ambition

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Benny Rietveld

 

Benny Rietveld’s first experience playing music was at the age of six, in the piano department at Gem’s in Kapalama. “I liked the idea that you could press something, and it creates this…cool sound,” Rietveld remembers. He was mentored by band director Henry Miyamura at McKinley High School, and played in local jazz and rock bands before moving to San Francisco and touring with Sheila E. and Miles Davis. Today, Benny Rietveld plays bass for Carlos Santana, and still sits in with the Hawai‘i musicians he grew up with.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, Oct. 14 at 11:00 pm and Sunday, Oct. 18 at 4:00 pm.

 

Benny Rietveld Audio

 

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Transcript

 

Do you think music is more than just fun?

 

Totally; yeah. Music is powerful, music is magic. It allows us to do so many things invisibly. You can put it in the background, you can have it in the foreground, you can stop, start. You know, it’s always there, and it helps you celebrate things, it helps you mourn. It drives people to battle, you get married and you can create babies with it. It transports you, it reminds you of things in your life, just hearing something. Like, oh, my god, you know.

 

M-hm.

 

It’s an incredibly powerful force, and it can actually change people’s lives, you know. And that’s why I think musicians have a really big responsibility to just keep on point, keep being mindful, keep getting better, showing up. Because it’s a really powerful thing.

 

Benny Rietveld, who still calls Hawai‘i home, is the bassist and music director for Santana, a band he first heard when he was a young boy growing up in Honolulu. He’s been recording and touring with Santana since the 1990s, and he’s also known locally as a member of Topaz, a jazz fusion band that he and his high school friends had in the 1970s. Benny Rietveld, next, on Long Story Short.

 

Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawai‘i’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in high definition.

 

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Benny Rietveld has recorded three albums with the iconic Latin rock band Santana, including Supernatural which became a worldwide sensation when it was released in 1999. Rietveld was born in Holland to parents of Dutch, French, and Indonesian ancestry. They moved their family to Hawai‘i when Benny was three. He grew up in Honolulu, where he started showing musical talent at a young age.

 

I took piano lessons when I was six.

 

Why did you take piano when you were six? Now, that’s early. How did that happen?

 

Remember Gem Store on—well, I don’t know …

 

Kapalama?

 

Yeah; in Kapalama. Yeah. Well, we used to live in Kalihi, and so we’d go through there, and it was always the piano section, and I was always plinking on the piano, you know. And my mom thought, Oh, he’s musical. You know how kids, you know, they hit a hammer, and it’s like, Oh, he’s gonna be a carpenter when he grows up.

 

But were you plunking better than most kids, do you think?

 

I don’t think so. I just liked it. I liked the idea that you could press something, and it creates this cool sound. I think. That’s how I remember it. And then, so we got like a little piano, upright piano, and she gave me lessons at Palama Settlement. And I think the first teacher was named Mrs. Leong. I think. But I didn’t really like ‘em. And I was like, Oh, really? You know, really like boring music, and River keep on rolling. You know. I just didn’t get it. And then, when was ten, we still had the piano in the, you know, attracting dust. And then, the song Hey Jude came out from the Beatles, and it had that cool piano intro. I was like, wow, that’s cool. I was like, wow. And then, oh, it’s sort of like that instrument that’s in our living room. So, I was like, huh. And it was really easy for me, and it was really fun. So, I thought, well, this is great, I’m gonna keep doing this. You know.

 

Then you learned other songs.

 

And then, I learned the entire Beatles catalog, practically.

 

By yourself, or with a teacher?

 

No, no; by myself. Yeah. You know, then I was hooked. And it was like, this is fun, I don’t want to do anything else. And I was just on my way. And then, I met my cousin, the guitar player in Topaz, or calabash cousin, actually, Fred Schreuders. And he was slightly older than me, but he was already playing music. He was, you know, playing guitar, and his dad also played music. So, I was like, wow, cool. And we met, and we jammed, you know, tried to play songs together.

 

You were on the piano?

 

Yeah; and then, I branched out to drums, and then a little bit of bass. And then we started, you know, playing. Hey, let’s do a band, you know. And so, yeah, we put together a band. So, when I was about twelve, I was playing in these dances at, you know, Star of the Sea.

 

And that was kind of the beginning of that. So, you know, I met the guitar player for Topaz way back then.

 

You were just picking it up as you went.

 

Yeah; yeah. ‘Cause it was easy.

 

And you were playing for high school dances at age twelve, or middle school dances?

 

Yes; yeah. My parents were really worried. ‘Cause there were some situations where sometimes we’d play a party, and and more like a high school kids’ party. And so, there may have been some illicit drugs.

 

And it was nighttime.

 

And it was nighttime.

 

Driving.

 

Yeah. So, my parents, you know, lost a lot of hair.

 

And you gave them reason to.

 

A little bit. But, you know, I wasn’t that wild.

 

And where were you on instruments? ‘Cause right now, you’re a confirmed bassist.

 

Yeah.

 

How did you pick the bass, or did the bass pick you?

 

Well, yeah. This is the joke. Usually, the bass picks you. It’s usually because you don’t know anyone else who plays the bass. So, you’re like, oh, you play the bass. So, what happened to me was, I was playing drums in this little dance band, and our bass player left. So, we didn’t know any other musicians, but we knew one drummer. So, it was like, well, what do we do? You know, so we’ll just get him, and you play bass. So, that’s how it happened. But I kept playing guitar with Joe the Fiddler, because, you know, it worked better for chords and stuff, and I kept up on piano playing. You know, I just like always was interested in all of that stuff. But you know, I started getting kinda good on the bass, which is easy to do.  Yeah; so that was that. It just happens like that, you know.

 

What schools did you go to?

 

I lived in town mostly, and I went to McKinley High School.

 

You had a band director who is legendary.

 

Yes, legendary; Henry Miyamura. He’s like one of the big musical mentors of my life, and of Noel’s life, and of Allen Won’s life, too, the other guys from Topaz. He was … amazing. He was like that Mr. Holland guy. I mean, just deeply, deeply committed to the real essence of music performance, which goes beyond, you know, the notes and stuff, but the actual conveyance of the emotion or of the story, or of the tragedy or comedy, or whatever. And to get a bunch of high school kids, half of them who weren’t really gonna go into music anyway, or most of them, and get them to sound as good as he got those bands to sound was really a remarkable feat.

 

How do you think he did it?

 

I think he really loved music, and he loved people. He knew how important it was, you know, even if we didn’t. You know, we were kids then. He knew.

 

While Benny Rietveld was busy playing music through high school, his parents were thinking about his future. They didn’t consider music to be a suitable career path. But Benny was already doing what he loved, and it wasn’t long before his talents took him from the local venues in Hawai‘i to a larger stage.

 

Did you decide consciously, I’m going to be a musician as a livelihood?

 

I don’t think so. The only time it was a conscious thought was like as, you know, graduation from high school was imminent. Then my parents were like, So, you know, what are you gonna do? You’re gonna go to trade school? You should go to trade school, because you know, you learn a trade and make a lot of money. I guess they didn’t see me as the scholarly type, which I wasn’t.  And I said, Oh, I’m just gonna play music. I just assumed I was.

 

Were you already getting paid to play?

 

Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Just like, well, I don’t know. You know, I just thought I was gonna be a musician. And they went, What? No, you can’t. And they were very upset for a little while, only because, you know, they just saw their child being an intravenous drug user and being in the gutter, and you know, whatever. So yeah, I totally get why they freaked out. But then after a while, they thought, Well, he seems to be doing okay, and he’s playing, you know.

 

And you went to college right after that, here.

 

Not right after, but yeah, I did.

 

Oh; so you graduated from high school.

 

Graduated from high school. I was living on my own. I think for about a year, I was living on my own, then I got a scholarship for UH, through Mr. Miyamoto, who suggested I do that. So, he championed me as far as getting a scholarship.

 

And didn’t graduate.

 

No.

 

Because?

 

‘Cause I was also playing music, and then I got a road touring gig with The Crusaders. It was very short. But with all my other gigs in Hawai‘i, and then going off to the mainland for a little bit, just like I lost the whole momentum.

 

How did you make the transition from having lived almost all of your life in Hawai‘i, to the mainland, to the continent?

 

With scarves and heavy sweaters. Basically, that’s how I made the transition. I went to San Francisco first.

 

And that was, I’m going to go try my luck in the San Francisco Bay Area?

 

Well, because I had a friend there already. And he said, You gotta come here, there’s a lot of good music there. And there was, at the time. Lots of great musicians there.

 

You played with some biggies, fairly early on.

 

No. I mean, I don’t know. Pete Escovedo, you know, I learned a lot from him. Ray Obiedo, you know, he used to play with Herbie Hancock and really good songwriter. And a lot of really great local San Francisco Bay Area musicians.

 

When was the first time you played with someone that you went, Whoa, I’m with so-and-so, I’m intimidated?

 

Well, sort of like Sheila E, because her producer was Prince. So, he’d be around, and I’m like, Whoa, you know, ooh. You know. That was my sort of introduction to the high end pop world.

 

And you went on tour with Sheila E, didn’t you?

 

Yes, yes; for about two years.

 

How did you get along with Prince?

 

He was like kind of a mysterious background guy. So, he didn’t talk much to us, but he seemed okay, you know. But he kinda kept more to Sheila and, you know, just sort of like that.

 

Now, did that tour lead to anything?

 

Then I was playing around the Bay Area for a while, and then, I guess Miles Davis was looking for a bass player, and he kinda wanted that sort of Prince-influenced sound. Then we rehearsed, and I met Miles, and it was crazy. And I think I was too much in shock to be actually intimidated, tell you the truth. It was only until I think a year later, I was on the stage, and I was like, Holy crap, that’s Miles Davis. You know, and then I had that moment. But I think, you know, your body blesses you with the gift of shock, so you’re just, you know, immune.

 

And how was it? You know, you have to feel each other in music, you have to work together. How did that go?

 

It went fabulously. You know, he would, you know, give direction while we’re playing, and sometimes before the shows we’d talk about let’s do this part a little faster, or let’s do this kinda rhythm and, you know. And we would keep trying, and so really, back then it was like a laboratory, you know. Because we would do the same song, and it would just evolve. It was like a petri dish. I mean, the songs would evolve so that if you hear the same song two years apart, they’re almost radically different. You know, the tempo is like way slower or faster, and this part is really loud, you know. It was really, really interesting, and it just demanded that you focus a hundred percent on him and the music all the time. You know. That was the big deal.

 

You had to be really mindful.

 

Yeah; like mindful to an incredible degree, because if you weren’t, then then he’d know, you know, and then those eyes would, you know, turn. You know, zzzz, laser, laser. So yeah, you really had to have presence of mind.

 

So, you had a real sense of what he wanted, who he wanted—

 

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

 

–how he wanted.

 

Yeah, yeah. And yet, there was that … still, the challenge was to inject yourself in that, within that framework, you know.

 

And he expected you to.

 

Yeah; yeah, yeah, yeah. And so, that was really intimidating, ‘cause I felt like I wasn’t really mature enough as a musician to inject a lot of myself. I don’t know, maybe I did. I don’t know.  That was another coming of age thing, because I had to, I think, almost completely relearn music. You know, really music and bass playing, and the ethos of what it means to be a bass player and what it means to be a musician.

 

Why?

 

Well, because I hadn’t learned all these really basic fundamental things well enough, you know.

 

So, you were good enough to get in the band.

 

Yeah.

 

And once you were there, you had to up your game.

 

Yeah; yeah, yeah. It was like raw talent is one thing, but to really like hone it is another thing.

 

After two and a half years playing with Miles Davis, Benny Rietveld moved on. Two months later, he met Carlos Santana.

 

Coincidentally, I did a recording session with Carlos Santana.

 

You sound so casual when you say that.

 

Well, no. I mean, because it just happened, you know. It was somebody else’s session, and we met. And that was another intimidating moment, ‘cause it was Carlos Santana, and I grew up looking at that album cover, you know, and all that stuff, listening to all those albums over and over again. And he said, Yeah, you know, I might need another bass player, and you know. Luckily, we lived both in the Bay Area, so I called him and I said, Yeah, I would love to play. Are you kidding? You know. So that’s how that happened.

 

Aren’t you the musical director as well now?

 

Yes. I don’t know, I’m not really the musical director so much as like traffic cop. You know, ‘cause I consider Carlos actually is the musical director, ‘cause he’s very hands-on and he has an uncanny ability to know what he wants. It’s more about during the show itself, when he calls an audible, which he does every time, then I just help direct traffic. Okay, we’re going here now, instead of, you know, how we rehearsed it.

 

How much of the year do you go on tours?

 

With Santana, it’s roughly four to five months out of the year. But it’s broken up. You do get burnt out, you know, no matter what you do. And it’s always gotta be really, really high level, energy, fun. And the minute it’s a little bit below that, then we’re not doing it.

 

Do you ever get sick of being asked to play a song you love, but you’ve heard it and you’ve sung it … Black Magic Woman, so many times before?

 

No; love it. It’s great. I don’t care about all the other times I’ve played it. It’s like, oh, wow, this is the first time I’m playing it. You know. That’s special, and we have to convey that to people every time. That’s the hard part. That’s the higher level stuff. Not playing the music; the notes are like whatever, you know. That’s like hammering a nail; okay? But it’s how to get into that thing, and it sounds so, fluffy and goofy, you know. But that is, to me, the higher level of music.

 

Did working with Santana when you started require a different sensibility than working with Miles Davis? Did you have to shift in any way?

 

Only superficially, actually, with the style of music, the genre, you know. Because it’s more rock-oriented, Latin, which we hardly ever did in Miles’ thing. But in essence, it was actually very similar, because they both demanded passion and fire, and presence of mind, like all the time. And not being afraid, you know. I think that’s another thing. You cannot have any fear.

 

Is there a way to describe how they work musically, and how you work with them musically?

 

With both of those guys, it was about trying to … articulate the in-articulable.  That’s the weird part about music, is that like underneath the hood, underneath all the technique and theory, and all the numbers, which are all useful, underneath it all, I like to say the last thing that music is about is music. You know.  It’s really about feeling and life. And it sounds so, you know … fluffy. You know, like, Oh, it’s feelings. You know. But all the major guys hardly ever talk about nuts and bolts of music, you know. The jazz guys, a little bit more, because it’s more their realm, you know. But all those guys share the predilection for using aphorisms to describe music. It should sound like, you know, red wine streaming through. You know, something like that. And sometimes, it just sounds so bonkers, you know, to the uninitiated. But then, you realize it’s just a personal lexicon and a cosmology. And actually, now that I’ve known Carlos for a while, it makes complete sense, you know. Now when he says something, you know, like really poetic, I’m actually kinda knowing what it means in dry, boring music terms. Sometimes Miles would say—an actual musical thing would be like, Give that part a little lift. Instead of, you know, doong, doong, doong, doong; maybe like doong, ka-doong, ka-doong, ka-doong, doong, ka-doong. You know, all these little things between. I think everyone knows that deep down inside, it’s really silly to talk about music, because it’s the most abstract of all art forms, you know. But we try, anyway. We have to, sometimes. You know, we’re trying to convey what we want, you know.

 

Although Benny Rietveld lives in L.A. when he isn’t touring with Santana, he likes to come to the place he calls home: Hawai‘i. In 2014, he and some of his former bandmates from Topaz reunited for a show.

 

What brings you back to perform with your old high school buddies?

 

Love of music, and love of them. You know. We’ve kept in contact all this time.

 

And tell me what the names are. Who’s your gang?

 

The gang is Noel Okimoto on drums, Allen Won on the saxophones, Fred Schreuders on guitar, and Carl Wakeland on keyboards.

 

That’s a pretty amazing group from McKinley High School, isn’t it?

 

Yeah. Well, me and Allen, and Noel are from McKinley. Carl is from Mililani. Fred ended up graduating from Kaiser High School. We got kind of popular because we were this bunch of high school kids that could play this kind of difficult and technical music known at the time as fusion. And we loved jazz and all that. So, there weren’t many eighteen-year-olds playing that at the time in Hawai‘i. So you know, we got a kind of rep, and we were the little darlings there for a while, and we even played at La Mancha for two weeks. We disbanded ‘cause we all had stuff, and we were doing our lives. And Noel stayed here, so he’d play. And his late dad, unfortunately, George Okimoto, would go to his gigs all the time. And George actually managed us back then, because he was the manager of Easy Music Center, you know, by McCully. And so he was like, You know, you kids really got something. And he got us equipment to use, you know, cool new gear. So he was like our manager, and really championed us. Cut to couple of years ago. We’re at Gordon Biersch, I’m visiting, and I see Noel, and like you know, listening to him, Byron Yasui and all these great local guys. And there was Noel’s dad, George Okimoto, and he goes, Eh, hurry up, you know, get a reunion. And it was like, actually very bittersweet because he actually made a joke. He was like, Eh, hurry up, before I die.  And what I got from that was like, he wasn’t really joking around. He was like, you know, everyone is about to move on here, and you guys should do something, ‘cause it was really special. So, we did a show last year. It was really, really fun. So, this year again, earlier in the year, we recorded a CD. But you know, we all have these other crazy lives, and we’re not gonna like, Yeah, let’s have a band and tour together. That’s not gonna happen.

 

Did you ever conceive, did you ever think in your young life, that you would be in your fifties, and it’s a tour, it’s concerts and crowds, and music, and vans?

 

I had no idea. Who really knows what their thing is, you know.

 

And how long do you see that going on?

 

Playing music, being involved in music for me will go on until either I die, or I find suddenly that I don’t like it. You know. I don’t really see the latter happening.

 

Benny Rietveld has not stopped having fun playing music since figuring out how to play Hey Jude on the piano at age ten. Along with his raw talent, his dedication to his craft, his ability to work with people, his fearlessness and his determination took him to a world stage. Mahalo to Benny Rietveld, a proud graduate of McKinley High School in Honolulu, and longtime bassist for Santana. And thank you, for joining us. For PBS Hawai‘i and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha, hui hou.

 

For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit PBSHawaii.org. To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes Store or visit PBSHawai‘i.org.

 

[END]

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Kent Keith

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: Kent Keith

 

Kent Keith has had anything but a traditional career. In every prominent position he’s held, he has lived a mission of helping others find personal meaning in their lives. As President of Pacific Rim Christian University in Honolulu, he works to inspire those around him to live a life of faith, service and continued learning.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, March 29, at 11:00 pm and Sunday, April 2, at 4:00 pm.

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Kevin Matsunaga

 

Kevin Matsunaga of Lihu‘e, Kaua‘i, never imagined he’d follow in his father’s footsteps and become a teacher. He found his calling as the digital media teacher at Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School in Lihu‘e. His students have won many national video competitions. In 2007, the Hawai‘i Department of Education recognized Matsunaga with a District Teacher of the Year award.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, March 15, at 11:00 pm and Sunday, March 19, at 4:00 pm.

 

Kevin Matsunaga

 

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Transcript

 

Our kids have to deal with a lot more nowadays. They can’t make mistakes like we could. You know, with social media, if they make a mistake it’s film that’s put out there, and it’s, you know, hard for them. But they’re also the most tech-savvy people that we have. You know, the kids that are going to want to put in the work are gonna do it. I do see it’s kind of a shift in where you don’t have as many that maybe want to do the work. This whole millennial thing in which people are lazy and things like, that I mean, I see some of it. Luckily, the kids that I work with, you know, they want to be there, they’re interested in this, and it’s easy for me to kinda push them, because they want to be there. That makes a huge difference.

 

It isn’t just by luck that Kevin Matsunaga has students in his digital media classes who want to be there, and who want to excel. His dedication, encouragement, and belief in his middle school students have a lot to do with why they win national student video competitions. Kauai public school teacher Kevin Matsunaga, next, on Long Story Short.

 

Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawai‘i’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in high definition.

 

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Kevin Matsunaga was a teacher’s son who had no intention of becoming a teacher. But life happens. Trained on Oahu, he serves today as a teacher and technology coordinator at Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School in Lihue. At the time of our conversation in December of 2016, he was well into his sixteenth year of teaching there, an award-winning digital media teacher, and he’s a leader in the statewide teachers’ steering committee which advises Hiki No, PBS Hawaii’s groundbreaking student news network. When he was a boy, his father saw that he was good at organizing and taking care of his younger cousins at family gatherings. Yet, the idea of becoming a teacher never appealed to Matsunaga. In fact, there wasn’t much about school that he found interesting.

 

We lived in Lihue. In fact, you know, we actually still live there now. Life was really easy and simple. My father was an educator, so he knew all of my teachers. So that made it a little bit hard for me, ‘cause I was kinda more the kolohe one, tried to be, you know, class clown or whatever. But it was nice. You know, back then, I could get on my bike, and that was my freedom. I could go anywhere I wanted to, and my parents didn’t really seem to mind too much.

 

No cell phones.

 

No cell phones, no GPS tracker, no call in to Mom to let you know. And as long as I was home by six, it was fine. If I was late, then there would be a problem with my dad, ‘cause he was the one that cooked.

 

So, he wanted you there for dinner.

 

He wanted me there for dinner. Yeah; ‘cause my mom worked at the hospital in the evening shift, so she was gone from three to eleven. And so, my dad was the one that, you know, when we came home school, he was the one making sure we had our homework done, made sure we took a bath.

 

Your dad was of Japanese ancestry.

 

Yes.

 

Your mom was from Brooklyn, New York.

 

Yes.

 

Irish woman.

 

M-hm.

 

How did that work? How did those cultures mesh with you?

 

I guess I consider myself more Asian, I guess, in the sense that we lived in Hawai‘i. My mom was considered like a Haole in the sense that, you know, she came from the mainland. But she really took to the local ways. She really saw the aloha spirit. And so, whenever we would go to family get-togethers, my mom would always be one to help out; she would never sit. Even if it wasn’t at our house, she would always get up, and always help out and wash dishes, you know, put things away. And so, I think our family saw that, and you know, she really embraced that sense of ‘ohana and aloha. I think she was wonderful as a mother.

 

You said later, you came to appreciate your dad more.

 

My dad, it was pretty, you know, black and white. You know, if we didn’t do something, if a teacher called us for any reason, it was … I don’t care what you have to say, if your teacher had to take the time to call me about something, you know, you’re doing something wrong. And so, it was tough, and back then, I really didn’t understand what they were doing. I just felt it as being real constrictive and overbearing. And you know, when I was in high school, I had a curfew. And I had a girlfriend who could stay out longer than I could. So, it’s kind of embarrassing to have to tell the girlfriend, I gotta go home, ‘cause I gotta meet my curfew. But only when I became an adult and had my own kids, then I kinda realized, you know, that what they were doing was a good thing. You know, kept me from trouble, and made me responsible.

 

You have teenagers now.

 

I do. And, yes … seeing what what they did for me, you know, at the time I didn’t appreciate it. And in fact, my relationship with my father was kinda rough when I was in high school, just because he valued education a lot, ‘cause he was an educator. And I was more of the ones that, you know, I was happy with getting a C, I was happy with being the lower one in the class in the top class, but not really pushing myself too much. ‘Cause I was more worried about who I was gonna go out with on the weekend, or what my friends were gonna do.

 

I would think that when a son goes into the same profession as his father, I think people tend to think, Oh, of course, you know, you wanted to do that from the beginning. Did you?

 

No. Growing up, I was always the one that seemed to have to take care of my younger cousins. So, we’d have a party, a family get-together, and our family was pretty large. My dad had several brothers and sisters. And so, we would have these large gatherings, and I had younger cousins, and I would always seem to be the one that was kinda taking care of them, making up games, keeping them occupied while the adults did their thing. And so, I just enjoyed that; I just enjoyed playing with them, kinda connecting with them, and just trying to keep them entertained, I guess. And so, it was my father, though; he was the first to say, Hey, you know, I’ve noticed that you really work well with kids, and so, you might want to think about being a teacher. I didn’t really find myself, as far as you know, taking school seriously until I was in college. It wasn’t until my second year in college in which I though, Okay, like, I can’t fool around. This is my parents’ money, and this is my life I gotta deal with. And and I had always wanted to make them proud. And so, I just always wanted to kinda, you know, make them happy. And so, I think once I started buckling down, started getting better grades, and taking it seriously, then our relationship changed, you know, much better. Yeah.

 

‘Cause he took your behavior really personally.

 

Yeah. And I think he always knew that I had what it took to do well, but I just didn’t apply myself. And I kind of feel the same way, too, with my kids. If I don’t see them trying hard, I get upset. And so, I’m kind of similar. It’s like, even though we try not to be our parents, we somehow still do become them.

 

Right.

 

Kevin Matsunaga took a teaching job on Oahu as soon as he earned his degree in elementary education from the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. Wanting to look out for his father after his mother died brought him back to Kauai.

 

Once I was in the College of Ed, I got a job at the A-Plus program at Hokulani Elementary School behind the dorms. And I loved it. I loved, you know, interacting with them. And I kinda knew that, okay, I think this is what I want to do.

 

And you met and married, along the way.

 

Yeah. So, my wife was actually my boss in the A-Plus program. And I was her aide. I taught on Oahu for seven years, and that’s kinda like towards the end is where things happened with our family. And in 2000, we moved back to Kauai, and I was able to open a brand new middle school that was, you know, coming on board. And so, I got to be there from the very beginning and kinda helped shape how things were at the school.

 

And Chiefess Kamakahelei is a very interesting middle school, for those who are used to old school buildings, because everything about it is really built with middle-schoolers in mind.

 

We have different houses for each grade level. And if you go into the sixth grade house, there’s less planters, because kids as sixth-graders, they just want to move around. You go to the eighth grade house, they have a lot more planters, places for kids to sit, because eighth-graders just want to sit and hang, and talk story, or go on their devices. And so, yeah, our school, you know, they took a lot of feedback from a lot of people in how middle-schoolers act, and what kind of space they need, and they put it into the school. So, you know, here seventeen years later, it still looks fantastic. We have an awesome staff that keeps it looking like a new school. And when we have visitors for the first time, they often ask, Is this a private school? We do have, you know, quite a bit of the population that needs some assistance.

 

At what point did digital media kick in with you?

 

When I applied for the job, the principal, Maggie Cox, at the time—she’s a board member for the Board of Ed now. But she knew this was gonna be the school that everyone was gonna look at for technology. So, she said in the interview, I want a morning announcements show, I want it live, I want it live TV. So, instead of, you know, when we were going up to school, you had, you know, someone coming on the PA system, playing the bells, you know.

 

Ding-ding-ding.

 

Yeah.

 

And so, she wanted it on TV. She had seen other schools do it, and so, that was one of the requirements. And I was like, Sure, I can do that. But I really hadn’t done that up to that point. I had worked with kids creating videos at my other school, but nothing was live. And so, I was like, Okay, I gotta figure out how to do this. I love computers and gadgets, and so as a teacher, I always tried to bring in some sort of technology aspect into it. So, I had my students—they had pen pals in Florida, you know, at that time through email. We did all kinds of things. And so, this was one thing that we did. And I was sharing this project at a technology conference that the DOE used to sponsor, and across from us, across from my booth was a high school that had set up their things, and they had videos. So, I’m sitting there across the way, and I’m watching these videos. And like, they’re really, really good. And like, Waianae High School, you know; wow, they’re doing some really awesome stuff. And so, I struck a conversation up with Candy Suiso. And at that time, I wasn’t really doing a lot of digital media. I just thought, Wow, that’s really cool, what they’re doing. But we just hit it off, and when this job came on, when they said, Hey, you gotta teach this live, or you gotta have this live morning announcement show, the first person I thought of to go for help was Candy. And so, I contacted her, and she allowed me to come out and visit the program. And that’s where I got a lot of good advice, took it back to our school. At that time, I only taught an advisory class, and that class kinda ran the morning announcements, and I asked to teach one elective class. And so, that was the beginning of our media program. And then, back then, we just, you know, were doing PSAs, small kinds of videos in school. And Candy created their first, like, workshop for teachers and students. And so, she, of course, you know, let me know about it. And what we did was, I took two students to Oahu one summer, and we went to one of their first camps. And she gave us, at this camp, this binder with all of these awesome, you know, lessons in them, activities. And I kinda treated that as my digital media bible, and I used that for years and tried to, you know, supplement it with my own. Kept in contact with Candy. And she was the reason why, you know, I kinda credit her a lot with our success, because she was very, very open with sharing anything that she had to help another teacher. And so, I’ve tried to take that example and lead that same way, by giving, you know, anything that I have to any other teacher that’s starting out.

 

So, there was nothing official to pick up off a shelf.

 

There was nothing.

 

Or link to.

 

We had nothing. You know, it was just a handful of teachers that were doing a lot with digital media. And we just helped each other. You know, we all just shared what we had, things that worked with us, things that didn’t.

 

Isn’t that interesting. And now, your group, which is called the Hawai‘i Creative Media Group, is teaching other teachers on all islands.

 

Yeah.

 

It’s a formalized group now.

 

Yeah.

 

Outside the DOE, but still very active in helping DOE teachers.

 

Yes. And you know, every single person on our team is just hugely talented. I mean, you know, they just know so much.

 

What do they have in common? I mean, because when you see digital media teachers in Hawai‘i, it’s not like you can stereotype them. Not by age, or anything else. What would you say is the common denominator?

 

I think the common denominator is that each one of us is dedicated to our programs. I mean, I think, like any successful program—and it could be a band, you know, that has an amazing instructor.

 

Needs leadership.

 

Yeah, you need leadership. And I think that’s where all of us—what we all have in common is that we really, truly care about our students, and giving them the best opportunities that we can provide them. Going above and beyond what’s called for in the school day to mentor them after school, on weekends, or setting up programs like our camps. Each person is just dedicated, you know, beyond measure. Everyone is just focused on how they can help their kids. And they don’t do that for themselves. You know, they don’t put their name out. It’s for the kids. And so, I think you need people like that to have a successful program.

 

It wasn’t long before Kauai’s Kevin Matsunaga started entering his students in national video competitions. This required a new level of commitment, and skills and efforts that went beyond the classroom.

 

If you’re gonna take your students to STN, or Student Television News, the really ambitious competition nationally, you have to raise money to do it. I mean, parents don’t have money to take their kids to the Northeast, or wherever it’s gonna be. And there are other neighbor island competitions. How do you get the money to do all of that?

 

We have to fundraise.

 

How do you do that?

 

You assemble a dedicated group of parents. You know, you work with them from the very beginning. You explain, okay, this is what we do, this why we do it, and here’s where we want to go; but I can’t do it by myself. I need support, I need parents to help work, you know, craft fairs, or you know, our breakfast, or sell cookbooks. You know. You just need to have a large number of people that are behind you. And for us, we’re really lucky; we have really good parents that, you know, understand what their child gets out of the program, and so they’re willing to put in that work. And it’s a year-round thing. I mean, we start fundraising when we come back. We’re already planning what we’re doing in the summer, for next year.

 

How much money do you have to raise, say, just for the Student Television News competitions?

 

It used to cost about fifteen hundred at the lowest, up to like, twenty-eight hundred at the highest. It just kinda depends.

 

Per student?

 

Per student. And so, last year, since we went to Atlanta and New York, it was probably close to like, twenty-five hundred a student. This year, surprisingly, it’s close to that. Because we’re in LA, but then, nobody wants to drive in LA. You know. And so, we have to rent a bus, and buses are expensive. So, you know, a day in a bus, you know, is several hundred dollars. And we’re staying at hotels that are two hundred a night, you know. And so, yeah, there are cheaper places that we could go to, you know, like the convention hotel. Even the convention hotel is two hundred a night. And so, it adds up. And so, yeah, we have to raise a huge amount of money.

 

So, you’re teaching digital media like nobody’s business, and then there’s this other operation which you’re also part of, which is just generating funds.

 

It’s like I’m a professional fundraiser, almost. You know. ‘Cause we’re going from thing to thing. We’ve done carwashes, we had a golf tournament, we just had our breakfast this past weekend. And we’ve done craft fairs. Our digital media, Hawaii Creative Media created a cookbook this year.

 

I mean, so your weekends are pretty much gone for that; right?

 

A lot of times; yeah. And so, unfortunately, you know, my family has had to kinda take some of that on. But all of my kids have been in through my program, so they understand why it’s so important, so they don’t give me a hard time.

 

Your students need to perform quality work in a, quote, foreign city, on deadline. And no excuses. You know, no dog ate your homework; it’s all about here’s the deadline, if you fail to get it in, if your computer didn’t render quickly enough, too bad.

 

It’s probably the most authentic assessment that you can ever find. You know, the DOE talks about trying to get authentic assessment. But these competitions, I don’t think you can find anything better than that. Yeah, like you said, the students, they have to perform, they have to be ready, they have to problem-solve if something happens. They have to navigate their way around a city that they’ve never been in, they have to go and find a story on a topic that they were just given that morning, and they only have a few hours to get it done.

 

And they have to depend on each other to do the work.

 

Exactly.

 

So, everybody’s important.

 

Exactly.

 

And you have to put things aside if you have issues.

 

Yes. And sometimes, those lessons take a while to learn, but they get there at some point. But yeah, it’s all of those things. I tell my parents and my students that, you know, digital media, yes, that’s the name of our class, but we really teach a lot of life skills. You know, how to communicate with each other, how to get along with other people that, you know, you may have a hard time with. Meeting your deadlines, and being prepared for your interview, and having your equipment read, and you know, all those things.

 

Talking with adults, and setting up interviews.

 

Yeah. You know, we fully believe in that, you know, we need to teach them what they’re gonna see. And so, when the deadline, when the clock hits zero, even if you’re five feet away and you’re ready to put your flash drive into the bucket, it’s gone and you’ve lost that chance, ‘cause you didn’t make that deadline.

 

And an amazing thing happens, and it was chronicled in this documentary that PBS Hawai‘i did about your schools going to Atlanta for the competition. The Hawai‘i kids all sat together from different schools, and they cheered for each other, even when they themselves were up for the same award, and lost.

 

Exactly; yeah. It’s something we started, you know, a couple of years back in which … you know, it’s hard to pinpoint what exactly that is, other than that’s just the aloha spirit, and … you can just see it, you can feel it. All of our schools, we all know, and the other schools know that, too. But for those of us in Hawai‘i, we understand it’s really hard to get there, because we have to travel, no matter where it is. We have to raise money, and you know, get your paperwork approved by the district. And you go through all of these hoops to get there, so we understand how much work is involved. And I think there’s just the respect that we have for one another that, you know, when we get there … if we don’t win, but Hawai‘i wins, it’s still a win. And I think that’s just the culture here in Hawai‘i.

 

And the middle school PSA contest winner for 2016 is Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School.

 

Hawai‘i, Hawai‘i, Hawai‘i, Hawai‘i …

 

I think it’s fascinating to think about, because so many people here think, Well, you know, our public schools, they’re criticized for being mediocre.

 

M-hm.

 

And some of these top-performing digital media teams are coming from low-income schools or isolated schools.

 

Exactly.

 

How do you explain that?

 

They have good teachers. They have dedicated teachers that are willing to put in that extra effort, that believe in the kids, and will do anything to help them succeed. I mean, look at Waianae; Searider Productions is a prime example. You know, that community is known for so many other things. You know, the negative, the homelessness, and everything else. But they’ve totally broken that stereotype down, you know, by the success that they have. And it’s because it started with Candy, you know, and what she believed in, this idea to use digital media in her Spanish class. And then, it came down to her students, John Allen, who—

 

Took over for her.

 

Who is there, yeah.

 

As a teacher.

 

Was a former student, who totally, you know, bought into it, saw what it did for him, and he wanted to do the same for others. And so, you gotta have that person that’s willing to be that dedicated person that is willing to put in those extra hours.

 

Even though it’s often not even a regular class. You’re doing it after school.

 

Yeah; yeah.

 

Or in between other projects, summers. Is there something really inspiring or life-changing that you’ve seen happen in your classes?

 

I think the thing that inspires me more than anything is just seeing that change in a child. And I think that’s one of the reasons why I became a teacher, is because I like to see change. You know, so in my spare time, I like to weed in the yard, because I can see the progress that I’ve made, or the progress I haven’t. But I like to see that progress, and teaching does that. Because you can work with a child, put in this effort, and you can see before your eyes them, you know, getting it. You know, that spark; Oh, I got it now, I understand what you’re trying to say. And then, you see them apply that. That, to me, is inspiring. I mean, that’s the kinda stuff that keeps me coming in every day and being a hundred percent committed, is because you see this change, and you see the kid that started with you who could barely say any words outside, wouldn’t talk to you unless you asked a specific question, and then to see them grow in the time that you have them to where they’re a confident, you know, young person willing to speak to anyone. I mean, that’s the stuff that’s inspiring, more than anything else. I think that every teacher uh, every digital media teacher pushes their kids to try to be great. And that transforms itself into other areas that the kids are working in. And I think that prepares them just for life in general.

 

That cuts across everything, then.

 

It cuts across anything. I think it doesn’t matter whether it’s in school, outside of school, in their personal private life. I think just knowing that you have someone who believes in you, that wants you to do well and is not gonna let you settle for anything less than great.

 

Teacher Kevin Matsunaga’s goal for his students is not to win contests; it’s do their best. Their best often wins local and national awards. And Matsunaga has been recognized as the State Public School District Teacher of the Year. Mahalo to Kevin Matsunaga of Lihue, Kauai for your innovative teaching example, and your commitment to students year, after year, after year, preparing them for life and the workforce. And mahalo to you, for joining us. For PBS Hawai‘i and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha, a hui hou.

 

For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit PBSHawaii.org. To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes Store or visit PBSHawaii.org.

 

Every day is different. There are no two days that are gonna be the same. Even if you have the same students every single day, the kids are gonna come in, and some days they might have a great day, some days they may not. You know, you’re teaching different subjects, you’re teaching different things, and … that’s what I love best about teaching, is that every single day is different. If I got stuck in a job in which I did the same thing day-in and day-out, not too much change, it would be hard for me.

 

 


INDEPENDENT LENS
The Trials of Muhammad Ali

 

This documentary covers Muhammad Ali’s toughest bout: his battle to overturn his five-year prison sentence for refusing U.S. military service. The film traces a formative period in Ali’s life, one unknown to young people and neglected by those who remember him as a boxer but overlook how controversial he was when he first took center stage. When Cassius Clay became Muhammad Ali, he found himself caught up in conflicts concerning civil rights, religion and wartime dissent. This film focuses on the years 1967 to 1970, when Ali lived in exile within the U.S., stripped of his heavyweight belt and banned from boxing, sacrificing fame and fortune on principle.

 

From The Streets to the Stage: The Journey of Fredrick Davis

 

Follow ballet dancer Frederick Davis’ personal journey, which began with a broken family and homelessness. His exposure to dance at age 11 changed his life – he found inspiration and support from Ballet Tennessee, his church family and a caring community.

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Sarah Keahi

 

As a student at the University of Hawaii in the early 1960s, Sarah Keahi wanted to be an English teacher. But her Hawaiian language instructor, Dr. Samuel Elbert, saw a different path for her. “He said, ‘What about Hawaiian?’ And I said, ‘There were no schools teaching Hawaiian, you know,’” Keahi remembers. “And he looked at me, and he said, ‘There will be a day.’” Sarah Keahi went on to help establish a mandatory Hawaiian language curriculum at Kamehameha Schools, and taught Hawaiian language to generations of Kamehameha students.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, Dec. 16 at 11:00 pm and Sunday, Dec. 20 at 4:00 pm.

 

Sarah Keahi Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

I used to tell my students that if you’re somewhere and you’re singing a song, and then you hear all the tutu’s laughing, you will know why, because you probably mispronounced a word, and you didn’t even realize it. But when you mispronounce a word, it changes meaning. And so, in Song Contest time, I would go around and talk to them about the different meanings. And so, you know, you have to draw pictures for them. So, you say the word ma‘I and mai. And so, you want to use the word mai, and you say ma‘i. Well, you know, ma‘i can be to be ill, but ma‘i can also refer to the genitals. You know, so, as in a mele ma‘i. Um, another word that comes up in songs often is the world li‘a. And li‘a has to do with yearning desire. And so, you’re desiring someone. And if you don’t put the okina there, you’re saying lia. And do you know what lia are? Like liha, they’re little baby uku’s.

 

They’re uku nits, baby nits. And so, then they start, Oh, no! You know. And you show them these differences, and then they realize, wow. So now, well, and you know, for many years, the students are really, really concerned about pronunciation.

 

Sarah Keahi expected to be surrounded by Hawaiian-ness when she started teaching at Kamehameha Schools in 1966. Instead, she found that there were no Hawaiian studies courses, and that she was the only Hawaiian language teacher. She advocated relentlessly for Hawaiian language and culture to be taught, and by the time she retired thirty-seven years later, there were ten fulltime Hawaiian language teachers, and a mandatory Hawaiian studies curriculum firmly in place. Sarah Keahi, next, on Long Story Short.

 

Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawaii’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in high definition.

 

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Sarah Patricia ‘ilialoha Kwai Fah Ayat Keahi is remembered by many of her students by her previous married name, Mrs. Quick. Generations of high schoolers at Kamehameha Schools took her Hawaiian language classes. In the broader Hawaiian language speaking community, she’s known as a champion who fought to perpetuate the language when it was increasingly marginalized. Today, the Hawaiian language is thriving, thanks to the efforts of Sarah Keahi and other like-minded people in the 1960s and 1970s. Sarah Keahi’s love of Hawaiian culture and language started with her family, and with growing up on Hawaiian Homestead land in Honolulu.

 

Well, I was born and raised on this island in Kaimuki. And we were living with my grandmother, my maternal grandmother, Sarah Keahi Smythe. Eventually, we moved to Papakolea and settled in Papakolea.

 

Because you were granted a homestead lot?

 

Right; my mom was granted a homestead lot in 1950. And when we moved to Papakolea, my mom was pregnant with my youngest brother. You know, her tenth child. And so, we moved up there in December, early December in 1950, and my brother was born in February of 1951.

 

Ten kids.

 

Yeah.

 

Mom and Dad.

 

Yeah.

 

How big was your house? I mean, I can’t imagine—

 

I know.

 

–twelve people in house.

 

We all had bunkbeds, and of course, in those days, you only had one bathroom, you know. It was a wonderful life, we had chickens and ducks to eat.

 

You raised your own chickens and ducks, and then you’d have to kill them to eat them?

 

Yeah.

 

Farm to table.

 

Yeah. See, my mom would go out, get a chicken, kill it, clean it, cook it, and serve it. I couldn’t do that. I’d have to go to Costco, you know.

 

Well, those feathers that your mother took from the chickens; did they go anywhere?

 

Oh, yes.

 

Since she used everything.

 

She made feather leis.

 

She did?

 

Yes; she did.

 

Where did she get the time to do all that?

 

That’s a good question. You know. But she was an incredible woman. Her thing was, If you see something needs to be done, you do it. Don’t want to be asked; just do it. She was amazing. I mean, she was a homemaker; my dad worked. But my mom made all our clothes. She cleaned the house, and she’d put fresh flowers and plants every week. You know. She’d go out and cut things, and bring it in. And I think that’s why my love of gardening—I love gardening and I love flowers and plants. My friends would call and they would say, Who was that Haole woman that answered the phone? I said, That’s my mom. Your mom? Is she Haole?

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

I said, Well, yeah, she’s half Haole. You know, half Hawaiian, yeah.

 

So, she spoke Standard English.

 

Oh, yes.

 

And she insisted you do, too.

 

We had to speak Standard English in the house. Yeah. If we were outside with our friends, you know, we could speak Pidgin and everything, but when you came in, you had to speak Standard English.

 

Was there a drill with the kids so that the older kids would take care of the little kids, to take some of the pressure off her?

 

Yes; yes. And she assigned each sister, older sister to one brother. And so, we had to make sure, you know, that their teeth was brushed and everything like that. But my mom ran quite a tight ship, but she was super-organized. And then, she went out and entertained at night. My mom had studied hula in the early days. In fact, Iolani Luahine was one of her hula sisters. And so, we were involved with hula. And we were involved with pageantry and Aloha Week. And when Auntie Elsie Ross Lane was living, they had wonderful pageants every year. And we were always in the pageants, ‘cause my mom was costume director for Aloha Week. So, she even made costumes. [CHUCKLE]

 

What was your dad like? What kind of a match were they?

 

My dad was a really easygoing guy. He was really easygoing. Hard worker.

 

Two hard workers.

 

Two hard workers. You know, my dad, he would come home from work after working all day, and if there was a pail of clothes to hang up, he’d hang it on the line. If there was something to iron, he’d pitch up and iron. I mean, he was … you know. He painted our house about every five years; my dad did. We had an imu in our yard, so my dad, you know, every so often he would kalua pig and all his friends would come over. He went fishing with his friends. If my dad got extra fish, he’d share it with the neighbors.

 

Even though he had all these kids in the house?

 

Yes; yes. And my mom, she sewed clothes for our friends across the street because, you know, they didn’t have a whole lot of stuff. If we had extra whatever, you know, bananas or whatever, we’d share it with people.

 

Your mom was half-Hawaiian, your dad half-Hawaiian. That was the time when people were really trying to be Western, wasn’t it?

 

Right; right. Yeah. They were. Some people, you know, they were embarrassed about, you know, their Hawaiian. In fact, some people, you know, some of my … people even didn’t want to say where they lived. They didn’t want to say they lived in Papakolea. And Papakolea didn’t really have, you know, a very good reputation. And I think the media tends to, you know, sensationalize and maximize the negative and minimize the positives, you know. I was proud. I mean, we had people from Papakolea, Danny Kaleikini’s family, Iolani Luahine, Hoakalei Kamauu, Auntie Genoa Keawe. We had people who went to the military academies, you know. The Kukea family, Kala, Kahele, and his sister Mele. So, we had lots of people who, you know, were notable people.   They don’t talk about all of those things, you know. They talk about the negative things. And I had wonderful years there. Parks and Recreation was a really wonderful program. We had a wonderful director, Mealii Kalama, and she was a very, very influential woman in my life, very firm and organized, and just wonderful, warm, and compassionate, you know.

 

From the time she was a little girl in Papakolea, Sarah Keahi knew she wanted to become a teacher, and she knew she’d need a good education to accomplish that, even though it wouldn’t be at the school that comes to mind first.

 

I think everybody who’s ever come to your class to learn has probably been surprised, if they didn’t already know, that you did not attend Kamehameha Schools.

 

Right; right. You know, my students would say to me, Well, Kumu, what year did you graduate? And I would say, I am a proud public school product. What? You didn’t come to Kamehameha? And I said, No, you know, unfortunately I didn’t, but I’m a proud public school product, and you know, I have no regrets. Roosevelt was a really good school, academically aggressive, and you know, I think I learned a lot from it.

 

As a matter of fact, your mother didn’t really want you to go to Kamehameha.

 

Yeah. [CHUCKLE] Yeah; she didn’t. Because you know, she said to me, Well, you know, part of the girls’ training is, they learn how to take care of a baby, and they learn how to cook, and sew; and you know how to do that. You know. You already know that. I said, But Mom, that’s not all they learn; they learn the basic stuff. You know, they have to take the classes of math, science, and English, and so forth, so that’s in addition to that. Well, she still thought it was—you know. So, I just went to Roosevelt, which was, you know, a good thing. I enjoyed my years at Pauoa Elementary and Stevenson Intermediate, and Roosevelt.

 

Right in your neighborhood.

 

Right; exactly.

 

At that time, there were no career days. Kids weren’t channeled into, you know, Try to think now what you might want to do for a living.

 

Right.

 

Was that something you gave thought to?

 

Oh, I knew; I knew from the very beginning, I wanted to be a teacher.

 

Because?

 

Well, you know, my grandmother, she wasn’t a formal teacher, but she did some teaching. And she told me about her experiences teaching. And ever since I was a little girl, my mom said, Do you know that you used to call the neighborhood kids and bring them over, and you’d play school. You’d pass out pencils and paper, and under the house, and you’d play school. And I said, Really?

 

You were comfortable with having authority, because you’d been in charge of a younger brother, and you’d seen your mother as the head of the household on the homemaking side.

 

Right; right. So, yeah. But my very first teacher at Pauoa Elementary was Manu Boyd’s grandmother, Julia Boyd. And the teachers then were very strict, like the Gladys Brandt type people. I just admired and loved Gladys Brandt. But they hapa Haole teachers, and very, very, you know, strict.

 

Did you get in trouble?

 

Oh, no; no.

 

You were always a good student.

 

I know. My brothers and sisters teased me; You’re such a Goody Two Shoes, you know. And I guess I liked school, and I did well in school. I studied hard. It didn’t come to me naturally. I mean, I had to study hard. And I did, ‘cause I really enjoyed it. All my friends said, You’re so studious. And you know, at Roosevelt I was kidded about that, how studious I was.   I was one that didn’t go out very much. You know, I was such a homebody. I wasn’t a real social kind of person. Like, you know, I didn’t care to go to proms or stuff like that. My brothers and sisters would say, We go to the beach, and there you are under a tree reading a book or something. You know. I mean, I went in the water and all that, but I just wasn’t perhaps as active as they were. But we did go hiking. You know, we lived in Papakolea, and behind our house up the mountain and Tantalus, and we explored all the trails.

 

Sarah Keahi had always wanted to learn Hawaiian so she could speak the language with her grandmother, who was a manaleo, a native speaker. After graduating from Roosevelt High School, Sarah Keahi enrolled at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, where she had her first opportunity to learn the Hawaiian language in a formal setting.

 

Now, was Hawaiian spoken in the house at all?

 

Well, my grandmother spoke Hawaiian with my mom sometimes. And I was fascinated. You know, I would talk to my grandmother a lot, ask her zillions of questions, and I really did want to learn Hawaiian. And it wasn’t until I went to the University that, you know, I saw Hawaiian 101, and I’m gonna take this. But my mom spoke Hawaiian with my grandmother, and my dad spoke sometimes. The only time we spoke Hawaiian was when they were scolding.

 

Scolding …

 

Scolding; they would scold us.

 

And you would know what it meant?

 

And we knew all the scolding. Like, you know, kulikuli, and you know, some of those things.

 

What does kulikuli mean?

 

Kulikuli is the not-so-nice way of saying, be quiet. It’s more like, shut up. You know. And so, we knew those kinds of things.

 

You were spoken to in Hawaiian as a way of scolding you, but it was also kind of a secret language too, among the adults.

 

Well, yes. ‘Cause like, when friends would come over, or my grandmother would talk with her friends, it was all in Hawaiian, you know.

 

It was the adult language.

 

Yeah. They never really sat down and taught you anything, because that’s not how they do it. You know. If you’re interested, you would sit down and listen. But it wasn’t until I was in college and when I started studying Hawaiian, and then you know, I think the day when I could understand my grandmother was just like, Oh, yes. You know?

 

She was a manaleo?

 

Yes; she was a manaleo.

 

And you were learning textbook Hawaiian.

 

Right. But I had my grandmother to practice with. I was really fortunate, because when I was at the University, I worked in the recording lab at the Bishop Museum with Eleanor Williamson, who was like my second mom to me. And Ele worked with Kawena Pukui, and they went on the road and they interviewed native informants. So, I got to go. And Kawena wanted to interview my grandmother, ‘cause she knew my grandmother; they were in the Royal Society together. And she said, I haven’t seen Grandma for a long time, I think I should go interview her. So, I went with them up to my grandmother’s house, and did the interview. And so, on the way back to the museum, Kawena said to me, You know, Grandma used so many words I haven’t heard for so long. You know, it’s so nice to hear those words again. I said, They’re probably archaic; right? [CHUCKLE] Only you native speakers know those words. And you know, my grandmother was a really fascinating woman because she was born when Kalakaua was King. And she lived through the Provisional Government, she lived through the Republic, Territory, and ten years into statehood.

 

Wow.

 

So, she saw all of those periods.

 

What was her take on statehood?

 

Well, she told me that on the day of the annexation down at the Palace, you know, the women who came, and she said as they saw their flag coming down, they wept, and they thought they would never see their flag again. So, they all went home and made Hawaiian flag quilts.

 

Wow …

 

And my grandmother made one. She made one. And I remember there was a time when Napua Stevens was having a program at the Ilikai, and she announced that she would honor Liliu’s birthday. Anyone who has a Hawaiian flag quilt in their family, if they would bring it forth, and they would have a display of them. So, Mom took Grandma’s quilt. And it was incredible, because as you looked at all the different quilts, there was no two alike. We still have that in our family, Grandma’s Hawaiian flag quilt. She signed the petition against annexation. I have a copy of it with her signature. You know, she said the Queen was imprisoned in her own home, and how it was done. I’m amazed, because to me, Liliuokalani epitomizes humility, that in the song she wrote, The Queen’s Prayer, in verse three, she says to her people that, you know, let’s not look at the evils of men, but let’s forgive them for what they did. I mean, that to me, you know, Liliu was just an incredible woman, and I really admire her a lot.

 

Earlier, you said that your grandmother didn’t like the way it was done.

 

Right.

 

But did she come to think that annexation was a good thing?

 

Well, you know, down the road, she did say to me that other powers were looking at us too. You know, she said the Russians were here; you know, they had built a fort. The French were here. I said to her, What about the British? Don’t you think the British might have been a good thing? You know. [CHUCKLE] I mean, look; Vancouver gives Kamehmeha a flag, and Kamehameha asked, What is this? And he says, It’s a symbol of our country. So, Kamehameha has a Hawaiian flag made, and that’s why the Union Jack is in the corner of the Hawaiian flag. So I said, What about England? What if we were English, you know, under England? She goes, Well, you know, it could have been. But I think she kind of came to terms with being part of the U.S.

 

Was there a Hawaiian major when you entered UH?

 

No. In fact, I had to go see the dean. It was Dr. Elbert who actually encouraged me to consider Hawaiian.

 

This is Samuel Elbert.

 

Yes; Sam Elbert.

 

Who co-wrote the Hawaiian Dictionary.

 

Yes; and everything else. Place names.

 

What was he like?

 

Warm, you know, kind, compassionate person. I loved him. I remember when I saw Hawaiian 101, I told my grandmother; Grandma, I’m signing up for Hawaiian 101. And she said, Hawaiian, at the University? I said, Yeah. So, I walked into class, and there was this man with gray, white hair, dark skin. And I thought, Wow, he looks like a Hawaiian grandpa. You know. And I sat right in front of him and I looked at him, and I smiled. And he introduced himself, and then he said, You know, I am not Hawaiian. And everybody was like, Really? He said, I am full Danish.

 

And he taught you your first Hawaiian language class?

 

M-hm. He called me up one day after class, and he said, Now, what do you want to do when in college? I said, Well, you know, Dr. Elbert, I’m gonna be a teacher. He said, Oh, maikai, maikai. And he said, Well, do you know what kind? I said, Well, I’m thinking English. He looked at me and he said, English? English? He said, What about Hawaiian? And I said, Hawaiian? There were no schools teaching Hawaiian, you know.

 

It seemed like bum advice.

 

Yeah.

 

Because you couldn’t get a job.

 

I said, Dr. Elbert, there’s nobody that I know, except the University. And he looked at me, and he said, There will be a day. And he just looked at me; There will be a day.

 

And he was right.

 

And he was right.

 

Sarah Keahi continued her English and Hawaiian studies at the University on her way to becoming a teacher. She was set to be a student teacher at Farrington High School in Kalihi during her senior year when she received a phone call that changed everything.

 

When it was time student teach, I got this call from Donald Mitchell from Kamehameha Schools. And he said, You don’t know who I am, but I know who you are. And I said, Oh, really? And he said, I know you’re gonna be ready for student teaching next year, and I would like for you to come to Kamehameha and student teach. I said, Really? Wow. I said, I’m already assigned to Farrington, you know, with Marion Lee Loy. And he said, Yes, I know, and I talked with the University people, and they said if it’s okay with you, it’s fine. [GASP] So, I got to student teach with Dr. Mitchell. And that was just transformative in my life. That man was just incredible.

 

You had already heard of him?

 

I didn’t, until I got there.

 

And then, he turned out to be—

 

Yes. Because see, if you were a Kamehameha student, you would have known him. But I wasn’t, see? And so, when I got there and really mentored by him, he was just an incredible person. I consider him Mr. Hawaiian Studies at Kamehameha. I really do. Because if it weren’t for him, you know, and Auntie Nona Beamer, those two people just welcomed me with open arms and thus, you know, we began a wonderful relationship. And Dr. Mitchell wasn’t even Hawaiian. He was from Kansas. But he was culturally Hawaiian. I student taught with him, and then he went on sabbatical, and I taught. And he would come and sit in my language classes. He would actually come and sit in my language class, and then I’d go sit in his culture class and learn everything that I could. So, it was a really wonderful relationship.

 

What was there of Hawaiian language at Kamehameha when you went there, I think, in 1966?

 

Yes. Nothing. We proposed a requirement in Hawaiian culture and history for years. Seven years, I think it took. Nothing happened, nothing happened. Then the Hawaiian community, you know, got involved in it. But I think when they did a graduate survey, and the graduates said—the five-year graduate survey, that they were deficient. The school prepared them well for math and science, and all, but they were totally deficient when it came to anything Hawaiian. And as they were in college on the mainland and people would ask them questions, they couldn’t answer them intelligently. Like, where did the Hawaiians come from? Or, could you say something, could you speak your language? Or, is there a language? I mean, they were embarrassed. So, the graduates said that they were really deficient, and finally, the requirement materialized.

 

And you were no easy teacher. You were no softie.

 

No. You heard about that?

 

Yes. I heard so many of your students who just admire you greatly; they say, She’s tough, but fair.

 

Yeah.

 

And you’re really adorable, except when you’re really not happy. You know, you have high standards.

 

Yeah.

 

And you’re just not gonna accept less.

 

Right; exactly. I said, you know, you cannot expect maximum grade if you put minimum work. You know? It doesn’t work that way. When I started in 1966, I was the only teacher. I couldn’t take sabbaticals because there was no one to replace me. You know, so I had to put it off, and put it off. And finally, you know, I was able to take a sabbatical. But I’m really happy to say that when I started, you know, yes, it was only me for years, and years, and years, and when I retired, there were like ten fulltime Hawaiian language teachers.

 

And you taught them all, I bet.

 

And most of them were my former students. Yes; I’m so proud of that. I could pass the baton.

 

And yet, she is still Kumu Keahi. Even though Sarah Keahi has retired from teaching, she continues to share her knowledge with the community, including serving as senior editor of the Hawaiian Bible project. Not only was she able to share her love of the language through her work on the Hawaiian Bible manuscript, she calls this the best job she ever had because she got to work at home in a tee-shirt and shorts. Mahalo to Hawaiian language champion and retired groundbreaking Kamehameha Schools teacher Sarah Keahi of Honolulu for sharing your stories with us. And thank you, for joining us. For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha, hui hou.

 

For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit PBSHawaii.org. To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes Store or visit PBSHawaii.org.

 

If you look across the State, a lot of people in the Hawaiian world and the Hawaiian language field are Kamehameha graduates. And I’m really happy about that, you know. Because I said to them, you know, you need to share what you know, and go out there and spread the aloha, you know, and help your people, help your people.

 

[END]

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Aung San Suu Kyi

 

In this conversation from January 2013, Leslie Wilcox talks with Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese opposition leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate. Her nonviolent campaign for human rights and democracy in Burma led to her initial house arrest in 1989. Suu Kyi speaks candidly about house arrest, her political role and the elusive but important goal of perfect peace. This episode was produced in partnership with Pillars of Peace Hawaii, an initiative of the Hawaii Community Foundation.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, Dec. 9 at 11:00 pm and Sunday, Dec. 13 at 4:00 pm.

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

This special edition of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is brought to you in partnership with Pillars of Peace Hawaii, a program of the Hawaii Community Foundation.

 

If you feel that an issue can be settled only by going out and using violence, then obviously, you haven’t thought of other ways. But there are always other ways, if you want to find them. It’s a matter of patience, perseverance, and a determination that peace must prevail.

 

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Join me for a conversation with former political prisoner turned political leader, Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma, or Myanmar. This Nobel Peace Prize winner spoke with me on her first visit to Hawaii. Next, on Long Story Short.

 

Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawaii’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in high definition.

 

There were many things that helped me to keep going through house arrest. But of course, the most important was inner resources. You have to have enough inside you that you may be able to survive, survive without others. It’s not that I don’t love my friends, and it’s not that I don’t like the company of other people. I like it, but I don’t mind not having company either. So, that is one of the first things I learned about house arrest; how important it was to be able to live with yourself.

 

Respectfully known in her home country as The Lady, Aung San Suu Kyi has been the face of nonviolent resistance against Burma’s military rule. Her unwavering courage and grace under fifteen years of house arrest captured attention worldwide. Now a member of Burma’s Parliament, Aung San Suu Kyi made her first Hawaii visit in January of 2013, taking part in the Pillars of Peace Hawaii program presented by the Hawaii Community Foundation and the Omidyar Ohana Fund. She shared the importance of compassion, courage, and compromise in working for peace. With the cooperation of the Hawaii Community Foundation and the Rotary Global Peace Forum Hawaii, I was able to talk one-on-one with Aung San Suu Kyi here in our PBS Hawaii studio in Honolulu.

 

In your life, you’ve experienced successes and setbacks, many of each, I would say. Where does your resilience come from?

 

Just from taking things day-by-day and keeping my eyes fixed on the final goal. I’ve learned over the years that everything looks less bad the next day. So, once you’ve learned that, then you can cope with everything, even when you’re facing something which seems so serious and very disturbing, and you remember the fact the next day, you’ll feel much better. You immediately feel better, you don’t even have wait until the next day.

 

Even when you’re imprisoned in your home?

 

Oh, house arrest was really no big deal. Not for me, anyway, because I didn’t mind being isolated and I’m not the sort of person who likes going out a lot. So, it didn’t mean that much to me.

 

What are the most important life lessons that have shaped you?

 

I suppose, the sense of duty. I talk about that more than anything else. It’s just sort of instilled in me by my mother, who put a great value on a sense of responsibility. And when people ask me what I would like written on my grave, I always say, She did her duty. [CHUCKLE]

 

You’re known for a wonderful speech you made about fear. It starts, It’s not power that corrupts, but fear. Now, you’ve stood strong for a long time, but you’re human, and the forces you oppose are very powerful. What, if anything, are you afraid of?

 

Oh, I’m afraid of not doing what I should do, of doing the wrong thing, making the wrong decisions. Those are the things I’m afraid of. I was never afraid of the people who put me under house arrest. I’ve got to say that they were never really that brutal to me; they simply put me under house arrest. I was not in the position of those of my colleagues who were taken into prison and tortured, and kept under terrible circumstances for years, and years, and years.

 

When you stand for peace and there’s a repressive regime around, you’re vulnerable, you are at risk. How does it feel, traveling with security or always being exposed to security?

 

I actually like the people who take care of my security. Most of them are very pleasant people. I think of them as people. Yes, they’re looking after my security, but I appreciate what they’re doing for me.

 

Does it make you think of what could happen? You know, look at them, they’re standing in front of me in the window. That kind of thing.

 

No, no, no.

 

No?

 

I never think of what could happen. I just think how nice of them to be so nice about looking after me.

 

Does that come naturally, or did you have to hone your mind to not deal with certain issues?

 

No, it came quite naturally, because I do tend to see people as people rather than as performing beings.

 

Are you ever able to find humor in things that are preposterous and that hurt? For example, I think of your government in imprisoning you, saying that you were likely to undermine community peace. And I think of your convoy being attacked, and the government saying you’re guilty, you’re the victim but you’re held responsible. It’s so absurd.

 

Well, yes, it’s absurd, and I’m fortunate in having a sense of humor. Sometimes, I used to think to myself, Well, you’re a problem, aren’t you? And I found this very funny, because I thought of myself as being a big problem for the military regime. And that to me seemed very funny, because after all, I was just one lone woman, and there they were, this great big tough regime, and treating me like a problem.

 

With a capital P.

 

Yeah; and capitalized throughout. I think work gives me hope. I have said repeatedly that there’s no such thing as hope without endeavor. Hope without endeavor is simply a pipedream. And if we have real hope, we have to work towards it, and we have to work for it. And what kept me going, really, was commitment. I believed in what I was doing, and I always remembered that it was a choice I made. Nobody forced me to do what I did, and because it was a choice I had made out of my own free will, that was enough motivation for me to go on. And I believe that I have made the right choice.

 

That choice meant enormous personal sacrifices on the part of her family of two young sons and her husband, Oxford scholar Michael Aris. Faced with exile from her homeland if released from detention, she endured years of isolation and escaped two assassination attempts. She was only able to meet with her husband five times over ten years before his death from cancer in 1999. He was fifty-three years old. Aung San Suu Kyi’s commitment to nonviolent resistance and peace earned her the Nobel Peace Prize, the United States Congressional Gold Medal, and numerous international awards, all while under house arrest.

 

If we want peace among ourselves, we have to learn about one another, including ourselves. And that requires courage. You have to have the courage to face what you have to do, as well as what you are, and you have to have the courage to recognize the truth in others, even if you do not agree with them. So, peace and courage are related, not because of the necessity to go out and march for peace, as some may think, but because of the necessity to be honest about what you may have to do in order to achieve peace. And peace is not easy to achieve.

 

The basis of conflict is the same everywhere, whether it’s external or internal. It’s an inability to make different aims harmonize. It’s an ability for a peaceful compromise; that’s why there is no peace. If you feel that an issue can be settled only by going out and using violence, then obviously, you haven’t thought of other ways. But there are always other ways, if you want to find them. It’s a matter of patience, perseverance, and a determination that peace must prevail.

 

But there are tradeoffs you have to make inside yourself. I mean, you talked about choices. And some of those choices are difficult.

 

Yes, choices are difficult, and sometimes you don’t know whether you’ve made the right choice until sometime later, perhaps until it’s too late. And sometimes, the choice that you’ve made may be even more right, more correct, better than you thought it might have been. Of course, sometimes, the choices are clear, but even the not so clear. For example, you go to a restaurant and make a simple choice like what you want to eat, then you might find that you rather prefer what somebody else is eating across the table. So, one can never be sure whether one’s choices are the right ones, but I think you have to make them right. Once you’ve decided that this is the way you’re going to go, you’ve got to make the best of it. And also, be prepared to change your mind if it’s wrong. I don’t think one should persist for the sake of vanity.

 

Are you pretty good about saying, I made a mistake?

 

I’m good about saying I made a mistake, and I do it quite quickly. Because I think the longer you put it off, the more difficult it becomes. And I can never understand people who are not prepared to say sorry or to say, I was wrong and I’ve changed my mind.

 

What about regrets; what regrets would you say you have?

 

You know, in Buddhism, it’s considered unwholesome to wallow in regrets, because it stops you from going forward. And perhaps because of that, I certainly do not wallow in regrets. I mean, do I wish that some things had been different? Yes, of course. I think many human beings do. But you must learn from your past experiences.

 

It seems too easy. How can you do that?

 

Well, it’s not that difficult [CHUCKLE] if you make a habit of it.

 

What about the people who oppose you, and who presumably have the same background and the same spiritual beliefs; what makes them so different in the methods they choose?

 

Perhaps the way they were taught. Perhaps the experiences they’ve been through. That’s what makes people different from one another.

 

And do you think you can change people?

 

People can change themselves. They’ve got to want to change. So, you can only make people want to change themselves; you can’t really change them.

 

You’ve talked about how you don’t want to just see a regime change, you want to see a values change, which is just a fundamental transformation. How do you effect that?

 

A regime is made of people. It’s people who need to change. And when they change, the values that govern the regime will change.

 

I can see why you take life a day at a time, because you were facing such a steep uphill climb, that it’s so overwhelming to think of what needs to happen, so that’s the only practical way to handle it, isn’t it?

 

Well, you do need to have a vision. We were talking just now about climbing. If you’re climbing a mountain, you have to know where the top is and what to expect at the top, and you’ve got to carry oxygen along if you want to go high enough and so on. But you have to take it a day at a time. The climb has to be done day-by-day, step-by-step, upwards, one hopes, all the time.

 

And you have a very concrete goal, as far as where that top is?

 

Yes, but this is not a goal that is ever reachable. Because even once we have managed to build up a democratic society, democratic form of government, it has to be preserved, people have to go on, and on, and on, making sure that the values are not eroded. I think you in the United States would understand that better than almost anybody else.

 

When I hear you speak, I hear passion and principle. And yet, to accomplish what you’re using passion and principle to do, you need such detachment, as you’ve described. So, there’s this dichotomy of passion and detachment.

 

I do not think they are opposites. Passion is just strong commitment, strong feelings, strong commitment. And detachment does not stop you from having strong commitment; it only helps you to make sure that you are able to achieve the goals to which you have committed yourself.

 

So, are you saying that when something comes along that’s hurtful, you can just detach?

 

I think of criticism in this way; that if it’s justified, then you have to be grateful for it, because it gives you an opportunity to improve yourself. But if it’s not justified, I don’t even need to think about it, I just brush it aside. I don’t think that there’s a conflict between passion and peace I think it’s only the really passionate people who have been able to work for peace. When you think of Mahatma Gandhi, he was passionate about his beliefs. So was Martin Luther King. So, passion is a strong drive, a strong emotion, and whether you use it for positive or negative factors depends on yourself. Passion in itself is neither against or for peace, but you can use it for peace if you so wish. Absolute peace is unattainable. You still have to keep your eyes on it as somebody in a desert keeps his eye on the one guiding star that will lead him to salvation. So, that’s very much like the navigator in the canoe, who must keep his eyes on the sun and the stars if he is to get to where he wants to get. So, it’s the same thing with peace. You have to keep your eye on it. This has to be your ultimate goal, and you have to keep going towards it. It’s not something you may ever reach, perfect peace, but you still have to keep on traveling towards that.

 

The former political prisoner is now part of the political establishment in a country struggling toward democracy and escape from poverty. A member of Parliament in Burma, or Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi chairs the main opposition party, the National League for Democracy.

 

Yes, I feel quite comfortable. I’m very adaptable. It’s a lot of work, but as a dissident I also had to work very hard, so it just means more work. And I just take it as part of the new schedule.

 

It’s more complex, isn’t it? You have more constituencies, you’re trying to work with people that you haven’t gotten along with, or that you certainly haven’t seen eye-to-eye with.

 

I still don’t see eye-to-eye with some of them. In fact, I don’t see eye-to-eye with some of my own people as well, I mean, some of the people in my own party. That’s perfectly normal. And since we are a democratic party, we have been quite open about expressing our opinions, so we have always had to accept that everybody doesn’t look at things the same way, not even those who are fighting for the same cause. I’ve repeatedly said over the last year or so that what we need to do most in Burma is to foster a culture of negotiated compromise. Because we are very weakened as the traditional values of our society are such that negotiated compromise is not familiar to us. So, I do talk about compromise.

 

That’s a tricky area. It could alienate you from your base.

 

It may alienate me from some people, but I’ve always talked about compromise. I’ve always said that we want dialog in order that we may come to an understanding. I repeatedly defined dialog as give and take, which means that you have to take, but you have to give as well. Compromise requires courage, because compromise means letting go of your vanity. A lot of people do not compromise because they think that it’s a sign of weakness. Of course, it’s not a sign of weakness; compromise is a sign of strength. It requires courage to face the fact that you must learn to be satisfied with so much, and no more, even though you may want everything. You cannot have everything in this life, and you must be prepared to give up some things. This world was not made to be perfect, but I think we still can work towards perfection.

 

That’s interesting. Because Arch Bishop Tutu was on this program, and he said it is a moral universe. But you’re saying, Well, I don’t think it was meant to be peaceful.

 

I don’t think you can interpret it in this way. I think human nature is such that perfect peace is well nigh impossible, but that does not mean that we cannot have a vision of the best possible kind of peace, and to work towards it.

 

And do you think it is a moral universe?

 

I think it is a moral universe in the sense that people basically know what is right and what is wrong. Once upon a time, everybody was killing everybody, and nobody thought anything about it, I’m sure, in the Stone Age. You just go around thumping your club over whoever it was who got in your way. But we have moved on a lot, and even though there is still a lot of violence in this world, nobody would take it for granted that you can kill anybody you like and get away with it. We have moved along in the right way. Compassion is the most giving of all emotions. Only yesterday, I was talking about it, and I mentioned the fact that love is very close to hate, but compassion is totally removed from hatred. This is why compassion is essential to peace. Love is not enough for peace, because it could so easily turn to hate. It’s too close to hate in some ways. But compassion is what recognizes the suffering in others. It’s a desire to remove the suffering of others, it is the desire to put others at peace, and that in itself will give you peace. And peace has to be created by all sides concerned.

 

Your life has changed so much in very recent years, from not having left Burma or even your home very much as a result of your imprisonment, to traveling the world. What’s that adjustment been like for you?

 

Well, I used to travel a lot before I went back to politics in Burma and spent years and years in house arrest. So, travel is not anything really new to me.

 

But now, you’re followed by a global audience.

 

Yea; it’s work. In Burma also, I’m followed by an audience, if you like. It may not be global, but politics is a public job. You work for the public. So, this is the same kind of work, in a different setting.

 

And especially these days, the public is not one group, but the constituencies are all over and they’re very different, and they all hear what you have to say, and they all have different takes on it. How much time do you spend responding to different groups?

 

It depends on whether they want a response from me. I don’t read everything that’s written about me or my party, and I don’t respond to everything. I just respond to what I think needs responding to. But if anybody puts a question to me, I’m always prepared to answer it. One of the things about having a wider audience is finding out how much people care. When I was in Europe, I was surprised at the number of people from Africa and the Middle East who knew what we had been doing, and who were so warm in their support, perfect strangers that I met on the street.

 

In taking your parliamentary job day-by-day, and also having a goal for your service, what’s the most you believe you can accomplish during this term in Parliament?

 

What we have learned in Parliament is that we can work together with people who belong not just to other parties, but parties that have opposed us all along. And this is a good lesson for all of us. We have to cooperate, we have to work together. And there is a spirit of cooperation in our national assembly, a sense that we all belong to the legislature, and that makes us one, even if we come from different parties. Enough people have to be dedicated to change. Not all; doesn’t have to be all. Democracy assumes that people do have different ideas.

 

And in this country, we always talk about how messy democracy is, and yet, it’s the best way of governing we know. How do you feel about it?

 

I agree with that. I’ve often quoted Churchill, who said that it’s not just better than other systems, it’s not that it’s perfect, it’s not that it’s without fault.

 

Do you think it’s the best form of government?

 

It’s the best form of government that human beings have been able to think up. We need rule of law in order that we may achieve peace. In those areas where people are insecure, in those places where there’s fighting going on, where people are under threat, their lives are under threat all the time, we can’t expect them to sit down and talk to one another and sort out their differences. And so, we need rule of law. We need people to feel secure, we need them to feel that they are protected by the law, that the law is there to protect them and to keep them from harming one another, rather than to oppress them and to make sure that they do what the government wants them to do. That is what law has been in our country for a long time. So, we want rule of law as a positive force that will help us to bring about inner peace, put an end to conflict within our society. And for that, we also need amendments to the constitution to make sure that our society becomes truly democratic.

 

Do you have any prediction as to what will happen in Burma in the next, say, five years?

 

Oh, I don’t really believe in predictions. I believe in determination, and I’m determined that Burma, within five years, should be more democratic and more peaceful, much more than it is now.

 

But not perfectly peaceful?

 

It won’t be perfectly peaceful in the sense that human beings cannot achieve perfect peace. But I hope it will be perfectly peaceful in the sense that conflict between different ethnic groups within Burma will have come to an end.

 

As the head of Burma’s Main Opposition Party, Aung San Suu Kyi has rankled some of her supporters for her growing reticence about Burma’s military human rights abuses and violent conflicts with its ethnic minorities. The Burmese public’s strong backing of her is being tested as she pursues compromise with the military-backed Majority Party and other factions in Burma’s political landscape. Whatever the future holds for Aung San Suu Kyi, the world will be watching. I’d like to thank Aung San Suu Kyi for sharing her long story short with us. And thank you for watching and supporting Hawaii’s only member of the Public Broadcasting Service. I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou, ‘til next time. Aloha.

 

For audio and written transcripts of this program, and all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit PBSHawaii.org.

 

Any thoughts on what kind of lessons Hawaii might have to offer the world in peace?

 

There’s so many different people from so many different cultures living together in peace, and it’s the obvious thing that Hawaii has to teach the world. Basically, the way in which people have learned to live together and in which they have learned to respect one another’s cultures, that’s very good.

 

It must be so hard, because you have to be thin-skinned enough to hear from people and to feel their pain, but thick-skinned enough to take incredible insult and threats of injury.

 

You can’t have both thin skin and thick skin. That’s a contradiction in terms. But you can have thin skin, and have a bit of armor as well.

 

This special edition of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox was brought to you in partnership with Pillars of Peace of Hawaii, a program of the Hawaii Community Foundation.

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Bob Apisa

 

When he first came to Hawaii from American Samoa at the age of seven, Bob Apisa could not understand a word of English. Despite that initial difficulty, he excelled in sports at Farrington High School and won a national championship as a member of the Michigan State Spartan football team. He was drafted by the Green Bay Packers and went on to a successful career in Hollywood as an actor and stuntman.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Wed., Aug. 19 at 11:00 pm and Sun., Aug. 23 at 4:00 pm.

 

Bob Apisa Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

So, forty-nine years before Marcus Mariotta helped to win the Rose Bowl, you were playing the Rose Bowl.

 

That’s correct. That’s correct. I was probably the first Samoan that played in the Rose Bowl; I’m not sure of that. When you’re raised in Hawaii, I mean, ethnically, I am of Samoan mix. Culturally, I am of Hawaiiana. When I’m raised with people here, they would have an influence on the way you look at things in life. And I knew that go up there, don’t shame your surname, don’t shame yourself, and don’t shame the state that you’re from. And that was the driving force for all of us who were up there.

 

Before Marcus Mariota, there was Bob Apisa, a Samoan recruited from Hawaii, who also made history on the football field nearly half a century ago. Bob Apisa, next, on Long Story Short.

 

Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawaii’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in high definition.

 

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Bob Apisa was the first all-American college football player of Samoan ancestry whose achievements helped open the door for Polynesian players like Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariot. Apisa’s athleticism made him a college football star, and led him to a long career as a stuntman in Hollywood’s film industry. However, Apisa’s early years were a struggle. When he moved to Hawaii at the age of seven, he couldn’t understand a word of English.

 

Where were you born?

 

Leslie, I was born in Fagatogo, American Samoa. And that’s adjacent to Pago Pago, American Samoa. That’s the capital of American Samoa.

 

But you didn’t stay there, obviously.

 

Fortunately for me and my family—well, there were eleven siblings. I mean, I had ten siblings, rather. I was the eleventh. There eight boys, three girls. And my dad was in the military at the time; he knew that the only way to improve our lot in life was to bring us from Samoa to Hawaii, so that we can get into or be engrained with proper uh, education. I remember sixty-three years ago when I left American Samoa in 1952. And I remember pulling out of that port, and we never seen electricity; I’d never seen it. I lived in a house that was lit up by kerosene lanterns. And I never spoke English, could not understand a word of English. And as we left Samoa, two and a half weeks later, we were pulling in at Honolulu Harbor. And the landscape of the land was just lit up, and I was on deck, and I asked my brother, George—his name was Siosi. In Samoan, that’s George. And I said, Siosi, [SAMOAN LANGUAGE]. Meaning, there must be hundreds of, you know, kerosene lanterns out there lighting this place up. And he looked at me; he said, Papu. Papu is Bob in Samoan. He said, Papu, [SAMOAN LANGUAGE]. Meaning, Those are not kerosene lanterns; that’s electricity. I had never seen a switch. We never had an inside toilet; we had outhouses. So, the confirmation of just bringing this whole new world was there. And the reaffirmation of that was the effort that we had to go out and strike it on our own. My mom and my father went up to as high as eighth grade in Samoa. They didn’t have high schools. And that was one of the reasons why my dad brought us here.

 

What was the hardest thing for you? I can’t imagine. The culture, the language; what was the hardest thing?

 

Well, the hardest thing was cognitive skills, social etiquettes; things of that nature. I remember sitting in the classroom at Pearl Harbor Kai Elementary, and when the teacher would gather the kids around, and she would read us a book, like, See Tom run; run, run, run. See Jane hop; hop, hop. And kids would laugh. And they would laugh, and that was my clue to laugh along with them, so I would feel like I’m one of them.

 

But you didn’t know why.

 

But I didn’t know why I was laughing. I didn’t know why I was laughing.

 

No special language lessons, or tutoring; nothing like that?

 

No; this was strictly through osmosis or just by being around the vicinity of being around English-speaking military dependents. Because I was brought up with military dependents at Pearl Harbor Kai Elementary. But I had teachers that helped me. I remember arriving in November, and starting school late. Because it started in September, and arriving, and then I had to re-acclimate myself. Then I got hurt. We were playing cowboys and Indians; I got shot in my left eye with a slingshot, and bled for quite some time. So, I missed more school. And as a result, I was set back a grade to repeat that same grade in order for me to get on. But I took that as an onus that I had some making up to do, but it was incumbent on me to make the move and make the motivation to move ahead.

 

Where did your family live, and what was it like growing up with ten siblings?

 

It was a very disciplinarian upbringing. My dad, I think in my lifetime, because he was a man of few words, but he’ll give you that look, and you’ll know exactly what he meant. But he was very soft-spoken. My mom was the general foreman; she ran the shop. So, she was very dedicated as a mother. She attended and made sure that we went to school. She took us there, and picked us up. You know, she was all-giving and all-supportive.

 

So, at the time, what public school did you go to?

 

I came out of Pearl Harbor Kai. I entered Aliamanu Intermediate when it first opened up. This, I think, was 1960. And I remember going to Aliamanu the very first day it opened up, and the Salt Lake City was just nothing but a salt lake and marshland.

 

It really was a salt lake then.

 

There were no buildings. There were no buildings; just that school there. But from there, I had to go on to ninth grade. They did not have a ninth grade; it was just up to eighth grade. And I had left the eighth grade, so I was going to the ninth grade. And what my brother Bill and I did—I mean, Bill was the catalyst in bringing me to the old Interscholastic League of Honolulu.

 

ILH.

 

ILH. And that was the premier competition. And I think because he felt slighted—I didn’t know any better, but he felt slighted that all the friends that we were playing around with when we were little kids all went to private schools. And he felt slighted.

 

The immigrants got left behind.

 

But the immigrants were left behind. And so, we concocted a story based on Bill’s theory that if we had a district exception from someone, that we can play at Farrington. Because Farrington was in the ILH. So, we asked my uncle, Reverend McMoore—that’s the Scotch part of my family, to use his residence address over at Republican Street in Kalihi. And he said, Yeah, by all means. So, that’s how we ended up at Farrington.

 

Bob Apisa says he didn’t play organized football until he entered the ninth grade at Farrington High School. He was a natural at that, and other sports as well.

 

You did things like you were playing a doubleheader in baseball, and the coach ran you over to the Punahou relays, and you took two events there, and you came back and you played your second baseball game.

 

Yes; that’s very true. This is my senior year, and it was the spring of my senior year. And I had fiddled around with the track team so I can work out and do my sprints, and just starting out, because I knew as a running back, I needed speed. But he needed a shot-putter, and he knew that in my sophomore year, I tinkered around with shot-putting, and it was only about, you know, two feet or three feet and a lot of rolls after that. But I didn’t know how to acquire the skills. So, we were playing Roosevelt at Moiliili Field, and he went up to my coach, Dick Kitamura, and he said, Dick, may I borrow Bob uh, in between the games? He said, Fine. I went up there.

 

And are you still wearing your baseball shoes?

 

I was wearing my baseball gear.

 

 

I took off my baseball top and put on a FHS tee-shirt or shirt, tank top, and I wore my baseball pants and my baseball leggings, and I borrowed a pair of tennis shoes. And these were the best shot-putters from all over the State. And they were all kinda [SNICKERS], you know, laughing and giggling.

 

How did that make you feel? Did that make you feel like—

 

Well, you know, I was laughing, myself. [CHUCKLE] But anyway, I said, Well, you know, I’m gonna do the best I can. My first throw, I said to myself, All I want to do is get some height on it. And I pumped it back, and I let go, and all I heard was the crowd going, Wow! Because I had just broken the State record that was there for eight and a half years later. I mean, previous. And I’m walking around like I knew what I was doing, but I was looking for the first dog poop that I may have stood on before I came into the ring. But, you know, my second and third throws, I mean, ba-boom, little dribbles here and there.   But the damage was done. I had won the shotput, I had set the State record for the shotput of fifty-six, three and three-quarters, and I broke—the gentleman’s name, I think it was Souza that was from Waialua in 1956.   So, I told the coach, I’ve got a second game, so put on my uniform, and went back to play the second game of the doubleheader.

 

How’d you do in the doubleheader?

 

I hit a homerun.

 

It was a good night; a very good night.

 

It was a good night.

 

Bob Apisa’s athletic achievements at Farrington caught the attention of dozens of college football recruiters. He chose Michigan State University, where he became part of a national championship team known for pioneering racial integration, and for having four future Hall of Fame players, all African American. And he earned a spot in Rose Bowl lore.

 

I was. You know, when you’re raised in Hawaii, I mean, ethnically, I am of Samoan mix. Culturally, I am of Hawaiiana. When I’m raised with people here, they would have an influence on the way you look at things in life. And I knew that go up there, don’t shame your surname, don’t shame yourself, and don’t shame the state that you’re from. And that was the driving force for all of us who were up there. You know, Dick Kenney and Charley Wedemeyer, when we were playing, we were ranked number one in the country. We would go to Ann Arbor to play University of Michigan or go down to Columbus and play Ohio State, or go down to South Bend to play Notre Dame; the top schools in the country. And we would look at each other, kust before we’d go out on the field, we’d look at each other. We’d do this. Meaning, when we get together, we say, Don’t make … you know what.

 

A.

 

A; of yourself. Because that’s how local boys related; don’t make A. So, we look at each other, and we knew. We were in tune.

 

And at the same time, Michigan State had an unusual makeup of its starters. I read that there were eleven African American starters, which was really unusual at the time, and you had far more players on the team. And then, there was you, who became the first all-American player of Samoan ancestry.

 

Yeah; yeah.

 

What a team.

 

Oh, it was a great team. You know, at that time in 1964, we had just legislated civil rights. In 1965, there was the Civil Rights Voting Act.

 

And that’s when you were a sophomore.

 

When I was a sophomore. And I looked at Bubba Smith, and Bubba Smith would look at George Webster, and George Webster would look at Dick Kenney. And we would look at each other … people of color. We said, You mean, we can actually vote for the first time? And so, there was a lot of history in that, that we had to encumber along the way. But the fact is, you look at things, and you learn from those experiences, and having African Americans who were great athletes. Being from the islands, again, you know, we had this mantra that you’re there to represent your people, you go out there and kick okole.

 

Here we are at the granddaddy of all the bowl games, the Rose Bowl, in—

 

So, forty-nine years before Marcus Mariotta helped to win the Rose Bowl, you were playing the Rose Bowl.

 

That’s correct. That’s correct. I was probably the first Samoan that played in the Rose Bowl; I’m not sure of that.

 

Bob Apisa, the fullback …

 

In 1966, I was a sophomore. And we were ranked number one in the country, undefeated, and we played UCLA, who we had beaten in the first game of the year. We were behind by fourteen to twelve, and I had scored a touchdown, and we went for a two-point conversion instead of having Dick kick a field goal or a point after. So, that made a difference. So, when we scored the second touchdown, we had to make up two points. And I was given that opportunity, and it’s been in lore, the Rose Bowl lore throughout the years that I was stopped by the one-yard line by Bob Stiles.

 

Apisa the fullback, and Bob is caught a yard short …

 

And Bob … I think he was a hundred seventy-pounds or two twenty-five. But he just threw himself at you; right?

 

Well, he was knocked out in the process. But the fact of the matter is, he did the job. And that’s the important thing. You know, you only had about four major bowls back in those days. And the Rose Bowl was the granddaddy of them all. That was The Big One. And that’s what I wanted to aspire to play in when I left Farrington, to go to a conference that would give me a shot at playing in the granddaddy of them all.

 

Ten months after that close loss in the Rose Bowl, on November 19, 1966, Bob Apisa played a part in history, taking the field in a matchup dubbed The Game of the Century. It was the first ever live TV sports broadcast in Hawaii.

 

I played in that game. And what happened was, prior to that game, throughout that week, people were just so jazzed up about the Game of the Century. We were both undefeated.

 

Okay. This was Michigan State, and …

 

Notre Dame. And Notre Dame at that time had one minority on their team. Just one. They had maybe twenty-seven in the entire enrollment, in South Bend. And that made them change and incorporate more people. But the fact that we were playing … I had a scroll with about three thousand names sent to me from my high school wishing us luck from Farrington. You know, those are cherished moments. And I remember when Dick Kenney and Charley and I got together, I said, You know, this is big-time, guys. I mean, I’m a kid from Samoa, Palama Housing to Kalihi Valley, and we’re playing big-time. People are gonna be seeing us live and direct. And that game, I think it was Governor Burns at that time, I believe it was, along with the Legislature, and they petitioned the FCC, the Federal Communications Commission, to see if they can see it live and direct. So, they got permission from them, and on the morning of November 19, 1966, there was a little satellite revolving around Sydney, Australia. The satellite was called Lani Bird. And they had that satellite beam the signal from Sydney, Australia, ricochet that signal across to Honolulu. And for the first time, you know, six hours earlier, people from Hawaii turned on their TVs, whether it’s an RCA, whether it’s the Zenith or Motorola, one of those brands, with two rabbit ears.

 

Small screen.

 

And with tin foil at the end of it, and with a small screen.

 

No cable television back then.

 

No cable TV. And they turned it on, they saw the splotchy black and white figures, and they finally saw the game, the first live telecast in the history of Hawaii. That’s one of the proudest moments of my life. I know I speak on behalf of my departed brothers, Dick Kenney and Charley Wedemeyer. That made us so proud. If there’s anything that we’re proudest of is that we helped facilitate this state into the 20th Century, as far as telecommunications is concerned.

 

After all the hype, The Game of the Century ended in a tie. Injuries sidelined Bob Apisa for much of his senior year at Michigan State. Still, he was chosen in the ninth round of the NFL draft by the late legendary coach, Vince Lombardi, who was then general manager of the Green Bay Packers.

 

That was a great honor for me, Leslie, because when you’re drafted by the world champions—they were just coming out of their second Super Bowl championship. And I was hoping to get onto an expansion team like the Miami Dolphins at that time, or Cincinnati Bengals. But lo and behold, I could hear vividly well Pete Roselle, the commissioner, announcing my name over the PA, and I can hear them saying, you know, Drafted in the ninth round, from Michigan State, bla-bla-bla-bla. And I can hear there’s cheering. And my heart sank in a way, because I wanted to go to a lesser team in developing. And here I am, I’m drafted by Green Bay, by Vince Lombardi. So, you know, people would see that trophy named after him on every Super Bowl, and eighty percent of the country probably don’t know who this man is. I was honored to be drafted by him. I shook hands with him, I talked to him, I negotiated my contract with him. And that’s quite an honor. The fact of the matter is, you know, to have that opportunity, to have just the experience of someone who is so iconic in football folklore. And when I see that, and I’m tracing myself back to 1952 when that young man who stood on that boat, who could not speak a word of English, and to where I am today, those are some of the moments that I’m most proudest of
You know, your career with the Green Bay Packers was fairly short, because I think you had serious knee damage; didn’t you?

 

Yes, I did. I signed a two-year contract with them. I lasted a year; they paid my year off. And I knew I was, you know, damaged goods to pursue an NFL career, because I paid that price during my collegiate career. But since, I’ve had prosthesis; I had three hip replacements, two on my right and one on my left, and a left knee replaced, so I walk with a shuffle and a distinct gait, and a gimp and a limp.

 

And other than that, you feel good?

 

Other than that, everything else is working.

 

You’re okay.

 

Being a fullback, always working to move the ball forward, Bob Apisa didn’t look back after the end of his football career. He went on to a thirty-three-year career as a stuntman and sometime actor, following a chance encounter with a Hawaii Five-O casting director.

 

I sat there, and there was this silver-haired guy with a beard, and he kept looking at me. And I’m saying, Well, maybe I owe him money or something.

 

So, he finally came over. And he says, I’m Bob Busch, I’m the casting director for Hawaii Five-O. The original Five-O. And he says, You’re Bob Apisa? I says, Yes. And he says, Have you ever done pictures before? And I says, The only pictures I’ve ever dealt with are Kodak cameras and stuff like that. But he says, No. So he said, I’m giving you a card. Why don’t you give me a call tomorrow. And I had a few days before I went back to Flint. And so, I called him on a lark, and he said, Why don’t you come in, I’d like to see you. So, I went down to the studio over by Diamond Head.

 

Were you excited?

 

No, I wasn’t excited. I didn’t know what why he wanted me to come in. Because I wasn’t involved with filming, I did not know what filming was. Once again, this was a first-timer. And as I’m walking in through the door, I noticed that there were about three big guys like me. And as I’m walking through the door, Jack Lord exits his office, and he’s looking right at me. He says, Oh, you’re the guy I’m looking for. I turned behind, and I’m wondering if he’s talking to the guy behind me, but there was nobody there. And then, Bob Busch came out and made the introduction. And so, Jack Lord said, Can you come tomorrow and do a little scene with us? I said, Wow, this thing is happening so quick. I mean, twenty-four hours later, I’m asked to come in another twenty-four hours later to do a jail scene with some people, some guys. And so, I said, Yeah, fine. You know, I didn’t mind doing that just to kill time and get a day’s pay. And he said something; the dialog between him and James MacArthur, Danno at that time. So, Steve McGarrett was saying this to Danno, and then it didn’t make sense. So, Jack looks at me; he said, Bob, when I say this, just say, No, I didn’t do it, or something to that effect. I don’t quite remember. And so, when he said this, then I said, No, I didn’t do it. I was immediately Taft-Hartleyed into Screen Actors Guild.

 

 

 

Forty-eight hours later, no experience as an extra or anything, I went from Point A to Point Z.

 

Well, you were comfortable with yourself; right?

 

I was comfortable with myself, because, you know, I thought it was a new adventure, and I said, Ah, why not. You know. And a week later, just before I left, or a couple days later before I left the following week, they asked me if I could take jeep and squib it and drive it. I said, Hey, it’s no big thing. And had bullet holes. I mean, squibbed it and came right up to the camera, and that was no big thing. And that’s how my stunt career started. I’ve done train falls, I’ve done horse falls, I’ve done horse stampedes, motorcycles, car chases, falling off of four-story buildings into water. You know, it’s all timing. But if you’re an athlete and you have the innate skills to adjust, to make your adjustment. Before I go on a set and they ask me to do something, I’ll turn ‘em down too.

 

So, this is 2015, and you are how old? Seventy?

 

I just turned uh, the milestone of seven, zero.

 

So, it’s a new stage of your life. What’s it like? I mean, you’re now officially retired.

 

Yeah.

 

I mean, that’s another kind of career, because you have to figure out how to spend your time, what relationships to keep, and which to invest time in, and where to go.

 

Well, I have a great relationship with AARP. No, I’m just kidding you. I find time to do things. I can wake up and read the paper, and I go and work out, and I come back and have lunch with friends. Or the wife and I can just get up and go.

 

Bob Apisa lives in Southern California. At the time of our conversation in 2015, he was producing a project dear to his heart, a documentary about the Michigan Spartans’ two-year run as national champions, and the team’s groundbreaking impact on racial integration in college football. Thank you, Bob Apisa, for sharing your story with us. For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou.

 

For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Stort Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit PBSHawaii.org. To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes Store or visit PBSHawaii.org.

 

People always point out that Bob Apisa came first. He was the first Samoan to really make a dent in the national scene. So, you were the Marcus Mariota of your time.

 

Marcus Mariota is a gentleman that when I looked at the way he carries himself, I’m proud of him. He represents America. He represents the cross-section of all ethnicity; all ethnicity. And he carries himself with humility, which is from here.

 

[END]

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Susan Scott

 

One of my favorite Hawaii newspaper columns is about the marvels of the sea – and who would guess its writer grew up in a land-locked state? As a kid, Wisconsin native Susan Scott would page through National Geographic magazines, imagining herself traveling to distant lands. When she moved to Hawaii, she was afraid of the ocean. Today she loves sailing her own sailboat to distant shores. On LONG STORY SHORT, I get to talk with Susan about her discoveries and delights in living on and near the ocean.

 

Susan Scott Audio

 

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Transcript

 

My neighbors were two sisters; they called them the old maids in those days—it was in the 50s, and they subscribed to National Geographic, which was the enormous of my attraction to go over there to their house. And I would sit on the couch, I remember it vividly, and page through the National Geographics, which we did not have. My family were not readers. And they would explain things to me. And I remember Easter Island was a big one. I’m going there, and I’m going here, and I’m going here, I’m going here.

 

Susan Scott of Oahu has been to those places she dreamed about in her childhood, and then some. She’s a familiar name to those who followed her weekly Ocean Watch column in Honolulu’s major daily newspaper, which she’s been writing since 1987. Susan Scott, next on Long Story Short.

 

Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawaii’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in high definition.

 

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. In addition to her regular Ocean Watch column in the Honolulu Star Advertiser, Susan Scott has written seven books about Hawaii’s wildlife, including publications about plants and animals that live in the ocean as well as on land. Yet, having grown up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Susan Scott knew very little about Hawaii when she and her husband, Dr. Craig Thomas, decided to move here in 1983.

 

What was it like for you, your childhood? How would you characterize it?

 

My childhood was very loving and happy. We had a big extended family until my mom remarried. And she married a man who was not very enamored with children or really comfortable around children. And I was the oldest, so we didn’t get along that well. He was pretty strict with manners, and all kinds of things that I hadn’t really ever heard of before. [CHUCKLE] So, we had a hard time of it. They were heavy drinkers. Everybody in my family drank. All four grandparents, all my aunts and uncles; everybody. It was a drinking culture. It is a German-Scandinavian community, and drinking was an enormous part of the culture. I didn’t know people didn’t live like that until I left home. I just decided pretty much when I was fifteen that I was not gonna have children, and that I was gonna have a different life.

 

At fifteen?

 

At fifteen.

 

What did they encourage you to do with your life?

 

They encouraged me to be part of the extended family, and work in factories, and stay there. And I think the vision was that we would all stick together and do the same thing. But whatever it is, I don’t know what happens, but I think some kids just grow up with the travel bug, an adventure bug. And that was me, and I really, really wanted to do that a lot. And everyone thought I was crazy. They didn’t get it. They still don’t get it.

 

I left home when I was eighteen, and the first time in my life I heard a foreign language. I heard a migrant worker in Milwaukee who had been through our county to pick cherries, and he asked me a question in Spanish. I remember it vividly. I was dumbfounded. I could not believe how beautiful this language sounded. And so, he was lost, and in a little trouble, so I took him home where I lived, in a little commune kinda thing with some other hippie kids, and we found someone who spoke Spanish, and on the phone, and he said what he was looking for, a bus station and a place to sleep for the night. But it was this enormous thing. I’d never heard Spanish, I never heard any other language, really.

 

It was all Caucasian people in your small town, too.

 

Yeah; yeah. And I’d never seen Black people, or Asians, or anyone. And so, just leaving was just a really wonderful thing for me. And you know, I certainly had ups and downs as an adolescent and as a hippie, kinda wandering around, wondering what to do. ‘Cause I didn’t go to nursing school until after that. And then, that’s when I decided if I went to nursing and got an RN, I could go back to Europe and maybe live and work in Ireland. When I met Craig, uh, which was in 1980, it was the end of that whole hippie thing, and he was really instrumental in helping me stop doing drugs and alcohol, and smoking, and all of those things.

 

How did you meet?

 

I met Craig in the hospital. He was an intern, and it was his first week there, and it was my last week there.

 

And where was this?

 

In Denver. He had gotten a residency there, and I had gone to nursing school in Denver. And so, we had just met just barely as we were both off going to do different things. I was going back to school to do something else.

 

You had decided not to be a nurse.

 

Right; I decided not to be a nurse.

 

Why not?

 

I think it was too indoors for me. I think I really had an adventure outdoor travel bug.

 

And it’s kind of hard, isn’t it? I mean, devote years to this training and this education, and you did it for a good reason, then you decide it doesn’t work for you?

 

Well, it was only two years.

 

Still, two years.

 

It was an associate degree. Yeah, it was two years. I didn’t feel that I could do it. I’m not sure why, exactly. I worked in seven different departments in seven years. I was a nurse for seven years. And I finally thought, I don’t think moving around the departments is gonna do it for me.

 

And even though it helps with my travel bug, you decided, No, try something else.

 

Yeah. It just didn’t work for me. And I did my pre-med courses after that, at the University of Colorado. And then, Craig finished his residency and really, really wanted to come to Hawaii and rest, and have some time off before he started working. And so, we came to Hawaii in 1983 just for the summer. And that was it; we’ve never, never even considered living anywhere else. But we always said if there’s another place we find—‘cause he likes to travel, obviously, too. If we find a place better, we’ll go there. And we still say that, but you know, the places that we’re going now are wonderful, and I really enjoy the South Pacific and the other islands, and Mexico, and the places that I’ve been sailing these last few years., but I would never leave Hawaii.

 

What was it about Hawaii that made you know, We’re gonna stay here, we’re putting down roots?

 

Well, part of it is, I feel really at home here. I think the culture is American, and there’s a lot of wonderful things about America that I really like. But I also think that the multicultural part of Hawaii really spoke to me. Well, I went to Chinese New Year and had a fantastic time. We just loved it so much. You know, we watched the lion dances and the dragon dance, and we had Chicago hotdogs. And all this different ethnic mix is really, really fun, and I appreciate that all the time. I like the mix here. And I feel like I’m always kinda traveling while I’m here at home and meeting people from different places. So, it really works for me.

 

The multi-ethnic cultures and people may have been Susan Scott’s initial reasons for wanting to stay in Hawaii, but there was something else here that she hadn’t discovered yet, something she probably would never have guessed would become her life’s passion.

 

When you came here, you enrolled at UH Manoa.

 

I enrolled at UH Manoa because I was so afraid of the ocean. And Craig and I both really liked Hawaii and the cultural part of Hawaii, and we loved Oahu.

 

You were afraid of the ocean?

 

I was afraid of the ocean. Well, I grew up in Wisconsin and went to school in Denver. I had barely seen the ocean. So, I didn’t know what a tide was. And when people said the surf was up on the North Shore, I didn’t know. I remember thinking, Up where?

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

What does that mean? [CHUCKLE] So, it was interesting to go to school, and thinking I would just take a couple of courses. And I had just come off the really hard pre-med schedule, which I’d finished, and so, it was really fun. And I had all these different people from all over the world at school. My lab partner was from Singapore, and I met a lot of local people who made fun of some of the things I said, and about the ocean, and they thought that it was just crazy that I thought, wana, for instance, was really a cool interesting thing. ‘Cause I had thought that sea urchins were plants.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

I had no idea. So, the more I learned, the more interested in got, and I finally ended up with a degree in biology and a certificate in marine journalism from the Marine Option Program. So, I’m a very proud graduate of MOP.

 

Well, what is your job?

 

I’m a freelance writer. And so, I’ve contracted with the Star Advertiser, the Star Bulletin for many years, to do a weekly column. And one of the things the editors were interested in the beginning was that I would have the science point of view from the animals. So, I could write about the marine animals and marine science in a way that reporters probably wouldn’t. And so, those were sort of my sample columns, and the editor who hired me said, Well, let’s just try this for a while and see how it goes. And that’s the only contract I ever had.

 

And as the Star Bulletin dissolved, here you are with the Star Advertiser.

 

Star Advertiser; right.

 

You continued along with them.

 

Well, I was lucky. I made the cut.

 

You did.

 

Yeah; I was very lucky.

 

From being afraid of the ocean to essentially spending your life around it.

 

Right; exactly.

 

In it, on it, around it.

 

Yeah. I think part of the feedback I get for my column and my books is that the sense of wonder is still in the writing. And I feel that; that’s very genuine.

 

And the curiosity is the case there too.

 

To me, I feel like I’m in a movie sometimes; just even walking on the beach, I don’t have to get in the water. And I feel so lucky that I not only got to study and learn the science part of marine biology, but that I get to live it. You know.

 

Well, I love your column. And you know, I think so many people read it and say, Ah, I always wondered about that. In fact, I was gonna tell you that there was this period, I think it was a month; it was one June, I can’t remember which June, but I remember thinking, Everything you’re writing about this month, every week I open it up, and it’s something I really, really wanted to know.

 

Oh, that’s great. Oh, I’m glad to hear that. Yeah; I get really good feedback from the column, and it really keeps me going, keeps me interested. I think I’ll be a little old lady going into the newspaper, still writing about my experience with the ocean. But it is a lot of fun.

 

A lot of it is based on observation. You see something, and you wonder about it.

 

Right.

 

You do the research, and then you talk with people.

 

Well, and I have lots and lots of really interested readers, like you, who write me notes and say—

 

Yeah; what is this?

 

I found this, can I send you a picture? Or, Have you ever heard of this? And uh, I just feel really lucky that I have so many readers now. And I have readers in Australia, now that it’s online, the newspaper’s online. I got an email from Switzerland last week, and another from Malta.

 

And there are infinite things to learn about the ocean. It covers, what, three-quarters of the Earth’s surface. You’ve got a lot of material forever.

 

I’ll never run out of material. Yeah.

 

Tell me about some of the columns that have resonated most with your readers.

 

Well, I think that sailing columns resonate the most. And it’s interesting, ‘cause I worry the most about those being boring to people. Probably because I feel like the column should be about discovering marine animals, and I think the thing I like writing best about is, what you said, finding something and wondering how it works, and then discovering, like, Oh, my gosh, this nudibranch has its own little garden on its back. Which we have right off on the North Shore, we have a bunch of these. And so, if I’m writing about sailing, it feels more like a little bit of a travel log. Like, I did this, and then I did this, and then I did this. And I think, I’m probably driving people crazy. It’s like, Oh, big deal.

 

What’s the latest new thing you’ve learned?

 

Chitons; I’ve never seen a Hawaii chiton. And so, when my friends emailed me that from California and I looked it up, I looked it up in the Hawaii books I have and said, We have those. They wear a girdle. [CHUCKLE] This is called a girdle that goes around. I found a website by Sam Gon, who’s the Nature Conservancy biologist here, and who I’ve meet several times, and so, he had something about chitons, and trilobites. He calls the chitons trilobite imposters. [CHUCKLE] Pretenders, or something. ‘Cause he gets emails from people that say they found a trilobite.

 

Chiton; so that’s C-H-I-T-O-N.

 

Right. That was all new for me. I spent two days doing it. So, I don’t earn very good money, because I spend so much time writing each column. But I have really a lot of fun doing it. And then, I think if I quit the column, would I still work so hard at getting all the little details and getting it right? And I don’t know.

 

Gives you a reason to give structure to your positive wonder about the world.

 

Well, it does. It does.

 

Makes you more alert, too, I would think.

 

It does. ‘Cause I’m always thinking, Oh, I’ve gotta write about that.

 

Right.

 

Well, then I have to remember what kinda day this was, or what beach it was, or was it rocky beach, or sandy. A lot of my observations are not actually in the water. Which is one of the things a lot of my readers write and say, I’ve never been in the ocean, I don’t swim. I love your columns, because I can relate to it through your eyes, but I don’t feel like I have to actually get in the ocean to know about these things. ‘Cause I don’t always get in the water, either.

 

And meanwhile, you’ve been writing books as well. I’m fascinated by All Stings Considered. And I know everyone has asked you, I’ve asked you, when you get stung by a Portuguese Man ‘O War, which is very common, there’s always someone willing to give you their home remedy.

 

That’s right.

 

But do any of the remedies work, or is it just time that works?

 

Well, I had a doctor friend that used to say, tincture of time was the best remedy. And what we say for almost all jellyfish stings.

 

Almost all.

 

The reason so many things work, and everyone has so many different remedies is because it’s a self-limiting injury that goes away by itself anyway. Craig and I did some studies with the City and County lifeguards, and we had a really good time. We had unmarked bottles, so it was a blinded study, so no one knew what they were putting on. And then, we had victims of jellyfish stings fill out a questionnaire; spray this on and tell us on a pain scale how it was. And so, we had a statistician from City and County running the numbers, ‘cause we wanted to make sure we weren’t making something worse. And we had meat tenderizer mixed in a concentrated form in water, and we had Sting Aid which they were selling at the time in all the stores, and fresh water and sea water. Sea water was our control. And the statistician called us, I remember the day, and said, I think you might as well stop the study, ‘cause the sea water is so far ahead of all the others. So, that told us that it was statistically significant. So, don’t do anything. Rinse it off with sea water and go home.

 

Sea water seems to be an answer to so many things.

 

Yeah; it really is.

 

I always remember a prominent coach who had a progressive disorder, and I asked him what he was doing for it. And he goes, The ocean is my therapy, and it’s made me happier than anything could have.

 

Well, I could say the same thing. Yeah. There is something about sea water. And even walking next to it works for me. [CHUCKLE]

 

Yeah.

 

I don’t have to actually get in it.

 

Discovering new wonders about the ocean and wildlife and writing about them has never stopped being exciting and fulfilling for Susan Scott. Yet, after doing this for eighteen years, she came to a point in her life where she needed to do something different.

 

You know every type of animal you could ever find in a tide pool.

 

Yeah; exactly. Well, I’m still learning. That’s the fun of it. So, I still really find the thrill of it and the joy of it.

 

As your life has gone along, you’ve actually gotten more and more, well, immersed in the ocean.

 

Right. Yeah; I started sailing. I didn’t know how to sail before I met Craig, but uh, in 2005, I sailed to Palmyra. I learned how to sail.

 

Wait a minute; that’s a big jump.

 

Oh.

 

First, you’re afraid of the ocean.

 

Yeah.

 

And then you’re sailing with Craig, and all of a sudden you’re sailing to Palmyra?

 

Well, I had a big midlife crisis. I had a really, really hard menopause shift in hormones, I think. I don’t know; I felt crazy. And I think a lot of women have these hormone times in their late forties and fifties, and people do think they’re crazy. People thought I was crazy. I felt like I did lose myself. I thought, I don’t know who I am or where I’m going, or what’s happening. I had been trying to write a novel, and like most novel writers in the world, it was rejected, rejected, rejected. And that’s normal, but I took that so hard. I took to my bed and didn’t get up for days. And I’m not like that at all. And so, I had a really miserable time with it, and that Women’s Health Initiative study came out that said hormones are bad for women, so I was not on hormones. And finally, I said, [CHUCKLE] I’m going somewhere. My life feels like it’s over anyway, so whatever happens, it’s gotta be better, it doesn’t matter what I do. So, I learned how to sail a boat by myself, without Craig, which was the first time. And a lot of people said, Well, he taught you how to sail, or you learned how to sail with him. Taking it myself was an entire different universe, and making all the decisions was really different.

 

Were you a solo sailor going across the ocean that way?

 

I got a job with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as a volunteer in Palmyra. They really needed some help doing a study there, and it would take four months. But they didn’t have any way for me to get there, or a place for me to live when I did get there. ‘Cause Palmyra is a pretty remote camp. And so, I thought, Well, I have a sailboat. I’ll just go there. I’ll sail there, and I’ll live on the boat, and then I’ll see what happens after that.

 

How long did it take you to sail there?

 

It took me a week to sail there, with some big catastrophic boat failures, actually. And I sailed with a biologist friend, a young man who’s still a very dear friend. And he had never been on a sailboat before or never sailed. So, the two of us were really novices. And we made it to Palmyra. We managed to patch the boat together enough to sail there, and Craig sent down the parts to fix it.

 

What was that failure? What happened?

 

The forestay broke. Which for sailors, if you know boats, is what holds up the mast and the sails. And so, we managed to save the mast.

 

It broke in bad weather?

 

It broke because it was put together wrong.

 

Oh!

 

Here in Honolulu. It was new. That’s a very big deal. It’s about as bad as it gets without getting a hole in the bottom of the boat where it’s sinking. But we did fine. We didn’t know much then. I know a lot more now. I think I’d be a lot more calm now.

 

All the elements are bigger than yourself, and can combine against you.

 

Yes. And I learned too, that you’re really dependent on the boat for your life, but you’re also dependent on your wits to fix the boat, because things break all the time. The most common conversation among sailors is what big thing broke, and what did you do. And I wrote a book about it called, Call Me Captain, which is a really big part of my life. I’ve been writing that for a long time. And University of Hawaii Press is publishing it.

 

It’s so hard to write about yourself, I would think.

 

It was very hard. I actually had a wonderful editor from San Francisco, a really good editor who’s a professional editor, and she helped me. And I think the big part of her, besides being a good editor is, she didn’t know me personally. And so, she could say, I can’t picture this; I don’t know what were you feeling. And so, I rewrote with her over years.   And the UH Press does not usually publish memoirs.

 

Oh, congratulations.

 

So, I feel very lucky. So, I sailed to Tahiti from Palmyra, and then to Australia. I really got the bug.

 

That’s amazing.

 

I had different friends help me. I never sailed alone until I got to Mexico. And in the Sea of Cortez there’s only seventy-five miles across, and so I started sailing alone there. ‘Cause I thought, Oh, I’m never gonna be that far offshore. My big problem with going offshore alone is, if something breaks that’s beyond my strength, I don’t feel very strong, and as I age, I feel less strong. I lift weights, but it doesn’t make me feel capable. And on the way to Palmyra, when we had the big boat failure, I really needed Alex’s strength.

 

You’ve seen some amazing visuals at sea. I know you’ve described spinning dolphins.

 

Right.

 

What else at sea have you seen that’s amazing?

 

Well, one thing that I saw that was amazing, but I didn’t really realize it until later when I looked it up and read, it was pilot whales. And pilot whales are among the very few—I think there’s only two species, maybe three, in the world of animals that have menopause, and females live long after they stop reproducing. And pilot whales are one of them; Hawaii’s pilot whales. So, when they swam up to the boat, on my trip to Palmyra, they were the only whales that came to the boat. And then later, when I read about them, I thought, Well, there you go.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

They were coming over to see me, and that was a really good sign.

 

How’s that going for you? [CHUCKLE]

 

That was good.

 

Do you sleep well on the boat in the middle of the sea?

 

No. I don’t sleep hardly at all. I sleep; I feel like I’m not totally exhausted, but when I get somewhere, I sleep a lot. But I’m always on call.

 

And yet, you love being on a boat where you don’t sleep much?

 

Well, I’m not offshore that much. So, the trip from Mexico to the Marquesas that I did this year was a twenty-eight-day crossing. And that’s really a long, long crossing. And then, the rest of the year was just little trips, so you know, a day or two. And then when you get where you’re going, it’s a wonderful, peaceful anchorage usually, and you can sleep just fine.

 

How big is your boat? Tell me about your boat.

 

Oh, the boat’s thirty-seven feet. It’s French ketch, and it’s easy to single hand. It’s set up so you can single handed maintain the sails and do what you need to do by yourself. But it’s also roomy enough to sleep comfortably six people. So, there’s three separate cabins. It’s a center cockpit boat with an aft master cabin, and a center and a forward.

 

So, you could conceivably go alone, although that’s not advisable.

 

I could go alone. And people do go alone. I think part of it, too, it’s a social event. You know, it’s been really a good social thing for me to have, to be able to skipper the boat, and have friends come along. And as a biologist in Hawaii, I have a lot of friends who are really good on the water and they’ve been on research vessels, and they know the water, and they’re not afraid of big waves. And so, they may not necessarily know a lot about sailing, but they do what I tell them, and we’ve had a really good time.

 

You like being the skipper?

 

I do like being the skipper. I do. Sometimes, there’s times when I think it’d be really fun to just be on somebody else’s boat and let them worry about what’s going wrong, or where we’re going, or should we go all night, or should we pull in. But mostly, I like it. I enjoy it.

 

And you’re telling me menopause is what triggered all of this?

 

It is. I think, Leslie, I would have never gone on that sailboat by myself, unless I was really desperate and miserable.

 

I’m wondering if those people who you said thought you were crazy; did they think you were even crazier when you started taking the sailboat out virtually on your own?

 

That I was crazy when I got home?

 

Well, no; you know, once they heard you were—

 

When I got home, I was fine. [CHUCKLE] It cured me. [CHUCKLE] I think getting outside of my own self, and I think if there’s a lesson there, and I would never presume to tell anyone else what to do with their own. Menopause or misery, or midlife or early life crisis; I felt as confused and mixed up as I had when I was a teenager, with all those hormone storms and things, and trying to figure out what I was gonna be, where I was gonna go. And I came from a place where I really wanted to do something different, but didn’t know what. And this was the same kinda thing. And I thought, whatever happens, I’m losing it here, so it’s gotta be, it’s gotta be good. And if I never come back, or Craig and I don’t stay together, well, that’s just life.

 

Susan Scott has made it through many challenges. She continues to sail and explore with the same passion and wonder that she’s always had, and through her writing, we all get to tag along. Mahalo to Susan Scott of Oahu for sharing her stories with us. And mahalo to you for joining us. For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou.

 

For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit PBSHawaii.org. To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes Store or visit PBSHawaii.org.

 

Where are the places you’d still like to go?

 

Well, I’ve never seen the pyramids of Egypt, and that one of the pages of the National Geographics of the Imer [PHONETIC] sisters. And we talked about the pyramids. I remember that, and Easter Island, which I did get to see the moai. So that was good. So, I would like to go to Egypt, but there never seems to be a very good time, politically. I’m never sure.

 

Because think the open ocean is safer than Egypt.

 

Oh, I do; I do. I think it is.

 

[END]

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Lessons on Leadership

 

This special edition revisits conversations with Hawaii’s business and community leaders as they share their thoughts on leadership. Featured are: Maenette Ah Nee-Benham, the late Skippa Diaz, Glenn Furuya, Hokulani Holt, the late Daniel Inouye, Thomas Kaulukukui and Colbert Matsumoto.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, Jan. 27 at 11:00 pm and Sunday, Jan. 31 at 4:00 pm.

 

Lessons on Leadership Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

I had my responsibilities as the platoon leader. And we had this code in the regiment; Don’t expect your men to go up if you’re not willing to go up. In the so-called book, the training book, it’s never led by the officer. Patrols go out. Scouts out, or something like that. The leader stays in the back. But in our code, as the boys would say, You go first, buddy.

 

Don’t ask anyone to do something—

 

Yeah.

 

—you’re not willing to do yourself.

 

 

The late Senator Daniel K. Inouye learned the intricacies and demands of leadership on the battlefields of World War II. He took these lessons with him into the world of government and politics, where he became one of the most powerful and influential leaders not only of our state, but of our nation. In this edition of Long Story Short, we will look back at some of our previous Long Story Short guests and their lessons on leadership, including how the nuances of local culture helped to shape their … leadership styles. Lessons on Leadership next, on Long Story Short.

 

Aloha mai kakou, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Master navigator Nainoa Thompson defines leadership as “stepping up….knowing … the right thing to do,,, and making it happen regardless of the consequences.” Doing the right thing can sometimes require an extraordinary amount of conviction, courage, and the ability to inspire others. In this special edition of Long Story Short, we revisit some of the stories and challenges shared by Hawaii … leaders. We begin with Thomas Kaulukukui, Jr., Chairman of the Board and Managing Trustee of the Queen Liliuokalani Trust, who, like Senator Inouye, picked up many of his first lessons in leadership on the battlefield.

 

I went into the Army in 1968.

 

You went to Vietnam?

 

I went to Vietnam for a year, 1969, ’70.

 

What’d you do in Vietnam?

 

I was a platoon sergeant in the paratroopers. Uh, did well in training, because I had the Kamehameha School ROTC background. And I ended up leading a platoon of men in … uh, basically jungle fighters.  Young men, at the time, uh, um, they’re like a pack of wolves. And they will do whatever the pack wants to do, unless there is an alpha wolf that keeps them on track. And um, if you’re not that person, they will get rid of you and get somebody else. So, you know, you really have to learn to step up.

 

Was there any particular event or moment when this all came clear to you, when you had any epiphanies over there?

 

Well, it was clear to me from the beginning. It’s uh, it’s—you know, when you’re with a group like that, it’s really clear. Uh, I’d never been in a fight in my life. I was in three fights in the first month I was there, because the men decided to test me. You have to realize, this is Vietnam War—

 

And you—

 

–and look at the way I look.

 

Uh-huh.

 

You know, I’m not a six-foot uh, uh, fair-skinned, round-eyed person. Uh, I was brought in to lead them, and I was obviously Asian. So I looked more like the enemy, than I did look like them. So it was an interesting experience, because um, I was in three fights with my own men, um, shortly after I got there, because they wanted to test whether or not I was tough enough to lead them.

 

And part of it was your culture?

 

Part of it was what I looked like. Uh, part of it was there was another leader there who they wanted, who had been there a month longer than I was, and they weren’t sure about me. So …

 

So you saw no—you had no—you had to fight. There was no—

 

Gotta fight.

 

–other way to do it?

 

Yeah. Fortunately, I was a black belt in taekwondo by then.

 

Before I got there, so without having to really hurt anybody, I guess they kinda … got some religion and said, Well, I guess he can beat up everybody else, so he’s all right.

 

We were someplace where uh, another unit got in trouble, and they called us and said, You need to go help them. Uh, there’s a battle going on, you need to go help them. And you need to get from Point A to Point B, right now. The trouble was, to go from Point A to Point B, you had to go between two hills. General rule, bad idea to go between two hills, because if the enemy is up on both hills, they’re gonna ambush you, and you’re gonna—you’re never gonna get there, you’re gonna be dead. So I called my squad leaders together. I ran a platoon of about thirty-five men. And I said, We have to go from Point A to Point B. They looked at the map, they said, We can’t go through there. I said, We don’t have a choice, because if we don’t go through there, by the time we take an alternative ro—route, our … people will be dead. So I gave an order. All the people kinda sat around, and they looked at me when they figured out where we were going. And they said, We’re not going. Now, think about the magnitude of that problem. Battle commander, give an order, people won’t go. Okay. Squad leaders, gave an order, they wouldn’t go. I tried to exhort them to move, they wouldn’t move, because … you know, the consequences were deadly. Uh, so finally, at that point, I got my radio telephone operator, made him saddle up, put on his backpack. I put my mine on. I said to everybody else, If you’re afraid, I’ll go save them myself; will fight this battle by myself. But you better hope I get killed, because if I’m not, I’m gonna come back and fix this. Off I went. Took the longest, slowest, smallest ten steps of my life down the trail waiting for—to hear if anybody else got up. And—and—and fortunately, I started hearing people getting up. They got up, and … they followed me, and off we went, and we—we made—we made it all right. Difficult experience, um … I’m not sure what would have happened if they didn’t follow. But one of the things I learned from that is, you gotta lead in front; can’t just tell people to go, especially if it’s difficult. You gotta be willing to pick up your rifle, put on your pack, and lead in front.

 

And be willing to go it alone.

 

And be willing to go it alone, if you have to.

 

So do you have a, you know, 25-word nutshell definition of leadership?

 

I have a … three-word definition, a three, word definition of leadership. My definition is that leadership is influence; nothing more and nothing less. If you have influence, and can influence, people and their thoughts, and emotions, and, actions, then you have leadership ability. That says nothing about your morality, because Hitler had leadership ability. But in—in a very … condensed, sense, I think leadership is influence. And—and learning to, influence in a positive way people’s thoughts, and emotions, and actions, were what—are the core of leadership, I think.

 

A wartime battlefield can shape leaders. So can growing up in a rural environment, where shared values help to create community well-being…. Colbert Matsumoto, born and raised on the Island of Lanai, is the Chairman of Island Insurance Companies. He also is a community leader in Honolulu, serving on … nonprofit boards in addition to corporate boards. Glenn Furuya, President and Chairman of Leadership Works, a leadership-training company he started more than 30 years ago, grew up in Hilo, on Hawaii Island. At the heart of the leadership style of each of these men is their understanding of local culture, and how being an effective leader in Hawaii can be very different from anywhere else.

 

Being local is not about where you were born. You know, it’s really about the kind of values, you embrace and the kind of philosophy that you use to guide your life, and the decisions you make in your life. So, there are many local people that you know, who were born and raised here that, you know, I don’t think espouse local values. You know. But on the other hand, there are many people that have moved here that clearly you know, the things that make, I think, Hawaii special resonated with them, which is why they chose to, come here and live here, and stay here.

 

This whole idea of local culture and what works; it used to be that certain positions in Hawaii guaranteed authority and respect. But that’s less and less true now; isn’t it?

 

Uh, yeah, I think that’s, definitely the case. You know, I think that you know, when I grew up which was when, you know, I think in the 60s, the plantations were still uh, very influential … forces in shaping our—our—our community. And there tended to be, you know, informal, leaders within those communities that people looked up to provide leadership. So in like the time that I grew up in, well, the principal of the school was, considered a very important figure. Some of the union leaders were considered important figures. Some of the, plantation bosses were also—

 

M-hm.

 

— looked up to as being, you know, important, community leaders. And so, um, people gravitated to them, and as they would in turn communicate, different, you know, projects or, concerns, you know, people would rally around them. And so, I think that those days have passed. I think that it’s harder to get people to align behind uh, different initiatives. In my experience, you know, run across, two different kinds of leadership. One—one is, implied leadership; leadership that is the result of the position that you hold. And most people fall into the category of having power because of, you know, the implied authority associated with them.   Whereas, you know, there are other people that, you know, have I think real power; a power that, you know, it generates from, they are able to assert themselves and the kind of vision and their ability to art—articulate concepts and ideas in a way that makes people feel like it resonates with them.

 

Definitely, you know, leadership requires a level of trust and confidence. It all starts from that. And if you don’t have the ability to engender the trust of the people that you’re trying to reach, you cannot lead them, you cannot convince them to move in any particular direction. That’s why, you know, great leaders have a certain special ability to engender that kinda trust.

 

You know, you have to be able to stick your neck out, because that’s how, you know, you progress. And, so asserting leadership involves taking risk, being willing to stand apart from the pack. And that takes a level of courage.

 

And so, you know, those kinds of leaders are fewer and harder to come by. But—but those are the kinds of leaders that I think exercise real, ability to move people, to affect change. And I don’t know why. I mean, it just seems that I don’t find as many of those kinds of people around as I think used to exist in the past.

 

I really do believe that the upbringing in Hilo— one thing it does is, you know, you’re humble. You you grew up humble.

 

Do you think humility … we prize humility—

 

M-hm, m-hm.

 

–in the Hawaiian culture—

 

M-hm, m-hm.

 

as well. But humility is seen as a weakness, other places.

 

Yes, it is. It’s viewed in many Western cultures as a weakness. But to me, I think that’s strength, when I can stand in front of my group and say, You know what, guys? I’m really sorry; I messed up, forgive me. You know, and just lay it out there. What’s the—what’s the alternative? What, blame people? Make excuses?

 

I do a lot of work on island style leadership, because I do believe it is a distinct and unique form of leadership. There’s this thing I call the same-same equilibrium; the same-same equilibrium. And it roots back to ahupuaa, where it was—society was an egalitarian society, where everybody in the society had a role, and everybody did their part. But all of the contributors within that society were viewed as equal, so everybody same-same.

 

M-hm.

 

Right? Okay. So, here’s the deal. Centuries later, the same-same essence mentality still is—is embedded in all of us. You’ve got to stay in this equilibrium, same-same. Everybody same-same, everybody does equal in their contribution. What’s very interesting is, whenever you break same-same, okay, and you think you’re—you act as if you’re better, right—‘cause if everybody’s same-same, then nobody’s more important or better than anybody else; right? But the minute you break it—and this is where a lot of times people who come from away, good people, they don’t understand this equilibrium. They break it. As soon as you get to this I’m better than you mentality, through your tone of voice, through your being too direct, not listening—

 

M-hm.

 

–showing everybody how smart you, the immediate response always is, Who the heck does he thinks he is? Who the heck does he think is? Immediate response.

 

Right.

 

And once that response comes out, you can’t lead in Hawaii. Who the heck you think you are? And they don’t tell it to you in your face. It’s—Hawaii is—

 

They just turn away.

 

I always say—

 

Right?

 

–to my leaders that I work with, Hawaii is the world capitol of passive aggressive behavior.

 

I do a lot of work with mainlanders coming down, to try to help them understand some of these little nuances of this place. Do not break the same-same equilibrium. Because as soon as those words come out, that question pops, it’s really hard to recover. The other thing with island people; they don’t—they don’t forgive. They—they take forever to let go.

 

The way I teach it is this. There are two types of leaders, Leslie. There’s circular leaders. These are people are who are very collaborative, they’re relationship-oriented, they’re kind, they—they really engage people.

 

M-hm.

 

Circular. Island people are generally more circular.

 

M-hm.

 

Okay. And that’s because in Hawaii, we’re a three-way blend of cultures. We are influenced heavily by Eastern culture, ‘cause in the 1940s, forty percent of the population of Hawaii was Japanese. So, heavy bushido code influence here.

 

The one element of the—the bushido code is this; you always operate from a sense of imperfection. You always come from a state of dissatisfaction. ‘Cause—

 

Oh, I didn’t know that.

 

Yeah. So, if you’re always dissatisfied, and you’re kinda imperfect, you always gotta work harder. You gotta try harder, you gotta study harder, you gotta go to school, you gotta learn. I never got praised by my parents; they never, ever praised, said, Good job, Glenn, won—you did a wonderful job. Nothing. And I think, bushido. They didn’t want me to get all big-headed and arrogant, and thinking I’m better than anybody else; right?

 

Right.

 

So, they kept—they kept it really, really restrained, the praise and things like that.

 

M-hm.

 

And yet, we’re all Americans; that’s the Western influence. We’re all Western educated folk. But at the same time, the host culture here is Hawaiian.

 

M-hm.

 

We have a major Polynesian influence. And there’s no place in the world these three forces come together like it does here in Hawaii. So, the Polynesian and the Eastern, Asian, right, give us the circular. We understand circular; that’s why people are so collaborative and warm, and aloha spirit, and ohana. Western culture is much more linear. You know, there’s the goal, here’s the plan, now do it. Now, move—

 

And if you have to run over somebody—

 

Yeah.

 

–to get there—

 

Right.

 

–it’s okay.

 

Right.

 

‘Cause that’s the goal.

 

Right, and there are a lot of island people who are just very linear, too. The biggest mistake you can make in Hawaii is take your linear approach, and slam it on the circular. Right? And then, that equilibrium gets broken. Who the heck does he think he is?

 

You’ve gotta be both. Circular, collaboration, involvement, build a relationship. But at the point of execution, we all gotta go linear; we’ve gotta get the job done.

 

I’ve always believed, Leslie, that whenever you impose things on people, when you just shove it in, you’ll get compliance. They’re gonna do it, because I’m afraid if I don’t do it, they’re gonna scold me or fire me, whatever. When you inspire people bottom-up—

 

M-hm.

 

–you get commitment. That’s real leadership.

 

Teachers are among our most important leaders. They have the power to influence and shape the minds of young people who will … become the next generation of leaders. Kumu hula Hokulani Holt, who is also the Cultural Programs Director of the Maui Arts and Culture Center, and Dr. Maenette Ah Nee Benham, Dean of Hawaiinuiakea at the University of Hawaii at Manoa’s School of Hawaiian Knowledge, are two such leaders. Their career paths are based on kuleana, the responsibilities handed down to them from their families and ancestors….

 

Hula has always been in our ohana. My grandmother was a kumu hula, she had seven daughters. Of her seven daughters, three became kumu hula. And of her granddaughters, first just me, and now my sister. And then of her great-granddaughters, my cousin Melia.

 

When did you decide you’re gonna be a kumu? Or—

 

Oh, I didn’t.

 

–did you decide?

 

I didn’t.

 

I guess that’s nothing you decide on your own, right, in the hula world?

 

Yeah, yeah; I didn’t decide. My mother decided for me.

 

She said, Well, I think it’s time for you to—to begin teaching. And I went, no, that—that belongs to other people, that doesn’t belong to me. And she said, No, I talked to your auntie, and I think it’s time for you to begin teaching. So I went kicking and screaming, but I went.

 

What kind of a kumu were you and are you?

 

I believe that I’m—I’m pretty strict. I hope to instill in my students a love for hula, but also a love for this place that we call home, and for all the many generations of people that came before us that created the—the chants and the songs, and the movements that we use. What a kumu hula is, is we want things our own way. And we demand that.

 

It is your world.

 

It is my world. I always tell my students, This is the world according to Hoku within these four walls.

 

And as a kumu hula, you get very involved in other people’s families.

 

Oh, yeah.

 

They become your family.

 

Oh, yeah.

 

So you’re privy to a lot of the struggles that—

 

Yes.

 

–people go through.

 

Yes. You know, you get parents coming and saying, You know, my daughter’s not paying attention to school, Kumu can you please talk to her? Or, you know, someone’s marriage or passing; you get involved in your students’ lives, and it’s a good thing.

 

Halau provides, focus, it—it really gets you to appreciate every little thing, I believe. And halau is not only learning hula, but it also teaches you about yourself. How to push yourself a little bit more, how to think about the welfare of others within the halau, and then that translates to others outside of halau, how to practice or do Hawaiian values, because that’s what you must have in halau as well, how to get past pain and tired, and late hours for a goal that you would like to reach. So those are all life lessons also.

 

So you were possessed at an early age of a conviction you wanted to lead.

 

M-hm.

 

Why?

 

Because I was always told that I would. I was always told. My grandmothers— both my Grandma Ah Nee and my Grandma Padeken explained to me when I was very young about my name, Kape‘ahiokalani. And it is a name of—of one of my great-great aunts, who was a chanter in King Kalakaua’s court. And basically, what they said to me was that because I held this name, I had the responsibility of—of remembering the moolelo of our family, and I had the responsibility of contributing to … the health and wellbeing of my family. That was it. That’s what they told me. And … you know, I said, Okay. Because that’s what you do. Your kupuna tell you that, and you say, Okay, so what do I need to do?

 

And there are all kinds of ways to accomplish that too.

 

Yeah, there’s all kinds of ways to do that. And I just found this to be my journey, you know, in educational leadership. I just found that to be what really gets me excited, um, what really inspires me is—and it all started because um, in fifth grade at Koko Head Elementary School, Mrs. Kwon made me do flannel board stories for the kindergartners. And I loved it. I loved just telling stories, creating stories and telling them to young kids, and watching the light bulbs go off. So my first job was as a kindergarten teacher. What a great job, you know, where you get unconditional love every single day.

 

And I know you’ve said you always want to be a teacher.

 

I always—

 

No matter what else you do, or how you do it, you want to be a teacher.

 

Yeah. Always; always. And that came from the stories and teachers over the years. You know, and good leaders are great teachers.

 

The genius of leadership is living into grace. And it’s—it’s that—that idea of creating a space where people can feel really safe, even though you say the worst things. I want you to feel safe here, I just want you to feel safe. And no matter what you have to say, no matter how angry you are, go ahead, go and do that. And when you’re pau, let’s get to work. You know, cause otherwise, we’re not gonna get it done, we’re not gonna—we’re just not gonna do it. And that’s how I—that’s how I lead. You know. And I try really hard to listen; listen, listen, listen. And as I listen, you know, I try to move it back to the core issue, as you said. Ask more questions about how that has to do with the issue, keep moving it, moving it, moving it.

 

But sometimes, there is no consensus.

 

And sometimes there’s not.

 

And then you have to figure out—somebody has to call it.

 

Yes.

 

This is not gonna be solved this way.

 

Yeah. And I do that. I do that too. You can ask the people who work for me. You know, it’s very open, we’re safe, we’re gonna talk about it, and this is how—this is the road we’re gonna take. I’m not afraid to do that. No; I’m not afraid to do that. It’s—it’s nice to know— I want people to know that everybody has a voice. You know, everyone has a voice. It’s a labor-intensive process, but everybody has a voice. And in the end, you know, there will be – everybody will know that there will be uh, a direction we’re gonna go. You know, and move on.

 

Because people want closure. I mean—

 

Yeah.

 

You can’t talk everything to death.

 

Yeah. In a microcosm, yeah, you know, we have a lot of diverse perspectives, but across the United States, across the globe, you know, there isn’t one way to do anything. But I do think that we’re reaching a time where there—there are more young people and young leaders who are seeing the promise and the potential of bringing together different groups, and really talking about hard issues, of renewable resources, about food safety, about education and wellbeing that’s very issue-oriented. And doing it in a way that is grounded in our religion, our stories. I think we’re ready at that point to do that, and I—I think that’s—that’s our work at the University to help prepare, you know, my community leaders to be able to do that.

 

I learned that, you know, you do good work. You have good intentions, you know. Doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter how much I can tell you about what I wrote, or what I studied, or what whatever, right? What matters is that I have good intentions, and I work really hard, and I try to be fair in everything that I do. And I try to be kind, you know. And I—and I lead in grace, developing a space where people can feel grace and welcome, you know. And then, we’ll move forward. Ohana does not always mean that we are of the same blood, ohana means that we can agree on a set of principles and a mission for the work that we’re doing, and we’re gonna be innovative and entrepreneurial, and we’re gonna work together really hard to get there. That’s ohana.

 

Humility, trust, listening, fairness, influence… all important qualities that Hawaii’s leaders say are critical to good leadership. These are values that we can use in our own lives, whether it is how we act with our families, in our jobs or how we conduct ourselves in the broader community. Our closing words of wisdom will be from the late Skippa Dias, legendary football coach at Farrington High School in Honolulu.

 

Mahalo to our Long Story Guests who have shared their stories and insights with us, and mahalo to you for joining us. For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha a hui hou.

 

I developed um, an acronym. And the acronym was spelled out HEART, H-E-A-R-T. And—and each letter represented a basic tenet and belief that … you want the other person to acquire and mind for the young kinds. And the word HEART, the five five words are H refer to humility, the ability to … you know, to … listen to another person and … bite your tongue if—if he’s saying something that’s different than what you want. But being humble is a quality that is really, really … sought after for a lot of people, but never acquire. But humility is a good one. E, education. That one was very, very significant in my family’s upbringing. A, attitude; a positive attitude, making sure that, you know, whatever the goal, whatever the project, you set yourself out to be positive and g—and get the darn thing done. R, responsibility. You gotta be responsible for all the things that you do, and sometimes for the things that your friends and your loved ones are doing. But being responsible in that manner has—has some beautiful connotations that—that grow from it. And then T, of course, stands for team.

 

[END]

 

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