In 1975, Giap, a pregnant Vietnamese refugee, escapes Saigon in a boat and within weeks is working on an assembly line in Indiana. Decades later, her aspiring filmmaker son documents her final day of work at America’s last ironing board factory.
In 1975, Giap, a pregnant Vietnamese refugee, escapes Saigon in a boat and within weeks is working on an assembly line in Indiana. Decades later, her aspiring filmmaker son documents her final day of work at America’s last ironing board factory.
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.
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.
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 …
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.
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.
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.
‘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.
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.
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.
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HONOLULU, HI – Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa is scheduled to appear on Thursday’s 8:00 pm live broadcast of Insights on PBS Hawai‘i, which will also be live streamed on pbshawaii.org.
Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa is scheduled to appear live on Insights on PBS Hawai‘i, Thursday at 8:00 pm.
Hanabusa and other guests will discuss Hawai‘i’s tenuous relationship with President Donald Trump’s administration. The discussion will also explore how Hawai‘i, one of the bluest states in the U.S., will fare with a Republican-controlled Congress on a number of issues, including health care and social services.
Other guests have yet to be confirmed.
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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.
Traditionally, men’s careers were like th—the search for the Holy Grail, and women’s careers um, were like knights-errant. The search for the Holy Grail uh, the idea being that you start at a profession or an organization, and went as far as you could go in search of the highest position you could get.
Men tended to move around as their career um, developed, and so, they would be changing locations. So, that disrupted the wife’s career.
And so, when they moved to a new location, the wife would look around and say, What needs doing, and can I do it, and can get a job doing that? So that, that was more like the knight errant—
–who went out each day to find someone who needed help, and then helped them. Um, I like that, because I think I’ve—I’ve been more on the knight errant side. You know, find something that is worth doing, and if you have the opportunity to do it, go in there an—and do your best.
Dr. Kent Keith has had anything but a traditional career, holding diverse prominent positions in the Hawai’i community, from attorney with a blue-chip firm to State official to real estate developer to university president—of two universities. In every role, he says he has lived a mission of helping others find personal meaning in their lives. Kent Keith 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. When Roosevelt High School grad Kent Marsteller Keith was a sophomore at Harvard University in 1968, he wrote a motivational guide for high school student leaders. A list of 10 life lessons such as, “People are illogical, unreasonable and self-centered. Love them anyway.” “If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies. Succeed anyway.” “The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.” Thirty-four years later he published these aphorisms in a best-selling book, “Anyway: The Paradoxical Commandments”, which has been translated into 17 languages and sold around the world. Today the President of Pacific Rim Christian University, Dr. Keith grew up in a traveling military family.
I was actually born in Brooklyn, New York. Um, and my dad was there doing public relations for the United States Marine Corps, and then he started being transferred around, so um, I grew up in a lot of places. Couple times in California, couple times in Virginia, I was in Nebraska when my dad was in the Korean War. Um, finally, he was transferred to Hawaii, and I stopped complaining. Uh—
What was it like, making all those changes? Do you think it helped make you better at getting to know people, or was it stifling?
You know, there—there are a lot of impacts, actually. Um, first of all, it was really educational, because every time he was transferred, it was from coast-to-coast, so we drove.
And we’d spend a month exploring America. And so, by the time I was fourteen—arrived in Hawaii when I was fourteen, I’d already crossed the country nine times by car. And each time, we went a different way; national monuments, natural wonders, historic sites. So, it was very educational. It was also educational in learning that, you know, we are one country, and we have common beliefs and values, but we also have different subcultures. And so, you get a sense of, you know, within one nation, there area—there are differences. Um … it was—it was hard, because I was almost always the new kid in school. Uh, so you know, you have start making new friends, an—and by the time you’ve really made friends, you’re moving again, and you’re leaving them. Uh, and that—that sort of had a—ha—had an impact. But it had one benefit, which is that you—you didn’t bring any baggage. Nobody knew who you were before. So—
You could start again.
–you got—I got all these fresh starts when I was growing up. So, um, yeah, I think—I think … for us as a family, it just pulled us closer together, because we were our community. We were the people we relied on.
So, you didn’t complain every time your dad got transferred? Oh, no, not again; I gotta meet a whole bunch of new people, and—
No, actually, what happened was, after a while, I began building walls. I began saying, you know, why make friends if you’re gonna lose ‘em, you know, nine months later. And then, I figured out that didn’t make any sense; I still wanted to have friends, and I still wanted to connect with people. So, it’s all part of growing up, just figuring out, you know … things like, what does friendship mean, what does—what do relationships mean. And uh, so I mean, on—on balance, I think it had—had quite a bit of impact, and for me, I think it was positive.
It must have been tough. I mean, high school is particularly difficult to transfer into, and you were coming from the mainland—
–into Roosevelt High School, public school. What was that like at age fourteen?
Well, I had—I had an advantage.
Oh, you were at Stevenson.
I started at Stevenson. Yeah, so—
–my ninth grade year at Stevenson—
Well, intermediate school is—
–is not any easier, I don’t think.
No; no, it wasn’t. Um, but it was a good school, and uh, I have friends that I—that—that I knew then, still today, more than fifty years later. Um, so that—that kind of got me um, uh, oriented, I guess you would say. And—
It was smaller than Roosevelt.
That’s one thing.
Yeah. And then—and then, crossed over to Roosevelt for sophomore, junior, and senior year.
And somehow, you got elected student body president your last year at Roosevelt?
Yeah. Actually, I—I—I was student body vice president uh, junior year, and then student body president my senior year. You know—you know what I think? I think they—they—th … in terms of the ethnic makeup, uh, there weren’t that many haoles at—at Roosevelt. Um, but I think that people figured, well, I—I would work hard. And so, yeah, let’s let him be the—the student body president.
You were in many different school environments. What was it like?
Um, you know, th—the—the most interesting environments really was—was getting a sense of what it was like to be a minority. And my first experience that I remember was in eighth grade in Rhode Island, when the school was mostly African American. Um, and then coming to Hawaii, an—and realizing, you know, we can—we can work together, we—I was in lots of activities, and that really helped. Got into student government, I was in the band, I was in different clubs, and so on. And so, if you focus on doing things together, you focus on, you know, what do we want to achieve, um, a lot of the things don’t matter, and you can belong, everybody can belong—
–no matter where they’re from. So, I think the extracurricular program is what really helped me the most. It wasn’t—
–so much what happened in the classroom.
Did your father and mother give you advice about breaking into new schools and new communities?
What I remember uh, was that my family wanted us to behave they wanted—the way they wanted us to behave. Um, and we were a little bit different. Um, we had chores. And if the other kids were out playing, that’s fine. You’d have your time to play, but right now, you need to mow the lawn, uh, or you need to pull weeds. You know. So, the idea was, it’s—it’s who we think we are, you know, what our values are and what we think a family means. I mean, we’re all gonna be home at dinner, we’re gonna talk about what’s happening. Um, and so, the worst argument I could make as a kid about doing something was, everybody else is doing it. Uh, that was not an acceptable—
–argument. That didn’t mean anything in our family. Um, the idea was, well, you know, what’s worth doing and what’s balanced, an—and are you helping out with the family, and you know, are you learning what you need to learn.
As the kid of an Army officer, how did that affect you?
My dad was really, really committed. He was—he was a wonderful example of what it meant to be, you know, focused on duty, and you know, integrity, and loyalty. Um, I—uh, I—I knew that he loved us, and I knew that he loved people. His career, though, was about self-discipline an—and about getting a job done. An—and so, he modeled a lot of values. Um, he also pushed us really hard as—as kids to be everything we could be. No particular goal or job, just the best you would be at whatever you decided to do. And uh, he was an overachiever. I mean, he—he went for a hundred and fifty percent. So, you know, I figured later in life I could slack off and just go for a hundred percent.
What was your mom like?
She was there after school when we came home. We could share what our day was like, she gave us advice. Um, you know, she—she kept us um, focused on the things we needed to do. Um, she was a little more forgiving than my dad.
So, you’d go to her first; right?
Well, that was the joke. We’d come home, you know, we—we’d tell Mom how we felt, and then Dad would come home, and we’d have to intellectualize it for him.
After graduating from Roosevelt High in Honolulu, Kent Keith was off to the East Coast and Harvard University. There, at age 19, he came out with a list of 10 thoughts that he called the Paradoxical Commandments. This thought-provoking list traveled far and wide, even getting the notice of a woman who became a modern saint.
I continued to—to work with high school student leaders. But it was the 60s, so you know, a lot of conflict—uh, conflict and confrontation, uh, turmoil. And yet, a lot of idealism and a lot of hope that somehow, we could make the world uh, a better place. So, what was um, disappointing to me was seeing so many young people go out in the world to bring about change, and then seeing them come back much too quickly because the change they—they wanted wasn’t achieved, and people didn’t seem to appreciate what they were trying to do. So, I—I had a couple of major messages for ‘em. I was traveling around the country speaking, an—an—and working at high schools and student council conventions. I said, Well, first of all, you gotta love people, because that’s one of the only motivations strong enough to keep you with the people, and with the process, until change is achieved, ‘cause it usually takes time. It could take a lot of time. And secondly, I said, you know, if you go out there and do what you believe is right and good and true, um, you—you’re gonna get a lot of meaning. I mean, that should give you a lot of meaning and satisfaction. And—and if you have the meaning, you don’t have to have the glory. The meaning—
–should be enough. People appreciate you, that’s fine. If they don’t, you’re okay, you still got the meaning, that should keep you energized. So, I decided to write a booklet for them. Took me a long time to decide whether to write one at all, uh, ‘cause I figured well, people know this, and you know, it’s already been said. But I started writing this booklet on how to bring about change by working together. And one chapter was about love, about brotherly love they called it then, about caring about people. And it talked about—about this issue of meaning. In order to get across my point about meaning, I wrote The Paradoxical Commandments. So, each one starts with a statement of adversity, but it’s followed by the positive commandment to do it anyway. So, people are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered. Love them anyway. So, you start with a statement of adversity, you go into the positive commandment. And they’re meant to be examples of an attitude. I mean, I wrote ten of them, because I wanted to call them commandments, and there was a precedent for ten.
So, I thought I’d stick with ten. But they—they weren’t meant to cover everything that happens in life, just an attitude toward what happens in life. And uh, I just put it in that booklet, little sixty-five-page booklet, it was just on one page, and we sold twenty-five or thirty thousand copies around the United States, which was a pretty big deal. That was—that was quite a bit. And then, I went on with my life, and literally for thirty years, had no idea what was happening to them. Uh, what I learned later was, people were lifting The Paradoxical Commandments out of that little booklet, and they were putting them up on their walls and on their refrigerator doors, and they got into books, and they were in commencement speeches, and they traveled and traveled. And um … in 1997, uh, I was at my Rotary Club meeting here in Honolulu, and you know, service clubs often begin with a poem or a prayer or—
–thought for the day. And so, my fellow Rotarian stood up at the beginning of the meeting, and he said, um, Mother Teresa passed two weeks ago, and I’d like to read a poem that she wrote. So, I kind of bowed my head to listen to this—this poem, and what I heard him read was eight of the original Ten Paradoxical Commandments, exactly as I’d written them. I was like, whoa, you know, I recognize them.
You know, I could sort of felt the hair rising on the back of my neck, you know, like wow. Um, so I went up to him afterwards, and I said, You know, that piece that you read, where did you get it? He said, Isn’t it wonderful?
I really didn’t know what to say, but I said, Well, um, actually, I wrote it.
And then, he gave me uh, a really strange look. He didn’t say anything—
Like you’re a demented guy; right?
Exactly; delusional megalomaniac.
Claiming you’d written something by Mother Teresa; how dare you? Uh, and I said, But—but where did you get it? And he said, Well, uh, I don’t know, it was in a book about Mother Teresa. Couldn’t remember the title. So, I went to Borders Bookstore, and there was a whole shelf of books about Mother Teresa. So, I just started with the first book and went through every page, left to right, all the way through, and finally found it on the last page before the appendix in a—in a book called Mother Teresa, A Simple Path. And it had been rearranged to look like a poem. I don’t call it a poem, actually. I just—
It was a list. And it had been retitled, Anyway, which made sense, ‘cause each one ends with the word, anyway. Um … and it didn’t say Mother Teresa had written it. It said: A sign on the wall at Shishu Bhavan, the children’s home in Calcutta. And that—that just really hit me, um, because of my respect for Mother Teresa, because of the idea that it was in an orphanage. So, I’m standing there in the bookstore; I want to laugh, I want to cry, I want to jump up and down, I wasn’t sure what to do. Um, but I decided if I did all those things, I might get arrested, so I better be calm. But um, yeah, that—
You should have said, do it anyway.
That—that had a really big impact on me. I—I took that as a real message. So, I started speaking and writing about them again for the first time in thirty years.
Now, tell me what—you say that people tend to know this stuff, anyway. I don’t think we really do.
I mean, we may know it, you know, tangentially, but people don’t put these things together sometimes. So—
So, the fact that you’ve put them together, and they resonate so much; how did you learn all of that so early?
Yeah. Well, I’ve just been—I’ve been—I’ve been very blessed. I mean, there were two major sources um, behind this. One was just my family. I mean, I grew up in a family that lived that way. An—and so, I—I wrote The Paradoxical Commandments, I showed the manuscript to my—my dad, for example, and I remember him looking at ‘em and going, Uh-huh, yup, we know this, nice of you to write it down. I mean—
–my parents, my aunts, my uncles … they did it anyway. They—they were focused on loving people, and helping people, an—and doing what’s right, an—and they were not after power, wealth, and fame. They—they did what was meaningful.
Can you remember some of the incidents that might have caused you to pluck out those particular ten—
Yes. Um, well, if you do good, people accuse you of selfish ulterior motives. Um, one of the things that happened at Roosevelt High School when I was a sophomore, um, was that the seniors who were leading the student government wanted to eliminate uh, the representative assembly. That would be uh, the equivalent of eliminate—eliminating Congress. I’m sure there were people—people would be interested in doing that nowadays.
But—but uh, but uh, the whole idea of student government is for people to learn how to be citizens, to work together. And so, that would be like eliminating sixty students from—from student government. So, I was against it. Um, and so, um, I stood up an—an—and said so, and turned out to be the only person in a school of about twenty-one hundred who was willing to oppose it. And some of the seniors uh … were—were pretty upset with me for doing that. Um, but gradually, you know, I kept talking about it, what are we doing, why are we doing it that way, what are the benefits, and ended up with a schoolwide debate in which we argued the issue. And it went to a vote, and the idea of eliminating the representative assembly was—was rejected, uh, fortunately. Well, then I was accused of having done all that just to become popular, so I could become student body president. So, I was like, oh, wow, you know, I just did, I stood up against the so-called power structure, I was kind of, you know, treated badly by—by the—the big men and women on campus, finally the message got through, um, the movement I started was successful, and then they turn around and accuse me of just having done it out of some kind of crass political, you know, um, opportunism. So, that was one. Um, honesty and frankness make you vulnerable. Um, that came from a real experience that occurred after I graduated from high school. Uh, I went work at a uh, student council workshop in Indiana. Um, we had started uh, a high school student leadership institute in Hawaii. Uh, a bunch of us student body presidents got together and did that in the spring of 1966. So, I’d been at the uh, Indiana workshop uh, to learn how that’s done before starting uh, our own. And uh, so, you know, I was—I was young, and they—they invited me back, and um, it was the 60s, and they said, Well, we would like you to speak to our students, but we don’t want you to attack the establishment. Um … so, um, so I didn’t. I attacked the students. Uh, I was looking at three hundred students who were gonna be student council leaders in Indiana and other states the next year and I said, As far as I can tell, you’re a hoax, you’re a fraud. You don’t care about your fellow students; you just want to get elected to put it on your college application form. You’re just gonna hold parties for yourselves. You know, you’re really—you’re really not making a difference in your schools, and you don’t plan to. But you could. You could actually reach out, you could connect, you could find out what students really need, you could—you could create it or you could lobby for it, and you could really change lives. Even just saying hello to some of the students in your schools would make a difference in their lives. So, that was kind of breaking through the bubble, and the students loved it. It’s like, okay, let’s talk about what’s really happening. And they came down, and they lifted me up on their shoulders. And I was a lot lighter then, actually.
Uh, lifted me up on their shoulders, took me outside, and I had one of the most exciting discussions I’ve ever had in my life about we didn’t have to have a student council just to decide the color of the spring prom, or something.
We could actually be human beings who connect with human beings, and make the school a better place. So, gradually, we—students drifted off to—to go to their—it was night—nighttime, they drifted off to go back to their—their rooms. This was at—held at a university campus. And suddenly, I realized that there were four men standing around me. One of them was the director of the workshop, and he announced that I was fired, I would be leaving immediately. They marched me to my room, wouldn’t allow me to talk to anyone, wouldn’t allow me to call anyone, they locked the door behind me, said You’re going to pack now. I packed, they marched me to the parking lot, they put me into a car, they wouldn’t even turn on the headlights, they didn’t want to attract attention. Drove me uh, twenty miles from campus and dropped me off at a bus stop in the middle of a cornfield at eight-thirty at night. Um, they’d done their research; they realized a Greyhound bus was coming. And I caught it. Um, but I’m sitting there watching the headlights of the cars go by, uh, saying, uh, Well, I told the truth, they understood it, something good can happen, but you know, paid the price. And I decided I’d do it again. You know, honesty and frankness make you vulnerable. Be honest and frank, anyway.
After graduating from Harvard, Kent Keith went on to earn a master of arts degree at Oxford University. Completing that, he spent a year studying in Japan, where he met his hapa-haole wife, Elizabeth. She became his teacher outside the classroom.
Her father was uh, uh, Swedish-American, her mother is Japanese. Uh, he was an engineer working for General Electric. And they had a little apartment building; their family lived on the first floor, and then they had outside staircases going to two more floors. And um, so um, I—I rented a room, and uh, I studied. And I studied—the Japanese language is—is challenging. And uh, after a while, my—Mrs. Carlson, who became my mother-in-law, uh, was worried about this—this foreign haole guy who was upstairs studying all the time. We gotta get him out to see Japan. So, she started inviting me down to dinner, and invited me out on a few family excursion.
And then, you invited out her daughter.
That’s exactly what happened.
How long have you been married now?
We’ve been married forty years.
She told you some things early on, very frankly, that shifted your perspective.
And you changed; they were hard to hear.
Yes. Um, yeah, I was very fortunate that she was willing-first of all, it was interesting. This was one of the only times that the different cultural backgrounds really came up. Uh, for example, um, you know, my parents were born and raised in Nebraska, we want to be polite, but we pretty much—we’re direct, we pretty much say what we want to say, and that’s what we mean. Uh, my wife Elizabeth grew up in Japan, it’s more indirect, you don’t say exactly what you mean, people are supposed to infer it. And so, I would say something, and she’d read between the lines, but I didn’t mean for her to read between the lines. She’d say something, and I wouldn’t read between the lines, but I was supposed to. So, um, we had to learn a little bit about each other. But th—the gift she gave to me was to give me honest and loving feedback about how my behavior was affecting her. And you know, I thought, well, I’m a pretty nice person, and I love her, and I don’t mean—you know, don’t want to cause her any problems. Um, but when I was, I needed to know, and that was really uncomfortable. But when she did tell me, I thought about it and reflected on it, an—and I was able to change in ways that—that uh, strengthened the relationship.
You became more intentional, then.
Yeah. Yeah, more conscious of what I was saying and doing, and how that—how that impacted her, an—and how that impacted others. So, um, I’m still learning. Um—
–and I’m grateful that she’s still teaching.
The couple has three internationally adopted children.
After returning to Honolulu and earning a law degree at the University of Hawai’i’s William S. Richardson School of Law, Kent Keith set out on his career.
I’ve jumped around. I’ve done different things, each of which was very meaningful to me, but it wasn’t a standard career.
It was definitely not a straight line.
And the positions you’ve held often don’t really compute one to another.
Not—not directly. I mean, um, so I started out as—as a lawyer, and um, learned a lot, um, no regrets at all. Um, but decided that—that that wasn’t really what I was born to do. Uh, it’s really important to understand, because America runs on law an—and litigation, unfortunately. Um, so I was really attracted to—to job creation and economic development. I think having a job is really important; it’s—it’s a part of—of one’s dignity, of course, taking care of yourself and your—and your family, participating in society. Uh, I think having—I think work can be a really meaningful part of one’s life. And so, having more jobs and having a variety of jobs, I think is very important. So, I went into economic development. I was very fortunate to work for Hideto Kono and for uh, Governor–George Ariyoshi in that area. Well, my—my period of—of service ended when the Governor’s term was up. And then um, Bill Mills uh, from Oceanic Properties, Castle and Cooke, said, Well, how would you like to do it in the real world, not just talk about it in government. And so—so, he said, Why don’t you come in to—to Oceanic Properties. And they uh, gave me the portfolio to start developing the Mililani Technology Park. So, like here’s twenty million dollars, get the first phase going. And that was really meaningful, because in the next few years, we were able to put in infrastructure and build the first two buildings, and start attracting high tech companies. Again, jobs, a variety of jobs. Um, I was happy doing that, when um, I got a call from a regent at—at Chaminade University um, saying, How would you like to be president? And I said, Oh, gee, that’s really—really nice of you, but I’m happy where I am, um, uh, thank you, but no thank you. Um, that was a Friday. He called back on Monday and said, You can’t just say no.
You—you’ve gotta go to lunch and listen. I said, Oh, sure, I’ll do that. And I went to lunch, and two weeks later, I was the president of Chaminade University.
What was the next stop?
Well, actually, that’s when I became uh, the fulltime unemployed graduate student with a wife and three kids. So—so, one week, I’m president of a university. Next week, I’m in uh, a dormitory at USC in Los Angeles, um, with a 17-year-old roommate. And I’m willing to certify he was the most disappointed freshman in the history of higher education.
Uh, he traveled all the way from Virginia to California for freedom, and they gave him a roommate older than his father.
But we got along really well, ‘cause I wasn’t his father. I could just be his friend. Um, no, so I—I really—I love learning. I love ideas, I love applying ideas to try to make things better. And this idea of going to school and then applying what you learn, and then going to school and applying what you learn, um, that’s been kind of the pattern in my life, as well. An—and I like that very much, an—and very fortunate I was able to do that.
Your life philosophy, which you developed early on and is evidenced by The Paradoxical Commandments, is a lot about creative tension, and—
–dealing with a level of stress.
The Paradoxical Commandments focus on what we control. I mean, there are all kinds of external events we don’t control. I mean, as individuals, we don’t control uh, the world economy, world population growth, natural disasters, all kind of things. We work hard, we prepare, we seize opportunities, but there’s all kinds of things we don’t control. What we do control is our—is our inner lives, our spiritual lives. And you and I get to decide who we’re gonna be, and how we’re gonna live. And we can live our faith, and we can live our values, and we—we can be close to our family and friends, and—and we can do what we know is right, and good, and true, no matter what. I mean, absolutely no matter what. That’s in our control. So, that’s where people have been finding meaning, and that’s always available, ‘cause it’s about us, it’s about how we live our values.
At the time of our conversation in January 2017, Dr. Kent Keith is President of Pacific Rim Christian University, which shares space with New Hope Church in Kalihi Kai. It’s the only accredited Hawaii-based Protestant university, dedicated to training students in servant leadership. Dr. Keith is the only person we know, to serve as President of two Hawai`i universities, the other being Chaminade.
Mahalo to Dr. Kent Keith of Mānoa, for sharing his inspired life of faith, learning and service, and his teenage words of wisdom that have resonated with people around the world. And mahalo to you, for joining us. For PBS Hawai’i and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha, a hui hou.
Are there any of the commandments that you wrote that mean more to you today, than when you wrote them?
Yeah. So, um, you know, being in college in the 60s, uh, was a very political environment. So—so the ones that I—I think I was more focused on were, you know, The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women, with the smallest minds; think big, anyway. Or people, you know, favor underdogs, but follow only top dogs; fight for a few underdogs, anyway. The ones that were sort of more political, more about social change. Um, now, uh, it’s the first one. People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered; love them, anyway. I think—I think unconditional love is what holds our families together, holds our communities together, and you know, we don’t have to approve of everything that other people do, we don’t have to agree with everything other people do; we can still love them, and uh, that’s by far the most important one to me now.
Monica Toguchi’s ability to adapt and evolve is evident in her role as the third-generation owner of Highway Inn. The Oahu restaurant, which specializes in local favorites, has come a long way from the charming Waipahu establishment it started as 70 years ago, growing into a modern business with a location in the booming Kakaako neighborhood. The restaurants have thrived due to Monica’s ability to lead her family business into the future – without compromising the values that define it.
This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, Aug. 24 at 11:00 pm and Sunday, Aug. 28 at 4:00 pm.
My grandfather, you know, having Highway Inn and having the memories of going to this little store on Depot Road with the tall green chairs, it was a time period of people just sitting together as complete strangers and eating, and sharing their foods, you know. And he told my father when my father took over; he said to my dad, As long as you have this business, you can support your family.
Monica Toguchi is the third generation owner of Highway Inn, a longtime Hawaiian restaurant that serves up local favorites like lau lau, poi, and pipikaula. She didn’t plan on taking over the business, but she did, and she needed to answer the question: How do you take a beloved but aging business from Waipahu, Oahu and keep it vibrant in the 21st century? Monica Toguchi, 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. A common dilemma with multigenerational family businesses in Hawai‘i is the question of who will carry on after one generation retires. We see how many multigenerational family businesses have not survived. Under Monica Toguchi, the third generation owner of Highway Inn, the family Hawaiian restaurant has not only survived, but has expanded into new neighborhoods. Monica’s roots are firmly planted in the old plantation town of Waipahu, Oahu, with her grandfather, Seiichi Toguchi, who started Highway Inn in 1947 to feed his growing family.
My grandfather was born and raised in Hawai‘i. And you know, my grandfather loved Hawaiian food. He had a lot of Hawaiian friends who taught him how to make pipikaula. But he was picked up by the American government when Pearl Harbor was bombed. My grandmother did not know where he was for about two months. And then, when they did find out, he was in Durham, Arkansas. And so, she and the first three eldest children, my Auntie Barbara, my Auntie Jonette, my Auntie Shirley, they moved to Durham, Arkansas at the time. And then, he was transferred during the war to Tule Lake. And for people that are familiar with Japanese American history, Tule Lake was one of those places that you just didn’t want to go to.
It had a reputation; that’s where they sent the troublemakers.
Correct. Right; correct. So, from my understanding, or my limited understanding, the American government would classify different groups of Japanese Americans. You know, you’re very pro-Japanese, or you’re moderate. And Tule Lake was one of those internment camps that a lot of people that were assumed to be very pro-Japanese were placed. For reasons unknown to us—my grandfather was no one of prominence during that time, he didn’t have the restaurant, he was just a working husband and father, he didn’t have any power within the community, so it’s huge mystery to us why they picked him up, but they did. And so, towards the end of the war in 1945, my father, who took over Highway Inn, was born in the internment camp. My grandparents left with three children, and came back with five. So, they were pretty busy in the internment camp. And one of the things the American government did was, they identified people’s occupation within the internment camp. So, my grandfather listed cook. And so, what they did was, they put him in the mess hall along with other Japanese American cooks. And so, that’s why Highway Inn has a history of having Hawaiian and American foods. That’s where he learned how to cook hamburger steak and sirloin cutlets, was from being in a mess hall in an internment camp with other Japanese American cooks from around the country, and my grandfather really had to figure out how he was going to support now five children. And what ended up happening was, he decided to go back. He tried several things before he started Highway Inn. He tried to raise pigs, but the pigs got skinnier, not fatter.
So, he realized, Okay, I’m not a pig farmer. And at that time, a lot of Okinawans were pig farmers.
So, my grandfather started Highway Inn in 1947. He only had a second grade education.
There he is.
Yeah. So, that’s my grandfather and my grandmother. They were very, very poor. But it went to my father in the late 70s. At the time that my grandfather was ready to retire, he was considering closing Highway Inn. But my father really felt that, you know, it’s been around for thirty years, and it was something that he wanted to try to continue, even though restaurant and cooking was not his thing. So, I had another uncle who had worked alongside my grandfather, got a lot of his culinary training during Vietnam, and came back to work with him. But he would not pass the restaurant down to this particular uncle.
Is this the uncle?
That’s my father’s older uncle, my Uncle George. So, my father has two brothers, one older than him, and one younger than him. But the business got passed down to him, and he’s the second boy, which is very atypical for, you know, Japanese American families. And he was the third youngest.
Did the other boys want the business?
I’m not too sure about that. At that time, my Uncle George was working for Oahu Sugar Mill. And I think my Uncle Gary, my dad’s younger brother that worked alongside my grandfather, helped us to continue the cooking, you know, thirty years after my grandfather had exited the business. So, my Uncle Gary was very instrumental in being able to keep the family recipes consistent to the way that my grandfather had cooked it. And my father was also very disciplined, and I think my grandfather knew that. He typically would describe himself as being a karate man. So, I think my grandfather innately understood that my father had the kind of qualities that a restaurant would require.
Under the second generation ownership of Bobby Toguchi, Highway Inn continued to thrive in Waipahu, Oahu. Monica Toguchi grew up around the restaurant and nearby, in the newly-developed planned community of Mililani.
So, I was born at Kapiolani Hospital, and I was raised primarily in the Waipahu and Mililani areas. So, Waipahu because my father is from that community, and our business Highway Inn is from that community. My parents bought a house in Mililani, so for most of my upbringing, I went to Mililani Uka, I went to Wheeler Intermediate, and then, I went to Mililani High School thereafter. Every Sunday, my grandfather would cook Sunday meals for all my cousins and his children and their spouses, and we would all gather at his house in Waipahu. And so, we would go to Depot Road and my grandfather would typically either feed us tripe and rice or beef stew and rice.
And you loved it.
And I loved it. And when my father took over, we ate a lot of beef stew and rice at home. Because my mom at that point had four children, four girls to raise, my father was working long hours at the restaurant, and so he would bring over the leftovers, you know, home. And so, we would pretty much eat what they cooked almost every day.
What were your years like after high school? You know, young adulthood.
I’m not proud to say this, but it was definitely a time where there was a great deal of unsuccessful relationships and, you know, poor decision making. I had moved out of my parents’ house probably when I was about seventeen, and I ended up getting married at quite a young age, you know, around twenty-one. I had my daughter at twenty-two, I had my son before I was twenty-five, you know, so I was a very young mother. And as a consequence to some of, you know, the not-so-good decisions, I found myself in a very, you know, difficult situation in regards to how do I raise my children on my own. My twenties was really a difficult time, but during that process, the one thing that I stayed true to was my education. So, you know, I finished up my master’s degree in counseling at the University of Hawai‘i. One of my first jobs was working at Waipahu Intermediate School. And on the first day that I was there, there was—and I think it’s gotten a lot better today, but at the time that I was there, there was a gang-related fight. And so, I believe what they called it at the time was a Code Red, which was a really high level of security, and you know, the police get involved. And I was just thinking to myself, you know, I’ve been in this Waipahu community my whole entire life, so it wasn’t that I was a stranger to some of, you know, the issues of our community, but also at the same time, you know, I was a bit nervous to, you know, try to figure out, well, you know, how much is the situation gonna escalate before it gets better. And that experience was one of the reasons why I ended up wanting to get my PhD. I really went into graduate school thinking that, you know, I would try to understand more about juvenile delinquency.
Monica Toguchi pursued her new dream of earning a PhD. As a single mom in her twenties, Monica packed up her two young children and moved to the University of Oregon to attend graduate school.
You know, a lot of people would ask me, How’d you do it? And I think when you’re young, that’s the beauty of being young. You know.
What did your family say?
I never really told them what I was doing until it was time to catch the plane. And the response really, was really quite an interesting one to me. It was one, actually, that I didn’t appreciate. It was a very gender and cultural stereotypical response that, as a mother, I really should focus on my children. And in my mind, I felt that, you know, making these educational decisions was really for the benefit of my children.
While still working on her PhD at the University of Oregon, Monica Toguchi was abruptly summoned back home to her family in Hawai‘i.
My father never complained once of being overworked, and supported his family. And then, he then prematurely had to exit. Like so many business owners, you know, they suffer from high blood pressure. You know, the business is foremost, typically they neglect their health in the process until it catches up with them, and they have a life-changing moment. And so, for my father, it was a brain aneurism in the basal ganglia, which is very close to the brain stem, so it’s one of those situations where if you suffer an aneurism and it’s close to the brain stem, there’s nothing you can do. You just have to wait it out. Amazingly, he survived, but he also had to take it easier from that point on. And when my dad was recovering at, you know, Rehab of the Pacific, my sister Regina and I were in his bed, and my father was trying to get out of the bed. You know, he actually had an alarm. You know, when people, they try to get out of bed and they’re not supposed to, an alarm goes off. So, he had one of those, because he was very stubborn and, you know, wanted to get back to work. But you know, he was in bed, and my sister and I were like, Okay, so who’s gonna take over the business? And she just immediately said, Well, I don’t want to take over the family business, I really just don’t want to have the lifestyle that Dad, you know, has, which is working constantly, seven days a week, hundred-hour work weeks. And my sister was smart enough to think through that and to recognize that that’s not the kind of lifestyle that she wanted.
What did you say?
You know, I was probably in my late twenties at the time, and I looked at her and I said, Great, I don’t have to fight you for it, then. In many ways, I always felt that it perhaps was my responsibility, it was perhaps my kuleana, if you will. So, I thought perhaps at some point in life, I would need to address that, but what I didn’t anticipate was, I didn’t anticipate that it would come so soon. There was probably an idea in my head, probably mostly created on my own, that you know, it was my responsibility to make sure that if this business was gonna continue, that would be my responsibility to bear.
But you had been deferring that.
Well, A, I didn’t want to count on it, because I did not know what my father’s plans were. He never explicitly said, This is what I want to do.
I think he was quite pleased. So, you know, I think as most multigenerational family owners … typically, I think it’s safe to say that most parents don’t force their children. They really want their children to come to that decision on their own. You know, because when people are able to come to those decisions on their own, it really becomes the best decision for that person and for the business itself. Because it doesn’t feel like it was forced upon you.
But heavy is the crown.
If you say no, what happens to the business?
Do you want to be the one who stepped out?
Right. And also too, you know, there’s statistics out there that multigenerational businesses don’t really … there’s not a lot of confidence in succession. So, you know, there’s about thirty percent of businesses that will go from the first generation to the second generation, and then that percentage actually decreases to twelve percent from the second generation to the third generation. And typically, you know, they say that it’s the third generation that screws it up.
Or that the third generation is soft.
Right. You know, we don’t have the character, you know, traits, we kinda squander away all the hard work that was built.
How do you feel about that observation, or opinion?
You know, because the restaurant is such a difficult business, you know, my sister used to say this. You know, no matter twelve-hour or fifteen-hour days, failure is just simply not an option.
Monica Toguchi’s father Bobby survived his stroke; however, he no longer ran the family business. Monica became the third generation owner of Highway Inn, and eventually gave up her pursuit of a doctoral degree to focus on running the business. And then, in 2011, hard times struck the family again.
I lost my son about five years ago. And you know, he died by suicide, and that was a really, really difficult thing. You know, every other day here in Hawai‘i, somebody dies from suicide, and there are so many people that are affected by it, but we don’t talk about it. And the Kakaako store was named in his memory, so I named the business—the legal name of Kakaako is Hoola Mau. And ola is life, you know, mau is to move forward, to move life forward. And that was my thing. But my son really … I think a lot of us, you know, when you’re faced with those kinds of tragedies, you try to make sense, you ask a lot why questions. But really, at the same time, it’s, you know, how do you take something that is so personal and so tragic, and not become paralyzed by it. And I had to just, you know, really keep it together. And Highway Inn and the business itself really, I think, helps me to do that. You know, at that time, we had about forty, forty-five employees, and I knew that if I was paralyzed or incapacitated mentally by my son’s passing and having to address that, go through that emotional process of healing, you know, if that took me under, then the lives of my staff would be affected. And so, that really gave me the motivation to think beyond my own tragedy, and to think outside of myself. And sometimes, when I’m really like in the thick of it all, you know, how I recognize that, you know, this is gonna pass, tomorrow will be a better day. And you know, when you go through something that tough, anything in comparison is really not that challenging.
Monica Toguchi persevered after the loss of her son and continued to channel her energy into rebuilding and creating. At the time of this conversation in 2016, Highway Inn has grown to seventy employees, in three locations. The business caters, as well.
How many outlets or how many businesses are part of Highway Inn now?
So, when I came onboard, we had Waipahu, and at that time, we probably had about thirty-five employees or so on the payroll. And then, the opportunity came to partner with Kamehameha Schools; we were approached by Kamehameha Schools. They came out to Waipahu, and they saw what we were doing, you know, and they felt that it would be a good fit for what was up and coming in Kakaako and what their vision was for their lands in Kakaako. So, one of the struggles for me personally was, how do you take an old business like Highway Inn that in the next year, we’ll be celebrating our seventieth anniversary, and how do you then put that kind of business into a very urban, up-and-coming neighborhood like Kakaako? You know. The natural partnerships in an urban community like that would be to find an operation that was trendy, that was, you know, hip and cool. And here we are, coming into, you know, the coolest part of Honolulu, and we have this very old quaint place.
Isn’t there a Hawaiian proverb that says, Look to the future by looking to the past?
M-hm; m-hm. Or, you know, you need to know where you’ve been to know where you’re going. And so, that happened, and we opened our Kakaako location in October of 2013. And then, last year in September, we were also very fortunate. This process had started about a year before the partnership was solidified, but we had the opportunity to partner with Bishop Museum. You know, a lot of things did not come easy for me in my life. A lot of people may think that, you know, because we have Highway Inn and the brand that it has become today, you know, I think it’s easy to assume that I was given a silver spoon, you know, and perhaps, you know, I might have been born in a life of privilege. But it certainly wasn’t that way.
What do you think your grandfather would have made of a woman taking over Highway Inn—you?
I’m not really sure if he had a premonition of some sort. But my grandfather passed away in 1994. And I had said goodbye to my grandfather. He at the time was hospitalized for a couple months before that. And I went to the Waipahu house, he was in his wheelchair, and I said goodbye to my grandfather. And he cried. And my mother and I went back into our car, and my mother was like, You know, that was really strange for him to cry. And it kind of stuck in my mind. And what had happened was, he then passed away about two months later, and I got a phone call in California, my parents telling me that my grandfather had passed away. So, that was really the last time that I saw him. But you know, I think my grandfather, if he were alive today, he would be about a hundred and one years old. He was a very humble man; I don’t think he would believe what he started would have grown to what it is today. And I think some of my best moments is, you know, like when you feel like you’ve finally arrived. You have those moments where you feel like you’ve finally arrived, is when Senator Inouye came to visit us a couple months before he passed away. And out in Kakaako, Senator Akaka, you know, visiting us, and you know, Governor and former governors, and you know, we have so many movers and shakers.
Highway Inn on the map.
You know, yeah. And we have so many movers and shakers that we typically read about in the paper that make a difference in our communities, and I don’t think my grandfather would have ever imagined that these are the people that his business would be feeding one day.
You know, speaking of the family business, the family is about to look different.
You’re engaged, you’re going to be married soon.
I am. So, I have been very fortunate. When I came back from Oregon, I was, you know, thinking about who I wanted to be with, what kind of person I would be with. And you know, when you gain these kinds of experiences outside of Hawai‘i, it really expands your understanding of the rest of the world. And in my mind, I thought, you know, I really want to date somebody that, you know, can appreciate what is here, and the culture that we have, but also understand, you know, parts of my life that I’ve been exposed to living on the mainland for five years. So, I met Russell, and he’s actually British, and he was part of Aloha Airlines, and then he was part of Hawaiian Airlines, and he eventually became an investor into our Kakaako business. And so, about two years ago, he came onboard fulltime, and so, he’s my chief financial officer, my chief commercial officer, he’s a great visionary, great finance person. What it’s allowed me to do is really focus my time on everything outside of the finance parts of the business. And so many decisions are made on understanding, you know, the data that you collect. You know, how many people come in, what the average check size is, you know, whether your traffic is going up, going down. You know, and you base your decisions on these things. And so, he’s been a wonderful asset. And after nine years, it took us nine years, but after nine years, we decided we would get married.
We’re speaking in 2016. As you approach the business’ seventieth anniversary, is it still touch-and-go sometimes in business? I mean, do you assume there’ll be a fourth and a fifth generation?
No. You know, so my father had four girls, you know, my grandfather had seven kids. So, there were options there; right? So, out of the four girls, the only, you know, fourth generation is my daughter, who’s twenty-one, and she’s studying in New York. And you know, I always describe my daughter; she’s, you know, artsy-fartsy. It’s not one of those things that, you know, as much as we have done pretty well for ourselves, I don’t think it’s a natural choice, even for my cousins or my cousins’ children, that that’s something that they want to participate in. Because I think they recognize it’s a lot of hard work. I do hope that it continues. How specifically is a big question mark.
Third generation Highway Inn owner Monica Toguchi continues to look toward the future, while honoring the legacy of her family business. In a recent interview with Honolulu Magazine, she said, If you understand who you are and what values are truly important to you, evolving is not as difficult as it may appear to be. Mahalo to Monica Toguchi of Honolulu for sharing your story with us. 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 PBSHawaii.org.
I have not gotten sick of eating my own food. I try not to eat the lau lau, because the lau lau at Highway Inn is a very precious commodity right now. We just cannot keep up with the demand, so there are times when, you know, we run out of lau lau by the end of the day. And so, I try to not eat the lau lau, because I think if I eat a lau lau, then somebody is gonna come in and not be able to order this item.
A one-on-one interview with former U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr., the first African American to hold that office.
Glenn Medeiros’ humble childhood on Kauai did not prepare him for the international fame he would achieve after winning a Hawaii-based singing competition as a teen.
After years in the music industry, Medeiros grew disenchanted with the life of a pop sensation and turned his attention toward Hawaii’s education system, leading him to his current position as President of Saint Louis School in Honolulu.
This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, Dec. 21 at 11:00 pm and Sunday, Dec. 25 at 4:00 pm.
Download the Transcript
When my mother was carrying me, before I was born, she slipped and fell, and the doctors had said that I wasn’t gonna make it. And a few days later, my mother went back to the hospital; the doctor said, unbelievable, it’s a miracle, he hadn’t seen it in all of his years; I made a complete recovery. And my mother would always tell me that story, and I always felt that I kind of owed God something. Like if I have these talents and I have this desire to want to help, that I should do my best to make the most of the talents that He has given me.
In the 1980s, Glenn Medeiros became an international pop star, with chart-topping hits like “Nothing’s Gonna Change My Love For You”. These days, a different kind of spotlight shines on Glenn Medeiros as he leads Honolulu’s St. Louis School as its president. Glenn Medeiros, next, on Long Story Short.
Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Long before there was the TV show American Idol, Hawai‘i had its own big breakout pop star. If you tuned in to any Top 40 radio station during the 80s and early 90s, you’d hear Glenn Medeiros and his hit songs like “Nothing’s Gonna Change My Love For You” and “She Ain’t Worth It”. In 1987, Glenn Medeiros, just sixteen years old at the time, shot to international fame after winning Brown Bags to Stardom, a Hawaii-based singing competition. How did this soft-spoken boy from the Garden Island become a global singing sensation?
Well, I was born in Lihue on Kauai. I grew up in the small town of Lawai. And grew up with one brother, two sisters in Lawai, and very humble beginnings; we had very little in terms of materials and money, but we had lots of love. Lots of love; two great parents. My dad was a tour guide, a former Marine, fought in the Korean War. And my mother stayed at home; she did a great job of taking care of all of and being there for us, which really made a huge impact on every one of us. And I grew up having just a wonderful experience on Kauai, like living in the country, really, just fishing, going to the beach, playing sports, going to church. Very simple life, but a very, very enjoyable one.
Did you ever get bored?
Yes, I did.
I did. But it was good, because I think it helped me to cultivate my imagination. I would spend a lot of time just thinking about things; thinking about, What do you want do with your life, are you gonna leave Kauai, are you gonna stay here? What do I want to do? And I think it helped me later on in life.
To have that time to reflect?
Well, what did you decide you wanted to do when you were that little kid on Kauai thinking about it?
Well, I love music, and I sang and listened to music all day. But I knew that the chances of me leaving Kauai and ever doing something with it would be very slim. And so, I was looking at other things. And I’ve always wanted to be in a position where I could help people, so I thought about fireman, police officer. But then, when I was in about the third, fourth grade, I was in class, and I met a teacher who really made a huge difference in my life, and helped me to believe in myself. And once he was able to do that, it kind of spread out into a lot of different things. I found myself getting involved in student government, and doing a lot of different things. And I said, Hey, I want to be like that person, like I want to make a difference.
What do you think he saw in you?
What he did is what I take pride in as an educator, is being able to find whatever that person’s talent is, bring it out there, and let the person know, Hey, you’ve got something special and you need to do something with this. I was very quiet in school, and he was our music teacher. He heard me singing in the corner there, and he said, Hey, can you come over here a little bit? Can you sing for me? And I remember when I first started singing, he was just in complete shock. He didn’t realize that this kid who would never say a word all of a sudden started singing. But he was more than that. He provided me my first piano, first guitar. That particular teacher, his name is Arnold Meister, and he’s a wonderful person on Kauai, and does a lot of work on Kauai, and he continues to nurture so many talented people there. And then in high school, I had a teacher named Larry McIntosh, who was a fantastic band teacher. And he also just helped me to build my confidence. And he would use every opportunity he could to have me perform with the band and sing. And again, it’s all about building confidence in people to believe in themselves.
Growing up on Kauai, Glenn Medeiros would continue to develop his singing talent. He’d perform in school, church, and even on his father’s tour bus. And at age sixteen, he would perform a song that would propel him to stardom, far beyond his island home.
Did everyone know on Kauai that you were a really good singer, and you performed a lot in different places? You were a known commodity as a teenager for your singing on Kauai; right?
You know, I think Kauai is a small community, and you always have those contests going on. And so, you see kids, and for about a good three, four-year span, you’ll see a kid that’s all over the place. I don’t think most people thought that me being everywhere singing would eventually lead to, you know, a top-ten hit in the United States.
How did it happen? You were competing in Brown Bags to Stardom.
From your high school.
M-hm. Yeah; I entered a talent contest at the age of sixteen, Brown Bags to Stardom. Actually, no; I entered at fifteen years old, in my freshman year. And I won the island championship, came to Oahu, and I did not place in the top three. So, second year, came back, won the Island of Kauai, came back, and then won the state championship. And then, the winner was entitled at the time to go into the recording studio, record a song, and I recorded the song that I sang at the contest.
Nothing’s gonna change my love for you. You ought to know by now how much I love you. One thing you can be sure of, I’ll never ask for more than your love. Nothing’s gonna change my love for you …
When you chose to sing George Benson’s song at Brown Bags to Stardom, what made you choose that song?
Well, I didn’t choose the song. I chose the song for the contest because I loved it, and I love George Benson. But when it was time for the winner of the contest to record a song, those at KIKI Radio at the time said, Glenn, we need to record this. At the time, Whitney Houston had recorded a George Benson song called “Greatest Love of All” and made it into a big hit. So, they said, Oh, I think you can do the same thing with “Nothing’s Gonna Change My Love for You”. And George Benson, in my opinion, is probably my favorite artist. One of my favorite artists, for sure, one of the top five. But he was also known as a jazz artist, so a lot of radio stations, I don’t think, played his stuff, thinking that he was more of a jazz artist. I like his version much better than mine, but basically, I was talked into recording the song, and luckily for me they did, because it’s a really great song. And I feel like almost anyone could sing the song, and it’d be successful. It’s just a wonderful positive love story.
And it was on the Billboard top one hundred songs.
Yeah; it was a top-ten song; it went up to number eight. And it probably would have been number one if it had been released on a major recording label all at the same time. What ended up happening is, it was on a small record label, released on the West Coast first, and then on the East Coast. And so, it never had that full punch. But in the other countries that it was released in, it went to number one in almost every country.
How many countries did it go to number one in?
Mm … it’s gotta be at least twenty.
So, what happened to your life at age—this is sixteen now, that you won the contest?
Yes. It was interesting, because I never wanted to leave Kauai. And so, when I look back now, I think to myself that maybe, if I had wanted my career to move on and reach the highest heights possible, I would have moved. But I never wanted to leave Kauai. I’m a real family man, and I wanted to be around my friends, and I didn’t want to leave Kauai. And so, I would go to places for a couple months at a time, and I started traveling, and it was wonderful. And in about five years, I had gone through two passports and about forty countries.
Were you traveling alone as a teenager? Did you have a chaperone? How does that work?
At first, I traveled with my dad; he would come with me. And then, after about the first year, then I started traveling on my own. And sometimes, my manager from New York would come with me. But no, I had to learn to grow up real quickly, and it was a very good experience for me.
Did you get a little bit too much of the adult nightlife in the beginning?
You almost get thrown in; right?
Right. You know, for me, I would say that my mother, you know, all of her messages she gave me growing up just had all stayed with me the whole time. I was not one to go to clubs, and to enjoy the nightlife. I would go, and I’d perform at clubs, and then I’d leave and I’d do my thing. I didn’t enjoy being on the road; I didn’t like it. I enjoyed visiting museums and visiting historical places, and I loved the people that I would meet along the way. But the life of a singer was just very … it’s not a good life. It’s a lot of highs, a lot of lows. And in the back of my mind, I always knew that at some point, I would settle down and try to find myself something a little more stable.
You did it for five years.
Well, very busy for about five years. But all together, it was from about sixteen through twenty-four, so about eight years altogether.
Now, tell me; you gotta tell me the truth, okay?
Did you have groupies?
Oh, yeah. Yeah; there were, there were.
They followed you around, came to your hotel room door, that kinda stuff?
Yeah; yeah. Those kind of people always kinda scared me, actually, to be honest. Because they weren’t really interested in me; they were interested in, you know, the singer. And I kinda shied away from that.
During the 80s and 90s, Glenn Medeiros achieved more popularity in Europe than in America. While “Nothing’s Gonna Change My Love For You” climbed as high as Number 12 on the American Billboard Hot 100, listeners in the U.K. took the song to Number 1 in their country for four weeks. In 1989, Glenn Medeiros recorded the song “Un Roman d’Amitie” with Elsa Lunghini, and it went to Number 1 in France. And then, in 1990 came a collaboration that would bring Glenn Medeiros a Number 1 on the U.S. charts.
I did have some other hits; in 1990, a number one song in the United States with Bobby Brown that I did.
How did that happen?
I was working on my third album at MCA Records. And up until that point, I had been singing a lot of love songs, which is what I love doing. But the record company had come up to me and they said, Hey, Bobby is on the same label as you are, he’s on a little bit of a break, and we want you both to sing together. And we were conceptualizing what the new record would be like, and I had told them that I wanted to continue on the same path of singing love songs. And they had told me at the time there was a real shift towards grunge and hip-hop, and they said, You know, Glenn, if you want to continue in that direction, we can’t continue working with you. And that was a tough thing for me, because at the time, I had just bought a house on Kauai, and I wasn’t in the situation where I could really dictate what I wanted.
How old were you when you bought the house?
I think I was eighteen; seventeen, eighteen. Yeah.
But then, you had a mortgage to pay.
Yes; yes. And wasn’t in the position to be able to call the shots, per se. So, I kinda caved in. I said, Okay, I’ll do some hip-hop, even though I can’t dance. I love listening to the music, but I’ll do it. And so, we recorded an album of hip-hop music, and I eventually did meet Bobby, who I was a big fan of, and he recorded that song with me, and a couple other songs.
It was “She Ain’t Worth It”?
I know. I didn’t write it, though, so it’s okay.
And did you strike up a lasting relationship with Bobby Brown, whose life did become somewhat of a train wreck?
Yeah. I mean, I did create a relationship with him, but I could kinda see where things were going. And so, I kind of kept a distance a little bit. You know, Bobby, it’s unfortunate, but in general, you see what drugs does to people, And it destroys lives. And if someone were to meet Bobby, he’s one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. But unfortunately, when those same people are doing drugs, they turn completely different. And I was able to see a lot of people, lot of artists who were on drugs, and then not on drugs; and just completely different people.
At age twenty-four, Glenn Medeiros came to a crossroads in his life. He could either continue to press his career as a musical artist, or pursue another childhood dream: becoming a schoolteacher.
There came a time in 1994 where I looked at things, and I said, Okay, I’m twenty-four years old. Do I move to LA and give it a real try, or do I start going to college and become a teacher? Which is what I wanted to be. And I thought long and hard about it, and then I got a call from Frank DeLima. And so, Frank says, Glenn, Loyal Garner’s looking for somebody to perform with her. Would you mind coming up and performing with her and doing a show with her? And I said, Okay, well, let me talk to her. And Loyal and I hit it off; she was amazing. And next thing you know, I said, You know what? This is for me a sign from God that I can perform at night, about five nights a week, and go to school during the day. And it was wonderful. And I made my decision at that point that I would move to teaching. And there were a lot of people that were disappointed. My managers and so forth, they said, You know, you’re only twenty-four years old. But I really didn’t enjoy the life of a performer.
You have to tour; right?
Yeah. Being on stage is wonderful, but just being on tour, going to one city a day, not knowing most of the people around you, how it’s very taxing, how money is great but it doesn’t come in a constant stream. And putting all of those things together, I knew it was time for me to settle down in Hawaii. I mean, it was hard for me to move, actually, from Kauai to here, because I love Kauai so much. But I moved here and started performing and going to college.
Of course, that was a pretty good job to get you through school, performing as the headliner with Loyal Garner.
She was amazing. She treated me like a son. She would always say, I’m gonna take care of you, Glenn, don’t worry about anything. She bought me all of my clothes that I would wear in the show. She’d tell me exactly what to do. Glenn, you know, singing in a stadium is different from singing in a club, you gotta do it this way. And she really taught me what it takes to be a professional singer in that type of environment. So, I learned a lot from her. And we performed together for a little while, and then the opportunity came for Frank DeLima and I to perform together. And so, we did a show for about three years together, and it was so much fun.
So, Frank is another one of those people that made a huge impact in my life.
And he’s essentially an educator, too, in what he does with middle school kids.
All over the state, or has done.
Yes. I mean, Frank and I are very similar in many ways, because we have the Portuguese background, for one thing, but we both love music, and he loves singing. And um, I was a huge fan of his, growing up. And so, he still helps me to this day; he’s a wonderful, wonderful man.
You’ve also sung at the Hale Koa. I mean, it wasn’t a hard stop; right?
You continued to sing.
Yeah. You know, I always tell people that as funny as it seems, I sold seven million records, but I didn’t make a whole lot of money, believe it or not, as a singer. In the recording industry, you make money when you write music, not so much when you sing it. It’s the way the laws are set up, and the singers have never really fought for their rights, but writers have. And so, I didn’t start writing ‘til my early twenties. By that time, things started slowing down in my career. But being able to be in the educational field, I was able to actually, believe it or not, make more money than I did when I sang. Because what I would do is, I’d teach, and I’d have something solid that I could depend on, but I’d perform at night. And so, it’s really ironic. I would tell other people, You don’t have to give up your life completely to do what you love. You can work in whatever capacity you want during the day, and still perform at night, and live very comfortably.
One’s a salary job, and one’s a self-employment job.
So, it’s two different kinds of taxes, too.
And some people would say it’s too much. I mean, I’m a hard worker, I don’t mind working during the day and working at night. But you know, just like everyone else in Hawaii, it’s not easy. The cost of living is high here, and so it’s good to have both at the same time.
While still performing part-time with Frank DeLima at the Polynesian Palace on Oahu, Glenn Medeiros graduated from the University of Hawaii at West Oahu and fulfilled his dream of becoming a teacher.
So, at this point, you’re a teacher, and you’re on your way to increasingly advanced degrees which would earn you a doctorate eventually.
But a family came along. How did that happen?
Well, I met my wife in 1996, I believe. And she’s from here on Oahu, and we immediately hit it off, and were married about a year later. And she’s been extremely supportive of me. So, we talk about how it’s about timing and it’s about the people in your life. But in my life, my wife has been extremely supportive of whatever it is that I wanted to do. For me, my most important job is to be a good father and husband. And so, I have that driving force that pushes me to work really hard so that I can provide them whatever it is that they need. But between my wife and my two kids, I’ve always had this constant stream of support and of love, and so I feel very blessed. My son is a sophomore at St. Louis School, and so, we drive together every day to work, and we have a great relationship. And my daughter is a freshman at Punahou, and she’s wonderful. She likes to sing, and so, she’s kinda carving her own path right now. My son plays the bass in a band, and so, it’s nice to see how life becomes cyclical at times.
Is your wife musical, too?
No, she’s not. But it would be fun, though, because I think we could kinda put a band together.
I tell her, Come on, you want to play the drums or something? But, no; no. She’s more the athlete, which is good for my kids, because I’m not one, although I’ve tried. So my kids like to play sports, and they like to play music.
And your children’s names?
So, my son’s name is Chord, and my daughter’s name is Lyric. And it wasn’t my idea; it was my wife. I came up with these very common names, but I’m glad that we chose those names, though, because a lot of people like them.
Glenn Medeiros continued his career as an educator in both public and private schools on Oahu, and in 2014, he earned his doctorate in educational leadership from the University of Southern California.
I remember being in elementary school and seeing these kids who would struggle in school. But outside of the classroom, they were really bright. I mean, they were really smart kids, but in the classroom, really struggling. And I thought, Well, that doesn’t make sense here. And I remember just being a kid, thinking about it. Like, wow; now, if I were teaching, how would I do things differently? And I would look at the teacher, and the teachers probably had no idea I was doing that. But I’ve always been fascinated with what does it take for people to learn. So, when I became a teacher, for me, it was more than just getting in front of the kids and teaching. It was this challenge of, you know, what will it take for everyone in my classroom to really excel and do well? What will it take on my part? So, a lot of reflection after every day, sitting back thinking, What can I do differently? I gotta look at the research, what do I need to do to help these kids? Because I believe that every person is intelligent in their own way, every person has their own gifts. But maybe they didn’t grow up in a household where parents were reading to them every night. Maybe they’re in a situation where they have so much emotional baggage that they can’t even think about trying to learn how to multiply these fractions. And so, I’m really fascinated by what it takes for people to learn. So, when I became a teacher, it was, Ah, I just love it; I was very passionate about it.
And yet, you decided, I would like to be an administrator.
Most teachers don’t say, I’d like to take care of the bureaucracy and the paperwork and the structure. But you saw a way to make a difference, in a different way.
You know, I got to a point where I was teaching, and I felt that I should probably consider administration, because I’ve been able to teach from K all the way through about twelfth grade, and I’ve experienced the different levels of teaching.
And different types of schools, too; right?
And different types of schools.
Public and private, Catholic. And I thought to myself, I think I could even make a larger impact by becoming an administrator. And so, I tried out for it at Maryknoll School, and then became a vice principal for about four years, and learned a great deal from them. And so, I’ve been very blessed. I love being an administrator. It’s a lot of work, it’s a lot of work, but you’re in a position where you can make a lot of difference in people’s lives. And I like that.
At the time this conversation was recorded in the Spring of 2016, Glenn Medeiros, PhD was in his first year on the job as the president of St. Louis School, a rare all-boys Catholic school in Hawaii. He’s Dr. Medeiros to the student body, and he has not left the stage. He continues to perform twice a week at the Hale Koa Hotel in Waikiki. Mahalo to Glenn Medeiros of Honolulu for sharing your story 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.
So, did people who met you do double-takes? Hey!
Aren’t you Glenn Medeiros?
Is that Glenn Medeiros?
When I first started teaching, it was the students and the sisters. Oh, my gosh, I know your records. Then later, it was the parents of the kids that I taught would say, Hey, Glenn, are you still singing? And most people see it as a positive. Most people see it as …
It’s not a distraction to you or them?
It’s not a distraction or anything. No, no; not to me, not to me.
Heather Haunani Giugni is a longtime filmmaker whose passion for preserving Hawaii’s stories culminated in the establishment of ‘Ulu‘ulu, the Henry Ku‘ualoha Giugni Moving Image Archive at the University of Hawaii – West Oahu. The archive is named after her father, a longtime aide to the late Senator Daniel K. Inouye. Because of her father’s career, Heather’s early life was split between the multi-cultural world of Hawaii and the racially divided world of Washington, D.C. Heather’s latest project, the television series Family Ingredients, premieres on PBS stations across the U.S. in the summer of 2016.
This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, Dec. 21 at 11:00 pm and Sunday, Dec. 25 at 4:00 pm.
When we were in Virginia… as a family, there were these men that were in a truck, and uh, they reached over and spit at us. That was a really int—I didn’t know at the time what they were doing. I thought it was such an odd thing. But um, you know, years later, I—I thought about that.
Did your family talk about it right after that?
You know, my parents just totally had to ignore it and move on. But it—it completely was related to the fact that my father was one color, and my mother was another, and we were in the State of Virginia, right across the Potomac.
Her early life was split between two worlds…the multi-cultural world of the Hawaiian islands, and the racially-divided world of Washington DC in the 1960s. She saw the power of government and politics firsthand, and also saw the power of traditional stories of Hawaii. Heather Haunani Giugni…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. Heather Haunani Giugni has a reputation in Hawaii as being a behind-the-scenes starter of great ideas…ideas like a television news segment delivered in the Hawaiian language…or an archive to preserve the moving images that visually tell Hawaii’s history. Her father, Henry Giugni, was a long-time aide to the late Senator Daniel K. Inouye, and former Sergeant at Arms of the United States Senate. You may have seen some of the programs and documentaries that Heather has produced…shows that tell the stories of Hawaii and our diverse cultures. This “starter” began her life in Pearl City in central Oahu.
You’re hapa. Your family has mixed blood. You’ve got Hawaiian on both sides; right?
Tell me about your family.
My family; my mother is—um, was Muriel Roselani Giugni. Her name was Austin, and she was brought up on the um, Pearl City—Pearl City Peninsula, as was my father, whose name was Henry Kuualoha Giugni. And his father came from uh, Napa Valley. He came across when he read a little classified ad in the San Francisco Chronicle that they were building Pearl Harbor. So, he jumped on a ship and came over, and met my pure Hawaiian grandmother, and … they had two sons. And one of them was my father.
Many people who are hapa, especially in earlier years, talk about being conflicted—who are they really, which side should they pull, and people react to them differently, based on the … the mores of their particular culture. Did you go through any of that soul-searching about, Who am I, what side do I pull?
My parents—you know, I lived in uh, a fabulous household where um, I don’t think we were really given—I know we weren’t given a blue ribbon or a pink ribbon, and—or we weren’t given a color ribbon. You know, we just lived in a community that shared food, and um, and joy. And uh, and there was no um, issues about … what ethnic group we were from. Having said that, uh, it was clear in uh, my family’s history on um, my mother’s side that they married out early from the 1880s, um, Europeans. So, uh, the color faded quite rapidly in that generation. My mother had blue eyes, blond hair growing up. My father, on the other hand, um … was half-Hawaiian and half-Italian. So, um … I was brought up in a very multiethnic neighborhood, um, considered hapa. I was brought up during the 50s and 60s in a time when um … there was a lot of change going on, but uh … I think hapa wasn’t a bad word; it was what I was.
That followed on the heels of those times when so many Hawaiians wanted to be Western. They felt like, We’ve got to do away with our language, it’s time to join the US. The US and the American Way.
Um, well, I don’t think my father could deny the fact that he has brown skin and uh, Hawaiian features. So—and uh, and I think he was very proud of being Hawaiian. But my grandmother, who I never knew, she uh, passed away before I was born, um … was a very strong woman, from what I understood. She was a principal at Pearl City Elementary, among the uh, many Hawaiian women that were principals during those years. I think that she wanted the best for her son, and she um, she … chose for him to learn the new—the new uh, culture.
Well, what about you? Part-Hawaiian from Pearl City, a very Japanese American neighborhood, going to Kamehameha Schools. What was that like for you?
I loved Kamehameha Schools. I—um, I always um, aspired to wanting to uh, to attend that school. It was just one of the schools that I thought had the coolest kids [CHUCKLE] at the time, when I was younger. Um, I w—I just—I just loved the Big K.
A lot of people were surprised that you attended Kamehameha Schools. Because … light skin.
Well, I don’t know. I mean, I never thought about that, uh…
Did you get teased at the time?
Oh, you’re brave—you are ruthless. [CHUCKLE] No, um, uh, yeah, okay, I got—I got a little bit teased. It was—uh, but you know, it’s—it’s part of high school. Truly, I had the best time. The best time. I c—count myself extremely lucky and extremely fortunate. And I was a boarder, which meant that I had an opportunity to um, know um, people from the neighbor islands during a time when uh, their parents still worked at the sugarcane mills or the pineapple fields. Lanai was one of my favorite, favorite islands. When I uh, first met Lanai in—I think I was sixteen or seventeen … I um, fell in love with that island.
What family brought you in?
The Richardsons. Oh, Mina Morita; Hermi—Hermina Morita.
She was um, a classmate, and invited me over and uh, her family adopted me there. And it was truly a magical time; magical. They uh, still lived in their original uh, cowboy little uh, plantation homes up at Koele Ranch, with horses surrounding the place, the smell of kerosene lamps and um, pancakes in the morning, and going riding into the fields. It was just … a really fantastic time.
Heather Haunani Giugni’s comfortable life at the Kamehameha Schools and in Hawaii would soon be reshaped. Her father, after a number of law enforcement positions, found his calling as an aide-de-campe to the man who would become one of America’s most influential lawmakers. This job, which would turn into a life-long allegiance, took the Giugni family, including Heather and her three sisters, to the seat of power of the United States of America.
My father um … uh, who uh, was … um, first a policeman, and then uh … a liquor inspector, um, uh, gravitated toward uh, politics. And um, and … met Inouye, Dan Inouye, uh, was uh, impressed with him, and uh, and decided to follow him on his journey in life. And that’s when we ended up in Washington, DC in 1962.
What did he do in Senator Inouye’s office?
Oh, he did—you know, he started off as um … uh, as a young man as uh, the Senator’s driver, secretary, assistant, go-to boy. You know, everything. You know, he started off doing whatever the Senator needed to win. And um, and was extremely supportive and loyal, I think… he just really believed in the man, and uh, and just uh, hooked his little caboose up to, you know, the Senator’s … journey, and followed him to Washington, DC, where he continued as an assistant, uh, continued always as a driver until my dad became too sick. You know, when—uh, I think when they actually first arrived in Washington, DC, my parents were around thirty-six years of age. I think that um, uh, my mother never imagined uh, a—a longer stay than six years, and uh, they both passed away there in their eighties. So, that’s a pretty long run. And my father remained his driver until he couldn’t drive the Senator anymore. But um, he also went up the ranks as uh, Chief of Staff and um, and administrative assistant, and then eventually became sen—Sergeant at Arms.
Now, how does a half-Hawaiian, dark-skinned man like your dad, where did he go?
You know, I think he navigated his way fairly well in that situation. Um, he was well-liked on Capitol Hill.
He was a larger-than-life personality—
Yeah, he was. He was—uh, definitely, he had friends um, that … you know, that—in the uh, garage basement that would only wash the senators’ cars, his car was—would always get washed first. And yet—uh, an—and he had uh, friends in high places. Uh, uh, he was close to um, many senators that um … uh, that he respected greatly, from both sides of the aisle.
And when anyone describes your father, they talk about the f—I think the first descriptive they use is, loyal. And I would have to say, looking at his record, that he was loyal to a fault. Because he did get in trouble for accepting campaign contributions from people that he probably shouldn’t have accepted them from.
Well, you know, that was just post-Watergate. You know, and um, and—when they changed the rules. And I guess my father did not get that uh, rule change. [CHUCKLE] The memo on that. You know, it’s hard to like, change habits, you know. Uh, so um … uh, I think that was the uh—you’re talking about the Gulf Oil uh …
I’m talking about just—several incidents of—one was with …
Yeah; that was that five thousand dol—yeah, yeah. This is uh, um … you know, it was just uh, uh … that was just a matter of um … I wouldn’t say miscommunication; it was just not um, um … being able to remember to hand the receipts in, and keep the receipts, and that kind of thing.
But he took responsibility for it, and—
And people said, you know, he would do anything for Senator Inouye.
Well, he believed in the man.
So, um, that’s a good thing.
An—and he believed in uh, the Senator uh, doing good things. How many people can say that they were with a person from when … from their late twenties until, you know, eighty? That’s a pretty remarkable … uh, length of time to be with somebody, and continually uh, believe in the person.
In 1962, life in Washington DC was quite different from what it is today. The Civil Rights Amendment, which bans discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, wouldn’t be passed for another two years. The first black President was still 46 years in the future. For a mixed-race family, accustomed to the loving arms of Hawaii, the nation’s capitol could sometimes be an uninviting place. And for a young girl from Hawaii, the dichotomy between Hawaii and Washington DC could be disconcerting.
So, let’s talk about, yeah, experiences on both sides of the big pond.
Yeah. So, we um, went up to … we followed the Senator to DC in ’62. My father had gone up first to look for a place to live. Uh, it was um, not as easy, because uh, he was still a man of color, and um, while my mother was part-Hawaiian, she was a very light-skinned Hawaiian, so she was considered Haole visually. And uh … and when we arrived up there, he—my dad had already um, secured a house in Maryland. It was in a Catholic neighborhood, and uh, I remember that specifically because … everyone there was Catholic. It was such an interesting uh, division. You know, there were so many different divisions; by color, but also by religions.
Was there a color prohibition—
Well, it was—
–in your neighborhood? That was the law, right? Um—
No, there was no c—we were in Maryland, so my parents um, looked—you know, my father looked in Virginia, but he realized that uh, there’s a law that you cannot live in Virginia um, if you are mixed race.
Isn’t that amazing that in your lifetime, you were a little kid then, that that law was present?
Yeah; I know. Well, also, the Civil Rights Act hadn’t been written, so there were toilets for Black people, and toilets for White people.
I did have another experience when I was child at this Catholic school. And I’ll never um, forget this, because uh … we were—th—the nuns were preparing us for the first two Black children to enter our school. And they had us in the auditorium, and told us, you know, to act normal or whatever they were doing. And meanwhile, I was thinking, Who is coming from Mars? You know. [CHUCKLE] I mean, it was like one of these situations.
Because it was not a big deal to you if somebody was of another—
No, I didn’t—
–race was coming
No, I didn’t understand um … the way they were prepping and—uh, uh, for us … who these two children were, you know, that we were—that we were supposed to be acting normal about. And so, these two children showed up, and I looked at them, and they looked just like my father. And I called my mom up and said … I don’t want Daddy to pick me up today.
‘Cause clearly, you know, it was a—uh, a very racist uh, community and it was shocking to see … to go to a place where there was—the pe—that parents taught their children to hate.
Especially when you’re making trips back and forth to Hawaii, and there was not this kind of …
–racial charged …
M-hm. And we would—and my parents uh, were very committed to making sure that if we had—uh, if we were going to school on the East Coast, um … at—at every vacation, we would all be sent back to Hawaii. And—and vice versa. So, my parents made a huge commitment to keeping us connected to Hawaii. So, we never felt, ever, disconnected from our home in Hawaii.
Growing up in Washington DC gave Heather Haunani Giugni the opportunity to witness historic events in the 60s that changed our nation. She marched to protest the use of nuclear weapons, and to support gay rights and abortion. At age 18, she was a young delegate to the 1972 Democratic National Convention. These causes and events shaped her sense of responsibility to make the world a better place. Her Hawaiian roots gave her a direction in which to focus her advocacy.
I was living in DC at the time of the Watergate hearings, and I snuck into the hearings all the time. It was pretty amazing, uh, to uh, to—to be part of um, those—uh, that event. I also uh, was affected by a lot of things that needed change. So, I spent a lot of my time on the National Mall protesting, while uh, the Senator and my father were behind the Italian marble watching, [CHUCKLE] watching these protests. So, I had uh, a few um, uh … uh, disagreements with my father over dinner… but I … y—you know, I loved him an—and uh, he really was my hero in so many ways, and uh, and one of the things I’m proudest of him, of many things uh, is the fact that he uh, marched in Selma, Alabama with Martin Luther King in those years. So, that was pretty phenomenal.
In 1981, after earning a degree in journalism from the University of Maryland, Heather Haunani Giugni came home to Hawaii. She worked for awhile at KGMB News, which, at the time, was by far the number one news station in Hawaii…a great opportunity for a budding journalist. But a career in news was not quite what Giugni saw for her future.
You worked at Bob Sevey’s old newsroom.
Bob Sevey’s with you, at KGMB News.
One of the good things. [CHUCKLE]
And yet, you didn’t stay in news. I mean, that was sort of the piko of the time, because of the … all of the opportunity to do good and to do well.
You know, I—I came back from DC, ‘cause I wanted to um … I came back ‘cause of my grandmother. I wanted to be with my uh, family um, before … people passed away. And uh, the news uh, was a great um, job, but I really cared about my community, and I really cared particularly about my Hawaiian community, and um … had the opportunity to create uh, programming for and about Hawaiians.
Heather Haunani Giugni was on a mission. She launched “Enduring Pride,” a magazine program by and for native Hawaiians. She co-produced the documentary, “One Voice,” bringing the story of the Kamehameha Schools Song Contest to the national public television audience. At the time of our conversation, in summer of 2016, she had produced 10 live broadcasts of the famed Song Contest. Giugni was instrumental in the inclusion of Hawaiian language segments in local television newscasts. Then Governor Abercrombie appointed her to the Hawaii State House of Representatives in 2012. And with Hollywood producer Chris Lee, she is a driving force behind Uluulu: The Henry Kuualoha Giugni Moving Image Archive of Hawai‘i.
And presently, uh, the uh, Moving Image Archive is uh, is something that I’m extremely proud of—
Which you are cofounder of.
Yeah; I’m one of the founders. But, you know, uh … there’s so many founders of that uh, archive. You know that archive was an idea that came around thirty years ago, maybe more, uh, of different um, librarians and archivists that wanted to save our moving image. The whole idea is to create it so that it’s available for public access, or otherwise, poho if it’s stuck in uh, a can or, you know, in uh, in a case, and nobody can ever see it. I mean…we’ve lost a lot … over the last forty years, but we’ve still gained a lot. And uh—
A lot of what?
Films and videos have disintegrated or been lost, or people have thrown them away.
I remember your coming to give a talk to a group I’m part of, and you just fired everybody in that room up, because you talked about the daily disintegration of film and videos, and family documentation that’s, you know, moldering under beds somewhere and in closets. And you had everybody just ready to go home and look under the bed, and into their closets.
Some people have. Some people have. We’ve gotten fabulous material. I mean … this is the best deal in the century. You give um, the archive your precious material, you still get to own the copyright of it. The archive finds the grant to have it transferred to multiple formats, then preserves it and servers not just here on island, but on the mainland, in the salt mine as well as in another facility, so it’s backup. And uh, and so, you have this historical preservation of an entire community.
What are the most amazing things you have seen … coming to you in this media archive? I know you have just … cans and cans of film, and all kinds of tapes of different vintages.
Okay; so every wo—every collection is my favorite collection. So we have just received your collection at PBS, so it’s pretty fantastic. So, thank you very much. It’s all about the future. Future curriculum, future education. And um, we have uh, collections from Eddie and Myrna Kamae, uh, um, as well as the Don Ho collection. Um, just received the KITV collection. We have al—KGMB’s collection was the—was the anchor.
Hello, I would have run for this if I knew what you got. You got all this office space…
But Senator Inouye’s collection … because of obviously my personal interest, is pretty fantastic. I see my father in uh, in his late twenties or early thirties, um, driving Miss Daisy [CHUCKLE] around. Which is the Senator and his wife.
I’ve been a fireman…a policeman…a liquor inspector…I started out as a messenger with Senator Inouye. A secretary…a driver…and he gave me an opportunity to get ahead. To study, and to learn…
And it’s fantastic, because it—it’s footage that, you know, that hasn’t been seen since 1958, 59. It’s just fabulous stuff of Nanakuli, and um, electioneering. An—and—and that’s what’s so fabulous about this footage, is that it’s not just about seeing people’s families, but it’s about seeing what they’re wearing, what they’re eating, what the landscape looks like.
I’m very into kakou. And I just really am a believer in that. And um, and this uh, this archive is about our community.
In 2013, Heather Giugni started one of her more ambitious projects. She gathered a 100% local production crew, added local chef and restaurateur Ed Kenney, and proceeded to tell the stories of dishes that our local heritage is based upon. At the intersection of food, family, culture and history is “Family Ingredients.”
[Video footage of “Family Ingredients”]
“Here we go . . . poisson cru.”
“Mmmmm . . . .” [laughter]
“I don’t have to fake it. It’s soooo good.”
Family Ingredients. I mean, this is an amazing, what we think here will be a phenomenon because of the combination of culture, genealogy, all kinds of history, food.
Yeah. Everything is an extension of … my belief system, and what I care about, my core, um, which is my community, my Hawaiian community, um, Hawaii. And everything starts there, and everything that I’ve done is related to that mission. And so, this is just um, part and parcel of that. In Family Ingredients, I just use food as chum to tell the story.
It’s not a food show, per se.
No, not at all. You know, we come from all different places, and so, it reconnects us to family and histories that we’ve either forgotten or never known, or—are reconnecting with.
And a lot of times, you know, we know the foods people bring to potlucks, but we don’t know the histories behind them.
And they’re so elemental and you know that they came from another country, but they’re as close to you as anything could be.
It’s the plantation story, you know, when all the workers um, came together and they’d s—all have their ethnic foods, and then they’d just all throw it into one pot. I mean, it was the invention of saimin; right?
And it’s very hard to get a show on a national network. And PBS is an especially demanding provider. So, you went and you presented this, and actually have a national series on the PBS network.
You know, I actually wanted this to be part of the PBS family. Um, I wanted it to be part of your family here at PBS Hawaii, because it helps uh … it helps all of us. Um, and then, uh, and of course, on the national scene, I wanted um, it to be a calling card to everyone around the globe about who we are and what we profess.
At the time of this conversation in summer of 2016, Family Ingredients was set to premiere on PBS stations across the nation. Heather Haunani Giugni, who as a girl was exposed to racial discrimination and to multi-cultural harmony, set a table for all races, cultures and people. Family Ingredients is the stew of Heather’s life experiences in Washington DC and Hawaii, seasoned with her love for Hawaiian culture, and served in a bowl of her passion as a filmmaker. Mahalo to Heather Haunani Giugni of Aiea, for sharing your story with us. And thank you, for joining us. For PBS Hawaii 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.
I would tell young filmmakers to become a dentist. [CHUCKLE] Get that house, and then use those extra funds to build and create anything you want. I just—it’s a hard, hard road.
And do you love it?
I love it. I love it because it’s—uh, it’s uh, about my community, and that’s what I care about.
General Managers of PBS stations across the country met last month for a strategy session, looking at what kind of programming is needed most in our country, and how to make the content more responsive and more interactive.
And in this election year of deep divisions and negativity, we compared notes on our television stations’ political debates and other forums. Longtime station managers remarked that they’d never seen so many local incumbents decline to appear with their challengers on live telecasts and live web streams.
“These incumbents have the money to create their own messages through advertising, and that’s what they’re doing instead,” said Tom Axtell, the head of Vegas PBS and a member of the PBS Board of Directors. Another GM noted that many candidates no longer feel obligated to appear alongside their competition because they can speak to the public through low-cost social media.
In Hawai‘i, we had our share of incumbents turning down participation in our weekly election forum on Insights on PBS Hawai‘i, noting scheduling conflicts. We know that candidates are busy, so we generally ask them early. And we realize that incumbents may not be terribly motivated to let their lesser-known competitors receive statewide air time.
In addition, incumbents from 34 Hawai‘i State House and Senate races faced no opposition from another major-party candidate.
We even had a challenger withdraw from a General Election forum. That was Honolulu Mayoral candidate and political veteran Charles Djou. His campaign contended that it had never committed to the forum. (Before the Primary Election, Djou did take part in our forum with incumbent Mayor Kirk Caldwell and former Mayor Peter Carlisle.)
The rebuffs by candidates in some major races had a silver lining, freeing up TV time for district races, especially outside Honolulu and beyond O‘ahu. Incumbents and challengers with different ideas sat down at the same table, engaging in some interesting, vigorous and respectful discussions.
Viewers could feel the fresh breeze of democracy. At its best, this civil discourse provided much-needed substance and helped voters make their choice at the polls.
As Communications Professor John Hart of Hawai‘i Pacific University commented in a Honolulu Civil Beat podcast with reporter Chad Blair last October 10: “I still believe [debates] are our best chance to see past the pseudo-events, the slick advertisements. When you hear someone talk for an hour, you get a sense of who they are.”
This public media organization wants to thank all of the election candidates who accepted our invitation to inform voters by answering viewer questions and taking part in civil discourse on Insights on PBS Hawai‘i.
A hui hou (until next time)…