Long Story Short

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Benny Rietveld

 

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

 

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

 

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Do you think music is more than just fun?

 

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

 

M-hm.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

I took piano lessons when I was six.

 

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

 

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

 

Kapalama?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Then you learned other songs.

 

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

 

By yourself, or with a teacher?

 

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

 

You were on the piano?

 

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

 

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

 

You were just picking it up as you went.

 

Yeah; yeah. ‘Cause it was easy.

 

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

 

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

 

And it was nighttime.

 

And it was nighttime.

 

Driving.

 

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

 

And you gave them reason to.

 

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

 

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

 

Yeah.

 

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

 

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

 

What schools did you go to?

 

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

 

You had a band director who is legendary.

 

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

 

How do you think he did it?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Were you already getting paid to play?

 

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

 

And you went to college right after that, here.

 

Not right after, but yeah, I did.

 

Oh; so you graduated from high school.

 

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

 

And didn’t graduate.

 

No.

 

Because?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

You played with some biggies, fairly early on.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Yes, yes; for about two years.

 

How did you get along with Prince?

 

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

 

Now, did that tour lead to anything?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

You had to be really mindful.

 

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

 

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

 

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

 

–how he wanted.

 

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

 

And he expected you to.

 

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

 

Why?

 

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

 

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

 

Yeah.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Coincidentally, I did a recording session with Carlos Santana.

 

You sound so casual when you say that.

 

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

 

Aren’t you the musical director as well now?

 

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

 

How much of the year do you go on tours?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

And how long do you see that going on?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

[END]

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Kevin Matsunaga

 

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

 

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

 

Kevin Matsunaga

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

No cell phones.

 

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

 

So, he wanted you there for dinner.

 

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

 

Your dad was of Japanese ancestry.

 

Yes.

 

Your mom was from Brooklyn, New York.

 

Yes.

 

Irish woman.

 

M-hm.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

You have teenagers now.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

‘Cause he took your behavior really personally.

 

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

 

Right.

 

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

 

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

 

And you met and married, along the way.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

At what point did digital media kick in with you?

 

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

 

Ding-ding-ding.

 

Yeah.

 

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

 

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

 

There was nothing.

 

Or link to.

 

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

 

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

 

Yeah.

 

It’s a formalized group now.

 

Yeah.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Needs leadership.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

We have to fundraise.

 

How do you do that?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Per student?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Exactly.

 

So, everybody’s important.

 

Exactly.

 

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

 

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

 

Talking with adults, and setting up interviews.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Hawai‘i, Hawai‘i, Hawai‘i, Hawai‘i …

 

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

 

M-hm.

 

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

 

Exactly.

 

How do you explain that?

 

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

 

Took over for her.

 

Who is there, yeah.

 

As a teacher.

 

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

 

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

 

Yeah; yeah.

 

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

 

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

 

That cuts across everything, then.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 


LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Harry Tsuchidana

 

Harry Tsuchidana’s love of art would carry him far in life, but it would hardly be a straight path. His tenacity would take him far beyond his childhood in Waipahu, to the Marines, Washington, D.C. and eventually, New York City. Now 84 years old and a successful abstract artist, Harry still creates with the same urgency and passion that fueled him early on.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, Feb. 1 at 11:00 pm and Sunday, Feb. 5 at 4:00 pm.

 

Harry Tsuchidana Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

In all the years that I’ve been painting, I took some standing eight counts. Standing eight. It’s a—it’s a base—uh, it’s a boxing term. When you get beaten up, you get a standing eight count. I took several of those. But I—

 

Because people didn’t like your work? Is that what you’re saying?

 

Yeah; yeah. Or me.

 

That must feel terrible when you feel it represents you, and they reject it.

 

Yeah. Well … lot of actors are like that, too; right? They get rejected.

 

Yeah; yeah.

 

So, I just—uh, I just created it. Yeah. So …

 

So, the confidence, you still have the confidence and the—

 

Yeah.

 

And the—well, tenacity is what you also mentioned.

 

Yeah. And I’m still in the ring. I’m still in the ring.

 

Yeah. You got up.

 

Yeah. I got up. Still in the ring.

 

As a boy growing up in the plantation town of Waipahu on the island of Oahu, all he wanted to do was draw. As a young man living a Bohemian life in New York City, all he wanted to do was create art. Today, he wakes up every day and still draws…still creates art. Harry Tsuchidana. Coming up, on Long Story Short.

 

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

 

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. How many of us can truthfully say that we are doing what we set out do as a child? That we had a dream, followed through with it, stayed the course through thick and thin, and achieved the respect of our peers in doing what we love? Abstract artist Harry Tsuchidana, 84 years young at the time of our conversation in October of 2016, has spent his life doing what he loves. While Tsuchidana’s “Stage Series…” a collection of abstract expressionist paintings, is celebrated for the use of straight lines that divide the canvas, Harry’s journey as an artist was hardly a straight path.

 

I was born in Waipahu . . . May 28, 1932. And I was born with an asthma, so I couldn’t play with rest of the other kids. So, I start to trace comics.

 

Tell me what your parents did for a living, how you were raised, what—

 

We had—

 

–were they like.

 

Yeah; we had a farm…we raised uh, eggplant and uh, bitter melon. That’s what we raised. And … my mother was a very strong—they were illiterate, they couldn’t write or read their own language. But they were strong-willed, and uh, religious too. And she always stopped and pray. So, I said to her, Did you pray for me? She said, You’re the first one. I remember that.

 

I understand for much of your life, your mother only raised you; single mom.

 

Yes.

 

Your dad had left.

 

Yeah.

 

What was that like? ‘Cause a lot of kids at the time had both parents in the house.

 

Right. Well, uh, she wasn’t uh … she saw me doing artwork, and she said to me, Do like—what you like to do best. And I—and she never said anything about the bottom line, how you’re gonna make a living. She said, As long as you like what you’re doing, that’s the most important thing.

 

 

And brother, sister?

 

I have a brother. And my sister left, you know, so just my brother and I, and my mother were there. So, uh, yeah, we worked on the farm. I always wanted to be an artist. Always. I told everybody I going be an artist. You know, so—

 

And what did they say to you?

 

I don’t know. They did better grade than me. I didn’t do too much grade in art, you know. Because I thought I was better than the instructor.

 

In art?

 

Yeah. That’s not a good thing to do. Yeah.

 

So, you didn’t get good grades in art?

 

In other works too. Yeah. But it didn’t bother me.

 

M-hm.

 

Yeah. Grade didn’t feel that I should … grade didn’t determine me, how good I am. You know. So …

 

You just always felt that you had this talent, and you were going to use it.

 

Right; yeah. Well, it’s really tenacity. You know, stick-to-it-ive. I was intrigued by uh, creating by adding and eliminating. You know. I did a—there was a landscape, and there were and there were junk trees, and there were nothing on the land. So, I just turned around and looked, and there was a mango tree. So, I put the mango tree there. So, I could move things. And that’s the thing that fascinated me. In fact, when I was seventh grade, I did a tree, Waipahu Elementary School. The tree is still there. I did a red and blue background. And the teacher said to me—her name was Mrs. Wong, she said, That’s not a tree. But, I said, that’s my tree.

 

Just as Harry Tsuchidana saw more than the literal tree, his vision for the future went beyond the eggplant and bittermelon crops in Waipahu. So what’s next for a young man who dreams of being an artist? How about the United States Marine Corps?

 

Now, tell me why you joined the Marines. That’s tough guy land; right? I mean … and tough women now, but …

 

Yeah.

 

Why Marines?

 

I saw a movie called Halls of Montezuma, with John Payne and Maureen O’Hara. It wasn’t like the movie at all. It was like Cool Hand Luke.

 

Really? So, you enjoyed the Marines?

 

I—I served only two years, you know. But uh, well, yeah, I really liked Marines. I developed alligator skin, you know. And uh …

 

Why did you develop alligator skin?

 

Because, you know, being the kid from Waipahu, you’re sensitive, everybody says something, you get hurt by it. You know, in the—in the service, you know, they kid you around, and you know, you develop that. You know. When I was stationed in Japan, in the enlisted men club, this person in charge said, You should have a show. I did some artwork. An—and then, I got a note from a second lieutenant saying that, You shouldn’t be in the infantry. You know, you should be in GS2. So, he transferred me. That changed my whole life, that second lieutenant.

 

Because you were made a GS?

 

Yeah. You know. And well, in the enlisted men club, there was a library there, and in that library they had a art in America. In the back of that art in America, they had all the list of art school, and I wrote to every one of ‘em. Rhode—Rhode Island School, California there was one, Chicago Institute. I wrote to National Academy in D.C.

 

Harry Tsuchidana was accepted at the National Academy, which helped him get settled in Washington DC. A short time later, Tsuchidana enrolled at the Corcoran School of Art. But it was while Tsuchidana was at the National Academy that he met an unlikely tutor who directed him to study the work and creative techniques of some prominent French painters.

 

There was uh, uh, a gallery named uh … Phillips Gallery. And there was a man, the doorman, you know, when you walk in, they click you. And he and I became good friends, and he taught me everything I know today. He said, When you look at—when you do artwork, measure the eye distance from here to here, from here to here, from here t—to here, and to study Pierre Bonnard. Because underneath all that color has the geometrical shape. And study Cezanne.

 

I think he was a dark Italian or Armenian. He knew everything, but he couldn’t paint. But he knew … what artist for me to study. He said, Study Seurat; he discovered the white light. If you—if you have the primary colors projected through a pinhole, it will create white. He taught me all those—uh, uh, as a … just coming out from the Marine Corps an—and uh, uh … all these things that they don’t teach you in school.

 

The indirect line that Harry Tsuchidana was following was beginning to straighten. The doorman directed Tsuchidana to seek out abstract painter Karl Knaths, with whom Harry became close friends. By chance, Tsuchidana befriended another abstract artist, Hans Hofman. Tsuchidana’s formal arts education was being supplemented with real-world advice and relationships with noted artists in the Washington D.C. area. Then one night, Harry Tsuchidana had a surreal moment…He believes that his late sister, who had died in an auto accident, spoke to him as he walked alone one evening.

 

I felt that the sister that died in 1945 is my guiding angel. I think she’s the one that talked to me in D.C. when I’m crossing the street. Move.

 

Go to New York.

 

Yeah; I think she’s the one that did it. I’m sure she’s the one.

I lived close to the White House, and I was crossing one night the Pennsylvania Avenue to go home at uh, was—at Lafayette Park. And a voice came to me, crossing the street. It said, You’ve gotta leave to New York. And I’m talking to the voice. I said, How I’m gonna do it? He said, Write it down, what you’re gonna do. You know. And put—put a sign on the bulletin board in school that you’re looking for a ride to go there. And someone wanted my apartment, so was everything he can—everything to take me to New York.

 

But you hadn’t finished art school.

 

No. That was—yeah, that’s right; I didn’t finish art school. First day in New York …, I see this guy. Hey, you’re from Hawai‘i. That was Jerry Okimoto. First day in New York. And uh, and h—he wrote his phone number into my—and that was also the key to go to the place that all the artists lived. And uh, and that’s how I got to meet all the artists.

 

They were all living in the same—

 

Building.

 

–building.

 

Yeah. Isami Doi was on third floor, Tadashi Sato was in the next unit, uh, Satoru Abe was on the fourth floor. You know, so Bob Oshikuru was on the first floor.

 

At the time, did you know that there was this small movement of Japanese Americans from Hawai‘i to New York? Did you know that?

 

I didn’t know that.

 

And you ended there, too, with them.

 

Yeah.

 

As one of the youngest.

 

Yeah; I was the youngest. I didn’t know; it just was there.

 

Artists following their muse, I guess.

 

Yeah. Uh, uh … amazing, how it turned out to be. Being the youngest, I was more of a listener and observer than a contributor. You know. And I learned a lot from them.

 

What did you learn?

 

Well … Isami Doi had an uncanny way of looking at art. He was very. And he had that view. Lot of the landscape had that view. And uh … uh … gotta say Sato was uh … I liked the way he used uh … uh, the form, and the space, and color. And uh, uh … Satoru Abe did the sculpture, he did the form, the intricate moving form that that sometimes I apply in my work as well. And Jerry … to me, he combined op—op art and … uh, pop art together. You know. And that’s—what a combination, he did that.

 

What about personality wise? How did you guys get along? What did you talk about?

 

Uh, well, we played cards a lot; Pinochle uh, and there was the corner bar, John’s bar, and we used to drink there often. You know. So, uh …

 

Well, these were the 50s, the mid-50s.

 

Yeah.

 

What was it like for a Japanese guy from Hawai‘i to be living there with other Asians? How did—

 

You know, I never—

 

Was there prejudice?

 

Yeah; I never thought of that, you know. I never thought that I was Asian and they were—you know. Uh, we just were there.

 

LESLIE UPPER #4:

You may have heard the phrase, “nature versus nurture” in the debate over which has more of an influence on how we’re shaped…our genetic makeup or our environment. In the case of abstract artist Harry Tsuchidana, his environment was clearly nurturing him as an artist…from his formal and informal education all the way to the guys with whom he played pinochle. He began expressing himself through photography and printmaking. And to make ends meet, Harry, as most struggling artists do, took a night job.

 

It was perfect for me to be at Museum of Modern Art.

 

What did you do at the Museum of Modern Art?

 

I was a night watchman.

 

You were the night watchman? Did they know you were an artist as well?

 

Uh, yeah, I’m sure. Uh, the personnel director, Anita Baldwin was because a lot of Hawaii artists were there, working there. And they had a good reputation of being a good worker.

 

I see. And so, at night, as watchman, you roamed the museum—

 

Yeah.

 

–looking at art?

 

I’m looking at art. And there was one time when Pablo Picasso had a show there. Lot of times, the janitors are Black people or Spanish, and they were discussing Pablo Picasso’s work. Yeah.

 

And so, you discussed it with them?

 

No; I just let them, you know, go. But I can watch the curator setting up a show. Lot of work. They tear down the wall, paint the color for the paintings. Oh, lot of work.

 

And what was your plan at that time?

 

To get married. Well, no. I don’t know; I just uh, uh … the excitement of being there, you know.

 

And you were working on art on the side?

 

Yeah, al—always painting.

 

Always?

 

Yeah.

 

Always.

 

It was after World War II that abstract art expressionism gained popularity in America, with artists such as Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, and the aforementioned Hans Hofmann leading the movement.   Loosely defined as a style in which the artist conveys emotion through non-traditional means, abstract expressionism had its center in New York City. Harry Tsuchidana’s early abstract expressionist works had nature themes, with organic shapes. His later paintings, most notably his Stage Series, took on a whole different style.

 

 

What kind of art had you been doing all this time? You started when you were a little kid, and going through the Marines—

 

Mm.

 

–I’m sure you didn’t stop.

 

Yeah.

 

What kind of art had you been doing?

 

Nature motif, like weed it out uh, uh, sprouting. But in nineteen s—seventy-nine, I depart from that. I did uh, uh, uh, stage series. Maybe—can I demonstrate?

 

Sure.

 

I think it be a good time to do it.

 

Stage series; so, non-nature.

 

Non-nature. And uh, it’s uh … uh … uh, uh, I’m … okay. Now, this is … okay. This … uh, let’s see. Usually, I use T-square, but this will do. Okay. This … this distance here … took me a while to get that distance. The early ones, I made it higher. You see. This is eye level right here. So, my view is right here. This one is right there. And the vertical line … randomly, I put this here.

 

So, you’re actually drawing this, and people would look off the paper. I mean, you’re directing eyes off the paper—

 

Yes.

 

Above.

 

Yeah, above; yeah. Yes. Okay. Constantly, I’m aware of the distance. Constantly. Okay. Now, there’s two areas right there, and there’s another area. I’m breaking the space.

 

Hm.

 

That’s what it is. There’s an area there. Now, this is where the—right here … okay. I have a T-square at home—

 

M-hm.

 

–that my mother-in-law, when she passed away, was in that room.

 

Oh …

 

I use that every day. Okay. Now, this is the angle, right here. This is the angle. And you put another vertical line here … yeah, this. I did this ’79. To this day, I still do it. It fascinates me. And this angle right there. So, constantly moving. Dave Shoji do this every day; right? This way, he shift things. Yeah. So …

 

When he considers what to do in his volleyball games, you mean?

 

Yeah. You know, the way he look at things from an angle.

 

I see.

 

Same thing applies. It applies to—it applies to you; right?

 

Three-sixty looking at things, you mean?

 

Yes; yeah.

 

Except yours is on a linear plane.

 

Yes; yeah. Okay; this—this where it comes. After a while, I don’t think like that; I just do it. You know, so …

 

So, you’re trying to get people to look at, quote, all the angles.

 

Yeah; all the angles. And the color … uh … then that’s—that’s another level. You know, because you create a sensation when you put color next to each other.

 

I have alienated lot of people by doing the stage series.

 

Why is that?

 

Because there’s no handle. There’s no representation. So, uh, so just look at the lines. They don’t know what it is; right? So … so, that’s why it was important for me to demonstrate on that, to see the angle. So …

 

I’m sorry. I don’t understand when you say there’s no handles.

 

Yeah. Handle mean there’s no representation that you can say, Oh, that’s what uh, that—that’s a tree, or you know, whatever. So, the uh … the uh … uh, stage series, you know, there is no handle; it’s just lines.

 

So, you weren’t trying to make your art friendlier to the user.

 

Yes.

 

Right?

 

Right.

 

And why is that?

 

I don’t—

 

You figure, that’s my business, not yours?

 

Right. And I can reach more people, I felt applies to more people, the stage series. You know. Uh, and …

 

You can reach more people, even though they don’t know what you’re going for? Or were you trying to reach a different kind of person?

 

Yeah. Well, I don’t know. I just did it, uh … hoping that they will see what I’m doing. You know.

 

Harry Tsuchidana moved back to Hawai‘i for a short time, then to Los Angeles, finally moving back to Hawai‘i for good in 1972. By this time, the Bohemian artist, while still following his passion, had a family to support…his wife, Violet, and his son, Grant. And while Violet provided a steady paycheck by teaching, Tsuchidana worked a variety of jobs to help provide for his family.

 

Now, you became a father along the way.

 

Uh, uh, that’s when we came back from New York, 19—

 

How did that change you, having a son?

 

Well, I did all kind of uh, jobs to support him. Because my wife, you know, was schoolteacher, but she didn’t work, you know, for couple of years.

 

Well, tell me about your wife and how she felt about being married to an artist.

 

She was very supportive. In fact, she—you know, she was a schoolteacher, and she’s the one that supported me. And that’s the work that you see there. And she said, you know, Keep an eye on the ball, you know…so, she did … big help to me.

 

Because you didn’t go out promoting your work, and selling yourself. You—

 

Yeah.

 

You did art. That’s what you did.

 

Yes.

 

You’re more of a purist.

 

Well … well, thank you for saying that. Yeah; I just created, you know.
And I didn’t ask anybody for help. I did all—I did um, about seven job in one year. And my mother-in-law said to me, Gee, I didn’t know you knew many things.

 

What kind of jobs did you do?

 

Kamaboko.

 

At a factory?

 

Yeah.

 

Kamaboko factory?

 

All the—all the kamaboko factory. Um, uh—

 

What did you do at the factory?

 

You know the kamaboko, you cut the end. You cut the end. And Tupperware; I was—you know, the warehouse, stack the thing. And uh, um, Waikiki, there was—oh, I work as a dishwasher. And uh, what else I did? I did all kinda things. Yeah.

 

Did you … enjoy all of them?

 

I did. I had fun doing that.

 

Really?

 

I was exterminator at Sheraton Hotel.

 

Pest exterminator?

 

Yeah; exterminator.

 

Uh, you know, about one or two o’clock in the morning, the chef prepare for the next day. They put the salt, pepper. Ajinomoto, at the time, they used to put. Okay. And that gave me the idea that I put all the primary colors mixed together, and then take from there, and put a white … and mix the white. And all the colors will mix with the white, has all the colors. And that’s how I got the idea, from the chef.

 

But you know, when I was um, at the uh, Sheraton Hotel wor—working, two o’clock in the morning, I pushing the uh, fogger. And I’m thinking, One day, I’m gonna have a studio, and one day I’m gonna have a—you know, just paint. Walking three o’clock in the morning, and I still had that dream.

 

Still.

 

Yeah.

 

Harry Tsuchidana finally got that studio…he bought a condo unit for his family in Salt Lake on Oahu, and also bought a second unit to serve as his studio. Fittingly, a sale of his art to the Hawai‘i State Foundation on Culture and the Arts helped to pay for the condo units. He also had some very handy real estate advice from land developer and art lover, the late Pundy Yokouchi.
You lived in New York, you lived in L.A. And when you came back to Hawaii, how did you decide to live?

 

Well, I was very lucky to get the condo. You know.

 

How did you get the condo?

 

Uh—

 

In Salt Lake; right?

 

Yeah; in Salt Lake. I knew that when I was in L.A. Uh, Pundy told me that they’re gonna develop a condo in Salt Lake. And he said, Well, you gotta wait. When you come back, you have to rent a place, and then … you know, to get that Salt Lake. That … that architect of that building … was my wife uh, classmate husband, Mike Suzuki.

 

And you do art every day?

 

Every day.

 

Do you have a regular schedule?

 

Not a schedule. It’s uh … uh, I have a coffee, I read the paper first, and then coffee, and then did that. And watch TV later on. Okay.

 

Mm. So, you don’t wait for inspiration; you’re already working.

 

That’s Hollywood. Hollywood wait for inspiration. I chase the buggah. I don’t wait for the inspi—I come to them.

 

Do you think you’re still getting better at art?

 

I—I … uh, Bumpei Akaji once said to me, I’m over-productive, but I always believe that the more you do, the more you evolve. You know. And I feel I’m getting better, and better. Even though some people don’t think about it, but that’s okay. Just getting better, and better.

 

But you have the process, too.

 

Yeah; process.

 

So, is it more about the outcome, or the process.

 

It’s the process. You know, the Eastern philosophy is not hitting the target; it’s getting the bow and arrow, and let go.

 

M-hm.

 

You know. And then, the—uh, and the … uh, the scientific perspective is this way. But the East is this way. As you get older, you get wiser. Bigger.

 

Famed artist Pablo Picasso once said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” Harry Tsuchidana, who, as a young boy, drew his tree, grew up and remained an artist…one who found happiness and the admiration and respect of his peers and the public in doing what he loves, and who still wakes up every morning and “chases the buggah.” Mahalo to Harry Tsuchidana of Salt Lake on Oahu for sharing his story. And mahalo nui loa to you for joining us. For PBS Hawai‘i and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha a hui hou.

 

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

 

You know, you said you developed an alligator hide when you were in the Marines ‘cause of all the put-downs.

 

Yeah.

 

Have you developed that in art? When people don’t care—

 

Oh, yeah.

 

–much about—

 

Yeah, yeah.

 

–this or that.

 

Yeah. I—yeah, I learned to cope with that. Yeah. In fact, when people insult me, say, you know, they don’t like my work, I shake their hand, you know. I—

 

Do they actually say that to you? They don’t like your work.

 

 

Yeah. At my home my home. And one, you know, at—uh, at the show. So, I shake their hand. I said, I’m sorry I caused you a problem.

 

[END]

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Daniel Martinez

 

As Chief Historian at the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument, Daniel Martinez has heard the stories from the survivors of the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and shares those stories with Park visitors.  In this conversation with Leslie Wilcox, you’ll hear how his connection with that infamous event goes deeper than his role as an historian.

 

Daniel Martinez Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

When we were on these trips back East, with my dad being in the space industry, we stopped at Gettysburg. And this park ranger came out with his Smokey the Bear hat. This park ranger gave a talk, and then he went in and he got in a Civil War uniform and came out with a musket, and fired it. And I said, That’s for me.

 

So, you truly intended to do that when you grew up?

 

I just said, That’s for me, but I didn’t know how I was gonna get there. But that whole idea of working in a national park like Gettysburg, it was just like, How do I do this?

 

Daniel Marinez has been captivated by military history since childhood, and he followed his passion. Today, he’s Chief Historian at the World War II Valor In the Pacific National Monument, which preserves and interprets the stories of the Pacific war, including the events at Pearl Harbor. Daniel Martinez, 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. Daniel Martinez has been the Chief Historian at Pearl Harbor since 1989, where he keeps history alive for the many visitors from around the world who come to see where World War II began for America. History has always been an important part of Daniel’s life, starting from his youth growing up in California. His German and Mexican grandparents shared stories of their lives, which started him on the path that would later lead him to become an historian.

 

Oh; without a doubt, my grandfather. My grandfather taught me how to fish, and I found out he was at Pearl Harbor, and he had this interest in the American West, and he was a miner. On my grandfather and grandmother’s side, in particular on my grandmother’s side, they grew up in Boise, Idaho, they were first immigrants to come in the late 1870s, became gold miners. And then later, one was a sheriff. And so, we had all of that. So, on both sides of the family. My father’s was more humble. My grandfather came from Mexico, from the area of Guadalajara, and emigrated here legally through the Southern Pacific Railroad. He was one of the workers. And that’s how my dad ended up being born in Lone Pine, California, one of nine children. And my love for railroad and that history, especially I’m a big Southern Pacific fan, came from that. And then, my dad was in the Navy, and my dad served in the Korean War. My Aunt Jo was the first one on my mother’s side to take me to a library when I was five years old, and picked up my first book, which was Custer’s Last Stand. There were always these influences on reading and going to places where events happened.

 

When you say, you know, history really imbued your family, you had a sense of that, did you say that to yourself? You know, history is important to me. Or was that not a known specialization or concept?

 

If my mom was alive, she’d probably have more of a description of it. Because when I was little, I had toy soldiers, and I would recreate battles. I would read books, I would be actively involved in watching films on history. I think it was just something that was instinctively there, and thank God my family endorsed it, and not only that, took me to a number of historic places that were like these deviations off the road. And so, I don’t know; I think my rudder was fixed, and I was headed that way.

 

You know, you’re cross-cultural; Mexican, German.

 

Yeah; and know, the difficult part was that I didn’t realize this, because even I grew up in a world that was not as judgmental. And here in Hawaii, even less. But it was called interracial marriage. And that’s what my parents’ marriage was, and they ran off and got married.

 

Because their family wouldn’t support the match?

 

Oh, no; on both sides. You know, my grandfather on the Mexican side was hoping that my dad was gonna marry a Mexican girl, and I know for a fact on my mother’s side, they wished the same. But love overcomes a lot, and they ran off and got married. And then, when I came along, all was forgiven, and the families were joined. And so, my grandfather, who was so opposed to this on my mom’s side, became so close to my dad that he was like a second father.

 

Did you ever have the sensation of having to pick one, you know, racial background over the other?

 

You know, I didn’t have a choice; the last name was Martinez. And I went to a Catholic high school and I went through a little bit of hazing of that. And I had a cousin named Paul Gomez, who was a scholar and a great guy, and he just said, Hey, just roll with it. Just roll with it; don’t be upset over it, just be proud of it. And I always have been. And when I came to Hawaii, one of the things that touched me a great deal was the acceptance of peoples here.

 

People always want to know what you are, even if they’re not prejudiced against you.

 

Right.

 

They want to know.

 

I tell them I’m sort of—

 

You’re hapa.

 

Hapa; you know, and then they get that. And so, I’m very proud of our German-English background, especially what my uh, grandparents on that side did.

 

When your grandfather moved to Hawaii, why? He was a miner.

 

Yeah; the thing was that there was a company, a big company, and everybody knew it at the time, called Morrison-Knudsen. And it was located in Boise, Idaho. And they were rounding up all of these miners and construction workers. They had been given contracts to build military bases throughout the Pacific; Wake Island, Midway, all over. My grandfather was in his thirties at the time, so he was relatively mature. And he had just remarried, and he saw this opportunity, so they wanted this work. They needed tunnelers, they needed people that knew how to work with dynamite; my grandfather.

What they were going to build was twenty of these that are basically twenty stories deep as well. And I forget the circumference, but it’s close to seventy-five yards in circumference. And these tanks were gonna be literally blasted out of the lava rock on Red Hill, and then they would use like an iron basket around it, and then gunnite that, and then use cement and build it. Now, they built these things, you know, kind of bottom up, and many men fell. And when you fall in there, even despite there’s water, it doesn’t come out well when you’re falling eight or nine stories. you know, over two hundred feet. And so, my grandfather worked on that, and then my mother came over in ’41, early ’41, went to school, living the dream as I say. That’s what I often say, living the dream here in Hawaii. And then, you know, went to school.

 

Wait a minute. Going back to those storage tanks. So, your father is working with people who are dying.

 

Yes; this whole thing that they were doing was secret. They tried to keep it as secret as possible. I don’t know how they did that, but they just didn’t want people talking about it.

 

But there was dynamite going off in Red Hill.

 

Yeah; but it was like a rumble, ‘cause it’s underneath the ground. And they were taking all the tailings, and they were not pulling them out of there; they were spilling them into the valley there. And you can still see some of those tailings where cement factory is now today.

 

So, he would go back, and he couldn’t even tell your grandmother.

 

He’d just say they were doing tunneling.

 

Was he there throughout the entire twenty tanks?

 

Yes, he was. Yeah.

 

How long did that take?

 

It took almost ‘til 1944. And you see, my family, my mom and her sisters, a baby and my Aunt Janelle [PHONETIC], who went to Roosevelt High School, they were sent back on, I think, the Mariposa, and went back to San Francisco. From there, they went back to Boise and waited, and then my grandfather returned and he needed to find work, and he knew that the war effort needed talc, and he knew where talc was. And so, he went there, and he established his family there, and opened a talc mine in the White Mountains. And my mom went to Lone Pine High School, and met one Rudy Martinez.

 

For the next six years after he graduated from college, Daniel Martinez taught high school in the winter, and during the summer he worked for the National Parks Service as a seasonal ranger at the Little Big Horn Battlefield. The Parks Service offered him a fulltime position at the USS Arizona Memorial, which he readily accepted. Although his grandparents had told him stories about living in Hawaii during the war, he was unprepared for what awaited him.

 

Although I lived in California, my friends used to go to Hawaii in the summers, I never did. And I came here for the first time, you know, in 1985 with fourteen boxes and my girlfriend. And we were there at the airport, and we didn’t know what we were in for. But it was quite an experience adjusting to Hawaii. Because there wasn’t a lot of stores that we have now, and it was expensive, and I was very low grade. So, we worked some little second jobs, and things like that, to make it, make my way through.

 

Where did you live when you first arrived?

 

I lived in Aiea. And I lived right above the high school, and I didn’t have a car then, so I walked to work, and then later got established, and life changed and evolved. And I was adopted, ‘cause my girlfriend couldn’t hack it; she went home. I came home, and I had like a Dear John letter. And the family that I stayed with, I lived on the lower end of of a home. So, it was like a little ohana. And they were just really, you know, shocked that I had a Dear John, and they were so consoling. But I couldn’t afford it anymore, so Clinton Kane, who was a park ranger at the memorial, said, Come with me. And he took care of me, and I ended up living in Waimanalo with another Japanese American fellow who worked for Hawaiian Tel. And I learned to be Hawaiian. I ate food that I thought I could never eat, did things that I never thought I could do. I learned how to body board at Makapuu. And that was … thrilling. [CHUCKLE]

 

And the food teaches you a lot about history of the islands, too.

 

It does. I never quite caught onto opihi, but I gave it a good attempt. But I started to fall in love with some of the Hawaiian foods. And if I can digress, a simple story of this kind of generosity and culture here that was unknown to me was that, where we lived, we lived close to the mountain in Waimanalo. So, when it rained, the roof was metal, and it was just a racket. But you get used to it. And then, when we would go fishing or anything, the fish that we got, we would drop off to some of the neighbors who had their farms there. And the next day, there would be vegetables or fruits left there. And it just the kind of warmth and generosity that … didn’t see that in Los Angeles.

 

When you said your girlfriend couldn’t hack it, did you consider saying, Okay, this is really complex for me and I don’t think I’m gonna do it?

 

No; ‘cause I had fallen in love with the story of the USS Arizona Memorial, and the fact that both sides of my family were at Pearl Harbor. And I had fallen in love with the ethics of the National Parks Service. There was just no turning back for me. And I was told that if I wanted to be a permanent ranger, because I had come here for that reason, that I needed to go to the law enforcement academy. And I did so; I left here, I went to Santa Rosa, California and went to the sheriff’s academy there and became a law enforcement ranger for the National Parks Service. And on the day of graduation, I got a call from the chief ranger, and he hired me. And that was the beginning of that career, and it was one of those magical moments that I had arrived.

 

You know, most times, when people do go into history, it’s with the idea of teaching it. Getting advanced degrees so they can teach it at the college or higher ed level.

 

Right.

 

But that was not your course, and you remained employed in it continuously.

 

Yeah. You know, the bottom line is that we that engage in this, whether we work in a museum or work for the National Parks or State Parks, we’re public historians that have a history field, and we deal with the public. And that in itself defines that we are educators almost at every moment. Because when people come to the national parks, or like to our site, they’re there to experience it, and we’re there to inform and illustrate why the site is important, and how it fit into the national past.

 

And at a place like Pearl Harbor, you get more material that you can vet from listening to people.

 

Right. And we have a story beyond the tragic events of December 7th. Now, we’re a World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument. It includes all of the Pacific war.

 

You know, one of the things I used to love about going to Pearl Harbor, even when I was a young adult, was getting to talk to people, volunteers, who had actually been at Pearl Harbor when the bombing occurred.

 

Yeah.

 

Men who had experienced it. Are there any volunteers now who do that? They must be in their nineties.

 

Yeah, there are. There’s one who was a young man. I believe his name is Robert Lee. He lived right in in at Halawa Landing. His home was on the edge of Pearl Harbor, right there in that kind of Aiea Bay right there, and he watched the attack from his second story, on Battleship Row.

 

Wow.

 

But we’re talking about individuals in their nineties, and that is our fading resource.

 

Because before, the survivors would walk you around briskly.

 

I know; don’t you miss those days?

 

And tell you this, and tell you that. But they must have more limited circumference these days.

 

Well, I was a volunteer and the parks coordinator in 1987, 88. And I had over twenty-five Pearl Harbor survivors that volunteered through the week. And it’s just amazing that we have seen since that time, you know, the passing of a generation. There’s also the other group that’s right here, the civilian eyewitnesses, and those that worked at Pearl Harbor or the airfields, or at home. The biggest connection we made with the civilian community here, and I’m very proud of it because it was a movement to make sure all of the casualties recorded, were the civilian casualties. And at the time, to get those records was very difficult, because they were held by the Health Department here. Mayor Fasi, God bless him, he paved the way for us to get their records. They didn’t want to release them to us. We got all the civilian records, death records.

 

Of the civilians who were killed, I think it came out later that much of that was from friendly fire.

 

Right.

 

Honolulu was defending itself.

 

We found out two things, that it was actually forty-eight civilians. Later, we’d find one more, forty-nine civilians were killed in the attack. Most of them, almost eighty-five, eighty-six percent killed by friendly fire, and the definition of friendly fire, which is a strange term for it, was that as we were firing up at the planes, the shells were either not being fused properly, or faulty, and they were landing all over Honolulu, Waikiki area. And when that happened, many of the people believed they were being bombed. Remember, the planes were still flying over. That’s what my mother remembers; the houses being bombed and it was friendly fire coming down.

 

You know, there are so many myths about Pearl Harbor, including some I grew up with. Some of them were dispelled after I attended school in Hawaii. And I know of them was, you know, the Japanese planes didn’t come through Kolekole Pass to get to Pearl Harbor.

 

I know.

 

I thought that for years, and I’d drive by those mountains and think, Oh, that’s right where the planes came in.

 

Yeah.

 

No.

 

That myth had some truth to it. And that’s one of the things I found out in doing some of the research about, was eyewitnesses watching the attack, in particular on Wheeler and Schofield, in that area, saw the planes. But the planes were turning at the base of the mountains, not flying through it. And the Japanese were always kind of, when I interviewed them, Why do they think we would do that? Because the main strike force flew down from Kaena Point, all the way, and turned over Makakilo, and then broke up in their attacks at Hickam and Pearl Harbor, and Ewa. One group came down the center of the island over Haleiwa, and moved up and attacked Wheeler Field, but they circled around. And so, film kind of endorsed that; the book and film From Here to Eternity somewhat endorsed that myth. Then tour guides caught onto it, and then it became part of the story, and they took people out there to Kolekole Pass. Now, the pass itself is historic, but the film Tora! Tora! Tora!, you see them flying right through the pass. So, Hollywood in many, many ways instills and certifies, and embosses some of our myths.

 

So, something that happened all those decades ago is still a moving target in terms of learning about it and memorializing it.

 

I’ll tell you, Leslie; the more you know, the less you know. And that’s been my case. You know, everybody says, Oh, you’re one of the experts on Pearl Harbor. And you know, I think what I could say safely is, I know where to find it, but it’s just an evolution still occurring. So, long after I leave my position, there’ll be someone that will find more history and more angles of that. And that’s been my case. Every time I go to work, there’s going to be something that’s new.

 

Teaching visitors about history is an important part of Daniel Martinez’s job. But there are other aspects of his work that go beyond uncovering new facts and correcting misconceptions. There is the ongoing story of the consequences and the lessons of that even today continue to inform us and affect our lives.

 

One of the things that I’ve been blessed with is, I’m the interment officer for what takes place on the Arizona. To see how the Navy, or in the case if it’s a Marine, how they honor and work with us on that ceremony, and when the families come there, and I take the urn down, and the family members are with me, and then I turn that urn over to the family member that’s appointed by the rest to do that, and then that person gives it to the diver … that is a moment.

 

You’ve gotten to meet so many of the survivors of Pearl Harbor attack. And you know, many have come over the years, some have volunteered here, some have moved here. And you’ve conducted oral history interviews with a lot of them. So, I just wonder; for those who went through those horrific times, I mean, they saw their fellow soldiers and other professionals, they saw such terrible carnage. What were their lives like after surviving this?

 

After the war, no matter what horrific circumstance they went through, whether they witnessed people being killed, or wounded themselves, or nearly killed themselves, they wanted to move on with their lives. Think about it; many of them were young. I did my first oral history with my grandfather, and he agreed to do it, but he wasn’t wild about it. And I couldn’t understand it. So, I started the interview and I had a little recording machine, you know, and microphone. And I get into the whole Pearl Harbor stuff, and he gets up in the interview and walks away. And he said, That’s it, that’s it; that’s all. And my grandmother, you can hear in the background saying, No, no, go back. You know. He got up, I think, three times and walked away. It wasn’t ‘til I started doing oral history interviews on my own in the late 80s that I understood what I was dealing with. He had never told anybody about it. And he had seen a young Hawaiian boy that worked on his crew wounded. He had to dive for cover, because he was in the area of Merry Point Landing. That was ground zero for the torpedo attack; they flew right up that channel. And so, he was seeing things and remembering things that he had not talked about. And as a result, he was reliving it.

 

I see.

 

And I didn’t know that. And so, I couldn’t understand at that time, and it took several years for me to get from the university here that I was going into an area of his remembrance that was extremely difficult, and he was reliving it. And he remembered the Arizona exploding, but he didn’t know it was the Arizona; he just saw a ship explode and the concussion rocked them there. And he remembered that he stayed there as a Navy federal worker, pulling bodies out of Aiea Bay and placing them on the landing in Aiea for identification, and never got over how young the faces were. And he remembered going through a darkened and panicked Downtown Honolulu, and seeing people and behavior that he never had seen before. People were frightened, and they were scared, and they were running lights, and they were driving up to the sidewalks. And he just said it was crazy. And nobody remembers or really talks about that, but it indeed happened. And so, when he got home late at night, we were now under martial law and it was blackout. And they huddled in their home in Kaimuki, like so many others did, not knowing what the next day would bring, sensing there would be Japanese soldiers in their front yard. And that was just the beginning of the martial law experience in Hawaii that, fortunately for my family, they were lucky enough to leave, although sadly, and be in a place where there was a lot more freedom. So, for the people of Hawaii, I mean, they’re often not really congratulated for their own sustainability and courage and effort in the war effort, just sustaining themselves under martial law. And so, the one thing that my grandfather witnessed that he couldn’t believe also was, and I tell the story now to a lot of visitors, is that after the attack, suddenly the workers that were of Japanese ancestry were being attacked and called names by local people that worked on the project. Which just seems crazy. But it was crazy. And so, it got to such a point there were fights, and the inability for crews to work together, and ethnic groups from Hawaii now even that had been their friends were no longer their friends. So, the crews were segregated; there was a Japanese American crew. This went on for several months, and then as feeling subsided—

 

Yeah; fear is a terrible thing. It drives bad behavior.

 

We see it. Yeah; and it drove some bad behavior. But it was one of those untold stories that he mentions on his interview, and in doing so, gave me glimpse of the kind of fear, as you say, sustained itself in the weeks and months after Pearl Harbor.

 

We learn the human experience of history and war through the testimonies of witnesses and survivors. Daniel Maritnez’s passion for gathering and perpetuating these stories keeps them alive, so we can heal from the emotional wounds of the past and understand history. Mahalo to Daniel Martinez of Kapolei for teaching us through stories. And mahalo to you for joining us. For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou.

 

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

 

I remember we were making a film about Pearl Harbor on September 11, 2001. We were in Washington, D.C., not more than fifteen miles away from the Pentagon. And these suits come in, and he leans over and said, We just got Pearl Harbored in New York. And that’s going on while we’re having …

 

While you are remembering Pearl Harbor.

 

While we’re remembering Pearl Harbor. We were ushered out; we could see the smoke coming up from the Pentagon.

 

Did you stay in the building?

 

They kept us there, and they moved us into the cafeteria lobby area, and we watched the second plane go in. It was profound, because we were scheduled to fly that day on Flight 77, the plane that went into the Pentagon. But the reservation was changed. It’s never been lost on me that I had a second chance in life, and … so, September 11th is, I guess, my touch with a Pearl Harbor-like event.

 

[END]

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Larry Lindsey Kimura

 

Larry Lindsey Kimura of Hawaii Island was just a child when he began to sense that the Hawaiian language his grandmother spoke fluently was on the verge of extinction. Ever since, he has committed his life to the preservation and perpetuation of the language, as a teacher and developer of innovative programs, including Punana Leo, the Hawaiian language preschools.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, Nov. 23 at 11:00 pm and Sunday, Nov. 27 at 4:00 pm.

 

Larry Lindsey Kimura Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

Every once in a while, we slaughtered our own chickens, so we would have chicken hekka. And I thought hekka was a Hawaiian word, but it’s supposed to be a Japanese word. And then I asked people from Japan, and they have no idea what I’m saying. So, I said, well, I’m sorry, I speak the Japanese I heard in Hawaii, so that’s the word we use.

 

So, what happened with chicken hekka at your table?

 

Well, then at the dining table, my Japanese grandfather had made this table special. So, he had cut out in the center of the table a square that you could put a shichirin. Shichirin is where we put the charcoal into this little stove from the furo fire, and charcoal. And then, we put the cast iron skillet on it to cook our hekka with all the vegetables.

 

Right at the table.

 

Right at the table.

 

Wow.

 

The best meal we could have. And I still miss it. I don’t have a stove like that anymore. You have a gas stove, maybe. That’s the closest thing you could do; yeah.

 

Larry Lindsey Kimura of Hawaii Island grew up with a Japanese father and Hawaiian mother. He was exposed to both the Japanese and Hawaiian languages through each of his grandmothers, but it was the Hawaiian language that he resonated with more. His lifelong passion for the language, and determination to keep it alive, is one of the reasons the Hawaiian language is flourishing today. Larry Lindsey Kimura, 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. Dr. Larry Lindsey Kimura, associate professor of Hawaiian language and culture at the University of Hawaii at Hilo, is often called the grandfather of Hawaiian language revitalization. And for good reason. The results of his dedication to perpetuating the language can be seen and heard across the islands through the ever-growing number of Hawaiian language speakers. His interest in Hawaiian language started when he was growing up in the 1940s and 50s in the ranching town of Waimea on Hawaii Island. The only people who still spoke fluent Hawaiian were his grandmother’s generation, and he sensed then that the language was on the verge of extinction.

 

My father is pure Japanese, Isao Kimura, and he’s Nisei, second generation. My grandparents are from Hiroshima, Japan. Came over like most of the Japanese here in Hawaii, for the plantation, sugar plantation. And unusual for a Japanese family to get involved with ranching. On my ji-chan’s side, my Japanese grandfather’s side, as soon as his contract was up in Kohala, then he worked for the Hind Ranch at Puu Waawaa in North Kona. And then, from there, went over to Parker Ranch, and then continued his family there, where my father was born, raised. So, like my mother as well, my mother from the Lindsey family, and her mother is a Purdy. So, that’s how we have the Purdy and Lindsey combination.

 

So, part-Hawaiian. How much Hawaiian?

 

Oh, she always said she’s Hawaiian. And I said, How could you be pure Hawaiian if your name is Lindsey? She said, Well, that’s all I know. But she’s half-Hawaiian. Yeah. She finally proved that to the Hawaiian Homes. A little bit more than half. Yeah.

 

And spoke Hawaiian.

 

Yes; as she grew up. And I heard Hawaiian, you know, from her. And my father, of course, is a native speaker of Japanese, ‘cause that’s his first language with his siblings.

 

What language did they speak to each other?

 

Between my parents, of course, English. Yeah.

 

And you had grandparents, one of whom spoke Japanese, and one Hawaiian.

 

Yeah. No, I only knew my Japanese grandmother and my Hawaiian grandmother, ‘cause both of my grandfathers had died before I got to know them. So, when they got together, they would conduct their conversation in real broken Pidgin. You know, lots of Hawaiian words. I always thought my Japanese grandmother was saying Japanese words, and they were really Hawaiian words when she’s talking to us, as well. She didn’t speak to us in fluent Japanese, except when we needed scolding.

 

So, when you were born, what was your father doing, where?

 

By the time I could remember, he was already working with pasture, noxious weeds, to getting rid of panini. You know, the cactus was getting out of hand, and lantana, and things like that getting out of hand, and working with all of these botanists on what the best solutions would be. And then also feed; the best kinds of grasses that would grow in different sections. The ranch was huge, of course. Is huge. And different weather conditions, all of those things. And this where he got to know the land like the back of his hand. So, although on my mother’s side, of course, my grandfather on my mother’s side was the head of the cowboys of Parker Ranch since 1906 or so, and until his death. But of course, you work on the land, so you get to know it. And I thought all of those life experiences from my father and grandfather’s side made an impact on our lives about a place, and knowing a place, and how to respect it, especially because of what was happening with the land, how it was being used. And you know, I didn’t really appreciate that so much until moving away.

 

During this time, are you learning Hawaiian?

 

The Hawaiian that I got to learn is when I was in the company of basically my Hawaiian grandmother. Because she would socialize in her language. And if you spoke English, she could speak English, but she wasn’t comfortable speaking English. So, she was more normal with her own gang of people, her generation, and people who spoke the language. And there were still people in our community who spoke it very fluently, who were, you know, speakers of it.

 

You were so impressed with the Hawaiian language. Did the Japanese language not appeal to you in the same way?

 

It did appeal to me, but it didn’t appeal to me in the same way. Right. And how I got to make that understanding for myself, you know, I can’t rationalize that now, but I knew that the Hawaiian language had this place, Hawaii as its place, and that Japanese was not. I knew that from a very early time in my life, so it wasn’t difficult for me to think that this language, Hawaiian, won’t be here for long.

 

You thought that as a young boy?

 

Yeah. Because I saw that the people who were using it very naturally in their lives were older people.

 

So, you had a sense that the language might need saving?

 

Well, I didn’t think of it that way, you know, earlier. Until later.

 

M-hm. You thought of it as something that wasn’t gonna be happening in the future much. You know, you’re one of the few people I know who as a child had a sense of something, and an attachment to something, and you know, as you grew up, you know, you wouldn’t know how you would ever monetize it or make a career out of it, or have it be something that stays with you. But you did. There was a career that unfolded for you in Hawaiian language.

 

Yes; a career unfolded. I didn’t think of it in those terms, that I was going to make this a career. ‘Cause I didn’t know what to call it. I just knew this is what my passion is, and this is what I’m gonna be working in, whatever it’s gonna be called. I didn’t know what the name of it was going to be.

 

Were you confident it would come? That it would be would be something that you—

 

I was confident that that’s what was I was going to dedicate myself to. But you know, as I said, who’s gonna pay me for it? Is this a job, or is this a profession? It didn’t um, enter my mind that way.

 

Larry Lindsey Kimura didn’t speak Hawaiian growing up beyond what he learned from spending time listening to his grandmother and her friends. It wasn’t until he was at the Kamehameha School for Boys in Honolulu that he had his first Hawaiian language class. And that didn’t go very well.

 

We were given a six-week course at the eighth grade, and I almost flunked the course, because I didn’t feel it was taught correctly. In my opinion.

 

Because it didn’t sound like what you learned at home.

 

Yeah; it was trite. It wasn’t taught like it was the real thing. And for me, it was a bit offensive. So, I didn’t take to it. So, when another opportunity came up—this is very rare. Colonel Kent, the president of the boys’ school, I didn’t know was interested in Hawaiian, and he convinced this person who is a native speaker of Hawaiian—she had just retired teaching her whole life in Hawaiian music, that is Dorothy Kahananui. She retired from the University, he convinced her to come in my sophomore year, and she was to teach Hawaiian she’s never taught before, and write a textbook for high school. A textbook to teach Hawaiian. And she was there just for those three years I was there, and I happened to have a free homeroom period when she came, enrolled in the class, and just loved it. And that’s how I got to be trained enough to speak it to my grandmother when I got home during the summer breaks that we went home, you know.

 

What did your grandmother say when you came home speaking?

 

Of course, I was a bit hesitant and frightened what her response would be. But luckily, I had been writing to her in Hawaiian, in letters. And she responded. And so, she had this idea about my becoming … well, she thought I was just becoming interested in Hawaiian then, but actually, I was interested in it way before. And so, actually, it it felt very comfortable using Hawaiian. And with my granduncles and grandaunts, you know, that group of people back home, they were not critical at all. They were very supportive. So, I was lucky. Maybe Mrs. Kahananui taught me well enough, so …

 

So, you were loving Hawaiian at Kamehameha, talking with your Hawaiian grandmother in Hawaiian, but you still didn’t see how this would be of benefit to you in a profession. There was no such job that you knew of, right, to move along to.

 

No. I was just, you know, engaging it as much as I could, to learn as much as I could.

 

And was there anybody else around you who wanted to do this?

 

No.

 

Buddies of yours? No?

 

Everybody thought it was a crazy thing, I’m sure. I just didn’t want to discuss, I didn’t know how to talk about my interest with anyone. Because at that time, people would probably think I was crazy.

 

And even your grandmother didn’t know how interested you were.

 

No; she didn’t know. Until she saw the letters that I wrote when I was in the tenth grade, eleventh grade, when I was taking Hawaiian.

 

So, just a personal consuming interest that you kept to yourself mostly.

 

Yes.

 

Wow.

 

But obviously, as it became more outward, people recognized it; yeah.

 

Well, after Kamehameha, it was on to UH?

 

Well, I didn’t know. You know, counselors at Kamehameha didn’t counsel you to go into Hawaiian, actually, back then. There was no place to go, first of all. So, the only thing left for me to do was to stay at home, which I did, and I went to the two-year college at Hilo. Back then, it was only a two-year university campus. And then, you finished up here at Manoa. So, when I was in Hilo, luckily, you know, that gave me the opportunity continue meeting up with my grandparent generation, my grandmother and my aunts and uncles on weekends. And they were my teachers that helped me to become more fluent. And I was brave enough to begin to try and record some of our speakers of the language, older people. Yeah. And in fact, I saw that when Mrs. Kahananui brought this tape recorder, this huge seven-inch tape recorder to class and played this Bishop Museum recording of an interview of a native speaker with Mrs. Pukui. And I said, When my grandmother comes for my graduation, I’d love for her to be recorded like this person was recorded by Mrs. Pukui. You think Mrs. Pukui will do it? Oh, I’m sure she would. Why don’t you just … well, I think we could ask her. So, I did; I just found out where she lived, and introduced myself. And I said in Hawaiian, My grandmother is coming, would you interview her? She said, Of course, I would.

 

Wow; that was a big step forward.

 

Yeah.

 

She was the reigning authority.

 

So, that gave me, you know, this whole interest in understanding the value of trying to record as many of these people as we could.

 

And what did they think of you trying to record them?

 

Yeah; they probably thought I was pretty weird to be interested in what they would want to tell me in Hawaiian. And so, they were pleased to have somebody to actually take an interest in what they knew.

 

What did they talk about for the purpose of language?

 

Everything and anything. And I didn’t care. You know, of course, I tried to find out about them, naturally. Their life, where they come from, and things they did, and all of those kinds of things and all. So many different topics.

 

Larry Lindsey Kimura’s audio recordings of the last generation of Native Hawaiian language speakers have become a priceless community resource not only for language learners, but for his documentation of a way of life that is now long gone. After finishing his first two years of college in Hilo, Larry Lindsey Kimura went on to the University of Hawaii at Manoa to finish his undergraduate degree. It was during this time that he started meeting other students and young people interested in the Hawaiian culture.

 

Before I graduated from the University of Hawaii, I got involved with some young musicians, young male musicians. It was a rare thing to have younger, like you know, my—well, back then, they were twenty-two, twenty-three or so. And in Hawaiian music, lots of the Hawaiian music was being played for tourists and that kind of occupation. But when this group of people, men, young men got together, it was more about seeking a profession, maybe, in Hawaiian music. Not necessarily for the tourist industry, just that maybe they could do some recording. And maybe they could find some job. I don’t know exactly. But I was not a musician. I only got involved because of my connection to Hawaiian language. So, Palani Vaughan, Frank Vaughan’s girlfriend was in my class, one of my anthropology classes, and she knew that I knew some Hawaiian songs, unrecorded ones. And she asked if I could help her boyfriend, ‘cause her boyfriend was interested in doing some Hawaiian songs that had not been recorded. And that’s how I got to get involved with the recording industry, if you call it that, with Hawaiian music, because of my Hawaiian language connection. And so, this is where I got to meet Peter Moon, because he was one of the musicians for Palani Vaughan. The Sons of Hawaii, an older group of men, Gabby Pahinui, Eddie Kamae, and them had formed this group called Sons of Hawaii. And they were trying to bring out the old Hawaiian music. And then, there was this young group, the Sunday Manoa, just upstarts in Hawaiian music. And I think that affected the enrollment in language. And most of the students who enrolled in Hawaiian were ethnic Hawaiian students, and which was rare. I mean, the percentage of Hawaiian students at Manoa was very low at the time. Although, there were other non-ethnic Hawaiians who had enrolled in Hawaiian as well, just people from Hawaii; local people.

 

You think music drove their interest in language, then?

 

I think it kinda caught the ear. Then, another thing that was happening, of course, it was ten years after statehood in ’59, so this is ’69. The expansion of the urban sprawl of Honolulu out into, you know, Kuliouou, Aina Haina, and all of that. We became a state to make decisions about development that caused some concern about agriculture. And among the agriculturalists were some pig farmers, Hawaiian people who were being evicted.

 

From Kalama Valley.

 

From Kalama Valley.

 

Which is farther east.

 

Yeah.

 

Yes.

 

So, I think those three things were signs or indications of this beginning of the renaissance; the Hawaiian music, the Hawaiian language enrollment at Manoa, and eviction of pig farmers in Kalama Valley.

 

Displacement. Huh.

 

Yeah. Because Hokulea and Kahoolawe came after.

 

So, it felt like there was increasing interest, but you couldn’t tell that it would actually develop into a phenomenon that would change many, many lives, and the course of history.

 

Yeah. It’s strange that, you know, language seems to be something subtle, and yet, it is very powerful. And that’s how come it’s so easy to lose language, because people take it for granted, and they don’t realize when it’s not around them anymore, ‘cause they feel that they’re still Hawaiian, or whatever national affiliation, if I can use that word, or a place, your own place. But it’s not just music, and it’s not the food, and all of that, that keeps you who you are, you know. It’s your own language.

 

Larry Lindsey Kimura started teaching Hawaiian language at the University of Hawaii at Manoa before moving back home to Hawaii Island to continue teaching language and culture at the UH Hilo. At the time of our conversation in early 2016, he’d been teaching for more than forty years, while also working from the grassroots community levels to achieve his goal of restoring the language.

 

You’ve had this very amazing role in the Hawaiian language, a number of really amazing roles. For example, you helped to found Punana Leo.

 

Yes.

 

The Hawaiian language preschools.

 

Yeah. Because we knew that just teaching it, you know, at college or in high school, those kinda classes like you would teach a foreign language is not going to get the language back to life. So, we knew that we had to get to the babies as young as we could. And the setting that could provide that for us would be like a preschool setting. Although we knew very little about preschools, except we heard the word preschool, and that’s where parents take their babies to get some early education, childhood education.

 

So, you educated yourself pretty quickly on how to start a preschool.

 

Yeah; a good environment to have children, and then just speak to them in Hawaiian while you’re educating them about all kinds of things.

 

Another amazing role was—well, is Hawaiian Lexicon Committee. You get to help invent new names in the language.

 

Well, it came out of, you know, the engagement especially with the younger kids, the younger children, two and a half, three-year-olds, because you needed to have words for cubbyhole, or how to do you say playhouse in Hawaiian, or you know, all of these words that are used in that kind of a program. And we had, of course, words coming out of our college classrooms, but not at the rate that was impacting us when we started these preschools. And then, it continued.

 

How do you say pacifier?

 

Yeah; all those kinds of things. And you know, they did circles in the morning, and they would have their literacy lessons in reading, writing, and beginning to recognize alphabets, and all kinds of things like that. And the content of the material, and the stories that we were—well, we didn’t have a place to buy little books for our children, or nice posters with beautiful colors, so we had to take what was in English, you know. I’d go to the Salvation Army store, get a book for ten cents, and just cut and paste things on top of the English language, so that our Hawaiian teachers could read them to our children. And the context sometimes, there were words in it that were very foreign to Hawaiian. That’s how we started. You know, now, we’re getting a little bit more from Hawaiian into Hawaiian, but we still have to contend with the onslaught of a whole new world that our language was separated from for so long, that we need to catch up on. So, this Lexicon Committee or Hawaiian New Words Committee started officially more like from the beginning with the Punana Leo in 1983, 84, 85. ’87, we became a little bit more official, because in ’87, the Department of Education allowed our children from the Punana Leo preschools to enter into the kindergarten Department of Education programs. So, the first so-called Hawaiian immersion programs started, one at Waiau here at Pearl City, at Waiau, and also in Keaukaha in Hilo. Those were the first immersion schools. And that, of course, even made more words for the Lexicon Committee to consider.

 

More work!

 

Mahalo to University of Hawaii at Hilo associate professor Larry Lindsey Kimura, dubbed the grandfather of Hawaiian language revitalization, for sharing with us your lifelong passion and dedication to the Hawaiian language and culture. And mahalo to 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.

 

Do you think knowing Hawaiian enables you to think in a different way?

 

Oh, yeah.

 

Do you think in Hawaiian?

 

Well, before you get to think in Hawaiian, you begin to see how that thinking is, yeah, before you can begin to think yourself. Because becoming a native speaker when you’re not is a journey, and so, becoming fluent enough takes a while. But as you’re learning and becoming more fluent in it, more native in it, then you begin to see how different it is to see the world around you through that language. You know, growing up on the ranch, you know, they talk about the seasons and they talk about the naulu. And I say, Oh, and how important the naulu is, and you know, I have to hear that language, the word, and then I have to understand what that means in connection to its importance to the place. Because it’s a rain that comes and drifts across the land when it’s hot, during the summer months especially. But that little moisture makes the grass grow greener there, and it’s a salvation. You know, to recognize those things, because the language tells us that.

 

[END]

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Daniel Case

 

In honor of the late Daniel Case, PBS Hawaii presents this in-memoriam encore of this episode from March, 2015.

 

From a childhood spent on a Kauai plantation, Daniel Case grew up to become one of Hawaii’s longest-serving attorneys. Case shares how he stood guard at Punahou School on the night of December 7, 1941; represented aviator Charles Lindbergh; and with his wife, Carol, raised four children, one of whom became a billionaire.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, Aug. 3 at 11:00 pm and Sunday, Aug. 7 at 4:00 pm.

 

Daniel Case Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

There was something from your high school years about your being elected a class officer. But I think it said that your nickname was— 

 

Mouse.

 

–Mouse, because you kinda kept quiet, and when you answered questions, you left a lot out. You just weren’t real talkative.

 

Well, I was shy. Shy, and I was very young, younger than most of the people in my class. I was no Tyrone Power, so, somebody called me Mouse. And in those days, you’d be surprised how many boys particularly had nicknames, and they couldn’t shake ‘em until they left.

 

Did you not like your nickname?

 

I hated it.

 

Oh. Because it sounded mousey; right?

 

It was kind of wimpy-ish, and … there was some truth in it. [CHUCKLE]

 

That shy boy who lacked confidence in school grew up to be a strong legal advocate in a prominent law firm, and a family whose children include billionaire Steve Case. Daniel Case, 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. Daniel Case turned ninety in 2015 after working into his late eighties. He spent sixty years at the same prominent Honolulu law firm, retiring in 2013. He’s known for having both influence and humility. And he’s a devoted family man who sometimes gets choked up with emotion when he speaks of his wife Carol or his children. In the year 2000, his number-three kid, internet billionaire Steve Case, bought the former neighbor island sugar plantation where his father grew up. Daniel Case’s childhood had the trappings of privilege without the cash, but he says his life was rich in outdoor adventures.

 

I grew up on “cow I”. And that’s the way we all pronounced it, even the Hawaiians. [CHUCKLES]

 

I can always tell somebody who grew up on Kauai. I say that, ‘cause I’m from Honolulu, and I didn’t grow up there at that time. And it’s sort of capital C-O-W … I.

 

Yeah.

 

“Cow I”. [CHUCKLE]

 

I agree. No; it’s uh, it’s accepted now. But say it, I say “cow I”. [CHUCKLE]

 

What was it like? You grew up on Grove Farm Sugar Plantation.

 

I did. It was … very rural. My father got his first job out of the Army at Grove Farm as a luna, as they all start at the bottom. And then, G.N. Wilcox needed a bookkeeper, and apparently had the talent, so he made him his bookkeeper. And then, he became the office manager, and all that stuff. But they built a plantation home, no architect, just Japanese carpenter. They were very good. And they built a house for he and my mother. But it was a nice house. It had four bedrooms in it, a normal house, and plenty of room, and a nice big yard, and everything. So, it was very pleasant.

 

When you say your dad started out as a luna, what did he do? What kind of luna work?

 

Those days, when they had a sugar plantation, you had crews of workers. Hard work. And many of them, as you know from history, Hawaiians began it, but they really didn’t like the work, and they brought in Chinese, Japanese, Filipinos, and then Puerto Rico and different places. But they started because of the hot sun. They all congregated at about four-thirty in the morning, and the lunas, the people that were in charge of different areas would meet and agree on which fields needed work today, whether it’s irrigation or harvesting, or clearing the fields, or whatever it was. And then, after he quit being a luna, then he’d go to the office. But otherwise, he’d then go back and supervise whatever area his group was.

 

So, he made this transition to indoor work, and on up the chain.

 

Right; right. So, he just turned out to be good at it, and so, he did it all his business life. He’d always been very good with numbers and investments.

 

What did you do with yourself as a boy growing up in the country on Kauai?

 

Well, I had a good life. We lived next door to the manager’s house. And it was a wonderful eight-acre estate, really. ‘Cause it was built by G.N. Wilcox for his son-in-law, Digby Sloggett, who married a Wilcox. So, they had a tennis court closer to our house than his, a wonderful swimming pool where we all learned to swim, a great front yard, royal palm drive-in and a port cochere.

 

What kind of trouble did you get up to?

 

Actually, we never had any trouble. We honestly didn’t. We were busy all the time. Nobody had play dates then. The kids from Lihue School, it’s only about a mile home. So, we’d would walk back. And then, those that were able to come, would come and join us for tennis, and swimming, and touch football, and all that stuff. So, we always had something to do.

 

Mostly sports? Not exploring and playing with sticks, and …

 

Well, we took a lot of hikes. Partly, we could just go without a car. Across the street, there was a valley, up from the mill to the Grove Farm museum. We would hike that. We could walk to Lihue town, and we with a little help from somebody who had a car, we would go to Kipu Falls, which was down to Lihue valley as we call it. If we were really lucky, they’d take us to Poipu and go to Brennecke’s to bodysurf.

 

What was your expectation of yourself, as you were growing up? What did you think you would become?

 

Nothing; I didn’t have the faintest. In my own mind, I said, you go down the middle of the road. [CHUCKLE]

 

So, you didn’t have these, you know, striking career goals, where you had to do this, that, and that by a certain time; not at all?

 

Never. Somewhere along the line, because my father was never—they never paid much. There got a lot of perquisites; a free house, a yardman, n=and medical privileges, but they didn’t pay them much. I always wanted to make a million bucks. [CHUCKLE] That was my only goal.

 

Really? And yet, you were perceived as a child of privilege. Well, you did have a lot of entitlements.

 

We did.

 

But you’re saying your family didn’t have a lot of money.

 

Yeah. Yeah; money in the bank. My father had to borrow money to send me to Punahou.

 

When Daniel Case was in the eighth grade, his parents sent him to boarding school on Oahu, back when Punahou still had student boarders on campus. Young Case’s senior year of high school was disrupted by the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.

 

What was it like living in the dorm when you were in eighth grade, through almost your senior year?

 

Well, it’s wonderful. Roughly, thirty-three seems to be a magic number, but it could have been a little more. Well, we had thirty-three friends in different grades. They had some in from seventh grade, that was a little young. So, we got to know a lot of people from the grades, about five grades in a row, and six sometimes. And so, that was helpful, getting to know people around the campus, and knowing the school people, and following the activities, mainly the sports. You know, we were right above Alexander Field, where we used to play football all the time, and then they built a beautiful track. The swimming pool was right below it. So, we followed all those sports every day. [CHUCKLE] And participated in many of them, and so it was just a very good life, one of the happiest times in my life right there.

 

And yet, you didn’t have your parents, you weren’t in your parents’ home. Did you miss them? Did you miss Mom?

 

Well, [CHUCKLE] in truth, we were just happy the way we were. Happy to go home, but happy to be there.

 

You were at a critical age during Pearl Harbor.

 

M-hm.

 

You were on campus when the Pearl Harbor attack came.

 

Yes, I was. Yeah; we had finished breakfast, and there was a building called Dole Hall then, where both the boys and the girls always ate together. And they mixed the tables, so we would socialize a little bit, and we’d talk after the meals. And we’d gone back, and we’d seen some antiaircraft, it turned out to be. We didn’t know that. But then we heard on the radio that there’d been an invasion, so we all went down to the girls’ dorm. They had better radio facilities there, and we listened to Roosevelt’s speech. Then, as I say, the next day, really, but effectively Monday morning, the engineers took over the campus. So, we finished school going to Central Union Church just briefly, figuring out what to do. But we all dug trenches, we had gas masks, and all that stuff.

 

You wore gas masks as a general rule during the day; right?

 

That started fairly soon; yeah.

 

And did you ever do any guarding of the campus? I know at Kamehameha Schools, that was done.

 

Well, that very first two nights, we did. They had compulsory ROTC then. And so, the very first night, Sunday night, those of that lived in the dorm that were in ROTC, of which there were five or six, were sent up to Rocky Hill, which is the hill above the campus, but had the water tank for that whole school. And they spread us around Rocky Hill to protect the stuff. My particular one was protecting the water tank. And we all loaded rifles, but we really didn’t know how to shoot ‘em. [CHUCKLE] It was a very dark night. The Japanese had planned it very, very well. So, we were just all kinda itchy. [CHUCKLE] But luckily, none of us shot each other. [CHUCKLE]

 

After graduating from Punahou in 1942, Daniel Case headed off to Williams College in Massachusetts. He joined the Navy in 1945, serving for four years, before going to law school at the University of Denver. While he was waiting to take the Bar, a fluke accident brought Case back to Hawaii to recuperate. Here, he would stay for a six-decade legal career.

 

I think I’ve read that you and your friends were … you may have, on your own, bought or somehow you ran a hotel while you were going to law school?

 

Yeah. Well, when I first got back, and my friend—Al Herman, his name was, very good friend. We got out in April, and Williams didn’t start until late September. So, he was gonna get married, and so he worked for his father, which was a downtown hotel. Hundred rooms, but third-rate in every sense of the meaning. [CHUCKLE] And so, I was with him and looking around, and there was a a restaurant across the street called the Owl Café, selling for three thousand dollars. Happened to be three thousand I got getting out of the Navy, severance pay. And foolishly, I bought it. And I ran it. I had no experience, just stupidity. But I did run it, and then with that and the G.I. Bill, I was able to get through my last year of college.

 

So, you made a profit?

 

I profited from a place to live and self-sufficiency. But I sold it, after we got into law school for the same three thousand bucks. So, I made about five cents an hour. [CHUCKLE] And then, his father trusted me, liked me, offered my friend and I, the lease of the hotel free, without any down payment, and we just took it over and ran it while we went through law school. So, that experience was helpful.

 

So now, you’ve graduated from law school. What was your area of expertise in law school? Had you picked it?

 

No; no. You really didn’t pick specialties. Those were days of generalism. In school, you could take different courses, but we all basically took the same courses. And back then, most of the law firms wanted the associates to be fairly general in the beginning, and learn how to do different specialties. And then, after, oh, a year or two, or three, if they showed an interest and skill in a particular area, then they would go in that area. So, I didn’t have any; I just went to work. [CHUCKLE]

 

And you weren’t hoping you’d be chosen for this particular type of law?

 

No; just wanted to practice.

 

I imagine a lot of people didn’t come home from law school; they stayed on the mainland and worked. Was it always your plan to come home?

 

Not really. I left Hawaii when was seventeen, and except for a stint in the Navy, I really hadn’t been back ‘til I was twenty-seven. I was away ten years, so I didn’t know if I had any old friends or anything. So, it didn’t have a must draw to it. And in fact, in law school, a couple of us were good friends; we planned to sort of start a law firm of our own. Nothing serious, four of us, that’s what we’d do after we take the Bar exam and decide. So, we didn’t do any more than talk about it. But then, we had to take the Bar. And strangely, this is fate. My best friend and I said, Let’s work in an ice plant and toughen up a little. And we’d been working, and a hundred-pound cake of ice broke my foot. [CHUCKLE]

 

[CHUCKLE] Oh!

 

So, I was in a cast for a short spell, and I started saying, Maybe I’d better just go home. So, I came home.

 

Home, being?

 

Hawaii.

 

To Oahu, or Kauai? 

 

My father was still on Kauai. But I never expected to practice anywhere else. So, I looked for a job when I first got here, one particular law firm, Pratt, Tavares & Cassidy, and the Attorney General and the City. None of them offered me a job right away, so I then studied for the Bar. Went home, stayed with my father. My parents had been divorced in 1948; he’d been remarried to a very nice lady, and so I got to know them that way. And studied for the bar, and … came back tried again. And Pratt, Tavares & Cassidy offered me a job, so that’s where I stayed for sixty years.

 

And in all that time, you didn’t leave that firm.

 

I was happy. They treated me well, I was happy, I liked being a lawyer, and I liked the clientele we had. Many of the clients, a young lawyer starts to get to know them, and then the older lawyer retires or dies, and there’s a tendency to stay with the client. So, you build relationships, and I was fortunate enough to do that.

 

Daniel Case recalls a land sale on Maui as part of settling the estate of the late-famed aviator Charles Lindbergh. The fight over Lindbergh’s estate made headlines when an attorney who said he represented Lindbergh’s abducted child tried to claim the Lindbergh land on Maui.

 

And we filed a notice in the Maui court, and a lawyer from Georgia, never heard of him before or since, filed a claim saying he represented the former Lindbergh child, that he was alive. And so, we had a lot of litigation over it, but his main purpose, we decided, was to get publicity by interviewing Anne Lindbergh and the kids, and all that. So, they didn’t want that.

 

It was really the lawyer who wanted the publicity.

 

Yes.

 

Not the pretender to the Lindbergh baby identity.

 

Not the pretender. We don’t know if he exists. So luckily, we were able to get it dismissed by the judge. And so, it was gone, and he didn’t pursue it further. That was interesting.

 

When I read the names of the people in your law firm that you joined—you said that wasn’t a shoe-in, you had to look for a job. But that was a kick-butt law firm. I mean, those were the Territorial days, and I remember those names as being big cheeses in Hawaii at the time.

 

Well, they were. Dudley Pratt was a marvelous person, good citizen, very good lawyer, very good in the community, and a wonderful mentor. Judge Tavares was a very bright guy who was the State Attorney General, from which Dudley Pratt hired him. And Judge Cassidy was a well-known prosecutor.

 

So, when you became an attorney, did you have to go toe-to-toe and head-to-head, and to the jugular with people?

 

Well, luckily, I wasn’t born to be a litigator. But when I got back from law school, I knew I was shy and not a very good public speaker. So, I went to the Dale Carnegie School after work once a week for five months, which helped a little bit. And then, after I finished it, they asked me to be a teacher. That was manuahi, but I did that for another four months, just for the exposure and trying to get used to it. And I think it helped me. I was never a battering ram litigator, but I did it for a couple of years, did the best I could. And I wasn’t strong at it.

 

Daniel Case met the love of his life at a friend’s wedding. Carol was a teacher at his alma mater, Punahou. The two got married and raised four children together. At first, the Cases didn’t expect to have a big family.

 

Our oldest daughter, Carin, was adopted. Because the doctor told Carol she didn’t look like she could have children. So, Frank Spencer, her doctor, wahine doctor, said there was a nice child coming up, and that we might consider it. So, we did. So happens that Carol was pregnant. [CHUCKLE] We didn’t know it ‘til after we’d made the decision. So we stuck with it, and happily so. Then we had a son Danny five months later. And then, thirteen months later, our son Steve.

 

That was a busy household.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

Oh, boy.

 

And a little over four years later, our son Jeff. So, she had a lot of work and needed a lot of help.

 

Daniel Case’s third child is America Online cofounder, billionaire Steve Case. In the year 2000, Steve Case bought the former Kauai Sugar Planation where his father grew up. Grove Farm had evolved into a land management company and commercial developer, and it ran into financial trouble. It needed to be saved. For the company and its obligations, Steve Case reportedly paid some one hundred million dollars.

 

Pretty cool to have a son who’s a white knight.

 

Well, he started what he did, and made a lot of money. [CHUCKLE]

 

Did you see that in him as he was growing up?

 

Oh, I don’t think you could ever see it in him. He was always independent and busy. He never had enough time, which was a clue to something, but I don’t know what. I don’t think he knew, either. But he was always that way, all his life. Today, he’s very restless and wants to do things.

 

And he is a disrupter. He does things—

 

Yeah.

 

Did you see that as a kid? I say that in a positive sense.

 

No; not in the slightest.

 

Not; okay. Because basically, you have to go against the grain sometimes, to really make headway.

 

Well, it’s true. When they were first starting AOL—that wasn’t its name at the time. But the predecessor just wasn’t making it, making any money, so he worked with him, though, and then finally, the guy turned it over to Steve and two other executives and said, You take it over. So, they took it over, and worked on it. And Jim Kimsey was more experienced and a little older, and he became the CEO, and Steve was just number two or three. I don’t know what you would call it. But he then helped push it along very well. He was a good marketer, and has a good thinking mind.

 

Daniel Case’s most difficult moment came in 2002, as his firstborn son, named after him, lost his life to brain cancer.

 

He was one wonderful guy. [SNIFFING] Very successful, very popular. He was a Rhodes Scholar, and wonderful investment banker. And helped a lot of people.

 

Would you agree that the hardest thing for a parent to go through is the death of a child? Any advice you could give other parents who go through something like that?

 

Just … just work with them with their time off. When they found it, he was already Stage 4. So … it was terminal. So … surgery in the beginning, and got treatment. He lived another sixteen months. We spent a lot of time.

 

Daniel Case considers his family to be his greatest joy and achievement. At the time of our conversation in February of 2015, Case was about to head out to a retreat on Oahu’s north shore with his loved ones and celebrate his ninetieth birthday.

 

Do you have a history in your family of longevity?

 

[CHUCKLE] I think my sister-in-law, Celia Case, was wonderful, looking in the genealogy and stuff; a scrapbook. And I think I would have been the oldest in my family, except my older brother Jim is still alive, [CHUCKLE] and doing pretty well at ninety-four, going on ninety-five. So, I think he holds the family record. [CHUCKLE]

 

Because you seem like you’re trim and fit, and you know, ageless.

 

No; it’s not true. We’ve all got a lot of nicks and crannies, and problems. But I’m fortunate to be as healthy as I am.

 

I mean, you’re driving around, you’re going daily to—you play a regular Bridge game at the Pacific Club. What else do you do?

 

Well, since I retired, I read a lot. I always have. And a lot of television, including your program, and public television generally. And we have friends. So, it’s a quieter life, clearly.

 

What do you read?

 

Almost everything. I love history, I like novels, I like business stuff. I try and mix reading business type books with a novel or a history book, and mix it up. But I like long books. [CHUCKLE]

 

[CHUCKLE] Oh, big, fat books.

 

I do. I like many of those. So, I just mix it up, and it keeps me going.

 

Also in 2015, Daniel Case and his wife Carol celebrated their sixtieth wedding anniversary. His secret to a long and happy marriage? Give extra love, Case says, and always respect each other. We’d like to thank Kauai born Daniel Case of Honolulu for sharing his story. And thank you for joining us. For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou.

 

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

 

You did something after your wedding at Oahu Country Club.

 

[CHUCKLE] I did.

 

That is still remembered. What did you do?

 

We hired a bicycle built for two. So, after all the hoopla went on, we went out and got out bike, and pedaled through the port cochere waving, and headed out. [CHUCKLE] So, that was a little unusual.

 

The last your guests saw of you, you were on a bicycle built for two.

 

Right.

 

Heading out. [CHUCKLE]

 

We went so fast, I don’t think anybody, including us, knew what was happening. [CHUCKLE]

 

[END]

 

 


LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Susan Yamada

 

Susan Yamada is Executive Director of the Pacific Asian Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Hawaii at Manoa’s Shidler College of Business. Yamada calls herself an “accidental entrepreneur,” with a career that moved from hospitality to publishing to leading tech companies. After a successful life in Silicon Valley during the dot-com boom, she came home to Hawaii, never needing to work again. But in this phase of her life, she has dedicated herself to giving back to her community by mentoring young future entrepreneurs.

 

This program is available in high-definition and will be rebroadcast on Wed., July 20 at 11:00 pm and Sun., July 24 at 4:00 pm.

 

Susan Yamada Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

I just talked with a CEO of a large company who said, If I’m feeling comfortable, I suspect something is wrong. Something has to be wrong.

 

Yeah. I think there always needs to be that level of discomfort, because that means you’re pushing things, you know, whether it’s your company, your programs, yourself personally. So, people go, Why? Why do you want to do that? And I think the more you do that—and pushing your comfort zone, in my mind, is taking risks. And it’s not like, yeah, I’m gonna jump off a cliff and hope, you know, I have my parachute. It’s really calculated risks that you’re trying to take. And I think what that does is, it really builds confidence that, Hey, I can do it, I can talk to Leslie on TV, and everything was good, and I didn’t die. And all those culmination of experiences, I think, gives you the confidence to move forward and do other things in the future. It gave me the confidence to move from one industry to another industry, it gave me the confidence to take risks that, you know, others may not have taken, and know that it’s not gonna be the end of the world if it fails, because I’m building a skillset that I can then transfer to something else.

 

Susan Yamada’s confidence has taken her from playing football in the streets of Kaneohe to leading tech companies during the dot-com boom. Even with her crazy work hours and success on the West Coast, she never lost sight of home. Susan Yamada, 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. Susan Yamada, raised in Windward Oahu, was an accidental entrepreneur who did very well in the Silicon Valley dot-com industry. She was so successful that when she returned to Hawaii to raise her children, she didn’t ever have to work for pay again. Yet, she does. Today, Yamada is the executive director of PACE; that’s the Pacific Asian Center for Entrepreneurship within the Shilder College of Business at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. She’s mentoring Hawaii’s future entrepreneurs. Yamada grew up in Kaneohe, where she realized at a young age that she loved to compete.

 

Kind of a Rockwell-ian childhood. You know, my dad had his own business selling plywood in town, in Kalihi. My mom was a schoolteacher, so she taught kindergarten at Heeia Elementary School. And I have two brothers; one older than me, two years, and one younger than I am.

 

So, you’re the only girl, and you’re the middle child.

 

Yes.

 

Does that say anything about you?

 

Hm … that’s a good question. I think it says a lot about me in that I grew up playing more baseball than with dolls. I remember one Christmas I got a hairdryer, and that turned into a nice little pistol.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

So, yeah.

 

And you’re athletic.

 

I love athletics. Growing up, we played in the neighborhood, right? Baseball, football, with all the neighborhood kids. So, yeah, I love sports.

 

Did you play in the street?

 

Oh, yeah.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

In the street.

 

And the cars had to wait a little bit ‘til you could get off the road?

 

Luckily, we lived on a dead end, but you know, every time the ball went into, like, the mean neighbor’s house, you know, everybody ran away.

[CHUCKLE]

 

Whoever hit the ball into that yard had to go get it; right? So, it was just kinda like that. Okay; pass the telephone pole, that’s a touchdown. Okay. And then, this manhole cover, that’s home plate. So, it was really cool.

 

That’s interesting that you were an athlete and a tomboy. So, does that mean competition might have been easier for you when you hit the business world? ‘Cause in those days, women were still …

 

Yeah; that’s interesting.

 

–treated differently.

 

I think my competitiveness helped me. I don’t like to lose. You know, I like to set my goals and achieve them. But I think when I set out on my business career, that really wasn’t kind of foremost in my mind.

 

What was high school like for you? I mean, public high school in Hawaii.

 

Yeah.

 

Everyone has fond memories, or maybe not so fond.

 

Yeah; it was a lot of fun. You know, I went to public schools all the way up to Castle. And so, some kids you knew, and then you know more kids as you go to King. And that’s when, I don’t know, there’s like four or five elementary schools in the Kaneohe area that all matriculate to King Intermediate. And so, I got to know a lot more friends at King Intermediate, and then we all went up to Castle. And you know, I just met a ton of friends, and we remain friends to this day. You know, every Christmas, we have a gathering and we get together, and we just laugh and laugh.

 

Did your parents explicitly tell you about life? Did they give you advice, or was it leading by example?

 

[CHUCKLE] Yeah; well, career-wise anyway, my mom gave me advice. And she said, Be a schoolteacher, because schoolteachers, you get the summer off, all the holidays, when your kids are off you’ll be off too. So from that point, I wasn’t a really good listener. But, you know, I think the fundamental values that they exhibited themselves about being hardworking, being honest, being a contributing member of society; they totally led by example. And I feel that that’s the foundation for my life. And on that, you grow, you know, who you are, what you become, and things like that.

 

Your father owned his own business, and then sold it; right?

 

Yes. Yeah; so, that was great, because growing up in elementary school, he had his own business, and on weekends, he’d let one or two of us come over to his—and it was a pretty small place. And you know, we’d just kinda be messing around. And he had uh, a plywood business as well as some hardware supplies. And so, all the scrap wood, we’d just be building stuff, and sometimes he’d tell us to clean out the hardware area, so we’d do that. All so we could have like, this Boulevard Saimin plate lunch for lunch. And that was like, the best Saturday, was to be able to go with Dad to work.

 

When you were raised, I imagine your parents really weren’t giving you water bottles and …

 

Oh, we drank from the hose.

 

–and helicoptering.

 

We drank from the hose. [CHUCKLE]

 

And telling you, Don’t come back ‘til—I bet you they said, Don’t come back ‘til dusk, or …

 

Yeah; yeah.

 

How did you raise you kids? Differently than that?

 

You know, it’s very different, and it’s unfortunate, really. When I was growing up, it was like, you know, you had something to eat for breakfast, you were out, you were playing all day. When you got hungry, you know, you came home, you made yourself a sandwich, you went back out again, and you had to come home when you saw Dad’s car coming down the road, because you’re either gonna have to do yardwork, or dinner’s gonna be ready soon. And so, we had so much freedom. You know, we’d get on our bikes, we’d ride down to the river, catch fifty fish, put ‘em all in an aquarium and try to name ‘em all. I mean, it’s crazy; right? And you know, I’m sad for my kids that they couldn’t have that level of freedom at that young age anymore.

 

Well, why couldn’t they?

 

You know, I don’t know how much is reality and how much is perception in parenting at this point, where you know, even if my kids, when they were in elementary school were playing in the front yard, I felt like I had to be out in front

 

watching. If there’s even a miniscule chance that your kid’s gonna get abducted, then of course, you’re gonna be out front and you’re gonna be watching. But it’s just a different world. And because, you know, our neighborhood wasn’t full of kids, you know, you would have to have play dates, you would have to invite kids over to play with them. And you know, when you were talking about helicopter parents, you know, I don’t think I am one. But, you are, when your kids are young, kind of setting their life up. It’s less creative for them, I think, at this point. You know, that’s where I think some of the old charm, I guess, of Hawaii is being lost. And I was just commenting to my friends; I go, I know I’m getting old because I’m grumbling a lot now about how it used to be and how it is now, and how it’s, you know, losing some of that ohana, that inclusive community sometimes.

 

After Susan Yamada earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, she went into the hotel industry. Eventually, her love of the ocean led her to greater opportunities.

 

I learned some interesting things that they don’t teach you at the Travel Industry Management School. And that’s when you work at a hotel chain, if you want to move up, many times you have to transfer out of one hotel into another. And at the time, I know it’s hard to believe, but there was just one Marriott in the State, and that was on Maui. That was the first Marriott that they built. And so, I was there, and then I found out I would have to travel. So, my big goal in life after the university was to move to Maui.

 

Why?

 

Because my cousins were there, and I used to spend all my summers there, and I just loved the lifestyle there; it’s just so laid back. But I found that, you know, being single and in my twenties, after about two and a half years, it was just a really small place. And so, it was time for my promotion, or I was up for promotion, and so, they asked if I wanted to either go to, I think it was Torrance or Santa Clara. So, I got out the map, because to that point I had been out of state once. And I went on my second trip right before I moved, but I knew nothing; right? So, I looked to see what the proximity of those two areas was to the beach. So …

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

Santa Clara looked much closer. So, I chose Santa Clara. And little did I know that Santa Clara is Silicon Valley. So, that was … a good move on my part, but I can’t say that I planned it.

 

And you had the beach.

 

Yeah.

 

But, you know, you’re going there to work in the hotel industry, not to work in Silicon Valley.

 

Yes; uh-huh. And so, that’s what I thought; it was just a next step, I would go there, spend two years there, and then I would come back home. And so, I got there, and … and this is why I feel a lot of local kids, they should really get out, because it’s such a big world. You know, I thought tourism; hey, being from Hawaii, wanting to stay in Hawaii, that’s where my career opportunities were gonna be. And when I got to Silicon Valley, it was just like, Oh, my gosh. It was just … you know, drinking from a fire hose, there were so many different opportunities. So, I went, I got my MBA after two and a years at the Santa Clara Marriott. And then, I got into the technology industry.

 

Susan Yamada left the hotel industry to pursue work that would give her experience in running a business. She got an opportunity to test her skills when she was offered a job at Upside Magazine, a publication that was on the cutting edge of the digital revolution, and groundbreaking in its time.

 

What did you do in those years between your MBA and that?

 

Okay; so I was a research analyst for the technology industry for a couple years, and I worked in a head injury rehab organization, doing the business side of it. My father-in-law had a contact with a magazine publisher, and he said, I’ve got a failing magazine that needs to get turned around, and I’m looking for somebody to run it. And so, I think maybe it was four years out of my MBA, my father-in-law introduced me to this guy. And that’s how I got my first opportunity to run a company. And it was a failing company.

 

What was that transition like?

 

The one thing that I learned is, business is business, no matter what you’re hawking. So whether you’re in the hotel business, or whether—you know, I was a consultant soon after researcher and analyst, you know, you have a product and you need to sell it. And so, that, I think, was one of the first lessons that I had of, Okay, how do you make money? You know, what is my business, and how do you make money.

So, you go from head injuries and research and analysis to magazine publishing.

 

Yes.

 

Of course, that is in the middle of, at that time, a digital revolution.

 

Right. So, the internet was just starting to come out and be a big player. And so, the magazine that we had—and again, it’s hard to believe, but there was no wired, when you picked up Business Week, they didn’t have an extensive editorial about the technology industry. Technology industry was just starting to come out. The PC was just kinda transforming all kinds of things. We were trying to figure out all the different things PCs could do. So, our magazine really focused on those sorts of needs to a higher level audience. So, they were executives within the technology industry that wanted to know what other people were doing, because the future of technology was still unlimited.

 

So, did that put you in touch with the titans of technology?

 

Yeah; yeah. So, every month, we would have an interview with one of the leaders in the technology industry, whether it was Bill Gates, or Larry Ellison. It was just an incredible time. And I’m not sure it would be so easy to get those interviews today. But during that time, you know … most definitely.

 

And did you think that was your calling, magazines?

 

I loved it. Yeah. It wasn’t so much magazines as it was I loved the fact that you never knew if you were gonna make payroll.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

I know; I know. And people were like, That would drive me nuts. And you know, obviously, it wasn’t just like wishing. You actually put together a plan and start implementing the plan. But when things start working, it’s so exciting to see that.

 

Susan Yamada was the publisher of Upside Magazine for five and a half years. During that time, the magazine became profitable, and the connections she made there opened doors to new opportunities in the digital revolution.

 

That’s when the internet was starting to take off. And that was a super-exciting time. It was like the second coming of the Gold Rush in California, because there was so much excitement in the Bay Area. People were flocking to the Bay Area to take part in, you know, the internet mania. You know, if you graduated from college with a bachelor’s degree and you were halfway decent, you were making six figures already. It took me all my career to that point, to get up to that point. And here these kids are, and just because there was such a shortage

 

of talent, they were making incredible money; there was so much money going around in the Bay Area at that time.

 

And so, what did you do? What was your next step?

 

I joined an internet startup company called Trustee. And if you look at a lot of the major websites now, they all have privacy statements, and many of them have a Trustee seal. And it was an interesting time, because the internet was so new, privacy was an issue. Privacy of your personal information; your name, your address, your phone number. Because the internet is a global marketplace, and unlike the United States, the European union considers your personal information yours. In the United States, any information you give, that’s a database for somebody to sell. And we used to sell that database extensively when I was at Upside. Now, we’re dealing with the fact of having to train U.S. websites that they have to state what they’re using that information they’re collecting it for, and they have to do it.

 

Your company came up with that limitation?

 

Yeah; right.

 

And Trustee is still working?

 

Still there; yeah. Still operational? Wow. So, what happened to your time there? Because

 

clearly, you don’t do that anymore.

 

You know, the first time a big site came in, like the first time Yahoo said they were gonna use our seal, you know, the crowd goes wild; right? But, you know, when Microsoft comes in, it’s like, Mm, all right. Then, when, you know, Netscape was really big at that time came in, it’s just so anticlimactic already. It’s like you were expecting it to happen. And I don’t know; for me, it just kinda gets boring, really. So … I just find eighteen to twenty-four months, it’s time to move on.

 

Now, it seems to me that at that time, there were very few women, probably very few Asian women.

 

M-hm.

 

Very few Asians, period.

 

Yeah.

 

What was that like for you?

 

My married name was Scott, so it was Susan Scott. And when I would make an appointment to see people, they were expecting Susan Scott; right? And so, I think first impressions are very important. And I think if I went in on the mainland as Susan Yamada, there would be a ton of stereotypes. I don’t know; I think it’s just human nature. But right in that little time when they were like, looking around in the waiting room for this Susan—

 

Where’s the blond?

 

Yeah.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

That’s exactly right. A tall, statuesque blond woman; right? Isn’t that what you would think? And so, right in that moment of confusion, it was my time to make a good impression. So, you know, that’s when I would just be, you know, very forthright and go, Hi, I’m, you know, Susan, and just try and break any stereotype they may have had about me already. So, I use that as one specific example. But the one thing that I felt about the technology industry is, for the most part, it’s gender-neutral. It’s like, What can you help me with? And if you have the skillsets, I never felt like gender was a big, big issue.

 

But you did have to get in the door.

 

Totally. Yeah.

 

Susan Yamada moved back to Hawaii in 2001. She had made enough money to retire, and she spent her time raising her children and volunteering in the community. Over time, plans changed, and in 2008, Yamada started working part-time at the Pacific Asian Center for Entrepreneurship in the Shidler College of Business at the UH. That turned into a fulltime role.

 

The job with Shidler, I mean, it’s not something I have to do, but it’s something that I’ve come to love to do. And part of it is a bigger issue of being able to give back to Hawaii. I mean, it’s been fantastic for me, it’s where my roots are, I love it here. The seventeen years I was in Silicon Valley, you know, my main purpose was a goal that took me too long to attain, ‘cause as I told you before, it was just supposed to be two years that I was up there, was to come back. Because this is my home. And so, having the opportunity to be able to give

 

back to my community through the university, because I’m very passionate about education, it’s an honor for me to do that. So, yeah; I could be messing around and playing golf all day, but I don’t think I’d get the same level of fulfillment.

 

In your opinion, what are the things that drive entrepreneurs? I mean, are they very different, and you can’t generalize, or do they tend to be hardwired in a certain way?

 

I think there are certain characteristics that make a successful entrepreneur. Number one is, they have to have a vision and drive. And they can’t be easily dissuaded. You know, so you talk about entrepreneurship and passion a lot. And I think a big part of that is passion; it is very important. You need to be able to really believe that what you’re providing will be a significant improvement to your life, whoever your buyer is. And the first year, the first two years, the first five years, it’s very, very difficult, and you have to work really hard. So, I think the work ethic and passion are two things that we always look for. And then, there’s the coach-ability stand point.

 

It seems like such a tough deal, where an entrepreneur has to be able to be able to persevere, despite rejection and hard times, and yet, has to know when they’re hearing advice that they really should take and leave it, do something else.

 

Exactly. I mean, it is not easy, for sure. But it is something that almost every single startup will go through at some point.

 

Have you ever been wrong in saying, That’s not gonna work, don’t do it?

 

Rarely do I say that. Because, you know what? If I was that smart, I would be … I don’t know, sitting on a beach right now; right? ‘Cause you never know; right?

 

So, what do you say?

 

If they wanted to open a restaurant, for example, serving hamburgers in Waikiki, the first question I would ask is, How are you different from these ten other competitors that are—

 

So, you ask probing questions so that they make their own conclusions.

 

Now, if you are different, right, if you’re a Korean style taco truck, for example, which is wildly successful in L.A., okay, maybe that’s enough of a difference; right? If you have a social media campaign … I need to see different. I can’t see the same. Because if you’re copying the same thing, it’s very, very, very tough. A goal is hard work. And if you’re easily dissuaded from your idea, or you don’t have that passion, or perseverance, not gonna happen.

 

And how do people even support themselves for four or five ideas, while they’re just refining this?

 

Yeah. So, that’s what I tell my students. I go, If you ever have entrepreneurial aspirations, do it now. You don’t have kids, you don’t have to pay, you know, for tuitions, you don’t have to pay a mortgage or your car loan. I said, You have the least to lose right now, so do it now.

 

But whoever doesn’t have that when they’re an adult?

 

And that’s where it gets much harder. But it is possible. So, you know, I was adult when I started my business. So it’s possible; you can do it. You just have to be able to manage what resources you have.

 

And yet, Susan Yamada credits her time away from Hawaii for challenging her to grow in ways that she may not have if she’d stayed home.

 

If people could have seen you in Silicon Valley at the time they were working at their jobs in Honolulu, would you have had a markedly different style from your style now?

 

I think I’m more forward, and I’m less concerned about what people think about what I say. So, maybe less filter. And I think part of that has to do with, you know, where I am today or who I am today, and not being overly concerned about, am I gonna get a promotion, or what are people gonna think about me. I mean, they can think whatever they want to think, actually. It’s just who I am, it’s what my opinion is. And we can agree to disagree, and I’m perfectly happy with that. I don’t have to win an argument. So, I think, you know, it has changed me. I think it’s given me more confidence to say what I want to say, and just be who I am, and not try to be someone that someone else wants me to be.

 

Do you recall being that way before?

 

I think when you’re younger, you’re a lot more insecure. And so, you know, you take everything to heart, and maybe you create self-perception issues that might not even be there. But I think the great thing about getting older is … who cares?

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

You know,I am who I am, and you know, I try to be a good person. And so,I try and let that guide me. I have mentors for everything; right? For how do I raise my kids, to you know, business mentors, to you know, my friends from high school; right? They all form this very informal kitchen cabinet, if you will. And so that I can call them and share different things with them, and get feedback.

 

And do they always agree?

 

I have mentors for everything; right? For how do I raise my kids, to you know, business mentors, to you know, my friends from high school; right? They all form this very informal kitchen cabinet, if you will. And so that I can call them and share different things with them, and get feedback.

 

And do they always agree?

 

Who?

 

Your friends in the kitchen cabinet.

 

Oh, I don’t want them to agree with me.

 

You just want to hear some … how you would handle this, and then you decide what you do.

 

Because I don’t want them to tell me what to do. I want them to give me their opinion. Because they don’t what specifically I’m going through. And so, you take their opinion, and you make your own decision based on that.

 

But you never said formally to any of them, Would you be willing to be part of my kitchen cabinet?

 

No; no.

 

How did that evolve?

 

I just make them. [LAUGHTER] What’s the worst thing that’s ever happened to you?

 

Professionally, the magazine. So, we brought in the chairman of the board, the guy who hired me. He eventually wanted the job back after it was profitable. And so, I did conferences; that’s what I wanted to do, I wanted to get back into a startup routine. And we weren’t really quite seeing eye-to-eye on things, and I came home from a conference, and there was an envelope on my front door. And it was a termination letter. And so, it’s like, he didn’t even have the courtesy to call me. You know, it was something he gave me, something that wasn’t successful, I was able to turn it around. And I was like, How can this happen? How can the board allow something like that to happen? So, that professionally was probably the worst thing that ever happened to me.

 

Didn’t the magazine later go into bankruptcy?

 

Mm.

 

How long after that?

 

I think they expanded too quickly into the internet, and they put too many resources there, and they were under-capitalized, and so it didn’t work out. So, I think within the three years after that, it was pretty much on the ropes and down.

 

But that is quite the rejection, isn’t it? Especially after you’d put so much into it.

 

Yeah. After five years into it; right? And I didn’t think it was very well done, either.

 

Since you’ve headed PACE, what’s the best thing that’s come out of it?

 

I don’t think it would be a specific business idea. It’s the students that come out of there. You know, I see them going in, and I see them experiencing the joy of discovery, of the aha moments like, Ah, I get it; okay, I’ve gotta do this and this. And you know, they’re students; they’re so eager to please, they really want to do a good job. And when I see them working hard, when I see things coming together for them, I’m super-excited for them. Because what I think I’m doing is, I’m teaching them life lessons.

 

Susan Yamada is inspiring and challenging new generations of entrepreneurs through her passion and perseverance, qualities that continue to guide her own life. Mahalo to Susan Yamada of Honolulu for her enthusiasm and her commitment to serving our community. And mahalo to you for joining. For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou.

 

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

 

Do you see yourself making another change in the future?

 

Yeah; I definitely do. My son is in ninth grade now, and I’ve always said that— and this should be no shock to my boss, that once my son is into college, then I think that opens up a whole ‘nother chapter in my life as far as, what do I do next.

[END]

 

5 Cleaning Tips from an Executive Housekeeper

IMG_8946-cropped

Pictured: Leslie Wilcox with Rose Galera, a certified executive housekeeper.

 

Rose Galera approaches cleaning as both a science and an art. Her early enthusiasm for keeping her environment safe and clean led her to a career in professional cleaning management and as a consultant and training specialist.

 

She is a certified executive housekeeper by the International Executive Housekeepers Association, with over 45 years of experience and expertise in the hospitality, medical, commercial, education and business cleaning arenas. She was also the first executive housekeeper of the Hale Koa Hotel in Waikiki.

 

Her career in what she terms “cleanology” recognizes the science and technique necessary for proper sanitization. Her passion makes her a natural teacher, educating and training Hawai‘i’s students on proper cleaning etiquette.

 

Galera offered these cleaning tips during her interview on Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox:

 

  1. Backpack vacuuming. Galera encourages backpack vacuuming for its maneuverability and ease in cleaning high, hard to reach spaces, and under and around objects. A good backpack vacuum is light (3 to 4 lbs) versus a clunky upright vacuum, and can clean all types of flooring, furniture, mattresses, car interiors and walls.

 

  1. Stream, don’t spray. When using liquid sprays, using the stream nozzle option, as opposed to the spray nozzle, helps control the distribution of chemicals to the designated area. Spraying can spread the chemicals to places you don’t want them to go, like people’s skin and eyes, and food and drinks.

 

  1. Disinfect high-touch surfaces. High germ count items such as door handles, desks, keyboards, mice, phones, remote controls and light switches need to be disinfected regularly. Use a combination of anti-microbial cleaners and disinfectants to remove and kill pathogenic microorganisms that thrive in these areas.

 

  1. Remember the three scientific processes of germ kill. Sanitation, disinfecting and sterilization combine to create the ultimate trifecta of cleaning. Sanitation kills at least 50 percent of germs, disinfecting kills more than 90 percent and sterilization kills 100 percent.

 

  1. Microfiber cleaning technology. Galera recommends using microfiber cloths, which consist of dense fibers that absorb more and clean faster and more effectively than traditional clothes. These cloths can be folded multiple times, depending on their size, and Galera encourages using one side per surface to avoid spreading germs.

 

Rose Galera on Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox premieres on-air and online Tuesday, June 14 at 7:30 pm. The full episode will be available on-demand right here on PBSHawaii.org.

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Sarah Keahi

 

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

 

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

 

Sarah Keahi Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Because you were granted a homestead lot?

 

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

 

Ten kids.

 

Yeah.

 

Mom and Dad.

 

Yeah.

 

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

 

I know.

 

–twelve people in house.

 

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

 

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

 

Yeah.

 

Farm to table.

 

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

 

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

 

Oh, yes.

 

Since she used everything.

 

She made feather leis.

 

She did?

 

Yes; she did.

 

Where did she get the time to do all that?

 

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

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

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

 

So, she spoke Standard English.

 

Oh, yes.

 

And she insisted you do, too.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Two hard workers.

 

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

 

Even though he had all these kids in the house?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Right in your neighborhood.

 

Right; exactly.

 

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

 

Right.

 

Was that something you gave thought to?

 

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

 

Because?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Did you get in trouble?

 

Oh, no; no.

 

You were always a good student.

 

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

 

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

 

Now, was Hawaiian spoken in the house at all?

 

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

 

Scolding …

 

Scolding; they would scold us.

 

And you would know what it meant?

 

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

 

What does kulikuli mean?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

It was the adult language.

 

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

 

She was a manaleo?

 

Yes; she was a manaleo.

 

And you were learning textbook Hawaiian.

 

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

 

Wow.

 

So, she saw all of those periods.

 

What was her take on statehood?

 

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

 

Wow …

 

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

 

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

 

Right.

 

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

 

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

 

Was there a Hawaiian major when you entered UH?

 

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

 

This is Samuel Elbert.

 

Yes; Sam Elbert.

 

Who co-wrote the Hawaiian Dictionary.

 

Yes; and everything else. Place names.

 

What was he like?

 

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

 

And he taught you your first Hawaiian language class?

 

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

 

It seemed like bum advice.

 

Yeah.

 

Because you couldn’t get a job.

 

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

 

And he was right.

 

And he was right.

 

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

 

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

 

You had already heard of him?

 

I didn’t, until I got there.

 

And then, he turned out to be—

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

No. You heard about that?

 

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

 

Yeah.

 

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

 

Yeah.

 

And you’re just not gonna accept less.

 

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

 

And you taught them all, I bet.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

[END]

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Victoria Kneubuhl

 

Playwright and novelist Victoria Kneubuhl has used her writing as a way to share the history of Hawaii and to give a voice to powerful women of the past. And while writing is her passion, she also sees it as a way to give something back. “One of the things that I really want people to know…who are from the islands or the Pacific, is that our stories are so worth telling. If you write something that is heartfelt and genuine, you are leaving a gift for your community,” says Kneubuhl.

 

Victoria Kneubuhl Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

I think that when we understand what happened in the past to our country and our people, that we will be able to make better decisions about what we create in the future. Because I feel like if you don’t understand your personal past, your collective past, you can get into a lot of trouble.

 

Bringing together the past and the present is a trademark of Victoria Kneubuhl’s work. Respected Honolulu playwright Victoria Kneubuhl, 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. Writing is Victoria Kneubuhl’s passion. She’s driven by a desire to share her Hawaiian and Samoan heritage, and give a voice to powerful women of the past. Kneubuhl has written more than two dozen plays. Her writing credits also include novels and television documentaries. She’s the recipient of the State’s highest literary honor, the Hawaii Award for Literature. However, as a child growing up in Manoa, Kneubuhl never dreamed of becoming a successful playwright.

 

Well, I was born in Kapiolani Hospital in 1949, in the Territory of Hawaii. And I grew up in Manoa Valley, right up the street here. So, that’s where my formative years were. My mother was pretty much a housewife, and my dad worked for American Factors; he was an auditor.

 

Now, at the time you were born, was Samoan-Hawaiian as an interracial marriage, was that considered unusual, or was that common?

 

You know, I don’t really know. I don’t think it was that unusual. But I do think it’s unusual that my father, you know, came here at such an early age from Samoa to go to school. He was seven years old, and he came with his brother, who was nine. They came on a ship, and they both went to Punahou School when they were little.

 

Could they speak English?

 

Yes.

 

Raised bilingually.

 

Yes; they were both bilingual. And my father tells these wonderful stories about being at the boarding school, the Punahou boarding school, which was a farm school, he said. And it was out in Kaimuki, you know, near the graveyard, near Diamond Head Cemetery. That was where the boys boarded.

 

Now, that sounds like your family was well-to-do, to be able to go from Samoa and afford Punahou.

 

Well, I think my grandfather was. To afford, to be able to do that, they must have been. And I think it was important to them that their children had a really good education. My grandfather was from Iowa; Burlington, Iowa. His parents were immigrants from Switzerland, I think. And he ran away from home when he was … seventeen, or something. And he lied about his age, and he joined the Navy. And he ended up in Samoa, and he met my grandmother who was, from what we call an afakasi family, just half-caste, afakasi. It’s not a bad word. And I think she was about three-quarter Samoan. Because her father was half-Samoan, and half palagi. He was a descendant of a missionary [CHUCKLE] from the London Missionary Society.

 

So, from an early time, your family was mixed generationally.

 

Oh, yeah.

 

And going through different times.

 

And our family, you know, has these roots in the Pacific that include Hawaii, but you know, also include Tahiti and Samoa, and now we have relatives in New Zealand and Australia. So … yeah. This is our home.

 

So, you’re growing up in Manoa. What was life like at the Kneubuhl house?

 

Well, you know, my earliest memory is playing outside. And when I was a little girl, there were still farms. There were farms in the back of Manoa Valley, you know. There were a lot of Japanese farmers back there. I guess they were leasing land from the Bishop Estate. That’s what I understand. Manoa lettuce was really grown in Manoa. [CHUCKLE] And behind the school was mostly farms. And there were gardenia farms back there too. So, I kind of think of my childhood as pretty idyllic.

 

And rural, in Manoa.

 

Yeah. I thought I grew up in the country. But I guess I didn’t.  And we had a lot of freedom as children to roam around. It was safe then, and we could swim in the stream, and hike around in the mountains. It was great. I feel lucky.

 

Victoria Kneubuhl explored her Samoan roots on a trip with her father when she was a teenager. The trip had barely begun, when her dad did something that really surprised her.

 

I didn’t really know anything about being Samoan. Sometimes, my dad’s brother John, who was a screenwriter in Hollywood, would come over and charm us all with stories about what was going on in Hollywood. But I didn’t have much contact with that part of my family until my father decided that he might want to move back to Samoa and work for my grandfather. So, when I was, I think like thirteen, my father decided he was gonna go back and have a look at what it would be like to live there, to kind of test the waters. And he took me with him. Just me. So, it was in the early 60s, and Pan American was the plane that flew in there, and we got off the airplane, and the airport was kind of like this wooden shack with rat wire on it.  And there was a big line of our family there, you know, waiting to meet us. And I was holding my dad’s hand, and all of a sudden, he started speaking Samoan. And I didn’t know he spoke Samoan. You know, I used to ask him when I was kid, Oh, Dad, how do you say milk in Samoan? He’d go, I don’t know, I don’t know. He wouldn’t tell me.  So, I got off the plane, and he started speaking Samoan to all of these people, and I … I felt extremely unsure of the world for a moment. But that was a really interesting summer for me, because he and I kind of drove all around. And you know, Samoa was really different, what was that, fifty years ago, fifty-plus years ago, than it is today. So, … only part of the island had paved roads, and not every place had electricity, and most of the outlying villages, people still lived in … fales, you know, in grass houses and had that kind of cultural village life, and the material culture that went along with it. And so, it was really enlightening for me to see a Polynesian culture at that time in my life, and to see how people lived.

 

You were hearing your father determining whether to possibly uproot you, your life would change radically. Were you concerned, or was it travel log time?

 

No, it was pretty much a travel log time for me, and I was really excited to be there. And I had all of these great cousins that I met that I ran around with. And my father came back after two weeks, but I stayed for the whole summer with my aunt. And I loved it there at that time. It’s a different place now, but then, it was really fun.

 

And yet, your father did move, and you did not.

 

Yeah. Well, you know, my parents, it was important for my father that … my brother and I go to Punahou. So, we stayed here, and my parents and my younger brother moved down there.

 

And you stayed with your grandmother?

 

Yes; in Manoa.

 

And did you graduate from Punahou?

 

No. Actually, I dropped out of high school and I had a child when I was seventeen years old. So, it wasn’t a great situation for me. And I think I felt kind of lost and alone, and so I was looking for some, you know, place that I felt safe. And … you know, life is funny, though, you know. I had a child when I was seventeen; but by the time I was twenty-four, I couldn’t have children anymore. And of course, now my daughter is like my best friend in the world.

 

Something you thought was gonna hurt your life, needed to happen then. Is that how you look at it?

 

Well, part of it, yeah. Not all of it, but part of it. And yeah, it was hard to have a child when I was, you know, so young. But … that’s what happened.

 

Did you remain in Hawaii, or did you go to Samoa?

 

You know, when I left my first husband, I went back to Samoa and I stayed there for about seven years and worked there. And … I came back to Hawaii, I think, in the late 70s. Eventually, as wonderful as the island was then, it just seemed too small to me. My horizon started to shrink. You know, and so when I came back to Honolulu, I started going to school. I went to the Academy of Arts for a while. They used to have a studio program there, where I went every day to a drawing class or a painting class.

 

By now, Victoria Kneubuhl was in her late twenties, with a new husband and a second child. After earning a bachelor’s degree in liberal studies, Kneubuhl was considering a career in psychology, when she stumbled on a class that would change her life.

 

I was thinking about getting a degree in psychology. I was kind of in love with Carl Jung, with Jungian psychology, and I was fascinated by it. And we were having a break. You know, I was having a break from school, and I thought, before I apply to this program, that I would do something different. So, you know, they used to register in Klum Gym.

 

I remember that. Long lines in Klum Gym.

 

Yeah. That’s right. So, I went to sign up for a creative writing class in the English department, but they were full. So, I’m looking through the program, and I see this class that says, playwriting. And I thought, Oh, yeah, you know, you know, my uncle does that; yeah, I think I’ll try that.  So, I wandered into this playwriting class. It was really fascinating; the class was fascinating. It was really hard, and the teacher was extremely tough and scary, and I almost dropped out of the class, because I was feeling humiliated. And so, I went home, and I had this little talk with myself, and I said, You know, that man, he’s really smart, and he really knows a lot, and I paid for this class, and I’m gonna ignore all of this stuff that I don’t think has anything really to do with playwriting. And I’m just gonna take what he knows, because I paid for it. So, I changed my attitude, and I walked back in the class the next time, and … it was fine. You know, I think it was just that attitude change on my part that kind of changed the whole class. And I was so happy with where I ended up, compared to where I started from, that I enrolled in the same class again with a different teacher, Dennis Carroll. When I got into Dennis’ class … he was a wonderful teacher. He has all of this love and passion for the theater. You know, he started Kumu Kahua Theater. And he really took me under his wing and nurtured me as a writer. And he had confidence in me and my work. You know, when you’re a young writer, you just don’t know if you’re any good. And then, when someone who you admire and you think is really smart tells you, Yeah, you know, this is good, it really helps you to continue and to grow in your craft. And that’s what Dennis did for me. And not just me. You know, he did it for a lot of other writers, too. So, I think if it weren’t for him, I probably wouldn’t be a writer. And because Kumu Kahua Theater was there, you know, they were interested in my work, right away. So, my very first play was produced, which you know, for a playwright is …

 

This was college, it got produced?

 

Yeah.

 

And what did you choose to write about? What was your first play about?

 

My first play was called Emmalehua. And it was about a young woman. It was set right after the war.

 

Which war?

 

World War II.  It was set right after World War II. And it concerned a young woman who had been made a hula kapu when she was a girl, and who had drifted away from that calling or that honor. And you know, at that time, everybody in Hawaii was interested in being American. And so, it was about how she came back to … her craft and art. And I really wanted to write about, you know, who I was and where I came from, and … so, that was my first play, and that got produced.

 

Was that you? Was that girl you?

 

No; it wasn’t me. I’m kind of a clumsy dancer. I know; it’s terrible. I’m Polynesian, and I don’t sing very well, and I can’t dance either.

 

You can write; you’re like a dream.

 

What was your second play about? Still in college?

 

Well, actually, the second produced play I worked on was in collaboration with Dennis Carroll, Robert Nelson who was a musician, who just recently passed away, and Ryan Page. Dennis wanted to do a play about Kaiulani. so, that was the second play that I worked on. Although that play is not really mine, because there were so many people contributing to it. And the next play I wrote was The Conversion of Kaahumanu, which has been produced in a lot of different places.

 

That’s a great theme that you chose. Conversion meaning to Christianity of this alii of the Hawaiian government.

 

Well, at that time, I had three part-time jobs when I was going to school. And you know, I had to work so hard to get an education. I had these two kids, and you know, I was going to graduate school fulltime, and you know, I just don’t know how I did it. And my husband doesn’t know how we did it either, but we managed to do it. And one of my part-time jobs was working at the Mission Houses Museum; I started there as a guide. And they had a living history program that interpreted the interaction between Hawaiians and missionaries. And I loved working there; I loved the people I was working with. I was working with Deborah Pope, who is now the director of Shangri La, and Glen Grant. He was working there, too. And so, we were actually the principal role players in this program, and so, we had to do a lot of research about that time period. And that play, you know, it just kind of came to the surface.

 

She was often blamed by many Hawaiians for going away from Hawaiian spiritual values to Christianity.

 

I think that one of the reasons she chose to ally herself with the missionaries is that, you know, there was a lot of gunboat diplomacy then, and a lot of Westerners considered Polynesians, not just Hawaiians, but all people with dark skin, less than human. And becoming Christian was one way of showing the outside world that, No, we’re human.

 

One perspective that comes out in your play is that, you know, for those who think that the Hawaiians at the time in leadership were just being squashed and put down by White people, that’s not true, you believe.

 

I don’t believe that. I mean, I believe that our alii were doing the best that they could for the people, and that it was a really, really hard time. And I hate these histories that make it seem like, you know, Hawaiians were being kind of led around by the nose by all of these people and weren’t savvy and smart enough to see what was happening, and try to make the best decision that they could.

 

Political and racial conflict in Hawaii are common themes in Victoria Kneubuhl’s plays. Her topics include modern controversies over iwi, or bones, and the overthrow of the Hawaiian Monarchy. The latter was a five-act, fifteen-hour play staged on the steps of Iolani Palace. Kneubuhl says she often hears the voices of her protagonists in her head.

 

I’d love to hear you talk about structuring a play. Because I wouldn’t know how to go about condensing all those years, and continents, and time.

 

Yeah. You know, structure in playwriting is probably the hardest element. You know, when you first start learning about playwriting, dialog, character, those things come pretty easily, because we know them all. You know, we just have to listen, and we can hear what people talk like. And we know characters. You know, we know what other people are like. So, those things come pretty fast. But structuring a play is, I think, a constant challenge to a playwright.

 

You’ve got one stage. You can determine the number of acts, I presume.

 

Yeah; you can determine the number of acts. You can figure out how many characters you want. Although these days, for the commercial stage, you know, they don’t want a lot of characters in a play anymore, because they don’t want to pay. So, writing for the community theater has its advantages. You can have as many characters as you want, and nobody’s gonna care. But you basically have the stage, and you have dialog. That’s it. I mean, you have some lighting, and you have some props, and you know, you can have some sound effects. But pretty much, you’re telling your story through dialog.

 

What is that like, when you sit back on opening night? I’m sure you’re not sitting back; you’re probably sitting forward. What is it like seeing it unfold?

 

You know, opening night isn’t really the night when I’m the most shocked. There’s a point in rehearsals where the actors are off book, where they’re not holding their scripts anymore, and you first see your play being acted out by people. Something that was just inside your head is now out there. And I always feel like, oh, my god, my underwear is hanging on the line, and everybody’s looking at it.

 

Because it comes from deep inside you.

 

Yeah. And it’s kind of the first time it’s exposed out there. And that’s when I feel the most strange.

 

What are you like when you’re writing a play? Are you locked in a room with beverages? I mean, do you shut the windows and hunker down? How do you do it?

 

Well, you know, when I first started writing, I was going to school, I had three part-time jobs, I had two children and a husband, and a house to keep clean. So, I just learned to block everything out, you know. And while dinner was like, on the stove, I was at the dining table writing away. And I just learned to, like, close things out and you know, kind of focus on what I was doing. Because I didn’t have the luxury of anything else.

 

Do you think in retrospect, that helped you? That you could work it into your life.

 

Yeah; I think it did a lot. And when I hear people say, Oh, if only I had some time, I could go away; I just laugh, you know. Because if you really want to write, you just sit down and write.

 

And Victoria Kneubuhl has added novels to her writing portfolio. At the time of our conversation in the summer of 2015, she was working on her third book in a murder mystery fiction series set in 1930s Honolulu.

 

Did you leave playwriting behind, or did you decided to take a break and write novels, mystery novels?

 

Well, I could never leave playwriting behind, because that’s where I started writing. But at some point, I realized, gosh, my plays are pretty serious, you know, and I really need to have some fun with my writing, so I think I’ll write a mystery. Because you know, when I want to relax, my escape literature is, you know, old-fashioned cozy mysteries. And so, I decided to try and write a mystery. And actually, I’d started another novel too, and I couldn’t finish either of them, and I had to pick one to finish. So, I decided to finish the mystery. I was finishing the mystery, and you know, I had no idea how to find a publisher. And UH Press had published my book of plays, so one day, I was in Safeway and was looking for mayonnaise, and I saw my editor, the editor of my playwriting books there. And I was talking to her, and I said, Oh, you know, I’m writing a mystery; do you have any suggestions about where I could send it for a publisher? She looked at me kinda suspiciously and she said, Did you know we’ve been kind of thinking about doing a mystery series? I said, No. And I don’t know if she believed me or not. But she said, Well, we are, so send it to me. And so, then I really, you know, finished it. Because I had that incentive.

 

And you put many places, places that you know well into their settings. You actually have the curator of Bishop Museum killed in the museum.

 

Well, you know, because I worked in the museum field for so long, I knew that that field pretty well. So, I made use of it. You know. And I really feel that novel writing, you know, even when it’s fiction that’s kind of a genre fiction, mysteries … those kinds of stories preserve history in their own way. You know, they tell us a little bit about the past in a really different way.

 

You put the Haleiwa Hotel in your in your novel.

 

Yeah.

 

Which really existed.

 

Yeah. Yes, and just the way people related to each other. You know, I mean, I feel so fortunate to have known the kind of kupuna that aren’t with us anymore. So, I think fiction is a wonderful place for preservation, too.

 

We’re coming to the end of a really wonderful conversation. I don’t know if there’s anything you wish you could have a chance to say to people, or that hasn’t been brought out, or just any thought that you’d like to share.

 

One of the things that I really want people to know, who would like to be writers, and who would like to write, and who are from the islands or the Pacific, is that our stories are so worth telling. And that, you know, it doesn’t matter if you don’t make the best-seller list in New York. If you write something that is heartfelt and genuine, you are leaving a gift for your community.

 

It’s tough to make a living as a playwright in Hawaii, and Kneubuhl has always had a day job. She’s been the Curator of Education at the Mission Houses Museum, and she taught playwriting at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Since 1993, Kneubuhl also has written and produced episodes of the television series Biography Hawaii. Mahalo to Victoria Kneubuhl of Maunalani Heights, 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.

 

Let’s move to something that occupies a lot of your time today, and it’s a passion and a hobby involving dogs.

 

Yes, I’m a crazy dog person. You know, my husband and I really got interested in dog training a few years ago. There’s a new sport, it’s really popular on the continent; it’s called nose work. And it’s the same training that those, you know, real working dogs at the airport do. But you train the dogs to sniff out legal substances, and they’re oil essences. And there are different levels of competency that your dog can aspire to.

 

[END]

 

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