[US to Hungary + Croatia ’15] Donalyn Dela Cruz: “Admitting Day”

11-03-2015 posted by Acypl
The author in Old Town Zagreb, Croatia

August 21, 2015 marked another Admissions Day in Hawaii. It’s a State recognized holiday that isn’t celebrated due to its storied past. In 1959, when we joined the Union, there was cause for celebration. However, after years of swells of various policies and protests, Admissions Day isn’t discussed. For many, it is a silent reminder that Hawaii’s last monarch was imprisoned before surrendering to the US government in fear of bloodshed.

Hawaii isn’t alone in sharing the common thread of history where societies turn away from a people left clinging to their language and identity.

As a third generation American from and living in Hawaii, I am keenly aware of this land’s past and the struggle of its indigenous people. Yet, I am proud to live in a great democracy, which affords me incredible opportunities in public service.

In May 2015, I had the honor to meet six other leaders who would become my most trusted allies for 10 days. As delegates, we began our adventure exploring new worlds, not only in the cities of Zagreb, Budapest, and Eger, but also in learning about one another’s diverse backgrounds.

The author greeting the Deputy of the Gender Equality Sonja König after a discussion on gender equality legislation in Croatia.
The author greeting the Deputy of the Gender Equality Sonja König after a discussion on gender equality legislation in Croatia.

Engaging with our hosts proved that our diversity would reveal the differences in our political views. For example in a few of the meetings, the Democrats in the group tended to bring attention to social issues whereas the Republicans raised a range of issues. All of our questions prompted interesting discussions during our meetings and carried on long after they were done. Together we acknowledged the beauty and tragedies of these Eastern European countries and reflected upon the triumphs and challenges of our own home states.

Although prior to the trip we read a bit of Croatian and Hungarian history, it was hard to grasp the amount of significant change that occurred in each country. We learned first hand about their parliamentary systems, customs, economies, relationships, education systems, and wine.  (The last being the easiest to consume.)

House of Terror museum in Budapest, Hungary
House of Terror museum in Budapest, Hungary

There was no denying how difficult it would be to learn about the fascist and communist regimes in 20th century Hungary. We visited the House of Terror, a museum that features exhibits that memorialize the victims of these regimes including those detained, interrogated, tortured or killed. Many of those horrific acts occurred in that building. There was not much said about our visit there. Our hosts could see that we were visibly disturbed. It was a very important recognition of Hungary’s brutal past. Unfortunately, we were not told about the controversy surrounding the museum. Critics had argued that the House of Terror portrays Hungary too much as the victim of foreign occupiers and does not recognize the contribution that Hungarians made to the regimes in question. The political contention surrounding that issue would reveal itself to our delegation when we visited the US Embassy in Budapest.

American diplomats have taken a stance on a controversial monument, which stands just around the corner from the Embassy. The monument depicts Hungary as the Archangel Gabriel being attacked by a German imperial eagle. Critics say it absolves the Hungarian state and Hungarians of their active role in sending some 450,000 Jews to their deaths during the occupation 70 years ago. The Embassy counselor for public affairs brought it to our attention by showing us the monument since it was so close. It was a move that greatly displeased our hosts.

I hope that as Americans encourage the Hungarians as well as other countries to be truer to their history that we, as leaders of the United States, can continue to raise the bar in that same expectation.

Perhaps if there was more recognition of the illegal overthrow of Hawaii, there might be more optimism shared by its people. And just maybe we can truly recognize Admissions Day with a sense of respect.

Donalyn Dela Cruz is the director of communications and community affairs at the Hawaii State Department of Education.

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