}

Sunday, June 04, 2017

My own special island?

It’s not every day that we get the chance to work out an alternative future, or, at least, to realise the answer to a question about such a future. Recently, that’s what happened to me, and it was as obvious as it was irrelevant. Even so, I now know the answer to the most common question I’ve been asked since moving to New Zealand.

It took a few years, but eventually people—Americans and New Zealanders alike—started asking me if I thought I’d ever live in the USA again. I said I thought it was unlikely, but, since I never say "never", I couldn’t absolutely rule it out. A lot has changed since then.

Nowadays, the chances of me ever returning to the USA to live are pretty much non-existent. That has nothing to do with the USA, and it absolutely has nothing to do with the current regime in power there—that has never been a factor no matter who was president (bad ones didn’t keep me away, and good ones didn’t make me want to return).

What’s changed the answer is simple: Me. I’ve built a life here over the past 21+ years, and that life has included being around for various births, deaths, marriages, end of relationships, and more social and cultural change than I can remember without thinking about it. All of that has been first-hand only here in New Zealand: Similar events in the USA that I was connected to were, at best, second-hand for me.

So, the focus and centre of my life is now clearly in New Zealand, while at the same time all the sorts of things I’ve experienced here, including changes to society and culture and cities. The same things that happened in the USA did so without me.

As I’ve said many times, the USA I left no longer exists except in my memories, so returning to the USA now would be like moving to a foreign, if oddly familiar, country. In a way, it would be a bit like someone in the USA moving to Canada: Sure, there are some similarities, but also so many differences that would matter a lot.

All of which means that the question of “if” is now kind of irrelevant because it’s answered by “no” with 99% certainty. However, ask the question as “what if” and it becomes more interesting: What if I returned to the USA to live—where would I go?

Let’s put aside the reason/circumstance for the return because they matter a lot and could produce very different answers. Instead, I’ll simplify things by looking only at what I would want, ignoring all other variables.

The most obvious solution would be to return to Chicago. I have friends and family still living there, Democrats, if not always progressive ones, have a lot of control, it’s LGBT friendly, and it’s my native land. However, the city I knew has been replaced by a different one, and the people I knew there have aged like me, moved on, and some have died. It would not be anything like the place I left. But the main factor is that there’d be winters to deal with, and I hate the very idea of having to endure a Chicago winter. This would be the reason I’d reject Chicago.

There are more progressive places in the Northeast, but there’s also winter there, too. And, like Illinois, they do have too many hard conservatives. I have ancestral ties to Pennsylvania, but I’d have no desire to live there or to experience their winters.

I could never live anywhere in the South—too much hard right politics, racism, xenophobia, and religious “christian” extremism. The closest I could come would be Washington, DC, but it can have harsh winters AND summers. Plus, it’s really expensive, and at my age I can’t imagine trying to start a life there.

I’ve never been a fan of the Great Plains states (too flat and they can have harsh weather). The Southwest states have too many political conservatives. The Northwest has too many conservatives, too, but mainly the climate doesn’t appeal to me. Alaska would only be suggested as a joke, I’m sure.

California would be a possibility: Much of it has a mild climate, and despite pockets of hard right conservatism, most of the state is at least somewhat progressive, mostly thanks to the big cities, of course. The fact it’s geologically active doesn’t worry me—I live in a geologically active country now. But the state can be expensive to live in and has had problems adjusting to its multicultural reality.

It turns out that the best possible place for me might be Hawaii.

Sure, the state’s expensive, but the climate is mild. It's heavily Democratic, despite some problems with rightwingers like the vile Republican ex-governor Linda Lingle (who I was never kind to on this blog). The state does have problems with conservative religionists, mostly Catholic, fundamentalist protestant, and Mormon, who stridently opposed the civil and human rights of LGBT people and used Hawaii as a training ground for their anti-LGBT campaigns in other states, including California’s infamous anti-gay Proposition 8.

On the other hand, Hawaii is a Polynesian land with a long multicultural history—similar to New Zealand. Auckland is the world’s largest Polynesian city, with a slightly higher percentage of Māori than the smaller Honolulu has of native Hawaiian (Auckland is also home to peoples from various island nations, including Polynesians; about 71% of New Zealand’s total foreign-born population lives in the city). So, in terms of “fit” alone, Hawaii would probably be best for me.

All of this came about because I was half watching a show on HGTV called “Hawaii Life”, named after a real estate firm of the same name, and which is really just a Hawaii-specific version of any of the channel’s “house hunter” shows. The episode I saw featured an “empty nest” woman relocating to Hilo on the Big Island (Hawaii). I wasn’t interested in where she was looking, for a lot of reasons, but the multiculturalism and Polynesian influence was obvious—and appealing.

I’ve never been to Hawaii, so I can’t know whether I’d actually even like it. Despite that, Maui appeals to me most, I think. But, then, so do parts of California.

It’s virtually certain that I’ll never live in the USA again, but if I did for some reason my choices would probably be narrowed to Hawaii, possibly Maui, and California. And all of that is precisely because I’ve lived in New Zealand all this time. That being the case, why on earth would I want to leave what I already have?

I’ll be staying put. Never say “never”, sure, but that’s almost certainly not going to change.

The title of this post is taken from a line in the song "Bali Ha'i", which is from the musical South Pacific. Update: I've now published a post where I go into some of the back story about that song in the movie version.

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