What Does Statehood Mean to Me?

We asked public figures for their thoughts on and memories of Aug. 22, 1959, the day Hawaii became the 50th state.

“Statehood, in its purest form, means being part of a great nation that defends and lives by the ideals of freedom, democracy and liberty for all citizens.
Gov. Linda Lingle, 55

“Our generation had been pushing for statehood. We wanted to vote for our president and be treated like Americans. When we were fighting for our country, we didn’t have a grudge. I was grateful to fight, and I’m grateful to be part of the United States.”
Robert Arakaki, 85, World War II veteran

“When statehood was instituted, I was just a young stud at Kaimuki High School. There were celebrations on the streets of Waikiki and I went to see if I could meet some wahines. At that time, I didn’t think much of statehood. And because I’m not politically minded, I still don’t. I contribute what I can to our beautiful state because I appreciate the wonderful people.” ­
Mel Cabang, 66, comedian

“Statehood is just another obstacle that we as Hawaiians need to overcome in order to get our nation back. Statehood was a bad mistake for our lands and people.”

Walter Ritte, 63, homesteader and hunter, Hoolehua, Molokai

“As far as I’m concerned, our basic reason to support statehood was the belief that democracy should be extended to all the people of Hawaii. At that particular time, we had a great deal of difficulty organizing workers into the union. So we became the only island in the middle of the Pacific to become a state, which is really something. Of course, there are still many problems now that we need to face.” 
Ah Quon McElrath, 92, labor and social rights advocate

“When Hawaii became a state, I was 5. We took family excursions to watch the first really big buildings coming up. I remember the awe of the flying saucer-like top of the La Ronde atop the Ala Moana Building.”

Sam Ohukanihia Gon III, 52, senior scientist and cultural adviser, The Nature Conservancy of Hawaii

“I remember reading the newspaper [in California] and it said Hawaii was now a state. I just remember thinking Hawaii was this unbelievable place. There was no majority, everyone’s a minority, races intermarried. I thought, ‘I gotta live in that state.’”

Dennis Ogawa, 65, professor of  American Studies, University of Hawaii Manoa, born in the Manzanar War Relocation Center in California