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Discover More: Aloha on the Mainland

Explore the history of Hawaiian outmigration from the islands.

Indeed, Hawaiians have created a "home" away from and in memory of Hawai'i. Most imagine Hawaiians and Hawaiian communities as residing solely in Hawai'i. However, Hawaiian communities have migrated to and settled on the continental U.S. mainland in increasing numbers for the last six decades. For instance, according to the 2000 U.S. Census, there are more Hawaiians on the mainland than in Hawai'i. There is even historical evidence suggesting that Hawaiians began emigrating to the U.S. mainland as early as the late 1700s for economic survival. Since the 1950s, Hawaiians have created growing communities as far away as British Colombia, Mexico, Europe, and as close as the continental U.S. mainland (e.g., in California, Washington, Colorado, Florida, Arizona, Illinois, New York, Nevada, Texas, Utah, Oregon, and Virginia, among other areas). (See Notes )

The Migration of Hawaiians

The migration of Hawaiians to the mainland occurred largely due to key historical/political events and economic pressures in Hawai'i. The year 1778 marked the moment in which Westernization dramatically altered the Hawaiian culture. Up until then, Hawai'i had been a self-sustaining and organized society and an independent kingdom. After this point, Captain Cook and other European explorers arrived. Subsequently, struggles over political governance, sovereignty, and native and land rights dominated the next few centuries. With the increase of foreign travelers and residents in Hawai'i, native belonging and residency in Hawai'i quickly lost its ethnic distinction and began to liberally include all residents. More and more outsiders and external business interests flocked to Hawai'i as U.S. colonialism overthrew the independent Hawaiian Kingdom in 1893. Thus, Hawaiians lost any cultural right to land that they had previously held. At this time, historians posit that young Hawaiian males left Hawai'i as workers on whaling ships and traveled to China, Europe, Mexico, and the U.S. mainland. In addition, many ventured into the Pacific Northwest territory, worked in the fur trade, and ended up settling in those areas. Hawaiians also migrated to Yolo County, California to participate in the Gold Rush and created their own Kanaka Village. There is evidence that Hawaiians settled across California in the late 1800s and even intermarried with Native Americans. Many scholars speculate that Hawaiians migrated to the mainland in order to gain more economic opportunity and to flee from the dramatic Westernization that was changing the face of Hawai'i.

Throughout World War II and after, Hawai'i's economy and land base focused on two areas: the tourist industry and military defense. As Hawai'i increasingly became a tourist destination, Hawaiians who had limited access to land and economic opportunities left their homeland and settled as far away as Europe, Japan, Mexico, and the U.S. "Home" for Hawaiians became a concentrated site of colonial and globalized interests. In response to the colonization of Hawai'i, there were three waves of Hawaiian out-migration that resulted from the lack of jobs at home and the challenges and obstacles put forth by the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs in securing a Hawaiian homestead.

The First Wave (1948-1969)

With most of the Hawaiian land reserved for U.S. military purposes and a lack of jobs (the plantation economy had disintegrated), many Hawaiian men joined the U.S. military, in numbers that were "double the national average." Mainland Hawaiian communities developed after World War II. This was a time when Hawaiian men could gain more materially through military service and the GI Bill's promise of technical training and college education in return for a minimum of three years' active duty. Most of these men were shipped to the mainland (and stationed in both the Northwest and the South) and never returned to Hawai'i; those who did return to Hawai'i had difficulty finding jobs. After the wake of the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act (HHCA) of 1920 with its 50% blood quantum requirement to be recognized as a "Hawaiian," and the challenges in securing a Hawaiian homestead, it was economically better to stay away from home. Hawaiian women also sought out schooling opportunities on the mainland but their migration outwards was much more constrained than that of their male counterparts. Instead, marriage to haoles and mainlanders (Japanese, Chinese, and Latino men) ensured many Hawaiian women a different life and class existence.

The Second Wave (1970s)

The second wave took place as multinational and foreign investment in the tourist industry gained momentum and the state agency — Department of Hawaiian Home Lands — failed to equitably distribute homestead lands to "proven" Hawaiians (many died while on the waiting list for land). Hawaiians continued to struggle in locating jobs and attaining homestead lands at home.

The Third Wave (1990s)

The most recent wave of migration by Hawaiians was in response to several intensifying pressures in the last decade: the soaring cost of living, the limited supply of low-wage jobs and the rising prices of homes. In addition, state agencies — Office of Hawaiian Affairs and the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands — had for too long failed to furnish Hawaiians with cultural entitlements and land rights. Homestead claims made by Hawaiians were denied, stalled, or not recognized. When Hawaiians took legal action in the state courts, all of their challenges were quelled under the guise of legal technicalities. Denying the Hawaiians the right to sue, only the U.S. government could sue the State of Hawai'i for homeland trust violations. Hawaiians dispersed to other spaces away from Hawai'i to realize a stable, or at least a better, economic living and to retreat from the ineffective and unjust local government and its state agencies (OHA, DHHL).

For Hawaiians, it therefore seemed economically better to stay away from "home." As of today, there are more Hawaiians living "off island" on the continental U.S. mainland than there are living in Hawai'i. Mainland Hawaiian communities have settled in British Columbia, Mexico, Europe, and the continental U.S. mainland.

Through such migration, Hawaiians settled in the mainland (many never returning to Hawai'i) and raised families in a new home site. Many Hawaiians continued to struggle with maintaining a link to Hawai'i and Hawaiian cultural traditions and practices. Over time, Hawaiians established tight-knit interregional Hawaiian networks. Since the 1950s, "off-island" Hawaiians have produced three generations of mainland Hawaiian youth and a distinctive Hawaiian culture in the continental U.S. (2)

Contemporary Mainland Hawaiian Life

A vibrant mainland Hawaiian community has been shaped primarily through Hawaiian civic clubs, canoe clubs, and hula halau. The goal of these associations and clubs originally was to form a haven for newly resettled Hawaiians away from "home." However, since the 1970s, these groups have taken the lead in fostering Hawaiian cultural pride and establishing another home site for Hawaiians who have been dispossessed from and economically forced out of Hawai'i. Mainland halau and canoe clubs have even successfully competed against Hawai'i-based groups, thereby making their mark as authentically Hawaiian entities. Through these associations, Hawaiians have also organized massive luau events, music showcases (bringing popular Hawaiian musicians like the Makaha Sons, Keali'i Reichel, Amy Hanaiali'i Gilliom to the mainland) and Hawaiian language classes. Other outlets for mainland Hawaiians to connect and maintain their culture are local/Hawaiian food restaurants and Hawaiian crafts/goods retail stores. Since the 1950s, mainland Hawaiians have indeed created a different kind of "Hawaiian-ness" but one still connected to Hawaiian traditions while also reflecting the new place in which they live. Factors that play into the shaping of a unique mainland Hawaiian culture include the widespread dispersion of Hawaiians from one another in the mainland and the different ethnic/racial makeup of the mainland as compared to Hawai'i (namely the large number of European Americans/haoles, Latinos, African Americans, Vietnamese, and Asian Indians). These factors encourage mainland Hawaiians not to take their culture for granted and to work harder at maintaining their cultural practices and connections with other Hawaiians in the area, and to distinguish their culture from other cultures in the American diaspora.

Mainland Hawaiians have also raised new generations of Hawaiian youth who are enculturated into their "Hawaiian-ness" through mainland Hawaiian community life, namely Hawaiian civic clubs and halau. Mainland Hawaiian parents have expressed concern that their children, many of whom have never been to Hawai'i, will forget their cultural roots and merely absorb into the mainland White mainstream. Thus, mainland Hawaiians have both refashioned and invigorated Hawaiian cultural identity in a way that is uniquely different from and yet continuous with Hawaiian practices back in Hawai'i. Similar to on-island Hawaiians, Hawaiians on the mainland embrace the concept of 'ohana (family) and create close ties among all Hawaiians in the surrounding areas. They also hold Hawaiian dance and music close to their hearts. Differently, however, mainland Hawaiians have to travel far distances and make great efforts at continuing their link to Hawaiian culture off-island. Moreover, Hawaiian dance and music by mainland Hawaiian community groups weave in mainland influences, styles, and expressions in order to symbolize their uniquely constructed Hawaiian identity. This is perhaps most evident in the mainland hula halau, which stands as a major vehicle of enculturation and voice for mainland Hawaiians, and is the subject of the POV feature, "American Aloha." (3)

Dr. Rona T. Halualani is a mainland Hawaiian born and raised in San Mateo, Northern California. Like their counterparts, her parents emigrated to Hawai'i in the 1950s for better economic opportunity. She has been involved with mainland Hawaiian communities in Northern California and Arizona. Halualani earned her Ph.D. in Communication from Arizona State University in 1998 and has been an Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication Studies at San Jose State University since 1998. One of her main research areas is Hawaiian identity and mainland Hawaiian communities. Halualani has conducted interviews with over 300 mainland Hawaiians and is the author of In the Name of Hawaiians: Native Identities and Cultural Politics (University of Minnesota Press, 2002).

Information discussed in this paragraph derives from the following sources: Office of Hawaiian Affairs. 2002. Native Hawaiian Data Book. Honolulu, Office of Hawaiian Affairs Research Study; Wright, Paul. 1979. Residents Leave Paradise: A Study of Outmigration from Hawaii to the Mainland. Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i.
  • Information discussed in this paragraph derives from the following sources: Barman, Jean. 1995. "New Land, New Lives: Hawaiian Settlement in British Colombia." The Hawaiian Journal of History 29: 1-32; Belli, Anthony M. 1999. "Kanaka Jack's Lost Gold." Unpublished paper; Calhoon, F.D. 1986. Coolies, Kanakas, and Cousin Jacks and Eleven Other Ethnic Groups Who Populated the West During the Gold Rush Years. Sacramento, F.D. Calhoon, Standard Publishing; Halualani, Rona Tamiko. 2002. In The Name of Hawaiians: Native Identities and Cultural Politics. Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press; 'I'i, John Papa. 1959. Fragments of Hawaiian History. Trans. by Mary Kawena Pukui. Honolulu, Bishop Museum Press; Kame'eleihiwa, Lilikala. 1992. Native Land and Foreign Desires: Pehea La E Pono Ai? Honolulu, HI, Bishop Museum Press; Kauanui, J.Kehaulani. 1999. "Off-Island Hawaiians 'Making' Ourselves at 'Home': A [Gendered] Contradiction in Terms?" Women's Studies International Forum 21 (6): 681-693; MacKenzie, Melody Kapilialoha. 1991. Native Hawaiian Rights Handbook. Honolulu, Hawai'i, Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation and Office of Hawaiian Affairs; MacKenzie, Melody Kapilialoha. 1993, February. "1893-1993: Overthrow, Annexation, and Sovereignty." Hawaii Bar Journal: 8-11; Malo, David. 1951. Hawaiian Antiquities. Trans. by Dr. Nathaniel B. Emerson in 1898. Honolulu, HI, Bishop Museum Press; Quimby, George, I. 1972. "Hawaiians in the Fur Trade of Northwest America, 1785-1820." Journal of Pacific History, 7, 92-103; Ramsland, Margaret A. 1974. The Forgotten Californians. Jensen Graphic; "The World in California." February 1857. Hutchings' California Magazine, Volume I; Wright, Paul. 1979. Residents Leave Paradise: A Study of Outmigration from Hawaii to the Mainland. Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i; Wright, Paul. 1983. "Ethnic Difference in the Outmigration of Local Born Residents from Hawai'i." Social Processes in Hawaii, 30, 731.
  • Information discussed in this paragraph derives from the following sources: Halualani, Rona Tamiko. 2002. In The Name of Hawaiians: Native Identities and Cultural Politics. Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press; Kauanui, J.Kehaulani. 1999. "Off-Island Hawaiians 'Making' Ourselves at 'Home': A [Gendered] Contradiction in Terms?" Women's Studies International Forum 21 (6): 681-693; Wright, Paul. 1979. Residents Leave Paradise: A Study of Outmigration from Hawaii to the Mainland. Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i; Wright, Paul. 1983. "Ethnic Difference in the Outmigration of Local Born Residents from Hawai'i." Social Processes in Hawaii, 30, 731.




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