There are whole categories of assumptions Americans make. One of them – especially post 9/11 – is this. All air travelers must carry government-issued identification. For so many years now ‘Iokepa Hanalei ‘Īmaikalani has traveled the length and breadth of the United States, by air and by car, without one. It has not been an oversight on his part; he didn’t leave his state or federally-issued ID card at home in a drawer.
After his first ancestral visitation, ‘Iokepa fully claimed his national identity – kanaka maoli – aboriginal citizen of the nation of Hawai’i. Following only his grandmothers’ guidance and claiming his destiny fully, he was no longer willing to compromise the identity to which he was born.
Embracing his identity is not exactly the same as renouncing that which asserts alternative claim. However, it did require ‘Iokepa, who represents and instructs his people, to no longer carry an identifying card or number that bolsters the American claim of dominion over his sovereign Hawaiian nation.
Alternatively, ‘Iokepa created a simple photo ID card on a friend’s computer and had it laminated. It has his name, address, height, weight, and birth date. It identifies him accurately as a member of the board of directors of a Heiau Foundation, a sacred, protected Hawaiian site that certainly does not issue identification cards. It has neither an expiration date, nor any official seal.
Since 2001, the dutiful TSA security crew at the nation’s airports has looked hard at ‘Iokepa’s whimsical photo ID and either waved him through or earnestly inquired, “What is this?” or “Do you have something else?” ‘Iokepa has asserted: “I’m a sovereign Hawaiian” and “No, I don’t have anything else.” In every case – racial profiling be-damned – this brown-skinned, long-haired aboriginal has been waved through.
All of this is prologue to a story I want to share.
‘Iokepa and I were at the Seattle airport two weeks ago, heading to New Orleans. We stood in the security check line, prepared (as usual) to take our carry-on laptop computer out of its case, to empty the contents of our pockets, and to remove our shoes. ‘Iokepa, in line just before me, handed off his ID.
The man in uniform stared hard and asked the usual two questions. He received the usual two answers. He froze in indecision.
‘Iokepa and I smiled.
He summoned his supervisor. The supervisor, a respectful young man looking for a loophole, leafed through the TSA catalog of, ‘approved indigenous peoples.’ (I’ll bet you didn’t know there was such a catalog.) Hawaiians, apparently, didn’t make the cut. He sighed over his choices; clearly this sweet man wasn’t up to strip-searching my husband.
Instead, he said: “Let’s do it this way.”
He took us both out of line. He led us to his station. He brought forth a clipboard with a printed form. He asked ‘Iokepa to fill in his name, address, and signature. Then he phoned the nation’s capital and instructed ‘Iokepa to answer any questions he’d relay from official Washington.
He warned me: “Don’t answer these questions for your loved one.” We all laughed. Question one: “Who else lives at this address?”
‘Iokepa stared. “No one, it’s a Post Office box.”
“Whoops,” said our interrogator, “Wrong question. Who shares this Post Office box?”
Answer: “My wife.”
Question two: “What highway runs nearest to this address?”
‘Iokepa stood stock still. He answered nothing at all for what seemed like a long lunch – but undoubtedly could have been counted in seconds. I’m thinking: “Ours is a tiny Island – we don’t have ‘highways.’” But I’m holding my tongue, as I’d been instructed.
‘Iokepa later told me: “I wasn’t about to say Rice Street” – named by the American Calvinist missionaries and colonizing sugar cane barons after their own. Instead, he traced the road to its original name, and offered Washington, D.C. this: “Nāwiliwili – it means winds that blow in all directions.”
Apparently, the Washington official was satisfied. The TSA supervisor was clearly relieved. ‘Iokepa had been wholly consistent with his mission.
We boarded our flight. The multi-million-dollar American security industry was served.