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Seven of the truly worst things about Hawaii

No, really.

On February 23rd the Huffington Post published an uncredited essay, The 18 Worst Things About Hawaii (No Really).  Within two days it has been “liked” over 110,000 times and shared over 18,000. It was a weak attempt to talk about how Hawai‘i, while still a “paradise,” has a few problems. But as George Clooney’s character so memorably said in The Descendants: “Paradise? Paradise can go f**k itself.” At least the concept of Hawai‘i-as-paradise can go do that.

While that essay was animated with sort-of-amusing GIFs as is the style for these writings, it was just one more entry in the long line of sloppy verbiage about the islands from people who come here for a time and soon are self-appointed experts on the place.  As an island people, we have been reading this junk from when the first missionaries came through James Michener until today.

The problem is that these authors’ frames of reference, often their extreme privilege relative to locals, and their ignorance of Hawai`i inevitably bleeds throughout their writing. This perpetuates myths and misses the truth of Hawai`i as experienced by people with longer residence here.  This all becomes worse when their words are widely circulated, discussed, and believed by folks who would not otherwise have a basis for seeing all the error.

Well, that takes care of the first of seven items that are the actually among the worst things about Hawai‘i: #1. The continuous stream of crappy writing about Hawai‘i by people not from here.  But there is far more to the real Hawai`i that actually deserves being labeled the worst.

2. Grave diggers. I am sorry you are bummed, oh HuffPo writer, about our radio stations being “monotonous”.  How about the fact that native Hawaiian graves are still regularly dug up while building new hotels, shopping centers, and condos?  If a Hawaiian is persistent and lucky, they can go through a lengthy process to prove their ancestors lived in the general area of the burial and gain an “advisory” role as to what happens to the remains. Talk about monotonous: the desecration of Hawaiian remains over objections has been going on for decades. Sorry you had to listen to the same song twice on your commute.

3. Political retribution. The author states that you “can’t complain” to your mainland friends about anything. Maybe true (or maybe they need new friends who listen), but that certainly does not nearly deserve placement on a worst list.  How about the problems we have when residents complain to leaders here about injustice, mistreatment, or corruption? We have a political culture and economy so small that free speech is a challenge. You always have to watch what you say or later you pay – in the missed promotion, the pass over in hiring, or worse. In some smaller places within the islands like Lāna`i, now owned by Larry Ellison – free speech is basically a fiction. When one man owns all the land, most the housing, and controls nearly all jobs, what happens if you complain?

4. Homeless on the beach, in the parks, everywhere. 
The author complains about needing to be swimsuit ready – poor thing.  Lucky they aren’t one of the homeless who live the “beach lifestyle” 24/7 – we have the third highest homeless population per capita of any state.  Many of our homeless live on beaches, or at least did on O`ahu till one time Mayor and gubernatorial hopeful Mufi Hanneman began “clean ups” that drove the homeless into local neighborhoods.  Our scale of homelessness happens for a host of reasons, but it bears mentioning that one reason is that housing prices are driven up is from population growth from people outside the islands.

5. Hunger. The writer complains about there being no quality Mexican food. How much more appropriate to talk about actual hunger: in 2010 over 14% of our population was receiving emergency food assistance through the Hawaii Foodbank network.

6. Racial discrimination. The HuffPo writer complains about how not being a yogini or surfer makes them feel like a “second class citizen.” Try being Micronesian, our islands’ largest recent immigrant group – who are at the bottom of the social heap and even our politicians refer to as an unfair burden to local taxpayers. Not to mention the myriad other ways people are discriminated against all the time here on the basis of race and ethnicity, or the truly horrific historic discrimination by whites against almost everyone else.

7. Species Extinction.  The writer complains about never seeing a big concert again because Hawaii is “out of the way.” How sad.  Hawaii’s isolation means that we have one of the highest rates of endemism in the world (species that exist no where else), and because of that and invasive species and land use changes we are the “endangered species capital of the world.” That’s a much worse fate than the author’s imagined “island fever”.

There is a lot more that could be on a “worst” list, and a lot that could be on the “best” list beyond the rainbows the author writes about.  But for now, can we join the fictional Matt King and stick a fork in the idea of Hawai`i-as-paradise?

Finally, to the writer who wrote that essay, chew on this ōlelo no’eau (traditional Hawaiian saying) often said to students: Nānā ka maka, ho‘olohe ka pepeiao, pa‘a ka waha; Look with the eyes, listen with the ears, shut the mouth.  You might consider waiting to share your “expertise” about Hawai‘i till you understand more about life here.

Jonathan Likeke Scheuer was born and raised and lives in Hawai`i.

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