Winner, 2013 Best First Book in Women’s, Gender, and/or Sexuality History by the Berkshire Conference of Women Historians
Winner, 2013 Lawrence W. Levine Award, Organization of American Historians
Winner, 2013 Congress on Research in Dance Outstanding Publication Award
Aloha America reveals the role of hula in legitimating U.S. imperial ambitions in Hawai’i. Hula performers began touring throughout the continental United States and Europe in the late nineteenth century. These “hula circuits” introduced hula, and Hawaiians, to U.S. audiences, establishing an “imagined intimacy,” a powerful fantasy that enabled Americans to possess their colony physically and symbolically. Meanwhile, in the early years of American imperialism in the Pacific, touring hula performers incorporated veiled critiques of U.S. expansionism into their productions.At vaudeville theaters, international expositions, commercial nightclubs, and military bases, Hawaiian women acted as ambassadors of aloha, enabling Americans to imagine Hawai’i as feminine and benign, and the relation between colonizer and colonized as mutually desired. By the 1930s, Hawaiian culture, particularly its music and hula, had enormous promotional value. In the 1940s, thousands of U.S. soldiers and military personnel in Hawai’i were entertained by hula performances, many of which were filmed by military photographers. Yet, as Adria L. Imada shows, Hawaiians also used hula as a means of cultural survival and countercolonial political praxis. In Aloha America, Imada focuses on the years between the 1890s and the 1960s, examining little-known performances and films before turning to the present-day reappropriation of hula by the Hawaiian self-determination movement.
The reception and the transformation of the hula circuit is the focus of Imada s thorough investigation of U.S. imperial interests in Hawaii. Assistant professor for ethnic studies at UC San Diego, Imada, in her extensively researched history, depicts the instability of the imagined intimacy between the colony and colonizer as well as the conflicting perceptions of Hawaiians toward their traditional dance, whose practitioners were often criticized for commodifying their bodies and cultural practices. Hawaii was portrayed as desirable and unthreatening to mainland Americans who classified Hawaiians as racially distinct or immigrants while hula dancers were framed as sexually available and foreign but not too alien curiosities. Archival digs brought Imada into contact with surviving dancers and their families, whose stories she wove with her own experiences to produce a comprehensive account of how the adaptive and resilient practice of hula works in conjunction with tourism. She also shows that the Hawaiian performers weren t passive objects in Euro-American tourist economies, but dealt with colonization through their own practices, adopting a position closer to cultural ambassadors. Fascinating photographs of the dancers with careful commentary on poses and dress illuminate the mannerisms and views of the performers. Strictly academic language may turn off casual readers, but Imada s dissertation will benefit those working in ethnic studies or greatly invested in Hawaiian culture. B&w photos.