How ’bout a Nice Hawaiian Putsch?

pobleteFor years, native Hawaiians had fought with a modest degree of success to maintain their autonomy. But in 1893, white businessmen—sugar magnates and the like—had taken control by tossing out Hawaii’s last monarch and organizing their own provisional government. Not yet beaten, locals organized the Hawaiian Patriotic League to lobby Congress.

It worked. The forty-six senators in favor of annexation fell short of the 2/3 majority needed to approve the related treaty. Alas, the Spanish-American War brought back the issue—the U.S. needed a Pacific base to better smash the hated Spaniards in the Philippines—and a joint resolution requiring a simple majority went through Congress like colonialism through a goose. On July 7, 1898, William McKinley signed the Newlands Resolution, the legislative end-around that annexed Hawaii to the United States.

Someone still had to cut the sugarcane, though. Not enough native Hawaiians remained alive to fill the rank, so growers brought in Puerto Ricans and Filipinos recently liberated from Spain. Though denied citizenship, these people nonetheless had the right to move freely in and out of U.S. jurisdiction. JoAnna Poblete‘s Islanders in the Empire: Filipino and Puerto Rican Laborers in Hawai’i tells their stories. Using plantation documents, missionary records, government documents, and oral histories, Poblete analyzes how workers interacted with Hawaiian government structures and businesses, how U.S. policies for colonial workers differed from those for citizens or foreigners, and how the policies served corporate and imperial aims.