On a Sunday morning in early March, more than 80 of the 108 people featured in Kapulani Landgraf’s installation ‘Au‘a, one of four works on view at the museum as part of the Honolulu Biennial 2019, came to the museum to see the finished artwork. Landgraf selected subjects she felt have contributed to the community and photographed each person, then superimposed the words “I am not American” on their larger-than-life portrait. We asked four of them to tell us what they had thought when approached by the artist and what the work means to them. This is the fourth and final response.
‘Au‘a is on view through May 5.

Lynette Cruz: It was very liberating
I was surprised to hear that this project was happening and I was at Thomas Square at an event called La Ho‘iho‘i Ea. I forgot who approached us but they said, “Hey you guys want to take a photo and say you are not an American? And I think everyone around me said, “Let’s do it,” and so we all trotted up the steps and took photos. I wasn’t alone when I came up, there were five or six people with us. I thought it was progressive and…nobody had ever asked. Because a lot of us are employed by the system, so this is not exactly a popular thing to say, because people are fearful. And yet, the fact that somebody would ask me that question, “Are you an American?,” and for me to be able to say, “I am not”—it was very liberating. I kind of loved the idea of being honest and straight up, and not thinking about the potential impacts of it because some point in my life I actually had to say my own truth.

Just coming in here this morning overwhelmed me. I actually felt like I am going to cry because all of these faces represent voices. They represent people I have met over the years, and they are where I am and everybody wants to say their truth. And it’s about time. So for me this is a really good and forward thinking and probably controversial topic, but eh, that’s the way it is and history tells us we are moving in that direction. Whether people like it not, whether it is popular or not, it is irrelevant. I can be me.

I am proud to be among so many outspoken, educated, well-respected people in my community. It makes me feel not alone. Because I think for many years I felt like the crazy person in the group, the one who would say stuff that other people found indelicate, so you’ve always got to watch your words, but here in this space, it’s kind of safe, and I really like it.


About the subject: Dr. Lynette Cruz is a retired professor of anthropology at Hawai’i Pacific University (HPU), where she is currently kupuna-in-residence. When her sister and her family became homeless in the 1980s, her awareness of this issue spurred the woman who thought the only thing she could do was work in fast food to attend college. She is a long-time community organizer and advocate for Hawaiian independence.