On April 2nd, a small group of native Hawaiians gathered at the summit of Mauna Kea on Hawaii Island, to protest the building of a state-of-the-art observatory called the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT). A billion dollar multinational endeavor that has been in pre-development since 2008. Surrounded by police and construction crew, the protesters claim the project breaks multiple environmental laws and encroaches on cultural sites considered sacred. Mauna Kea, the highest mountain on Earth (33,000 feet from the sea floor), is considered the piko (umbilical cord) of the island and first child of celestial creators Wakea and Papa. Basically, ground zero for the Hawaiian creation story.
Word spread of the event through social media, creating a flash mob of protestors and student activists overnight. News outlets around the world covered the event as a classic David versus Goliath story. But of all the opinion articles about the relevance of science, indigenous culture and latent colonialism, one topic has yet to be addressed. But first, I’ll start with a meme, the Internet equivalent of a joke.
Do you recognize that floating head? Did you flinch as you read it? Does the image of an angry parent spike your blood pressure or give you anxiety? If so — you’re probably Asian. I know that’s a stereotype (insert tiger mom joke here) but there is always some truth at the core of a stereotype.
That annoyed bodiless dad is symbolic of the motivating force behind a generation of new millionaires in China. There are 2.3 Million Millionaire households as of 2013 with each consecutive year doubling in size. Obsessed asian parents have cultivated a work ethic so fierce, their collective offspring are changing the world. Chinese, South Korean and Indian youth are attaining success at break-neck speeds. Their achievements in S.T.E.M., finance, agriculture, manufacturing and commerce are off the charts.
Unsurprisingly, Hawaii developers know this and have at least twenty new condominiums slated for Honolulu over the next several years, with prices reaching upwards of 2.5 million dollars per unit. A perfect home-away-from-home for Asia’s finest. Hawaii is no stranger to foreign investments, but we’ve never really experienced what thousands of imported millionaires will do to the cost of living in Hawai in such short order. But if you’re curious of a possible future, look no further than San Francisco, where newly minted engineers and programmers are displacing locals everyday. The halo of Silicon Valley has rendered San Francisco a millionaire’s paradise in less than a decade.
Imagine a future where the descendants of Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Case, Pierre Omidyar and Larry Elisson are the new Hawaiians. Standing around in slippers and Aloha shirts like a scene from that George Clooney movie.
Take a moment to let this idea sink in.
Right now, your Hawaiian ancestry guarantees you no place in Hawaii’s future. Not even a seat in a Kamehameha School classroom. Herein lies the problem. Hawaiians wake up everyday feeling entitled and secure that Hawaii needs Hawaiians. Immune from the economic tidal forces that send others back to where they came. Safe in multi-generational homestead bunkers that will preserve our DNA indefinitely. But deep down, there is a dark possibility that a few bad decisions, a few unforeseen events, could find you house hunting in the dry Las Vegas suburbs.
What happens when the Nouveau Riche, unsympathetic to the plight of natives, want to build a home in their own image? People who don’t understand or share the values of the local culture. Sound familiar?
The Hawaiian story is like all other luckless indigenous that cross paths with the United States of America — collateral damage. We’re left to find our place in the zoo of exotic animals, hoping management will reconsider our cage sovereign territory. Our beautiful islands are cursed with being discovered over-and-over again by the explorer-of-the-week. But are these islands really our islands anymore?
While young Hawaiians wearing BDUs and kiheis hold protest signs on a mountain, tech savvy millennials in workout wear do business at Starbucks. Missionaries are yesterday’s boogiemen. The architects of tomorrow are hungry, driven and highly educated people. Technology has transformed a generation of dorm room slackers into instant millionaires, and these millionaires love Hawaii.
The future of Hawaii is in the hands of those who own it.
Please read that sentence again.
Will Hawaiians forever petition their future masters? Pleading for recognition and respect to anyone who will listen? Wanting repatriation from a government which spies on its own citizens and invades countries for profit. There is no loophole that will free the Hawaiian people. The only power that any government or corporation will ever recognize is money.
Now Hiring: Host Culture
Like proverbial oil and water, Hawaiians and big money rarely mix. Not the tax refund or nest-egg variety, but the board room takeover, buy a private island kind of money. Hawaiians by definition are a selfless, shirt-off-your-back kind of people. Thrifty and pragmatic, living off the land and taking things in stride. Not greedy Wall Street tycoons doing whatever it takes to get ahead. It’s inconceivable and probably genetically impossible. But if a few hardworking Kanaka breakout of middle class orbit, would Hawaiians continue to accept them? Champion them as winners? Role models? Or shrugged off, seduced by the Western world. Label them sell-outs. This stigma must change. It has to change. We need to be as hungry and driven as our new millionaire neighbors because everything is at stake.
The solution is clear, but the execution is far from easy. For Hawaiians to represent Hawaii again and truly guide its future, we must secure a seat at the high-stakes table. We must win back Hawaii inch-by-inch.
Remember those future Hawaiians? The Silicon Valley expats. Textbook entrepreneurs who write code rather than trade stock. Trail blazers of the highest degree, but also normals standing in line at Longs or drinking coffee in Kaimuki. These tech elite have fallen in love with Hawaii, like everyone else, and have the means to stay indefinitely. Technology is like yesterday’s gold rush and Hawaiians must get their hands dirty to secure a position. Our contribution to the world can be so much more than dinner theater or extras in a Hollywood drama.
The God of Irony is Hawaiian
To begin, we need to redefine what it means to be Hawaiian and retire the antiquated folksy demeanor in exchange for passionate unstoppable doers. It’s time to think big, make things and hustle them. We need to take risks again, but this is no easy task. The ignorance on display during April’s protest of the Thirty Meter Telescope was revealing. There was nothing more ironic than a Facebook-Instagram fueled campaign against scientific research in Hawaii, while families are displaced by Mark Zuckerberg’s purchase of 700 acres on Kaua‘i. What about those beautiful high resolution pictures of protesters that filled our news feeds? Or the plethora of HD video cameras documenting the end-of-days atop Mauna Kea. Well, a tiny chip (CCD) in cameras and cell phones make those pictures possible, (no)thanks to research in Astronomy. Or the most egregious narrative: We Hawaiians love Astronomy, but we love our mountain more because of the ancient religion we learnt about in college, just don’t mention the fact that it took Astronomy to find said mountain, and don’t correct me cause kapu aloha. What?
Unfortunately, these gaffes are symptomatic of a larger problem — modern Hawaii is a population of consumers. Our collective appetite for ‘brand new’ often supersedes our appetite for ‘how to’ with detrimental effect. The dependence on importation removes any need to understand how things are made, relying solely on four-stars-and-above Amazon reviews to guide us. These unhealthy habits border on obsession as locals trade rumors online of a potential Ikea, In-and-Out or Trader Joe’s opening while sharing the latest uploads from 808 Scraps. This effect is called Social Proof and is the foundation of nearly every modern marketing company, news agency and social platform. It is a meth level peer pressure mechanism that forces us to decide against all common sense — Is the dress blue or gold? Who wore it better? Telescope or Culture? Millennial are highly susceptible to this influence as the average Social Justice Warrior still wears hoodies and gets carded when ordering Jägerbombs. Reliance on the internet and social media to inform our world view combined with our decreasing ability to use reason, skepticism and intelligence, is the perfect formula for obedient happy consumers.
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Sustainability: Not just for Farmers
While media propaganda has turned neighbor against neighbor regarding the value of science and the sanctity of a mountain top, there are a number of real threats that effect our quality of life. Hawaii consistently loses young talent to the mainland for better opportunity and higher rewards everyday. How can we reverse the trend of exporting children in exchange for glass buildings full of apathetic millionaires? Can we encourage a new generation ready to build that killer app, solar farm or rocket ship for Hawaii? We need solutions for energy, housing, traffic, population, agriculture, health and education — and we need them now. Finding solutions to these problems could span generations, but it is a necessary step towards true sustainability. Treaty or no treaty, for Hawaiians, these problems should be ours to solve, and until we do, the title ‘steward of the land’ is up for grabs.
Which brings us back to the harsh reality that somewhere out in the world, there are millions of highly motivated asian kids preparing to compete in the global economy, while the children of Hawaii are denied beneficial exposure to world class education because of a misplaced sense of cultural participation. Telescopes are tools for the curious. When did the proud descendants of the revered Polynesian voyagers lose the will to be curious? Let us stand atop the Thirty Meter Telescope and raise our children even higher into the sky because this is the advantage they deserve.
The architects of tomorrow are hungry, driven and highly educated Hawaiians. ʻŌlelo hou (repeat).