Hawaii is Not the Hawaii I Knew

My grandma and grandpa Kamiya with me and my sister.


On Sunday’s Star Advertiser, the headline story was that the SHAKA Movement is now going after the sugar cane industry.  This is the very industry that changed the face of our islands that brought people here.  This is how we got our beloved local style.  I feel as if our island roots are being picked at day by day by transplants who are redefining Hawaii to be their Hawaii.

The more I think about it, this place is not the same place I grew up in.

As a kid, I enjoyed the simple farm life.  After homework and chores, my siblings and I would ride our bikes and head to the stream and catch guppies or collect jojo beans to make necklaces. We were free to be kids and play outside with no worry in the world.

Today, it’s not like that for my children.  With cost of living so high, both my husband and I have to work full days to make ends meet.  My kids can’t play outside because they have to be in after school programs until the late afternoon.  I can’t even let them wander the neighborhood on their bikes in fear of them being abducted.  Their childhoods are nothing like what I remember.

I used to spend nearly every weekend on the beach fishing with my grandfather near the Hauula bridge.  My grandma would cook up some food and we’d eat there too all the way through the evening.  Despite living near the beach, we hardly ever go because the weekends are the only time I have to do housework and chores.  My kids get to the beach maybe once every three months because of how busy life is.

Everything seems to be going up.  I’ve also noticed how my grocery bill keeps creeping up each month.  Actually, all basic utilities continue to go higher over the last several years.

It gets harder and harder to save when my basic costs keep draining my budget every month.  We don’t even take vacations to avoid more debt.  Even a staycation means less money out of our budget.  Home is where we spend all of our time or going down to my dad’s farm to play.

The cost of childcare is also ridiculous here too.  One month of preschool is about $750 and baby sitting averages $600.  After school program rates are likely going up also with the minimum wage rate increased.  It’s so expensive here to raise kids.

I live in a house that I could never afford on my own salary.  My grandparents paid a mere $25k 50 years ago and it’s now over &700k.  I could sell my half and buy a newer home outright in the mainland. Then I wouldn’t have to be paying out anyone and avoid having a nice added burden over my head.  I’ll miss this home but it’s just a physical structure at this point that is viewed as money to some family members who have stake in it.

I’m at a crossroads now with deciding whether or not Hawaii really is the best place for my family to be raised in.  I spent 8 years taking care of my grandma with dementia and she’s now passed on.  I have no real obligations keeping me here.  Do I want to live where I always have to feel like it’s a struggle to make it financially or do I pick up and go to where there is less worry?  Granted, my kids won’t get to see their relatives much, but at this rate, that doesn’t pay the bills.

I know that I’m not the only one in this situation.  So many other local families are in the same situation.  There’s so much talk about helping local families out but none has ever materialized in the last 9 years that I have been back.  I always have hope that there will be some relief but it’s not happening soon enough.

I will always be the daughter of a Hawaii farmer but the thought of living in a place that is affordable looks much more appealing.  The feeling of what it means to be local is dying and none of our leaders are interested in maintaining that uniqueness that made our home special.  It’s like we are no different than any other big city with its problems.

Home is not home anymore.  Maybe I need to carve out a new place to call home and create my own local style because it’s gone from here and no one seems to see it.


***At the request of one of the editors, this same post was reprinted on Civil Beat.  Just read the comments below and you’ll see how there is no aloha by so many people.***


32 thoughts on “Hawaii is Not the Hawaii I Knew

  1. Hi Michele,
    Honestly, I too have pondered that same thought just last night before going to bed. That’s 5 hours ago lol.

    My thoughts were more in the way of Aloha, and customer service and how it’s not the same as it used to be. Things are not like how it used to be.

    It really is hard to see my grandkids growing up in this generation.

  2. That is exactly the way me and my family feels. We tried to be a part of the solution we got involved politically and in our town and town meetings to no end. It did nothing. My home is not my home nothing is the same. My home is now overly saturated filled with too many people and prostituted to people with money ousting family’s generations deep in Hawaii that gave blood sweat and tears to make it their home. My family came from Azores in 1876. The first man in my family to step foot in Hawaii was the first man to introduce the ukulele to the islands. He came to work the sugar cane fields. He had 18 children. That is the lineage I left so that I could own a home and not have to struggle and worry about my safety and the safety of my future children. Because my home is not my home and not enough people see it and care enough to do anything about it. Watching it get worse through Facebook is killing me it breaks my heart.

  3. Mahalo for sharing my thoughts, and so many others. 18 traceable generations on Kauai and seriously debating if Portland, Vegas, Utah, etc s a better option for my ohana. I’ve always wanted my girls to grow up country like I did. But like you said, it’s just not the same.

  4. sell the house and move to the Big Island! You can still have that lifestyle you remember and you are still in Hawaii. Housing is more affordable here, the beaches are uncrowded, and there is even snow! After leaving Oahu for the Big Island 5 years ago, I don’t think I could go back…

    • That sounds great but the job availability on the big island is quite scares. I’m in AZ, and if I were to move back to Kona or even Oahu, my spouse and I would take a 60k pay cut. No, way we would survive. Granted even if we lived l simple like how we grew up it still would be tough. I’ve contemplated on getting rid of all of my material things, motorcycles, two SUV, big screens etc… For a Grass shack near the beach. But I haven’t found that shack yet along with the type of neighbors that would suite that kind of home. I never had a house key growing up. Kona ain’t Kona no more…. You can’t leave your windows down and doors unlocked in your car. I remember trying to be on my best, behavior at times growing up, cause everyone was a uncle or aunty that would scold you. And still tell yur your parents where you get scolded again and lickings.

  5. My husband and I were born and raised in Hawaii. We decided last year to take our chances and moved with our two young daughters to the PNW. Although some were really supportive of our decision many didn’t understand why we would uproot our family and move away from everything we knew. But you summed it up perfectly. We’re only 25/24 years old and we feel like Hawaii has changed. I can’t imagine how generations before us must feel! Hawaii will always be there… It’s time for me and my family to take our chances and see if we can make something for ourselves. See what the rest of the world has to offer. Thank you for writing this.

  6. I moved to Portland about 9 years ago and have no regrets. It was a hard choice, but I am in a career I never would have had if I had stayed, I live in a beautiful home with a big forest as my backyard, and the people here are as friendly and welcoming as the people back home.

  7. Thank you for such powerful words! I too feel this is not the Hawaii of my youth. Born and raised in Kailua, I do not recognize it any more, filled with tour buses and choked with bikes with plastic basket crates ridden by tourists from Asia. I have a home in Pahoa but I agree employment does not follow affordable housing. I work overseas 10 months of the year to be able to afford my slice of home, but I don’t get to enjoy it most of the year. I want to come home, but what job could sustain me in east Hawaii? My kids are grown and gone to east and west coast, but it was so very expensive when they were younger in Hawaii with child care. I hope something can be done to help our young families-too many of us have been forced away by economics. And we were what made Hawaii the home we remember.

    • This. Was born and raised in town but left to live in Kailua, away from the city. It is changing so fast right now becoming the second Waikiki. Couple that with how much costs have gone up on everything around me, I’m contemplating a big change. Only the very rich will be able to survive here soon.

  8. Hawaii is expensive something DEFINITELY needs to happen. Do I want to leave? NO I have been to many places and YES! AWESOME people in several places I have been. However, there’s NO place like here..the sand, sea,culture,language spoken and unspoken. Only in Hawaii can we have a conversation with someone and utter few words. It’s a personal choice to stay or go. Life is only lived once, we each have to decide what matters most to US! I own my home and bought it for a crazy AWESOME price in 2000. It’s not huge but it’s ours all five of us.
    It was struggle to buy it and we still struggle to keep it! I have lived here all my life! I love everything about it.. do I dislike what some call progress? Yes! Do I feel SOMETHING needs to change YES but lets face it if we aren’t living here It’s even MORE difficult to effect change.
    Nice cars,big houses it doesn’t mean anything if your not with your family. When we die we can’t take it all with us.. we dont remember all the stuff at the end of our lives We REMEMBER EXPERIENCES! Especially the ones we denied ourselves for material things.

    SEEK comfort and joy in our experiences and not the quantity or quality of our earthly treasures.

  9. Although I understand the comments of many about relocating to the mainland, i also feel that people make sacrifices depending on their priorities. More money, cheaper housing, etc, etc, are valid reasons for leaving….but there is NO feeling in the world that can be replaced by the aloha spirit (you can still find it here on Hawaii Island if it is missing in your area!). My point is–if you love the lifestyle (hunting, fishing, diving, surfing), the culture, etc you find a way to make it work for you. I am a local wahine born and raised, 2 kids in daycare, married mid-30’s, bought a single wall house built in 1970 (!), making enough to pay to bills and enjoy my island home…..I cannot take too many vacations–but that is not my priority. I cannot drive a new car–but that is not my priority….I cannot buy the newest trends, get my hair/nails done all the time or buy a new outfit every month….but that is not my priority. This is my home–where I want to be. The safest place to raise my children is where I grew up. Sure there are new faces in town, but you still know the families who have been here for generations. This is HOME. I am also a business person that has the luxury of experiencing other places–and I return home knowing this is the place I CHOOSE to be. It isn’t the right choice for everyone, but it is the BEST place for my ohana.

  10. I can trace my great grandfather back to coming over on a boat from china. my whole family planted roots on the big island. our family plot is there. i grew up with my tutu, my grandma, and my mom all in the same place.my tutu was the only woman that i knew, that spoke pure Hawaiian to us. i went to school, i rode my bike, i played where i wanted to. i walked to the beach almost everyday after school because my uncle was a beach-boy. he let us ride the catamarans,or the canoe, and swim in the hotel pool…i got the bus to where i needed to go, or wanted to go.

    things are different now. the places we knew, no longer are the same. my ‘family’ is scattered, and our land…well, I’m fairly sure the big company that wanted it, took it.

    We moved Washington State. i have never looked back. i will never look back or regret. if you can afford to still be in the place that you grew up, then go for it. but living paycheck to paycheck is not really living. not trusting the neighborhood you grew up in isn’t living.

    Taking care of you is living. being able to go from the ocean to the mountains….that, for me, is living. getting in my car, and driving to see things that i have never seen….thats living. the place you live in does not define who you, but it can bring you down. how you feel inside outweighs the place you reside in. you are you, and you are Hawaiian, no matter where you live.

    • THIS. I left Hawaii in my mid-twenties, 10 years ago, because I could barely afford rent and groceries, and my job options were scarce. I haven’t even visited in about 4 years now, even though my parents are still there. They come to us, because I can’t bear how Hawaii has changed. There’s a lot that I miss (lordy, the food!), but here in the mountains of western North Carolina, the people and surroundings remind me very much of the best parts of growing up in Hawaii, despite how different they may seem at first. Here, I’m *living* in a way that was impossible for me back home. Yes, I still call it home, because it made me who I am. And as Nicole says, I am Hawaiian by birth no matter where I live.

  11. I agree 100%! I uprooted from my childhood home in Kahaluu 15 years ago and joined the Air Force. Although I miss the simple island life; the beaches, food, music, and breathtaking scenery on the Windward side, I have no regrets. I try to come home at least once a year, and each time I do I feel more and more like an outsider. It’s not how I remembered it! More people, more traffic and more businesses… Not to mention ice?! So sad what it’s doing to the local people. Maybe I was just sheltered, but I don’t remember it ever being that bad! We never locked our home or car doors, I can’t imagine that to be the case now days! I feel like the place I grew up in and called home is no more.

  12. I agree 100%! I uprooted from my childhood home in Kahaluu 15 years ago and joined the Air Force, I am now stationed in Nor Cal. I try to come home at least once a year, but every time I do I feel more and more like an outsider. I miss the simple island life; the beaches, food, music, breathtaking views on the Windward side and the overall aloha spirit. Now there seems to be more people, traffic, business and Ice! Maybe I just lived a sheltered life growing up but I don’t remember drugs being that prevalent! It’s sad what ice is doing to the locals! 15 years ago we would never lock our homes or cars, but I can’t imagine that being the case now days. The place I once called home seems no more, but the memories of catching tad poles in the taro fields, crayfishing in the streams, and bodysurfing at Sherwoods will forever be in my heart!

  13. This is so true. I’m only 17, but I see how hard things are nowadays, I see how my parent struggle. Everything has a price. A price so high that many natives and locals can barely afford to pay which is really sad. For what we’re paying now, we could get so much better in the mainland, and that’s the sad part. Although everything we know is here, and most of our Ohana is here, we’re forced into moving to the mainland because we know we can afford things there. I wish I knew the Hawaii that my Papa and Tutu knew.

  14. Take it from someone who has lived in Vegas and California, there is no place like Hawaii. It is difficult to live here, yes, but all of the good places are being taken over by people with money. One of my favorite neighborhoods in Los Angeles has been discovered by the yuppies over the past 10 years and they are doing the same thing as here: buying low from multi-generational owners and remodeling and driving up prices. Everywhere you go now has a trade-off. It’s dangerous to let your kids play outside today period, no matter where you are. I know it hurts to see your beloved land getting taken away piece by piece, but understand that us leaving is part of the problem. We need to stay here and hold on because there is nothing that the ones in charge would love more than for the natives to all die out or jump ship. Just know that there might be cheaper houses out there, but your soul will never stop longing for home.

  15. hit the nail on the head in so many points. I’m a local Portuguese boy, grew up windward side of oahu and now I live in Washington state. I miss home every day! I miss my family everyday! But my life here is so much more stress free. I tell people who ask me why I left, and I tell them, “a gallon of milk in Hawaii whe I moved was about $7 sometimes. The day I moved to Seattle a gallon of milk cost me $1.50. Do you see where I’m going?” And 9/10 times I get that deer in lights look at how astronomical it is to survive in the place my heart truly resides.

    I always thought when I moved away I would love to return to my roots and be with my family and retire where I grew up. But lately when I have returned to visit (which is equally as expensive to do just to get there) my heart has just been broken everytime. Kaneohe is not the same small town I grew up in. Kailua I don’t recognize any more. I came to realization, I’m never moving back. That chapter in my life was over and there’s no rewriting a new sequal.

    Luckily, there is an abundance of “local” people here in Washington state and around the Seattle area that I have made freinds with, and oddly enough, I feel more at home here than I ever did back in the islands since I moved away. You need to do what you feel is best in your heart. It’s like the ragged torn up doll that you never want to throw out, but know deep down inside, it’s time to let it go.

  16. I moved away in 1981, what a culture shock it was for this local girl.
    1st day I cried the sky in not the true blue sky like back home. I missed my friends and family. Now it’s 2015 I have 2 homes a good life, I know where to go for my local food fix. I keep in touch each day
    With my Ohana from Hawaii by face book, some are in Sandiego ,LA , northern Cali , Minnesota,Washington,Alabama,Maui ,Oahu ,and t he big island . And that’s ok . I’m happy in South Park
    San Diego

  17. We had the same sentiments and decisions 15 years ago. The company I work for was consolidating to WA and paid for a house hunting trip and all our moving expenses. Since we were still young and knew it would cost us an arm and a leg to move ourselves if we ever made that decision later, we were in. Our daughter was only 2 1/2 at the time and we felt she was still young enough to not realize the change. The hardest decision was leaving the Ohana. We were leaving the only babysitters I trusted, my mom and aunt, for strangers and an added daycare expense, but it was still cheaper to live in WA than to live in HI. My mom would spend half her year here with us and we’d come home for our yearly visits.

    We’ve been asked several times by family and friends if we’d ever go back to live and sadly, the answer is “no”. When asked why, the simple answer was; we can’t afford to buy a house with acreage, like we have now, and have all the materialistic things in life. Don’t get me wrong, we so dearly miss our Ohana and the Home we left behind, but we make sure we teach our kids the Hawaiian way and culture and keep that alive in the household. We’ve found a lot of islanders that live in the PACNW and have created our own “Ohana” here.

  18. My heart grieves for Hawaii and what she once was. America has destroyed that great place that used to be paradise, destroyed the Hawaiian way of life. We over populated it, over developed it. We brought over disease and crime. Destroyed their way of life that worked for them for hundreds if not thousands of years. We filled it with crime, drug trafficking, gangs, human trafficking, pollution, corruption at every level and in every arena of life, prostitution… the list goes on and on.

    In turn, Hawaii destroyed my son and his family. I made several trips over there. They suffered and struggled mightily to make a go of it over there. They couldn’t. They are no longer a family. I made several trips over there. I never understood how they or anyone else could call that place “paradise”. It was hell. Everything was a huge challenge, an uphill battle, a NEVER ending fight for mere survival.

    I saw no aloha there. The only aloha was when someone was reaching deep into your pockets, sometimes you knew it was happening sometimes you didn’t. You couldn’t have anything over there unless it was nailed down. Everything was stolen, by whites and natives. You dare not turn your back for a minute.

    The natural beauty, what is left of it, is undeniably beautiful and fantastic. But that is all that Hawaii has going for it anymore. And there’s not much of that left either.

    They have one of the worst school systems in the country.

    For the few islands that allow no non-natives on them, kudos!! Keep it up! And keep alive what you can of your heritage, your legacy. Unite to protect what is left of your islands, your way of life.

  19. I was apart of the generation that was born after my Ohana decided to move. I was born and raised in the pnw, but from the very first time I visited Oahu when I was 4, my heart never left. My entire life, my soul has longed to go “back” home. Growing up I was always bitter that my parents wouldn’t move us to Hawaii. So I’ve always soaked in my tutus stories of home, absorbed as much as the Aloha Spirit as I could whenever I went back, and constantly daydreamed of living where my soul much longed to be. I am now 25 and have two children of my own. My desire has still never been satisfied and I have always felt as though I never “belonged” here (in the pnw), and reading this article, along with how much more money I need each time I go back & listening to my friends/Ohana back home talking about how expensive and different it is really breaks my heart. I feel as if I will never know what it feels like to be “home”, and I am SOOO beyond envious of those who not only have, but have been there before all these changes happened that are driving everyone away. One day… One day I will be able to finally come home. I will not lose hope, although it may be a lot longer than I anticipated… Mahalo for listening. Aloha.

  20. My wife and I were born and raised in Hawaii. We had a home and careers. 7 years ago we sold the house and left for Utah. That was the best decision we ever made. Our children receive an education that would have cost $$$ back home. We do well enough to take vacations and visit home every year. Hawaii for me isn’t just in the islands but it is in me and I take it wherever I go. Nothing wrong with leaving Hawaii to pursue your dreams. Hawaii will always be there to come back to. And it really is different when you come home to visit and can see the beauty in it without the daily struggles of living there clouding your vision.

    • You said it perfect.. Hawaii is more beautiful when I am away and have it in my heart, at least for what I knew it as. Living in Hawaii now is depressed, struggle and unhappiness…

  21. My husband and I are close to retirement age and have been away from Oahu 15 years. He was born and raised there. We are considering moving to Kauai on homestead land. Reading all these comments scares me. Would like some feed back please.

    • Kauai = EXPENSIVE , beautiful, nice weather, and for retired people very nice if you are in good health and can participate in a lot of outdoor activities. Cultural experiences are of the rural kind and entertainment costs a lot. Most people entertain at home on the patio which is nice but can get boring. Also boring is driving around and around to the same places on the same roads with the bad traffic. Increasing drug use by the local young people who resent being among the ” have not’s ” due to poor job market and newcomers who they consider the ” have mores ” . They act out which has increased the crime rate. The very newcomers who came to Kauai for the paradise that it was promptly began changing it by trying to make it more like someplace else such as Jamaica or the mainland. The original culture and Aloha spirit of the people is changing in many ways. I am retired and while I own a home free and clear on Kauai I now live in the PNW in part for the lower cost of living and the sense of new experiences that it offers me. Kauai is my home and I love it forever but living away now is the right choice for me. I debate selling my Kauai home vs not. I probably will not as I and my family would probably never be able to buy another one there again. Letting go forever would be hard, after all Kauai also = PARADISE. Good luck to you if you do decide to move to Kauai. Before you do tho look around you and decide if maybe there is more than one kind of paradise as my husband and I did.

  22. And that! Is exactly what they wanted….. From the get go. And don’t get me wrong! I feel the exact same way.. It’s sad to see. Nothing for the local people. Our culture is slowly dying and soon enough hawaiians will be no more… Jus sayin.

  23. I stumbled across this and felt the need to reply. I was born and raised in Hawaii, my family goes back multiple generations. I moved away for school and have stayed on the mainland for work and I’m at a point where I’m considering moving back to start a family and be with my extended family. However, everytime I visit I’m disappointed more and more by what I see. Personally, I’m fortunate to be in a good paying field that is transferable to the islands, the pay won’t be as great compared to the mainland, but I’d likely still be ok financially especially compared to most locals. Nevertheless, there are other issues with the islands that give me pause.

    The cost of living, while I’d be able to afford it better than most, the prices still are ridiculous, not just food and everyday things, but housing in particular. The quality and value of Honolulu homes are very poor, they can be rundown yet fetch nearly $1M. Anything more affordable or better quality would have a 1hr commute. All the new condos being built are out of the price range of any local and only encourages more foreign and mainland investment while locals get no benefit.

    Add to that the higher income taxes someone like myself would pay, which would be fine if I saw it going to good use. However, what I see is poor public infrastructure and utilities, but a high government employment rate and heavy support for social services. Of course this leads into the homeless problem, which is another issue that isn’t getting any better (and didn’t seem like that much of problem years ago). Overall, though, Honolulu just looks rundown and outdated, including homes, buildings (public and private), public spaces, parks, etc.

    Traffic, crowding and tourists. A majority of people I grew up with have left for the mainland and haven’t returned. Locals are leaving and being replaced by foreigners and transplants and local culture and vibe is getting more diluted. It just doesn’t feel the same anymore. Take Kauai for example, it has changed dramatically in the past 10-20 years and has become a haven for mainlanders and tourists. Similar things are happening in Kailua. Yet the population steadily increases, causing more vehicle traffic as well as foot traffic in a lot of areas I used to enjoy. Beaches are more crowded, as are trails. Areas or neighborhoods that were once “locals only” are now infiltrated with tourists and the like, I’m sure social media and the internet has helped this.

    While I may do ok financially, professionally I would be lacking. Some of the advanced professional work I do would go unused. I constantly hear about people (especially politicians) talking about keeping locals, attracting top talent and advancing Hawaii but there is just no support for it. It seems to be a combination of politically, financially and personal lack of will or interest. A lot of friends who moved to the mainland cannot move back because there is just a weak professional culture in Hawaii and they would have to take a step back professionally or just find a new career altogether.

    Also, it may just be me, but the weather doesn’t seem to be as great as when I was growing up. Nice tradewind days are less common and there seems to be more and more kona wind days.

    I feel conflicted, I would love to be close to family and give my kids the same great childhood I had, but I’m not sure it’s worth or will be the same. While I’m all for progress and change for the better, I do not see Hawaii doing that. What I see is a lower quality of life with no indications of improving.

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