BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN – State Representative Faye Hanohano, a Democrat from Puna who chairs the House Committee on Ocean, Marine Resources, & Hawaiian Affairs, has apologized for racial slurs she made to state exhibition experts from the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts as they hung artwork her office manager requested in her capitol office on Monday.
Hanohano, who is native Hawaiian and speaks Hawaiian as her first language, verbally attacked the state employees asking them why native Hawaiian artists had not been commissioned. She told them she did not want art produced by “Haoles, Japs or Pakes.” (Caucasians, Japanese and Chinese).
The state Representative also threatened to cut funding to the the department for the “Art in Public Places” program, which places about 5,800 pieces of art per year produced by local artists in state owned buildings, including the state capitol.
Eva Laird Smith, Executive Director of the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts, said her senior state exhibition expert documented the incident in a memo to her.
“We are in Hawaii – a melting pot of ethnicities – and racial slurs should not be tolerated here, in the mainland or any where in the world for that matter,” Laird Smith said.
Laird Smith met with House Speaker Joe Souki to tell him about Hanohano’s threats and racial slurs and asked Souki to obtain a verbal and written apology from Hanohano.
The House Speaker issued a statement yesterday: “I absolutely do not condone this type of offensive language and behavior by anyone. I have spoken to Representative Hanohano and emphasized that this is not in keeping with the spirit of the House of Representatives. She will be sending a letter of apology to the State Foundation on Culture and Arts Exhibit team specialists. As Speaker of the House I have also extended my sincerest apology to the members of the Exhibit team.”
Hanohano made her apology from the House floor at noon Thursday:
“I am an honest and straight speaking woman whom descends from long line of proud leaders and warriors from Puna of Hawai’i island. …Sometimes we agree, and sometimes we donʻt however let me reaffirm my commitment to all of you that I shall serve my people and the people of the State of Hawaii to the best of my ability, integrity and for the honor of my kupuna (elders).”
She also issued a written statement: “First and foremost, I’d like to express my sincere apology to any individuals or groups who may have been offended by my comments. Clearly comments that were intended to be an impassioned plea for increasing the visibility and support for Native Hawaiian artists were expressed in a manner that did not accurately reflect their intent, sentiment or the integrity of this office. I accept full responsibility for this unfortunate incident and, again, I apologize.”
Although Hanohano is the one who made the racial slurs and threats, she is putting her entire office staff through training with Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
“My office has already reached out to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to assist us in obtaining additional training for all of our staff. We are committed to taking immediate steps to ensure that an incident like this never happens again.”
Hanohano said she will also attempt to rebuild the relationship with the State Foundation for Culture and the Arts.
“I stand firm in my position that individuals who serve in state leadership positions should be thoroughly educated and informed on the history and native culture of Hawaii. I am hopeful that this unfortunate incident can serve as a platform for improving dialogue and cross-cultural relationships between state departments,” Hanohano said.
Michael W. Perry, who is a co-host of Hawaii’s most popular radio morning show, the Perry & Price Show, said on the air this morning that Hanohano’s apology sounded more like a “non-apology” coming from someone who did not really want to apologize. He joked that if he or his co-host Larry Price had said anything like that on the air they would be working at K-Mart doing announcements for shoppers, and not on the radio.
Callers to the Perry & Price Show were also outraged by Hanohano’s comments. One caller, who lived in Puna, said she hopes the voters in Hanohano’s district remember her comments during the next election.
Laird Smith said she is satisfied with Hanohano’s apology and her staff offered to remove the artwork and replace it with artwork from native Hawaiian artists as Hanohano requested. But for now the artwork, which matched pieces already hanging in the office, remains there.