The Stolen State

By Anjali Nayak 

A vacation destination for more than a century, Hawaii is becoming a victim of its own success. The state has a “champagne problem” as the overwhelming number of tourists raise the value of land and property, but salaries of the locals continue to lag behind. Native Hawaiians have been forced to leave the state and live thousands of miles away from their deserved land.  

“Basically what Hawaii has become is a preferred place for the international one percent to buy property,” explains Lawrence Boyd, an economist and associate specialist with the University of Hawaii Center for Labor Education Research. The large influx of billionaires buying vacation homes in Hawaii has driven up the average price of houses to 2.5 million dollars. Not to mention the luxury, high scale resorts buying up large portions of land. According to the Los Angeles Times, Hawaii received 9.3 million visitors in 2017 alone. Furthermore, the percentage of out-of-state purchases on the Neighbor Islands was much higher. In Maui County, mainlanders and foreign buyers purchased 52% of homes. While tourists are attracted by the unique scenery, traditional foods, and the blend of cultures that contribute to Hawaii’s powerful history, they are often ignorant to the damage they cause. 

Although the average individual income in Honolulu reported by the U.S. Census Bureau in 2010 was 28,882 dollars, typical local home prices are back up over 650,000 and have grown far more since then. The natives of the state are pushed out and left on the street. In Oahu more than 70% of the population are homeless individuals and more than 20% of the homeless are families. Hawaii attempts to hide its homeless population. The World Surf League has made generous financial donations to local politicians to lock locals out of their beaches for much of the Hawiian winter. 

Academic and activist, Kyle Kajihiro watched as visitors from the  mainland–perfectly intelligent and thoughtful visitors transformed when they arrived in Hawaii. “They have this vision of Hawaii as this multicultural paradise. They don’t understand that there’s a history of colonialism and dispossession inscribed in the landscape itself.” Hawaii might be heaven, but whose?