Young expatriates hold key to building a better Hawaii

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Below is an article graciously written by David Shapiro, a sharp journalist at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.  This all came about because I emailed Mr. Shapiro to get his thoughts on the Brain Drain after having read one of his quips about young people being one of Hawaii’s largest exports; I knew he would have an opinion.  After a brief email exchange, he sent me one last email that read,  ”I directed some attention toward you and your issue in my column in tomorrow’s paper. Go get ‘em.”  I certainly did not expect this but I’m stoked and I am very appreciative of Mr. Shapiro’s support.  Though partially a shameless shoutout , this is also a call to ACTION for the young and young at heart.

p.s. I should mention that I don’t think that only expatriates or the young people “hold the key.” You don’t have to actually leave Hawaii in order to make a difference.  You also don’t need to be fresh out of college.  However, you do have to care enough to build a better Hawaii.  To “care” is a non-negotiable regardless if you left, stayed, moved for the first time, or returned.

p.p.s.  The comments from the online version are also included.  Quite interesting.  Some inspiring.  Some provincial.  All important to consider.


Young expatriates hold key to building a better Hawaii

By David Shapiro

POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Oct 26, 2011

The future belongs to the young, and I’m always encouraged to see them grab for it in our island society in which the old jealously cling to most of the power.

Which is why I was happy to get an email from Nicole Velasco, a Kalihi product and 2008 Princeton graduate, trying to rekindle a discussion about Hawaii’s brain drain — the exodus of some of our brightest young talent to the mainland for better career opportunities and a higher standard of living.

In particular, Velasco wants to talk about those who are coming home to contribute to a better Hawaii, as she did a year ago when she gave up a good job in TV post-production in New York City to return home.

“We’re highly educated, we’re well rounded, we’ve been able to live other places, but we want to move back,” she said in a recent radio interview.

She was partly motivated to return by the news of Furlough Fridays in local public schools, which Hawaii expatriates on the mainland saw as a huge embarrassment for their native state.

“Given that I am 25 years of age, I’m old enough to know that things need to change and young enough to believe that it can while I’m still alive,” she says.

Velasco, whose personal passion is innovative music education, is convinced that Hawaii has the talent to overcome our toughest problems but needs a boost in creative energy — especially opening ourselves to new ideas that didn’t necessarily originate here.

Her email sent me digging for a 1999 Star-Bulletin series, “Hawaii’s Brain Drain,” by Lavonne Leong, then an Oxford student from Hawaii (

Leong’s stories and the responses from Hawaii expatriates struck themes we still see today: They want to come home but are frustrated by a stifling two-industry economy of tourism and government employment, a gaping divide between rich and poor, rampant parochialism, a substandard public school system, a lackluster state university and a political system that keeps rewarding those who don’t get the job done.

I noted then that Hawaii’s last political and social revolution was led by young Japanese-American soldiers of the 442nd, who came back from World War II with a broader worldview and a determination to build a better Hawaii.

I expressed hope that our army of expatriates would find their way home as a modern 442nd bringing the initiative, courage and leadership to get our state back on course.

Who knows if Velasco and others like her will be part of the answer or if they’ll become frustrated and end up back on the mainland, but I choose to be optimistic that our young people have what it takes.

Velasco’s blog on the brain drain is at

Reach David Shapiro at or


Comments from the online article at

Ken_Conklin wrote:Let’s remember that expatriates have sometimes been successful in producing revolutions in the place of their birth. Perhaps the best example is Sun Yat-sen, who came to Hawaii as a child, got educated here, and traveled all over the world gathering money and recruits for his revolution which toppled centuries of monarchial government in China.
on October 26,2011 | 05:46AM

popoki wrote:AMEN!
on October 26,2011 | 07:10AM

allie wrote:Agreed. We need new leadership here. Not just in government but ine ducation, business, non-profit management, entrepreneurialism, etc.
on October 26,2011 | 07:48AM

aiea7 wrote:Why do we need expatriates to come back to build a better Hawaii? We already have many intelligent young people living in Hawaii who are able to build a better Hawaii. I would rather have someone who lives here and is committed here to build a better Hawaii. We already have sufficient number of intelligent young people who can help. Expatriates like leong are quick to criticize what is wrong with Hawaii and these are the reasons for their living on the mainland. They are trying to justify their selfish refusal to come back and help Hawaii. Sorry, if you don’t want to come back, fine, we really do need you.
on October 26,2011 | 08:25AM

LemonySnickets wrote:Bring to Hawaii 3rd world thinking. We already have transplants with no thinking at all.
on October 26,2011 | 10:12AM

LemonySnickets wrote:Niseis have proven themselves but there are other nationalities who just come here with no good intent but to work and not worry about Becoming American Citizens. Niseis did and above all with honors.
on October 26,2011 | 01:48PM

KekoaBradshaw wrote:World War II vets from the 442nd came back to a Hawaii where they actually had a future. Hawaii back then had a balanced economy and the vets worked hard to open opportunities in all aspects of the economy to people regardless of racial background. Hawaii today has a severely UNBALANCED economy—-tourism is our one and onlky business. What opportunities are there today for young, highly educated young people? Not many.

smith2650 wrote:Try wait!!! Come on lets stop waiting for the messiah or the returning expat. Hawaii will improve only when the voters decide to vote for improvements. The voting patterns of Hawaii voters (only about 1/3 of eligibile voters actually vote) mean that 15 to 20% of eligibile voters decide who we get in the Leg. and Gov. positions. This is the reason unions and one party have so much power; they only have to have 20% of the population vote for them to win every time.
on October 26,2011 | 05:43PM

WayneHarrison wrote:Well said.
on October 26,2011 | 09:22PM

MC96816 wrote:Good ideas can come from anywhere and everywhere. People tend to be provincial and think their (i.e., the local) way is best, and also feel intimidated by outsiders. Open your minds, open your hearts. Judge ideas on their merits, not whether they come from some local guy or from someone who was born on the mainland or in another country.