Rainy Side View: This ex-pat is happy to be home

Several years ago, I answered a call for submission to an island magazine.

Tell us about your Hawaii hometown. OK!

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So I flipped open my laptop and furiously started typing. Writing about Hilo is always easy because I love everything about our quirky place: The people, the rain, the rocky shoreline, the loco moco.

Happy for the opportunity to celebrate my beloved hometown, I wrote Hilo a love letter. Patting myself on the back, I thought: pretty good. But I have sent off stories thinking they were pretty good only to have them returned with a Big Fat No Thanks.

This time, the reviewer said that while it’s not a bad story about Hilo (mahalo), the reason it can’t be accepted is because I was living in Seattle when I wrote it (hah?)

Wait a minute. After 25 years of living and working in the Pacific Northwest, I never considered myself a Washingtonian or a Seattleite, and neither did others. When asked where I was from (which happened often), I proudly answered Hilo. On the Island of Hawaii. In the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

So imagine that I am getting a rejection of my glowing Hilo story because I wasn’t on-island. What’s worse, the story that did get published had no sense of place and read like it was written by a newcomer from the Midwest. Not that there’s anything wrong with the Midwest, but it isn’t Hawaii.

Islanders are not mainlanders. Most of us are deeply rooted to this ‘aina even if we move away to study or work.

At the University of Washington is a large Hui o Hawaii club to help with culture shock and homesickness. Once a year, students put on a big lu‘au to mahalo the community, but it’s really for us locals, with kokua from relatives and friends at home to help make it happen.

Those from other states do nothing comparable.

In the Pacific Northwest, devoted transplants join wa‘a clubs to paddle in frigid waters and halau hula to dance barefoot in unheated gyms. We tune into community radio stations with Hawaiian programs to wallow in Pidgin and catch up on the latest island music and news.

In Washington state, many from Hawaii live and work around Puget Sound, but there are equally zealous locals east of the Cascades, and every year we meet over the mountains to eat til no can and laugh til stomach sore.

I cannot think of groups from the lower 48 who gather to celebrate songs, food and stories of the faraway place they miss. Folks on the continent seem to move around effortlessly and easily change their address and identity. Not so Hawaii people who leave but still describe ourselves as “ex-pats” or ex-patriots.

Perhaps to better understand, think of our islands as a very different place. Yes it’s the 50th state, but located in the ocean 2,500 miles off the continental U.S. West Coast, some would even say that Hawaii is another country.

I should add that not everyone from the islands thinks of themselves as ex-pats. I know some who can’t wait to leave and have no desire to return. They talk about getting off “the rock” and who knows what unhappy memories they have. But for those of us who are endlessly pulled back, this will always be home.

And when this ex-pat finally returned for good, I breathed a sigh of relief. This is where my feet are planted and my soul resides.

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Lucky we live Hawaii.

Rochelle delaCruz was born in Hilo, graduated from Hilo High School, then left to go to college. After teaching for 30 years in Seattle, Wash., she retired and returned home to Hawaii. She welcomes your comments at rainysideview@gmail.com. Her column appears every other Monday.

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