David Shapiro
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By David Shapiro

Saturday, April 3, 1999

Expatriates see
Hawaii’s big picture

Oxford student Lavonne Leong's stories in the Star-Bulletin last week about Hawaii's brain drain hit a nerve among former residents who have fled to better jobs and schooling elsewhere.

We started receiving hundreds of e-mails from expatriates as soon as the series hit our online edition, They weren't passing comments quickly dashed off. Most were thoughtful essays about the difficult decision to leave Hawaii and the powerful economic and social forces keeping people away.

These are former residents of all ages and ethnic backgrounds. They've been away from a few years to a few decades. Their common thread is that they love Hawaii and dream of coming home.

They keep in touch by religiously following local news on They form Hawaii clubs wherever they go and gather in faraway places to talk about Hawaii's problems and how to fix them. They have the advantage of viewing Hawaii from a distance, where it's always easierto see the big picture.

We'll be running many of the letters in the Star-Bulletin and online at so you can see for yourselves what they have to say, but strong themes stand out:

Bullet High living costs and poor job diversity are the main forces driving people away. They're stifled in our two-industry environment of tourism and government employment and won't pay extortionate prices for necessities such as housing, gasoline and milk.

Bullet They see Hawaii as a great place to raise a family -- if you can afford to send your children to private school. On the mainland, they're raising their kids in nice houses in good neighborhoods with excellent public schools. They view Hawaii's public schools as an embarrassment to the state.

Bullet They miss family and friends, but cheap air fares and long-distance phone rates along with the Internet make it easier to stay connected.

Bullet They see us increasingly as a Third World society with an apartheid economy. Coming from Forbes magazine, this view is racist and insulting. But coming from the grandchildren of Hawaii's plantations, it's an alarming insight.

Bullet They can't believe we keep electing the same "leaders" to make the same mistakes. They see us as foolishly reveling in our resistance to needed change.

Bullet They see bloated government here as a workfare program that pays too many people more than we can afford to do things that don't need doing -- like choking hope for economic growth with overregulation and red tape.

Bullet They have little respect for the University of Hawaii, seeing a mediocre, politicized system that lacks state support. They're appalled that students can't get the courses they need to finish a degree in four years.

Bullet They see a pathetic little state whose idea of economic development is to kiss the behind of Teamsters boss Leo Reed to get a tired old TV show to film here and whose idea of controlling government spending is to charge people to go to Hanauma Bay.

Bullet They view themselves as a resource for Hawaii and would like to help.

The last political and social revolution of the kind needed now was when Japanese-American soldiers of the 442nd went off to fight World War II and came back with a broader world view and a determination to build a better Hawaii.

Here's hoping our army of expatriates will find a way home as a modern 442nd bringing the initiative, courage and leadership we so sorely need.

Bullet Send feedback on 'Hawaii's Brain Drain'
Please include name, address and phone
number for verification purposes

David Shapiro is managing editor of the Star-Bulletin.
He can be reached by e-mail at

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