Princess Ka’iulani and Evangelina Cisneros

Princess Ka’iulani and Evangelina Cisneros: The Hawai’i-Cuba Connection

Evangelina Cisneros
Princess Ka’iulani, the Heir Apparent to the Hawaiian Throne

Many people in Hawai’i are aware of the Puerto Rican connection in Hawai’i due to the immigration that occurred in the 20th century. But there is also another untold story.

At the turn of the century, Cubans mounted a sustained national revolution against Spain beginning in 1895. The Cuban as well as the Philippine national revolution the following year in 1896 received wide support from many Hawaiian Nationalists. Robert Wilcox for example spoke out in support of Cuban and Filipino nationalists several times in this period and urged Hawaiians to follow their example by throwing out the oligarchs. Wilcox was a great admirer of  José Martí and Emilio Aguinaldo. Emma Nawahi, the widow of Joseph Nawahi, also endorsed the revolutions in Cuba and in the Philippines in the Ke Aloha ‘Aina newspaper and mele (songs) were written commemorating the bravery of the revolutionaries.

In the summer of 1897 there was also a series of incidents that brought the struggle of Cuba directly with the Hawaiian struggle for regain independence from the ruling junta (the self proclaimed Republic of Hawai’i). In 1897, Princess Ka’iulani was again in the United States on her way back to Hawai’i. What was supposed to have been a short trip to New York ended up lasting several weeks as Princess Ka’iulani decided to wait to meet Prince David Kawananakoa, who was representing the Hawaiian government in exile, and the members of the Hui Kala’aina and the Hui Aloha ‘Aina (the Hawaiian Political Association and the Hawaiian Patriotic League in English) who were carrying the petitions against annexation. Princess Ka’iulani had been accused of being disloyal to her aunt and to the government-in-exile due to the actions of her father and her guardian, Theo Davies. She wanted to dispel such rumors before she landed in Hawai’i and to prove her loyalty, rumors are said that the Princess was also ready to offer her aunt her renunciation of her line in succession to the throne. She never did of course since in the end her aunt, the Queen understood that pro-annexation elements were trying to discredit the Royal Family by trying to make them fight among each other. It has always been a colonial tactic to have indigenous people fight each other while the colonizer or colonial settlers move in to “restore” law and order.  Divide et impera.

While the Princess was in New York, a major newspaper, the New York  Journal, helped a 19 year old political prisoner escape from Cuba and brought her to the United States to help put a human face to the Cuban revolution for Americans–and to sell more papers. The political prisoner, Evangelina Cosio y Cisneros, was from a landed Cuban criollos family. Her father was actively supporting the Cuban revolutionary cause and as such the Spanish authorities arrested every member of her family including her mother, sisters, and brothers. According Amy Ephron, the author of  The White Rose, which is a historical fiction based on the life of Evangelina Cisneros, Princess Ka’iulani and Evangelina Cisneros were constantly being mistaken for each other in public events and Princess Ka’iulani would sometimes jokingly play along with the confused reporters. It had gotten to the point that Princess Ka’iulani decided to meet her and so they met at Princess Ka’iulani’s hotel. A normal audience with Princess Ka’iulani would last about fifteen minutes. Cisneros and the Princess discussed issues for more than three hours.  A week later, the Princess and Cisneros would meet again in a Cuban independence club for women. The Princess would later be reported as saying in the New York Journal that Cisnero was a “real princess” due to the nobility of her character. The Princess while in New York would grace Cuban independence groups two more times and make a donation. The friendship between the two women would continue for the next two years and it was not co-incidental that the Princess would start a chapter of the Red Cross in Hawai’i to help with the Spanish-American War. 

The Princess, like Robert Wilcox and Emma Nawahi, spoke in favor of not just independence for their own people but for all people including those who were fighting in the Philippines, Cuba, and Puerto Rico. Their passion for freedom and injustice brings in mind a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

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