A Hawaii man has waged a court battle centered on his right to speak Hawaiian, saying his inability to take a driver’s license exam in the language represents discrimination that violates the state constitution.
Daniel Anthony was cited in January for driving without a license. He wants the case dropped and said that he doesn’t have a license because the test isn’t offered in Hawaiian, despite its classification as an official language of the state, along with English.
“Any time I go to a state office or federal office, I introduce myself in Hawaiian,” he said Monday in English. “I have yet to receive services in Hawaiian.”
The case represents a struggle between preserving a language that was nearly wiped out, and the reality that Hawaiian is far from being used widely on the islands. Nearly 17,000 of the state’s nearly 1.4 million residents spoke Hawaiian at home, according to the most recent data available.
There are few official transactions that are conducted in Hawaiian, beyond a local bank that features Hawaiian as a language option for ATMs, said Trisha Kehaulani Watson, owner of Honua Consulting, a Native Hawaiian advocacy group.
A provision in the state constitution states “Hawaiian shall be required for public acts and transactions only as provided by law.” The state attorney general’s office, however, said no laws have been passed for Hawaiian to be used.
Hawaiian interpreters are available for court proceedings and Anthony has used their services for this case, according to court records.
But his filing goes beyond the issue of language. The motion to dismiss is based on the grounds that the U.S. didn’t lawfully acquire the Hawaiian Islands, said Dexter Kaiama, his attorney. The argument has been made in the past by some who support a sovereignty movement.
Anthony, 35, of Kaneohe, describes himself as “conversational” in Hawaiian, having heard his great-grandparents speak it during his youth. After dropping out of Waianae High School, he began formally learning Hawaiian while studying at Leeward Community College.
He said he wants the case to highlight how the language is only ceremonial despite its official status. But getting stopped for speeding on Jan. 25 wasn’t intentional, he said.
He was pulled over after going 41 mph in a 25 mph zone and was cited for driving without a license, according to court records. Anthony acknowledged not having a state-issued driver’s license but said he can’t get one “because of my choice to speak Hawaiian.”
The state Department of Transportation said the test is only available in English.
A resuscitation movement for Hawaiian language began in the 1970s. In 1978, Hawaiian was re-established as an official language of the state. Many schools now teach the language, including some that offer full immersion instruction.
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