 2018), Dean Itsuji Saranillio
offers a bold challenge to conventional understandings of Hawai‘i’s admission as a U.S. state. Hawai‘i statehood is popularly remembered as a civil rights victory against racist claims that Hawai‘i was undeserving of statehood because it was a largely non-white territory. Yet Native Hawaiian opposition to statehood has been all but forgotten. Saranillio tracks these disparate stories by marshaling a variety of unexpected genres and archives: exhibits at world's fairs, political cartoons, propaganda films, a multimillion-dollar hoax on Hawai‘i’s tourism industry, water struggles, and stories of hauntings, among others. Saranillio shows that statehood was neither the expansion of U.S. democracy nor a strong nation swallowing a weak and feeble island nation, but the result of a U.S. nation whose economy was unsustainable without enacting a more aggressive policy of imperialism. With clarity and persuasive force about historically and ethically complex issues, Unsustainable Empire
provides a more complicated understanding of Hawai‘i’s admission as the fiftieth state and why Native Hawaiian place-based alternatives to U.S. empire are urgently needed.