Like more than a quarter of the population living in Hawai‘i but born on the mainland, I am a transplant. I moved to Honolulu in 2009 after getting a lucky break in the job market, a one-year AmeriCorps assignment. I showed up fresh from college with collarbone-length hair highlighted blond, a pair of knee-high boots, and a couple sweatshirts in case it got cold. I made it to my rented room at an apartment behind Walmart after dark. It was short a bed, so I slept on an air mattress borrowed from one of my roommates, a nurse from North Carolina splitting a room with her boyfriend from Colorado (also my home state). Across the kitchen lived a joke-cracking man from Minnesota, and down the hall, a woman who was on O‘ahu for law school. I spent a lot of time at Ala Moana Center on my way to the beach, to a bus stop, looking at things I could not afford. I realized, on one such bus, what it means to feel like a minority, albeit an empowered one. Not long after my move, I also found myself walking through a protest of statehood on its 50th anniversary and thought, “oh shit.”
Some version of these experiences, the fresh-off–the-plane arrival and subsequent realizations of race, place, or identity, are true to the nearly 46 percent of transplants that live in Hawai‘i today (26 percent hail from the mainland, the other 20 percent from abroad). And there are different types of those mainlanders I’ve met during my time here, a few of which follow.
The forever changed: This can be an early phase of a transplant, including me, or a permanent one, until some do what they promised their parents and move back. This type Facebooks every sunset, practices the shaka, and gushes over mac-nut syrup. The forever changed fills with rays of sunshine when the first brown neighbor brings them over a fresh catch, a validation that “the wonderful people” love you back. This type may be combined with another, the lost soul. These ones, they go with the flow. For example, an unlikely employment opportunity brought me here. For others, it’s a sister, a friend, a cheap ticket, a Craigslist scam. After, when whatever brought them here goes away, you will find the lost souls working random jobs (copy machine salesman, flower girl) or desperately searching for work on the mainland that will enable a return to the selves they once knew: reliable, ambitious, and tapped into the real world.
Lost souls may also develop into the wanderlust yogi. These types love to explore, shake off the dust of [fill in previous exotic location], and wake up with Vinyasa every morning. You will find them getting their yoga teacher certification or debuting yet another freshly pressed juice shack. I still haven’t figured out how the exorbitant supply of yoga instructors doesn’t lower the cost of classes here. The price of paradise, I suppose.
Transplants of all origins may also claim the type of the mover and shaker. Stereotypically, these are loud, brash New Yorkers, but they can actually hail from anywhere. They have a little bit, or a lot, of job experience and a penchant for reading Forbes or Art Forum. They know things, and they just don’t get why people here refuse to value criticism, prompt action, or work all hours of the day. Often, they relocate to the islands for a job that brought them here for this express reason.
Far contrary to this type are the Ohioans. They live in Waikīkī, miss their moms, and make spreadsheets to pinpoint the cheapest happy hours. The Ohioans make public appearances for things like St. Patty’s Day and college football games, but usually return home quickly—unless they find a critical mass of dudes exactly like them. And then, of course, there’s the surfer: Californian, Jersey Boy, the rare Floridian, sometimes of the Christian variety. This type comes for the waves and plans on returning home after driving enough tourists to North Shore to snorkel; getting tired of retail shifts at Billabong; or completing nighttime classes at the university. There is a high risk, however, that they will haul significant others to the islands and never leave. Wave love is a strong thing.
As for this transplant, I’ve become another type, one I haven’t come up with a name for yet. I’m still shaky at the shaka, but Hawai‘i has left me forever changed. Moving here—moving anywhere—makes you realize things about the world, and about yourself. I discovered, somewhat begrudgingly, that we are defined by our origins just as much as our current location. And, whether we know it or not, we also help define what is around us. Transplants come and go, create businesses, integrate into communities. Like everyone, we have our virtues, our faults, and for those of us who stay, we have our reasons for sticking around.