Afterthoughts: I Can Never Really Escape the Islands. But That’s a Good Thing

Hawai‘i calling.


Katrina Valcourt

Six days into my first vacation in years, more than 2,500 miles from home, I finally saw it: my first reminder of Hawai‘i. There on the first floor of Sacramento’s Crocker Art Museum stood a row of seven ceramic pots thrown by Toshiko Takaezu, who was born in Pepe‘ekeo. According to the description, Takaezu became interested in pottery when she moved to Honolulu and got involved with the Hawai‘i Potters’ Guild, of which I’m a member.


Fun coincidence, I thought. I headed upstairs, and there was the large painting “Tale of a Thousand Condoms/Samurai and Razor” by Masami Teraoka, whose work is often displayed at the Honolulu Museum of Art and Hawai‘i State Art Museum. I’d just met his daughter while on assignment two months prior. Neat. And then, really hammering it home, I crossed from the Teel Family Pavilion of the museum into the original Crocker mansion and entered the ballroom, whose description boasts of a visit from Queen Lili‘uokalani.


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I was only halfway through my trip—so far I’d visited two states, joined 20,000 people at a concert and felt freer than I had in ages—and yet it seemed that the universe was telling me to go home. Hawai‘i was calling.


It always does.


Like that time I met up with a few HONOLULU expats in San Francisco and we ended up eating at a restaurant owned by a former Hawai‘i resident. Or when I studied in Berlin and the newest member of our dorm came from Hawai‘i Pacific University. Aloha Street in Seattle. Being seated next to one of my favorite local artists at a restaurant in New York City—he just happened to be on vacation as well.


Afterthoughts I Can Never Really Escape The Islands But Thats A Good Thing

Illustration: Getty Images



Those coincidences always amused me, but this time, I couldn’t help feeling a little annoyed, too. I really needed this trip—my first since 2019 and my longest break away from the Islands in four years—to escape all the stress and restrictions on O‘ahu. Hawai‘i has been one of the slowest states to reopen, and I wasn’t ready to go back to it. I tried to push thoughts of home out of my mind.


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A few days after my run-ins at the Crocker, I ate brunch in Long Beach and stumbled across an artist painting the side of a building for the Pow! Wow! mural festival, which was created in Hawai‘i. It seemed like I just couldn’t get away. And then, another thought: This is actually really cool.


Something clicked. The universe wasn’t telling me to go home; it was showing me that the Islands’ creativity, culture and history stretch across the globe. I should be proud and excited about that. I don’t know if this happens when you’re from anywhere else, or if the rest of the world is just so intrigued by what Hawai‘i brings to the table that it can’t help but give us the spotlight. It’s inspiring to see people and ideas from here extending beyond the Islands.


It took going away to remind me how extraordinary my home is—even if it can feel smothering at times. It’s OK to take a break. Because no matter how far I go, Hawai‘i will be there too.