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.
Heather Haunani Giugni Audio
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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.