2020 Census Results Confirm What We Have Felt for Years
The Wednesday night hula class is wrapping up at Hālau Ka Lei Haliʻa O Ka Lokelani. Shoes are still piled up at the entrance. The walls are surrounded by pictures of loved ones, close friends, and hula icons Emma DeFries and Aloha Dalire. Pahu drums are carefully returned to rest until the next gathering. After hugs and kisses, it’s time for heavy coats and scarves because it’s 50 degrees and dropping outside. This hula class is in Oregon.
“You just want to rush to your car so you can blast the heater,” said Kumu Hula Leialoha Kaʻula. “Aside from that, you would never know you aren’t in Hawaiʻi. We’re connected when we are in that space; it’s our puʻuhonua; we are home.”
Like many other Native Hawaiians, Kaʻula made the heartbreaking financial decision to move to the continental United States.
The Native Hawaiian diaspora has been growing at an unprecedented rate. The idea that more Hawaiians now live on the continent than in Hawaiʻi is no longer an assumption.
The final results of the 2020 Census show that 53% of Native Hawaiians now reside in the continental U.S., while just 47% are in Hawaiʻi.
Overall, 680,442 Native Hawaiians were counted in the United States in 2020, a 29% increase over 2010.
The U.S. Census Bureau carries out hundreds of surveys every year. However, its most well-known responsibility is to administer the decennial Census.
The U.S. Constitution requires the government to conduct a national census of the U.S. population every 10 years.
The decennial Census counts Native Hawaiians as disaggregated from other racial and ethnic groups, meaning that the Native Hawaiian population could be analyzed by itself.
The Native Hawaiian Research Hui, a collaborative initiative involving Native Hawaiian-serving organizations, including the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, Liliʻuokalani Trust, Papa Ola Lōkahi, The Queen’s Health System, and Kamehameha Schools, has been monitoring these demographic trends.
The Hui’s analysis revealed that the size of the Native Hawaiian populations in Hawaiʻi and on the continent increased. The difference is that the continental Native Hawaiian population is growing five times faster than the Native Hawaiian population in Hawaiʻi.
“I feel that I have a kuleana to help provide opportunities for Native Hawaiians to connect with their language and culture,” Kaʻula reflected. “Several generations of Kānaka on the continent are disconnected from home both geographically and culturally. It doesn’t have to be that way. We can bring music, language, and culture to the continent and use technology to provide more opportunities to build that pilina.”
Hālau Ka Lei Haliʻa O Ka Lokelani has hosted regular special guests for workshops on hula, ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi, arts and crafts, and history.
“It’s important for Hawaiians at home to empathize and have aloha for those on the continent. We’re not any less Hawaiian just because we’re not home. We can contribute to elevating our culture and help with issues facing our community.”
Efforts to recreate the essence of Hawaiian culture on the continent have continued to expand in recent years. Concerts and events with other Pacific Islanders serve as gathering places for the Native Hawaiian community.
Over the last 20 years, the Association of Hawaiian Civic Clubs has held conventions in Anchorage, Seattle, and Washington, D.C. The Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement held its inaugural Western Regional Native Hawaiian Convention in Las Vegas this past summer.
Dennis Rose was born and raised in Orange County, Calif., and spent over a decade in Kansas City before moving to Hawaiʻi to care for his mother. He embraced the Hawaiian Civic Club of Kansas City to develop his Hawaiian identity.
“Being around the civic club is wonderful, and being around the issues was very good for me,” Rose said. “It was really different in the 80s and 90s. It was difficult to connect with other Hawaiians. Cell phones were new, there wasn’t an internet the way we have it today and in Kansas City, Native Hawaiians were few and far between. You don’t run into them at work, at church, or college. For some Hawaiians on the continent, you could be the only family for 25 or 50 miles or more.”
Rose sees how technology has closed the gap between Hawaiʻi and the continent, but feels there could be a greater digital connection that becomes a lifeline for those seeking to stay connected to the pulse of their homeland.
“What I would have given to be able to have the access we have today, that just did not exist in my world – and how wonderful it is for them to have the internet the way it is today. We just need more. It’s so important for the continent Hawaiians to be able to learn about, and stay connected to, the culture, the issues, and the challenges weʻre having as a community so we can all be a part of the conversations and potential problem-solving. Recorded videos are great but livestreams that take time differences into account are best.”
“It’s important for Hawaiians at home to empathize and have aloha for those on the continent. We’re not any less Hawaiian just because we’re not home.” – Kumu Hula Leialoha Ka‘ula
The 2020 Census results represent an inflection point for the Native Hawaiian community and punctuates the resilience of the lāhui. Technology has brought our language and culture closer to those on the continent. Still, there is a desire for more to be done. However, it’s clear that regardless of where Native Hawaiians find themselves, we remain one people, connected by the enduring spirit of a nation.