Asian Settler Colonialism (Jacquelyn Kim)

In thinking about the need for solidarity between Indigenous and other marginalized communities, Hawaii is particularly worthy of attention as a state in which Asians are the most populous racial/ethnic group, comprising 37.6% of the population according to the U.S. Census. Asians now hold a significant amount of power, both economic and political, in Hawaii, which has been illegally occupied since the overthrow of Queen Lili’uokalani in 1893.

The history of Asian immigration to Hawaii is complex, and the histories of Asian immigrants and indigenous Hawaiians are intertwined by labor struggles and capitalism. In regards to immigrants coming from their respective home countries because of various motivating factors, as articulated by Saranillio in his article “Why Asian settler colonialism matters,” “[w]hile migration in and of itself does not equate to colonialism, migration to a settler colonial space, where Native lands and resources are under political, ecological, and spiritual contestation, means the political agency of immigrant communities can bolster a colonial system initiated by White settlers.” 

In “Settlers of Color and ‘Immigrant’ Hegemony,” Haunani-Kay Trask describes the displacement of indigenous Hawaiians by Asians and asserts that, “politically, the vehicle for Asian ascendancy is statehood” (2). An emphasis on recognizing complicity, as explored in the previous blog post, is thus particularly relevant to Asians in Hawaii because they forward personal interests in the state and national legislative bodies in which they have obtained representation. As Momiala Kamahele expresses in “’lio’ulaokalani: Defending Native Hawaiian Culture,” “[n]o matter how strong the resistance to the colonizer, Native culture will always be subjected to and subordinated by state interests and needs” (51).

In “Unsettling Asian American Theology,” one of the most impactful articles I’ve read as I’ve been learning about decolonization and settler colonialism over the past year, Wong Tian An argues that “Asian American” must be understood as a landless identification: “Asian American theologies are by necessity landless theologies, for Asian America is a country that has no soil. But if we are to decolonize our theology, or properly liberate it, we cannot be hoping to settle on stolen land. That is to say, Asian American theology cannot become yet another form of settler theology. “ Although I am still struggling with learning how to support Indigenous struggles in practice and reckoning with my place within a greater history as an Asian American descendant of immigrants, An’s article helped me to better understand decolonization from the unique perspective of Asian Americans, for, again, we must each recognize our individual positions as both the oppressor and the oppressed.


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