Contrary to what meets the eye, the social challenges in Hawaii are immense. I caught a lot of flack last spring when I told people that I was moving here to teach - especially given the dire straits of much of Louisiana's educational system. But once you venture beyond Waikiki and Pearl Harbor, you're confronted with a reality not that different from some of the most blighted communities of mainland America.
Both the New York Times and USA Today recently attempted to shed light on some of the unique challenges faced by residents of this "island paradise." The New York Times article from December hits especially close to home for Courtney and me. Each day as we drive to school, we pass hundreds of tents lining the beaches of the Leeward Coast where nearly 1000 residents, mostly Native Hawaiian, have set up camp because of the prohibitive cost of living. I had two homeless students in my class during the first semester. Both have since left - one to a temporary shelter set up by the state, and the other has become one of Oahu's thousands of "hidden homeless" - those living with friends or family (sometimes 15-20 family members in a single-family home).
The USA Today article speaks of the underlying racial tension that sometimes manifests itself. As one of America's most recent colonial exploits, some of the wounds within the Native Hawaiian community are still fairly fresh. The overwhelming military presence here can at times magnify the injustices that many feel were committed just one generation ago. Thankfully, Courtney and I haven't felt any of this resentment within the communities where we teach, but the underlying tension is still, in certain situations, palpable.