What Some People in Hawai‘i Said and Did

As mentioned in other Thinking Locally posts, the RASRL Collection contains more than just student papers. “What People in Hawaii are Saying and Doing” is a series of thirty-eight reports, covering the years 1943 to 1963 and published by UH’s Sociology Department for the purpose of sharing new research on topics of current interest with local community leaders and professional people. For the first several reports in the series, sociology students directly carried out research tasks or through diaries and journals, provided personal accounts of their families and neighborhoods and eyewitness reports of what they saw as they circulated in the community.

WPIHASADIn his article “Sociological Research at the University of Hawaii” (Social Process in Hawaii, Vol. 19, 1955, pp. 6-12), Bernhard Hormann never directly acknowledges the constraints the Department faced from its inception during the department’s first two decades: a small faculty, few graduate students, and inadequate funding to hire professional research staff. Yet the Department under the auspices of the War Research Laboratory, the name used for the “Lab” until well after World War II, found a way to carry out important research by enlisting undergraduates enrolled in sociology courses to be their foot soldiers and auto-ethnographers.

Foot soldiering and its limits

Ka Leo o Hawaii, 4/6/43

Ka Leo o Hawaii, 4/6/43

In Report No. 5, 1944, sociology students distributed questionnaires to 780 high school students from Punahou, McKinley, Kamehameha, Roosevelt, Farrington, Konawaena, and Waimea, and from the University. Students were asked about a range of topics and issues, from the political to the personal: their future plans to live in Hawai‘i (Haole were the most dissatisfied and most likely to leave after the War); the Draft; martial law and the provost government; labor and strikes; the Territory’s military security; President Roosevelt’s efforts to end the war; and interracial dating. With additional research assistance from community members, including former UH students, Andrew Lind published “Sociological Studies in Wartime Hawaii” (Social Process in Hawaii, Vol. IX & X, July 1945, pp. 5-10).

Students also administered questionnaires to about 200 UH students in an introductory anthropology class seeking opinions on English standard schools and Pidgin (Report No. 9, 5/8/46). At the time, the Department of Public Instruction was trying to determine how rapidly to expand English standard sections to elementary schools. The report noted that it was particularly important to ascertain “non-Haole opinion,” the largest element of the population. By sampling UH students at least one majority group, Asians, was heard from.

Nearly 300 sociology students were instructed to ask one or more people in the community: “What did you think of last Friday night’s air raid alarm?” (Report No. 6, 4/2/45). Students submitted responses from 576 people, but these were weighted toward middle-class Haole, Chinese, and Japanese, groups to which most students belonged.

Because the Lab was interested in gauging post-war attitudes toward servicemen and defense workers, anonymous questionnaires were distributed to the student body. What resulted was a non-representative pool of the territorial population: no respondents from lower socio-economic groups, which meant very few Hawaiians, Filipinos, and Puerto Ricans (Report No. 10, 9/25/46).

More than sixty upper class sociology students conducted a poll of 130 residents, asking their opinions about FEPA, the Fair Employment Practices Act whose intent was to outlaw “racial and religious discrimination in hiring, training, promotion, wage payment, and union membership” (Report No. 11, 3/15/47). Again the respondents were less than representative of the general population. Chinese, Haole, and Japanese were over-represented and the results were heavily weighted in upper-middle and lower-upper economic classes. Many who were questioned knew nothing about FEPA.

Unable to do a scientifically weighted public opinion poll, the Department again turned to its students for Report No. 7, 11/1/45. Twenty-five UH juniors were asked this question on their final exam: “In light of our course, how would you evaluate the recent proposal of the H.S.P.A. [Hawaii Sugar Planters’ Association] that 6,000 Filipino laborers be brought here to work for a temporary period on the local plantations.”   On this same topic, faculty conducted a discussion in an upper division course and had students poll people in the community. Not relying solely on student responses, the Department’s research staff reported on informal interviews they’d had with members of the community, and they tracked letters to the editor in the daily newspapers on this topic. An interracial group of citizens meeting informally downtown was another source. Unfortunately, there was little “spontaneous” interest in the topic except among Filipinos and Japanese who worked on plantations. But the question did bring prejudices against Filipinos vividly to the surface:

In a class discussion, the instructor in commenting on this sort of attitude argued that it was based on a stereotype of Filipino character, a stereotype which was only slightly supported by facts. The strength of feeling with which a number of members of the class combated the instructor’s point of view, the eagerness with which “incidents” were related, telling of the hasty and dangerous behavior of Filipino men, indicated that the Filipino in Hawaii is at the present time still the object of fear and mistrust on the part of a substantial proportion of local people.

RASRL papers are rife with stereotypical characterizations of dangerous Filipinos, an unrepresented group among students in for the early decades. But it is rare to view the students from the perspective of the faculty and enter the classroom to witness the pedagogy, one that allowed students to openly challenge the faculty and to openly express even odious opinions.

Insider witnesses and reporters

As auto-ethnographers, students contributed unmediated data during tense war years. Entries in their “morale diaries,” often gathered over several weeks during the semester, were submitted as assignments (Box 1: Student Journals). Although fragmentary and anecdotal, the diary entries recorded neighborhood gossip, overheard conversations, most often on buses and in stores, and casual conversations with friends.

Housing difficulties, the draft, interracial dating, the casualties in Italy are the problems with which the locally-born young people are at the present time preoccupied, judging from the analysis of “morale diaries” kept in the past weeks by a class of students at the University of Hawaii (Report No. 2, 5/1/44).

Student journals were a different kind of auto-ethnography, somewhat more formal and structured, usually synthesized compositions from “morale” observations.   Report No. 3, 5/22/44, shares the results of a survey that gauged the morale of Hawaii’s populace and attitudes toward the local Japanese. The report acknowledged the challenges in trying to secure information. Scientific polling wasn’t workable since the population was in flux among the islands and to the mainland; the 1940 census figures were inadequate for establishing a representative sample; and for military reasons, authorities were not publishing estimates of the population. Large sections of the population – Japanese – whose morale was important spoke “inadequate English” and were “still so much ‘on guard’” that the Lab doubted if the answers given always represented the people’s real feelings and opinions.   The best way to cope with these challenges was to have UH students poll their “publics,” fellow students and adults in their communities.

. . . student interviewers of each ethnic group asked people of the same group, with the thought that the people would be less inhibited when talking to people of their own ancestry and also that questions could, if necessary, be interpreted to persons not talking standard English.

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Ka Leo o Hawaii, 3/21/43

In Summer 1943, UH offered courses on the neighbor islands, primarily aimed at teachers. Topics that dominate are relations between Japanese and Chinese, between Japanese and Filipinos, and the changed community dynamics since the War. Many wrote about the particular pressures felt by Japanese families or how communities were responding to the arrival of servicemen in their communities. The students, nearly all teachers and many of them married, wrote about inter-racial dating and intermarriage (sometimes their own), assimilation during wartime, and examples of the “marginal man” (Student Journals, several Folders 2 & 3, Summer 1943 Race Relations). What makes this selection of journals particularly interesting is the range of voices and the often more nuanced understanding from adult professionals, both Hawai‘i born-and-bred residents as well as Haole from the continent.

Based on the content of the “teachers’” journals, they might be part of the mix in Report No. 4, 8/1/1944, the issue that relied on over thirty UH students of several racial groups at the Mānoa campus. The assignment for Spring 1944 was to keep journals about the changing views of and relationship with local people to Haole “mainlanders” and “Negroes” and about Japanese students’ “conception of themselves and their problem.”

These diaries and many of the journals present an immediate and unprocessed account of what students saw, heard, and felt during a tumultuous time. This insider information is both a hallmark of the RASRL Collection and its chief strength and value to researchers. However, as pointed out earlier, faculty were making do by enlisting their students.  As college students, these informants and researchers were in a liminal space, no longer solely influenced by their families and communities, yet not quite free of acquired attitudes and habitual prejudices. The students were inexperienced, often naive researchers with limited (although potentially rich) sources. The completion of research and reporting out was constrained by the academic calendar. Sometimes just a few weeks in a semester or even fewer weeks in a summer course was all the time available. While sociology courses were well enrolled, they were nonetheless one of several general education options or required in just a few majors. In other words, students from all disciplines were not represented in the sociology classrooms.

Yet this way of teaching students to research, particularly in introductory courses, was an ingenious way to raise the stakes of student work beyond just the mere completion of an assignment and, faculty no doubt hoped, the quality of the products. The message to students was clear: the work you do is important and far-reaching; what you produce becomes part of our collection for others and the future. Further proof of the value of their work was the publication of some of the best papers in Social Process.

Absences and distressing presences

The last two reports examined here focus on significant absences in the RASRL research materials. The first is signaled by the Majors-Palakiko Case (Report No. 20, 5/52), a report that eventually grew into an article of the same name in Social Process in Hawaii (Vol. XVII, 1953).

This case is in this respect like several other [murder] cases, such as the Fukunaga case and the Kahahawai-Massie cases of about two decades ago, which have assumed an almost mythical significance. . . .”

The link above is to a source that discusses both crimes and lawyer Clarence Darrow’s tangential relationship with the Fukunaga case and direct involvement with the Kahahawai cases and the basic details of these two cases.  It also points out the prominence these racially charged cases had in both local and national news. Students had to be aware of these crimes but had little opportunity or even interest in incorporating them into sociology assignments.

As we have mentioned before, when we began our research of the RASRL Collection, we expected to find students writing about the big events, the important if not sensational news stories of their day. In the thousands of papers we’ve looked at only one mentions in passing the Fukunaga kidnapping and murder. It comes up in the context of a story recounted to the writer by her mother to illustrate the shame felt by the Japanese community (Box 2 Student Papers, F.I., “The Japanese Language School,” Dec 1948).

The single paper that comments on the Kahahawai case was written by a friend of Joseph Kahahawai. It focuses less on Kahahawai’s alleged crime and lynching than on the attitudes of about 100 young men, all of them part-Hawaiian and none of them UH students, whom the writer, also Hawaiian, interviewed about their attitudes about “sex, marriage, rape, etc.” (Lind Box 11, A.N., “Social Attitudes in the Kahahawai Case,” 5/32).

The second and more important absence is acknowledged in Andrew Lind’s “Native Welfare in Hawaii” (No. 19, 10/12/51), a paper originally written for the Seventh Pacific Science Congress in Auckland, New Zealand in 1949.

It proved quite disconcerting to the writer [Lind] to meet the challenge of attempting to describe the present situation of the Hawaiians from the point of view of their welfare. The temptation[,] which he frequently felt[,] to fall back upon the usual stereotypes suggested to him that perhaps the social scientists had been neglecting the Hawaiians. It is, of course, true that during the war attention was directed to the Japanese in Hawaii. In addition, there is, however, the factor that very few students of Hawaiian ancestry have been enrolling in the sociology courses. The department of sociology has found that one of its major sources of information about what is happening in the ethnic communities is the students.

What were the sources for Lind’s paper? He interviewed “people in close touch with Hawaiians,” and as chair of the Hawaii Interracial Committee, he arranged for a discussion of the problems facing Hawaiians, relied on statistical sources from the past ten to fifteen years and recent statehood hearings. This acknowledgement of the absence of Native Hawaiians comes late in the life of the Lab and the Department, and Lind sounds embarrassed at the omission. While one could assume that those “in close touch with Hawaiians” he spoke to were themselves Hawaiians, he does not explicitly state this.

The RASRL Collection has become something that it was not intended to be.  Conceived of as a repository of sociological, and at times, anthropological, research by faculty and students, the Collection has become both history and historical with concomitant gaps and unexplained contexts.  Our task is to find ways to make wise use of what it offers and to remain mindful of and alert to its silences and absences.



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