I’ve recently moved to Oahu, Hawaii. Leading up to it, when I would tell someone I’m moving to Hawaii, they’d typically ask how I came to that decision. I’d say it’s a long story—and here it is.
First of all, there are many typical reasons why people move to Hawaii, which are mine as well.
It’s beautiful. What I want more than anything from where I live, is to look out my window, or walk out my door, and see beauty. I’ve lived on ugly streets and in beautiful neighborhoods, and I’ve been happy in either circumstance, but the beautiful one is much better. That’s obvious, but maybe not obvious how important it is to me now. It wasn’t always. It’s everything to me now.
The weather. Though I love seasons, rain, and brisk cold weather—as long as I have the right outfit on—the prevalent sun and ambient heat of Hawaii is what I want more. I feel generally healthier and more energized in the Hawaiian climate. Though the heat can make you feel like going slow or taking a nap, it’s a mental and emotional energy that it gives me.
The ocean and the beach. I love the ocean. I’d call the ocean my first love. Nothing compares to sitting on a beach watching the waves. I’ve loved that since I was little, and I could do it every day for the rest of my life. My internet alias is Cecil Seaside, after all. How I chose that name is a different story.
Those points alone are enough. It’s not news that Hawaii is a desirable place to live. Who wouldn’t want to? Yet actually moving to Hawaii can be a somewhat mind-boggling notion. It’s a massive lifestyle change from anywhere on the mainland. It’s expensive and daunting. You need to have a job lined up, or bring your work with you. It’s something I never seriously considered until recently. To explain why I made the decision, I have to start by describing who I am.
I was born in San Francisco. My childhood home was 4 blocks from Ocean Beach, and a block from Golden Gate Park. I grew up knowing that being a native San Franciscan was special. San Francisco has a unique culture. I wasn’t really aware of that when I was a kid. It’s only after you leave, and experience how different another place is, that you recognize the quality of your childhood home.
I graduated from George Washington High School, which had a diverse, primarily Asian, student body. Racism and prejudice were present—it was no utopia of equality—but we all got along for the most part.
A fundamental aspect of San Francisco that you learn from living there, is that the city is not for any one type or category of person. We share it. All are welcome—and that doesn’t mean everyone likes each other, but there is a prevailing tolerance. Though San Francisco is famous for the Summer of Love hippie culture, I can’t say I ever felt the vibe of the city was love in the 70s and 80s, but there’s a phrase that I think sums up the brand of San Francisco friendliness at that time—it was common to say goodbye with, “take it easy”. As a kid, I always thought the Eagles song by that name was a San Francisco anthem.
My parents are also both San Francisco natives. My mother is Filipina, and my father is Irish and a quarter German, which is where my name comes from—Kranzke. We say “cranz-kee”, but in German it’s more like “cranz-kah”. What do the Philippines and Ireland have in common? Catholicism and alcoholism. I don’t know how true that is, but that’s my joke, and I think there’s something to it. They are also island nations, and I think there’s something to that as well. Incidental but interesting to me; not quite an island, San Francisco is on a peninsula, 3/4 surrounded by water.
So, if I told you my parents’ families are from islands, and I’m a second generation native of a culturally unique place where natives are now rare, where there’s a multicultural, largely Asian population; and I grew up walking distance from the beach, where the people say “take it easy” a lot, and in the 70s, Hang Loose shaka T-shirts were popular; where would you think my home was?
I watched a lot of TV when I was a kid. I watched a lot of white people on TV. I was aware I didn’t look like Fonzie, Buck Rogers, or one of the Cassidys. I did notice I might look a little like Ponch on the TV show CHiPs—Eric Estrada. He’s Puerto Rican. I felt like, if he could play a cop on a TV show, so could I. If it was okay for a brown skinned person to have a starring role in a TV show or movie, maybe I could too. I even wondered if I could pass for Italian—if I could play Michael Corleone in The Godfather. I wanted to be an actor, but I knew I had to be white or pass for white. The thing is, I am Caucasian. I’m Irish, and my last name is Kranzke; but I’m brown and look kinda Asian.
As far as the 8-year-old me knew, I was an oddity. I thought there weren’t any other Filipino Irish people. However, Catholic alcoholic island people find each other. Where do the do that? California and Hawaii.
I want to clarify, I don’t really think all people from the Philippines and Ireland are alcoholics or Catholics, but whether you drink or not, addicted or not, if you’re Irish or Filipino, chances are your family is affected by alcohol and/or Catholicism, for better or worse.
On a family vacation in 1983, I went to Oahu for the first time. I observed that Hawaii had a large Asian population, and discovered that included many half-Asian people like myself. Hapa people. They had a name for us. It was normal and typical there. I remember feeling for the first time in my life, I was among my people. I felt like I was home. That’s a feeling that Hawaii can give to anyone, because the people there have aloha. For me, it was a feeling of discovering the tribe I belonged to. A feeling I always wanted, but thought was impossible, because I half belonged to my Filipino roots, and half belonged to my Irish roots, never fully belonging to either, in no small part due to the fact that I didn’t fully look like either. However, I do look Hapa. But you only look Hapa in a place where Hapa is recognized.
In spite of that experience, when I was young, it wasn’t my dream to move to Hawaii. I was a city kid. I wanted to live in New York, Los Angeles, or Paris. I went to college in Pasadena, and ended up living in the L.A. area for 11 years, before moving back to the Bay Area, where I started dating my partner, Courtney—who is a Filipino American. After getting married, we wanted a fresh start, and to build a life together somewhere other than the Bay Area where we both grew up. We considered Hawaii (Courtney had previously lived there for 3 years), but I was still more interested in urban living, and we were both attracted to the food and cocktail scene in Portland, and the whole Pacific Northwest vibe. That’s where we’ve lived since September of 2013, and I’ve loved it. Of course, (the point that all contemporary stories reach) things changed when the pandemic happened.
I believe it’s safe to assume that the pandemic affected Portland in the same way it has affected all cities—reducing, if not completely eliminating, the primary reasons to live there. I love Portland’s clean air and water, neighborhoods dense with trees, and the mountains, waterfalls, and mossy creeks close by. I love rainy weather, and there’s plenty of that. These characteristics could also describe Oahu. But what I really love about Portland are its bars and restaurants—which are on par with the best in the world, in my experience. The pandemic forced many of my favorite restaurants to close. To be honest though, it has been a great place to spend the pandemic. There is still exceptionally good food available for takeout and outdoor dining. However, Portland’s typically cold and wet weather is best spent inside a cozy establishment. That experience was minimized drastically during the pandemic, and where it is possible, it’s just not the same—not that anything is the same anywhere anymore.
We had a house in Portland for 8 years, and wanted a change and an upgrade, so we sold it in April of 2021 with the intention of buying a new house in Portland. But I had to ask myself, even if pre-pandemic life returned, was the main reason I loved Portland healthy for me? There’s something called the Portland 15—when you move to Portland you gain 15 lbs. True for me. The weather can provide an easy excuse not to go out for a walk, run, or bike ride. The beer—there is so much good beer. Everything to eat in Portland is either fried, confited, cured, slow-cooked, smoked or barbequed—even the vegan food. Wearing a warm sweater on a rainy night with a cocktail or three can be a perfect way to end the day—every day.
When I turned 50 in October of 2020, my thoughts were mostly about the disappointment of how I couldn’t celebrate the way I wished because it was foolish and dangerous to travel; then my thoughts evolved (or snowballed) into an evaluation of my 40s, and what I wanted my 50s to be. I was resigned to survival at the time, like we all have had to do. That was enough for a while, but my health was taking a hit. I needed to take better care of myself. Then I thought of Hawaii. I thought of swimming in the ocean. I thought of fresh fish. I thought of sunshine. I thought of the people of Hawaii—and then I thought of the people of Portland, which brings me to an uncomfortable sticking point. The (white) elephant in the room.
It’s been said that Portland is the whitest metropolitan city in America. I can say that Portand is the friendliest city I’ve ever lived in. When I moved to Portland, I had to get accustomed to how kind and friendly people were. I had to learn to be friendlier, and that’s been really good for me. I’ve never felt unwelcome anywhere in Portland. Yet, every time I’ve gone out to a restaurant, bar, movie, concert, or event of any kind, I am aware that Courtney and I are typically the only brown-skinned people, and/or the only Asian people in the room. When that’s not true, we notice with excitement that we’re not the only ones.
I’ve been in Oahu for 2 days now, and we went to a Ramen restaurant where out of the 20 people there, 2 were Caucasian. The rest were brown Asian folks. The exact inverse of my typical Portland experience. I have to say, that gave me a big smile.
There is a feeling, when you know you look different than most people around you, of wondering if it’s okay that you are there. For me, the answer has almost always been, yes, it’s okay (which I recognize is a fortunate privilege, as that’s not the experience many others have); but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s a question I have. I don’t think that question ever occurs to white people in Portland—unless it’s when a straight one unknowingly walks into a gay bar. After reconciling that I feel okay to be where I am, the next thought is, are people being friendly to me because they are friendly, or are they being friendly to show me they are okay with me being there? In other words, are they trying to let me know they are not racist, because they want someone who looks like me to know that? While I take full responsibility for these thoughts occurring to me, I will say this: when I’m in Hawaii, those thoughts do not occur to me. That feels good. That constant source of anxiety is something I can do without. It’s something I deserve to live without. I deserve to remember it as something I once had to deal with in the past.
Now I live in Hawaii. It is not Paradise. It’s like any other American state. It has difficult social, socioeconomic and political problems that need solutions. There is inequality, there are displaced people, there is traffic and crime, COVID is there too. I’m here to be part of the solution. I’m here because there’s beauty outside my window and out my front door. I’m here for the heat, and ocean and the beach. I’m here for the people, and endeavor to become part of their culture—part of the tribe. I’m here because Courtney and I worked hard to get here—and we have to keep working hard, and because our kind and generous landlord Margaret Carter offered to sell us the house we were renting in Portland in 2014. I’m here because of our fantastic real estate team, Core Team Hawaii. I’m here to give and live aloha, because that’s who I am.