Ka Wai Ola

Outside of Hawai‘i, the largest “Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander” populations can be found in California (286,000), Washington (70,000), Texas (48,000), Florida (40,000) and Utah (37,000), according to the 2010 US Census. The majority of Hawaiians are living in Los Angeles, followed by San Diego, Las Vegas, Sacramento, and King County, Washington (where Seattle is located).

For 39-year-old Seattle resident Kathy Perreira, more career options led her from her hometown of Pālolo Valley, O‘ahu at the age of 21, to the Pacific Northwest where she now works as a software engineer.

“I just love everything about it,” she says. “We’re doing better in Seattle. It was cheaper, so I ended up moving, and then I found my way into coding and into being an engineer. That can’t really happen in Hawai‘i, so that’s why I stayed.”

From 2013-2017, the Hawai‘i State Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism (DBEDT) studied migrations of people moving into and out of Hawai‘i. The report found that people in Honolulu County moved more frequently than those in other counties, and that the lack of employment opportunities is one of the key reasons for migration.

The report also showed that Native Hawaiians are continuing to move to states where the largest Native Hawaiian populations already exist.

“According to estimates, the top five destinations of Native Hawaiians who moved out of Hawai‘i during 2013-2017 were California, Nevada, Utah, Washington and Oregon,” says Yang-Seon Kim, research and statistics officer for DBEDT.

Young adults and the prime working-age population between the ages of 18 to 34 were the largest group moving out of Hawai‘i. Many of the people in this age range moved out of Hawai‘i to attend college or to start their first job following graduation.

For 39-year-old Kenway Kua and 40-year-old Justin Kamai-Clemente, moving to the continent right after high school was their choice. At 18, Kua moved from Kāne‘ohe to Provo, Utah for school, then to Florida and Los Angeles to further his career as a dancer before moving to New York City, where he currently lives, to perform in Broadway musicals. At 17, Kamai-Clemente left Kapahulu to attend college in Rhode Island and Texas, then moved to New York City, then San Francisco and finally to Orlando, Florida, where he currently works as a sous chef.

Neither foresees moving back to Hawai‘i, and both plan to continue living where they are, just like the hundreds of thousands of other Native Hawaiians who call the continent home.

“Do I miss paddling, watching Merrie Monarch, or getting to go to another lā‘au to celebrate?” asks Kamai-Clemente. “Yes. But I remind myself, if I didn’t leave, think about all the experiences I would’ve missed.”