Waianae

ASK THIS OLD HOUSE
Hawai‘i Makes 50

 

That makes 50! A visit to O‘ahu completes the show’s run of every U.S. state. Tom learns how to create a unique keepsake box from island materials in Build It. Richard looks at a new way to store solar energy. Roger helps a Wai‘anae family grow an organic garden with the help of MA‘O Organic Farms.

 

SIMPLY MING
Hawai‘i – Ed Kenney

SIMPLY MING: Hawai‘i - Ed Kenney

 

Coconuts, opah and plantains are featured in this episode’s dishes. Ming catches up with restaurateur Ed Kenney at MA‘O Organic Farms in Wai‘anae, O‘ahu, to harvest ingredients and coconuts for dishes and drinks.

 

Off the Menu:
Asian America

 

Discover the wealth of stories, traditions and unexpected characters that nourish this nation of immigrants, and go into the kitchens, factories, temples and farms of Asian Pacific America to explore how the bond with food reflects community. Included is a visit to MAʻO Organic Farms in Waianae, Oahu.

 

INSIGHTS ON PBS HAWAI‘I
State House District 36 / State House District 43

 

INSIGHTS brings together two election opponents in a rematch to represent State House District 36, the Central O‘ahu communities of Mililani, Mililani Mauka and Waipi‘o. Incumbent Republican Beth Fukumoto is being challenged by Democrat Marilyn Lee, who held the seat for 16 years.

 

We’ll also feature a contest in a West O‘ahu district represented by a Republican incumbent. Rep. Andria Tupola is facing Democrat Stacelynn Eli as both seek to serve District 43 – Wai‘anae, Kalaeloa, Ko ‘Olina and Ma‘ili.

 

Your questions and comments are welcome via phone, email and via Twitter during the Live Broadcast.

 

Phone Lines:
462-5000 on Oahu or 800-238-4847 on the Neighbor Islands.

 

Email:
insights@pbshawaii.org

 

Twitter:
Join our live discussion using #pbsinsights

 

INSIGHTS ON PBS HAWAI‘I
Hawai‘i Island Mayor / State House District 44

 

Harry Kim, who previously served two terms as Hawai‘i County’s Mayor, will be returning to the seat, with a 51.6% outright win during last weekend’s Primary Election. Hawai‘i County’s Mayoral race was a crowded one, with 13 candidates vying for the office. Kim is scheduled to appear for this discussion.

 

The show’s second half will focus on State House District 44, covering the Leeward Oahu neighborhoods of Wai‘anae, Makaha and a portion of Ma‘ili. Democratic candidate Cedric Gates beat out incumbent Jo Jordan, the only incumbent to lose her seat during the primary. Gates faces Republican Marc Paaluhi in the General Election. Gates and Paaluhi are scheduled to appear for this candidate discussion.

 

Your questions and comments are welcome via phone, email and via Twitter during the Live Broadcast.

 

Phone Lines:
462-5000 on Oahu or 800-238-4847 on the Neighbor Islands.

 

Email:
insights@pbshawaii.org

 

Twitter:
Join our live discussion using #pbsinsights

 

HIKI NŌ
Hosted by Punahou School

 

This episode of HIKI NŌ is hosted by Punahou School on Oahu.

 

Top Story:
Students from Ka Waihona o ka Naauao Public Charter School on Oahu tell the story of a second-generation Waianae farmer who brings people together with a traditional Hawaiian paina (party) that he hosts at his home each fall. Family, friends and community members gather to prepare the meal and to share in giving thanks.

 

Also Featured:
Students at Waipahu Intermediate School on Oahu show how children at the oldest elementary school in Waipahu complex are benefitting from the addition of new classrooms; students at Kealakehe High School on Hawaii Island spotlight the school’s Triathlon Club, which trains students in the multi-discipline sport and inspires others to get active; Students at Kalani High School on Oahu demonstrate a simple way to get started on Instagram students at Waialua High & Intermediate School on Oahu showcase how local artisans have transformed a North Shore art gallery into a work of art; students at Mililani Middle School on Oahu follow the trail of invasive little fire ants in their community; and students at Waianae High School on Oahu tell the story of a City and County lifeguard and his quest to save a program that teaches young people how to become lifesavers in the ocean.

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Alice Greenwood

 

Original air date: Tues., Jan. 21, 2014

 

“It takes a village to raise a child.” For Alice Greenwood, it’s a theme that repeats itself throughout her life. In this conversation with Leslie Wilcox, the Waianae community advocate talks about how a series of unforeseen events left her homeless for nine months. Through stories of illness, racism and squalor, Greenwood touches on themes of courage, determination and compassion.

 

Alice Greenwood Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

My father was pure Hawaiian, and so was my mother. And I remember when he did our delayed Hawaiian birth, he says, I lied throughout the whole thing. So I says, Why, Dad? He says, Because according to the State, he needed witness, so he asked his sisters to confirm that they were present at my birth. He says, But it was only me and your mom. He says, But I needed witness, so they lied throughout the whole thing. And I says, Well, that’s all right, I understand. Sometimes we gotta go according to what the systems needs.

 

Alice Greenwood went along with the system for much of her life, even when it meant homelessness. Today, Alice is a respected advocate for environmental and social justice in the Waianae community. Alice Greenwood, 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. People become homeless for many different reasons. For Alice Greenwood, a series of unforeseen events, one thing after another, caused her to lose her home. Yet, her experience with homelessness is only a small part of her life story of resilience and discovery. Alice Ululani Kaholo Greenwood was born on Maui, the sixth of ten children. When she was five, her mother contracted tuberculosis and was sent to a sanatorium. Most of Alice Greenwood’s siblings stayed on Maui with their grandmother. Alice and a brother moved to Oahu.

 

I was raised all over Oahu. I attended Waianae School, and that was kindergarten. Then half of kindergarten, I went to Barbers Point. Then half of that, I went — I mean, I traveled so many different schools.

 

Is that because you were living with your father?

 

I was living with my father. He was a custodian for DOE. He worked over at Waianae Elementary, then he worked at Barbers Point. And then, they transferred him over to Kalihi, Kalihi Waena, Kalihi Uka. He always was constantly working. When he would have drinking during the weekends when he drinks with his friends, he would ask them, Oh, do you have children? Yeah. Would you mind having one more child? He has a wife and his children, so I ended staying with them.

 

For how long?

 

Depends; sometimes for the summer. Majority was for the summertime.

 

So, he was drinking with guys, and he said, Would you take my little girl home with you?

 

Yeah. And he paid them for my upkeep and everything.

 

How did that make you feel?

 

To tell you the truth, I felt they were my aunties and uncles.

 

And they treated you well, all of them?

 

Yeah. I was part of the household.

 

M – hm.

 

Except for one incident I remember in Kalihi, when I seen the girl, the mother would always lovingly do her hair. And so, what I did for the weekend — that’s when I was going go Kalihi Uka. So, what I did is, I turned in bottles and got my own bobby pins, and tried to do my hair. And then, it didn’t turn out the way it should be. And then, I realized there’s a difference between my upbringing and the children that I lived with.

 

And what was it like for you, going to all those different schools, different areas?

 

It was hard; very hard. I didn’t know my ABCs until I reached maybe like the fourth, fifth grade. I didn’t know there was any numbers past twenty. So, it was very hard. And then, to try to put it into words was even harder for me.

 

Did you have anybody to talk with during this time, an adult who kind of watched out for you, besides your dad, who sometimes wasn’t there all summer?

 

I had a sister, a stepsister that was staying with us off and on. And I spoke to her, but I didn’t really have anyone I could really confide with. It was, whatever you see, that’s it.

 

M – hm. ‘Cause I saw the list of schools you attended, and there were a lot of schools. You even went all the way over to East Honolulu. And that’s a major culture change. What was that like?

 

Talk about major cultural change. Yeah. I remember when I went to Kaimuki and Waialae. The living condition was so much different. I seen children with beautiful dresses. I seen the girls with beautiful dresses, crinolines. Like, it was an envy for me. And the type of shoes I had were oxford, the oxford shoes. So, when I looked at that, I was like, I wish I could be like them.

 

And the families didn’t share and share alike with you? You were sort of the guest, you brought your own stuff?

 

Yeah. Majority of the times, I brought whatever hand – me – downs, whatever I had.

 

And I don’t know your dad, but a lot of guys wouldn’t be into buying — they don’t know what to buy. Maybe now, they’re more in tune, but in those days …

 

No; my dad, he didn’t know what to buy. Sometimes, I would have clothes mismatched. Now, I look it as mismatched.

 

M – hm.

 

But at that time, I was just thankful that I had clothes.

 

When you built relationships in one home, it must have been hard to leave for points unknown, the next home.

 

Not really, ‘cause I enjoyed being with my dad and my brother.

 

So, you leave a family home for the summer, go back to your dad and brothers, and then — or one brother; right?

 

Yeah.

 

And then, did you dread the next summer when you’d probably have to go again?

 

No; I didn’t look at it that way. It’s like going on vacation, I guess. It was like exposing to something else. I always met different people; that’s the thing.

 

Did you get disciplined at these homes that you stayed at for the summer?

 

Several times; I remember several times, we were all in a group. But it’s like a neighborhood. You get yelled at; that’s all your aunties and uncles.

 

It’s the village raising you; right?

 

Yeah; a village raising me. Just like everybody had permission to yell at us, and everybody had permission to give us licking if we got in trouble. Yeah. It’s like a family, like an ohana unit.

 

Alice Greenwood did not finish high school, choosing instead to get married. She knew early on that her husband had a privileged upbringing, and she felt culture shock when he took her to live near his family in Missouri.

 

I got married when I was eighteen. No; seventeen, ‘cause my father had to sign the paperwork. And he was from a wealthy family. I didn’t know he was from a wealthy family, and prejudiced. And I remember what had happened was, I was at Rainbow Roller Rink.

 

I remember Rainbow Roller Rink.

 

Yeah.

 

You weren’t a skater, were you?

 

Well, I was trying to skate. That’s how I met him. He really fell in love with my girlfriend. He got the wrong person. And he asked me for a date. And how I knew he was a wealthy person is because in Waikiki, the car stopped. It wouldn’t go. So I says, Oh, all you have to do is push it on the side. So, he looked at me, he says, What do you mean, push it on the side? I said, Get out of the car, and push it on the side. I ended up pushing the car.

 

‘Cause he wasn’t used to doing that kind of thing.

 

No. He didn’t know what to do.

 

But you fell in love with him?

 

Yeah. I fell in love with him. The reason why I fell in love with him is because he was naïve. You know. [CHUCKLE] He seemed so innocent in lot of the things that I knew about people. He seemed like he was so sheltered.

 

And you liked that; that was attractive to you.

 

Yeah. ‘Cause I could control him.

 

Oh; is that what you liked? You liked controlling him?

 

Yeah. I felt like I could control him and everything. And then, the love was there. The love was there. And then, I had my son, and that was even more strength into it. Then we moved to Missouri. There was prejudice at that time. I didn’t know what prejudice was. What happened was, from Poplar Bluff, Missouri, we moved to St. Louis, Missouri. And because he had to go work, I had to do all the moving. This couple stopped by and he says, Do you need help? It was a Black couple.

 

M – hm.

 

And I said, Oh, yeah, thank you. And when they helped move in. My sister – in – law seen the whole works, and they didn’t help me or anything, but this couple helped me. And then the next morning, he says, My sister’s calling me Boy. I wonder why she’s calling me Boy. I said, Well, go check it out, maybe something’s wrong with her. Then he came back and he says, I heard you had these N – words, they were in my house. And I said, No, they were in our house. So, he says, Well, I don’t want them here. I says, Guess who’s coming for dinner? And he says, You’re not gonna have ‘em in this house. See, the thing is, he did the wrong thing. He was speaking to me while I had the iron pan in my hand.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

I was cooking breakfast. And he says, No, you’re not. I says, Really? Watch this. I hit him over the head with it. He went next door, called his brother – in – law. He came over. I says, What you here for? He said, What you went do to my brother – in – law? And I said, This. And I whacked him too with the iron pan.  And then, my sister – in – law came over. So, they called the cops. And I remember trying to fight with all of ‘em. And the chief of police turned around and he says, Hey, you, what’s the matter with you? And I looked at him, and I said, I married one of your kind. So, he helped me. He said, You know, Alice, being that your in – laws are wealthy, I would advise you to get on the plane and go back to the islands.

 

So, you did take that advice and get on a plane?

 

Yeah.

 

Did you ever look back?

 

Well, I was offered a million dollars for my son, ‘cause I brought him with me. And I told them, no thank you.

 

Alice Greenwood met her second husband after she returned home. But a devastating accident disabled him. Eventually, the marriage disintegrated. She spent the next twenty – five years of her life with James Hatchie, a retired Marine, who stepped into the role of father to her children. For the first time, Alice Greenwood had stability in her life, and she began to blossom in new ways.

 

He was my next door neighbor. And over time, he started taking care of the children too when go to work and everything. And then we got close. We never got married, you know, though we ended up staying with each other and everything. I think the whole idea was, ‘cause he was on pension, and I was working, and he didn’t want to give up his pension pay.

 

This is the former Marine.

 

Yeah, the Marine.

 

What was life like for you and him, and the kids?

 

He was very, very stern with the children. We had a little farm, and they had to do their chores. ‘Cause he took care of them. And he was the one that did the cooking of the house, too. And he would take us camping all around the island. He would choose like, Okay, this year let’s go to Waimanalo. And we’d go over there, and he would teach the children how to like, pick up pipipi, opihi, all those things. And we would be singing, and and he would tell us stories. And he was a very much matured person. But he taught me the correct things that I needed to know.

 

Which were?

 

How to raise children, for one thing. He also made sure that the rules in the house, that we all eat together. And if we have any problems, then we say it right there.

 

You hadn’t had that kind of family structure in your life at all. So, now, your life is very stable. You share a home, and you’ve got a job, he’s got a pension, he takes care of the kids. So, are you feeling happy at this point?

 

Not really, because he was an educated person. You need to get your GED. You need to know what’s happening in your neighborhood, your community. And he was the person that made me an activist. Like with the birth, death, marriage certificates. It went from two dollars to ten dollars. He said, Are you going to let that happen? I said, Yes. It’s one of those things, the Legislature is the one saying that we gotta do it. He said, But they want to raise it again. He said, Are you gonna let that happen? And then, when I was riding a bus coming home from attending my school over at Honolulu Community College, I seen this young girl crying, a young couple. So, I told him, Is she okay? He says, Well, with the way of the price of the birth, death, marriage certificate, we’re from the Island of Niihau, and we don’t know our family, but we want to get us benefits for Hawaiians, like Hawaiian Homes, education, and all that. We have to prove our lineage. He says, Ten dollars; do we pay for food, hospital bill, or for the certificate to prove we’re Hawaiian? I went home and I told that to my husband, he says, Well, what are you gonna do about it? I said, I can’t do nothing. He said, Go to the Legislature and fight it. So, today, that’s why we only pay ten dollars. Otherwise, we’d be paying twenty – five dollars today.

 

You figured out how to submit the testimony, who to see, find your way around that square box of a building.

 

And, like I said, the hardest thing was for me to put it in words, and to put things together. But he taught me how to do it. He even taught me how to fight the courts.

 

And he thought you had the stuff to be a community activist, and he was right.

 

I don’t know whether he trained me that way, or whatever it is, but he always told me; he says, If you don’t ask the questions, you will never know.

 

James Hatchie passed away in 2001. Only one month before that, he had persuaded Alice Greenwood to raise his newly-born nephew, James Daniel Makalii Hatchie, whom she later adopted. Not long afterward, the house she had rented for thirty – five years was sold, and she could not afford the jump in rent from three hundred dollars to almost one thousand dollars a month. Her other children had grown up, moved away, and were unable to help.

 

In 2005, June, I became homeless. I moved down the beach; I lived at Maili Beach Park, thinking like everybody else, it was only gonna be for a little while. I didn’t realize the rent, ‘cause I was paying only three hundred. At five hundred ninety – nine dollars, I could afford it. But the rent was over eight hundred to a thousand dollars. So, five hundred ninety – nine dollars, I couldn’t afford it. So, when I moved to Maili Beach Park, it was a pop – up tent. There was a man that was sleeping; he was homeless, and you had all the rest homeless people that were surrounding me. Anyway, when he got out of his tent, he seen me and he says, Do you have anything? And I says, No, not really. He says, I’ll be back. So, he went, and he came back with breakfast, the most delicious breakfast my son and I ever ate. And you know what? It was a weekend, so my son didn’t have to go to school. And then, he came back with a one – man tent. And then before you know it, everybody around there gave me some baskets, and everything. They formed a little bed inside, and then they had a stove. And he also came back with lunch. And they taught me how to live on the beach.

 

You found another village.

 

Yeah. But the problem with this is that there were drug addicts and alcoholic guys all around me.

 

Single woman, young boy.

 

But, the other part of it; even though they were on drugs and alcohol, they cared for me and my son. Especially for my son; they really cared for him. They made sure that I was protected, they ensured that I have the right things to live with.

 

You didn’t have any trouble?

 

No. I had problems with the people outside that was looking in.

 

What kind of problem with them? Saying you can’t pitch your tent over here? That kinda thing?

 

Yeah. They would come and harass the homeless in my area.

 

You’re talking about official people?

 

Not only official, but other public people come and harass them.

 

Saying you shouldn’t be on the beach, because we want to use the beach?

 

Yeah. Oh, you guys over here, how come, you guys lazy. Everything that I was calling the homeless prior before I moved down the beach, alcoholic, drug addicts, lazy people. Exactly the words they were using on me and the people that surrounds me. So, I knew what everybody was talking about. But like I said, my husband taught me, and taught me well.

 

One of the stories about you that is just so classic is, how you took care of the restrooms at Maili.

 

Yeah. See, like I said, among us, we had lot of the drug, alcoholics. We also had women that were selling themselves. And the only way they could really do it was in the bathrooms. I remember the woman next to me had brought down her two daughters. And when they used to go and take a shower at night, we had all this activity happening. And then one day, I said, No more, no more. Before the girls go to school in the morning, I am getting up four o’clock in the morning, I am cleaning that bathroom.

 

Were there still activities going on in the bathroom while you were cleaning?

 

I am cleaning up the bathroom. They didn’t like it. I said, I’m sorry, but I’m cleaning up the bathroom.

 

So, you were in there, and you’re getting in their way.

 

Yes.

 

You’re discouraging them from whatever they were doing.

 

I ensured that I got in their way, to make sure that the bathroom was clean.

 

But, you were interfering with commerce; right?

 

Yeah.

 

Were you personally afraid?

 

No. Because the attitude of everyone, I guess, being my age and everything. Like I said, when my car broke down, they helped me. When I had my injury, going from the car to where my tent is at, I was looking at all the groceries that I need. This guy, being drunk and everything, he said, Oh, don’t worry, I’ll handle. And he carried the whole thing, put it on the table.

 

Did you limp? What was your injury?

 

I limped. I have a herniated disc on my neck and lower back, and it’s spinal.

 

I would think cleaning the bathroom would be really hard on your injury.

 

It was. But I was looking at the children. I was looking at the two girls. All I could see was their faces. And I was determined that they were gonna have a clean bathroom.

 

So, what happened?

 

They had a clean bathroom.

 

People moved out, they took their business elsewhere?

 

Yeah; they took their business elsewhere and everything. And then, a month later, the men’s bathroom was so sparkling, you wouldn’t believe. In fact, before you walked in, they sprayed your leg with Pine – O.

 

So, did you do the men’s room too?

 

No.

 

Somebody else did the …

 

The men did their own.

 

So, they picked up and they said, That’s a good idea, we’re gonna do that too?

 

And that’s what they did. And then, it ended up going into the campgrounds, where they ended up lawn – mowering, cleaning up. All the park people had to do was come over there and give us trash bags. We even put the trash bags real nice, cleaned up the parking lot.

 

That’s a wonderful story. What’s your sense of who was living there? You mentioned drug addicts and mentally ill people.

 

Yes.

 

What about people, you know, and —

 

And kupuna.

 

And kupuna who just have fixed incomes or no income.

 

Several times when the police officers would come, they fell short of their quota for giving tickets, and they would give it to the homeless. And lot of the homeless was the elderly. Our young ones can run; the older people couldn’t. I had a ticket, too. When I went to court, there was thirteen of us, and was all the elderly except for one young girl who had a baby. So, we all had a ticket. And then, everybody was telling me, Just pay the twenty – five dollars, and you’ll be let go. So, I said, Oh, okay, I’ll listen. And when I went up there, the prosecuting attorney told me, How do you plead? I said, Not guilty. And she looked at me and she says, Well, I’ll plea bargain with you. You pay just twenty – five dollars, you admit to trespassing on private property. I said, No, ma’am; I’m in a public park. And what the police officer got me for was for not camping in a designated campsite. I am in a campsite, Campsite 1. But you need to follow the park’s rules. I said, What the police officer got me on was for not camping in a designated campsite. And when you stated you plea bargain with me, you just broke the law. So, we went back for trial, she asked for a continuance. The judge says, Denied. Looked at me and he says, Not guilty, with prejudice.

 

Meaning, the prosecutor couldn’t bring it up again.

 

Yeah. See, I had done my research. I found out that under the State of Hawaii Constitution, Article 12, the Splinter Paddle Law, under the police badge holds the insignia of the splinter paddle. What is the splinter paddle? Men, women, and children may lie at the roadside without any harm.

 

What about people who just don’t want to follow the rules; did you see people like that?

 

Oh, yeah.

 

They could have done life a different way, but they just chose to occupy the beach.

 

Yeah; we had all of those, all of those in our neighborhood. But, when you have people determined that the place is gonna look good, even the hardhead stubborn ones would either move out, or they will change. Because the men rose up to be our men. They really ensured that the place was properly kept. I guess we ended up having pride in the area we was living.

 

Alice Greenwood lived at Maili Beach Park for nine months before moving to an emergency shelter, and later transitional housing. Today, she rents space in a home where she and her son, now a teenager, have their own rooms. Being raised by a village has been a recurring theme in Alice Greenwood’s life, whether it was as a child sent off to live with new aunties and uncles, or as a homeless mother who, along with her young son, was taken care of by people who often had even less than she did. In return, Alice Greenwood has given back to her community, from cleaning public restrooms to fighting for social and environmental justice. Mahalo to Alice Greenwood of the Waianae Coast for sharing her story of resilience with us. And mahalo to you for joining us. For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha, a hui hou.

 

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

 

As you look back at your life, what are you most grateful for?

 

I think change, and being homeless.

 

Being homeless is one of the things you’re grateful for?

 

Yeah. It taught me the compassion of life. When I was homeless when I was small, it was different. But when I’m homeless as an adult, I find out that was the best education I ever had in my whole life. It taught me about people. It taught me about the right and wrongs, and not to judge.

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
The Maunakea-Forths

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: The Maunakea-Forths

 

Original air date: Tues., Oct. 6, 2009

 

Farming for Self-Sufficiency

 

Kukui and Gary Maunakea-Forth created MA’O Organic Farms with the belief that developing self-sufficiency would not only stimulate economic development, but provide opportunities for Waianae youth through reinforcing the value of aloha ‘aina. They talk to Leslie about how it all began, their successes, and how farming can help heal a community by reconnecting it to its culture.

 

The Maunakea-Forths Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

GARY: I think the first place it came down to was the fact that we weren’t growing our own food. We definitely worried about the kids in our community, but I think because we saw all this land that was being wrongly used. And so we just kept asking ourselves, Why aren’t we feeding ourselves?

 

Kukui and Gary Maunakea-Forth, a married couple of common purpose and ideals that led to the formation of the largest organic farm in Hawaii…next on LONG STORY SHORT.

 

Aloha and welcome to LONG STORY SHORT, I’m Leslie Wilcox. The Waianae Coast is home to Mala ‘Ai ‘Opio, or youth organic farm, MA‘O for short. It’s the creation of KUKUI and GARY MAUNKEA-FORTH. Today, nonprofit MA‘O Organic Farms grows more than 25 types of certified organic fruits and vegetables in Waianae’s Lualualei Valley and it supplies some of Hawaii’s most celebrated restaurants and natural food stores. MA‘O Farms’ innovative internship program also nurtures and \ supports the training and college education of young adults as future farmers and leaders in the community. A love of sport and travel set in motion the union of Kukui, a native Hawaiian raised in Nanakuli, and Gary, a former banking industry employee from New Zealand. He first came to Hawaii to play rugby in the late 1980s. The couple forged a partnership to help rejuvenate the Waianae Coast community. Each partner was moved by a longtime passion for social justice.

 

GARY: I guess growing up, New Zealanders are sort of an alternative lot. A little bit feisty, and a little bit like the underdog; and so as a kid growing up, New Zealand went nuclear free probably thirty years ago. So I grew up there as a kid. And then New Zealand plays a lot of rugby against South Africa, so during the end of the apartheid years, there was a lot of politics going on in New Zealand. So that stuff sort of sobered me to the realities of the world, they were used as teaching things when we were in secondary school, we were in high school. So coming to Hawaii, I thought I was coming to paradise. And I did. I mean, it is paradise. But there’s obviously a few social issues going on here that I didn’t know about, and I think the rest of the world doesn’t know about. And so when I got here, I started to get to twenty-three, twenty-four, and I thought I would go back to university. And so I had some friends on the rugby team here, and I ended up going back to the University of Hawaii for both undergraduate and grad school, and that was probably the best thing I ever did.

 

What did you major in?

 

Environmental studies and political science. And I think this was back in the early 90s; this was when people started to talk about sustainability and about the carrying capacity of Hawaii and whether very popular things like tourism, were really having a diver—having an adverse impact on Hawaii.

 

Was your interest in social justice, is that what took you out to Waianae? Is that how you find your way out there?

 

Yeah. I think I was in grad school, and I got a job working in Waianae, it was not a social activist type of job. It was like an ecotourism type of job. But I’d been going to Waianae before that, because I liked to surf, and I was surfing Makaha. I got to know Eric Enos fairly well, and I went to the taro farm quite a lot. And then a couple of guys on the rugby team used to box, and Waianae has got a great boxing club. So we used to go and watch them box in Waianae.

 

And where did yours and Kukui’s paths cross?

 

GARY: I was working for an organization that did community development projects. And I remember knowing her fairly well, but really getting to know her through some community visioning sessions where she kinda called me out of the meeting, and—

 

KUKUI: I did?

 

GARY: Uh, yeah.

 

KUKUI: No…

 

GARY: I remember sort of clearly that—

 

KUKUI: That wasn’t me.

 

GARY: —that I was part of a group that was advocating ecotourism on the Waianae coast.   I think she asked me a question like, What is this gonna do for our coral reefs?

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

Do you remember that?

 

KUKUI: Yeah. [CHUCKLE] I did.

 

You called him out.

 

KUKUI: I did; many, many times. May—

 

GARY: Yeah; and it was a good question.

 

KUKUI: But definitely, what we connected on were some of the things that was going on in the community at the time. And I couldn’t quite wrap my mind around some of the issues. We were going through this momentous growth as a community, we were struggling a lot with educational attainment for youth. We were going through a lot of things, around the aina, about the exploitation, and sort of coming from that history of sort of anti-development on the Waianae coast, it just seemed like we had a lot in common in terms of how we were speaking about how people and place needed to be reconnected. And, the experiences that he talked about early on, it sparked my imagination.

 

While Gary was growing up in New Zealand, what about your upbringing?

 

KUKUI: I grew up on Hawaiian homestead land. Our growing up was wonderful. We were one of the first homesteaders in Nanakuli. I think my grandmother moved there in 1931. And so many of the things that she had gone through, in growing her own family and her own household was within the context of growing a brand new community. And because of her manao and mana as a kupuna, she was a native speaker, she was well acquainted with laau lapaau, with Hawaiian medicine, all the practical things too of how to plant, how harvest and cook, how to really live off of the land, and live with very little. Growing up with her, I was able to capture some of that in my learnings and in the way that I developed. I think it’s a very different place. But I think some of the elements are definitely there, that it wouldn’t take that much to really reconnect the community. And I think it starts with the aina. I think that’s what sort of the forces that brought us together was that idea of appreciation. And I know Gary hasn’t sort of mentioned it yet, but he comes from a rural town where farming and growing food is a wonderful occupation. And I sort of had that similar experience of being very close to the food, and close to the land.

 

As the family started to be less close knit, the same thing happened to communities, and especially in our schools. And so our school was the same thing. I couldn’t believe that in my last year there, we didn’t have Hawaiian language, because they would not allocate budgetary funds. And here you were with a whole school full of native Hawaiian students, and—

 

A Hawaiian homestead community.

 

KUKUI: And a Hawaiian homestead community, and no Hawaiian language. And that was very hurtful. Having had that in my own family, and with my own grandma. And if she had been alive at the time, she would have been the first to be there, going, This is not pono, this is not … right. And so when the opportunity came to sort of question what had happened in the Hawaiian experience, we sort of came out and started to say, Hey, you know, we have to do something as community people. I had just started having my children then, and so that was definitely burning, and I had a lot of questions. And right around the same time, I discovered this wonderful link that I had with some wahine at UH. Mililani Trask, and Haunani Trask, and Lilikala Kame’eleihiwa; and I was lucky enough to pass right around the same time that they were organizing community around saving loi kalo making sure the olelo was taken care of. It was an exciting time. And I think people came into my life that helped me to mold … this person that’s sitting here with you today.

 

Kukui and Gary Maunakea Forth spent more than 3 years, in collaboration with friends and community members, formulating the essential touchstones that would become MA‘O Organic Farms. In the face of Waianae’s generational poverty, two main objectives emerged: growing food for self-sufficiency and empowering the area’s at-risk-youth. Both of these goals were to be achieved through the perpetuation of the Hawaiian culture.  

 

GARY: I think the first place it came down to was the fact that we weren’t growing our own food. We definitely worried about the kids in our community, but I think because we saw all this land that was being wrongly used—Lualualei Naval Base, seven and a half thousand acres are still used by the military, and the base is really closed. And so we just kept asking ourselves, Why, why aren’t we feeding ourselves? And then we dug a little bit deeper, and one of our friends who’s a soil scientist, and it turns out that the soil in Lualualei Valley is one of the most unique and nutrient rich soils in the world. And we didn’t know that, and kids in our community weren’t taught that. They’d been taught that, you know, Makaha is a great beach, and we have beautiful oceans, and we should be proud of our water, and we should be proud of our culture and heritage. But the connection to the land had been severed. And still to this day, there’s kids that come up to the farm who have never been up into the valleys. And that’s because some of the valleys are off limits. And so I think that’s where it started. And then definitely as our kids started to get a little bit older and go through the same problems that other kids were going through, our connection to what kids in Waianae, what kids in rural Hawaii are going through started to just really sort of slap us in the face. The idea that a good public education is very difficult to get in Hawaii.

 

Is that where you thought about fusing the two needs?

 

GARY: M-hm. Yeah. M-hm. We looked at the community, and Kukui at the time, in 1990, was working for the census, and then in 2000 she worked for the census after ten years. And you can tell that story a bit. But I remember her coming home and going like, Wow, things have got definitely worse in ten years.

 

And telling stories like a family in a cul de sac all sharing the same power with extension cords going from house to house.

 

That’s right; you go to door-to-door, and you really see people, and look at how they live.

 

KUKUI: M-hm.

 

Well, what were the differences?

 

And they were friends that I had grown up with, when we were children they were very poor, but you would never have known that. And because they were super smart. And I believe that one of them went on and got a masters degree, but they were very poor. And then to see the next generation so disconnected, and poorer than poor. The porch leading up to where the doorway was, when in the old home, had been demolished. And they were basically just using like a little stepstool to climb up into the house. And then no icebox. They had coolers all outside full of food, and the children were going in there to go get their food. And just dozens of electrical cords coming from another neighbor’s home, and I guess for emergency or whatever. And still ‘til today, we see people living in garages, multiple families, being told to leave, told to come. It’s just crazy.

 

Kukui and Gary Maunakea-Forth talked with young people about the ‘aina and its importance culturally, historically, spiritually. The couple drew upon the assistance of elders such as Uncle William Aila Senior and other community collaborators to help run the MA‘O Organic Farms.

 

GARY: We didn’t want to just grow food, and eat it ourselves. We wanted it to be highly marketable. Because when we analyzed our community, the state of poverty was multigenerational. And we thought that if we sell our own food for a premium price, that money wouldn’t go back into our community. And so we looked at the kind of social service kinds of things that we had been doing ourselves and that others were doing, and we wanted to add this … what at the time was called community based economic development. But we wanted to add this economic development layer that now has become social enterprise. And so that’s where it started. And we were fortunate to get a lease from the Community of Christ Church for five acres, kind of almost immediately as we started. And we wrote a business plan, and we got friends and family together, and we got a board of directors together, and we did all those things. I think the product of three years of talking and researching, and having meetings was the first two grants that we received were the first, we got a local grant from the Bank of Hawaii. And then the first two large grants were federal grants, and we got them very quickly.

 

KUKUI: There’s no one right way. And we’ve all sort of figured out this thing, that we bring everything to the table, you put it down. If your idea is better than ours, then hey, we’re gonna go with your idea. And that’s how it even happened with that very first class. And I wanted it to be this great education program, and I wanted this element of culture and this element of vocational skills being taught, and this element of community work being done. And it just didn’t happen like that at all. It was whatever, you know, resources and people that were sort of there at the time. And it started off as a ten-month-long experience, farmwork experience.

 

So who were you first enrollees?

 

KUKUI: Mostly people that we had talked to their parents at Tamura’s. Or we saw down at the beach park, and said, Hey, we’re starting a program, would you guys like to send your daughter? Oh, yeah, my daughter is graduating, and she doesn’t really have plans; sure, we’ll sign her up. Those people that were meant to be there, ended up there. And all of us growing up on the coast, the fact that there’s only eleven percent that will go on to college, that’s a small number. So what about the other eighty-eight, ninety percent that aren’t going to college? Where are those guys? We thought long and hard about who we wanted to have this opportunity and to have this experience. And it was really those that were going to become the leaders. So this eighteen to twenty-four-year-old, Waianae or Nanakuli graduate that had a desire to do something different, and to connect with not only the culture, but with a future in the community.

 

GARY: Almost every young person that has been in touch with MA‘O are—and this is pretty much the condition of the Waianae coast, the federal government calls them at risk. And if you look deep at the statistics, you’ll find that Waianae has twice the teen pregnancy rate, twice the substance abuse rate. All of these indicators are terrible, twice as bad as anywhere else. And so most of the kids that come have issues at home or in their own lives that they’ve got to deal with. On top of that, we’re told in this society that if you go and get a college education, you can get ahead in life, you can get your American dream. Most of the kids coming out of the school, public schools in the State of Hawaii, in Waianae are what’s termed remedial. So in the first year of college, they generally can’t take one hundred level classes. So what it does is add a whole year to their college experience and so they have to pay for their college, they have to somehow find the resources to get through college. And so they have to be highly motivated ‘cause when we started Ma‘o, we wanted to start it with a college program, an associate degree program. That took us three or four years to gain momentum, because when we went to Leeward Community College, initially, they were like, Well, you know, let’s do a non-credit program. And so we started with this ten-month-long program. And now the various programs we have through Ma‘o are sort of designed to be like a movement, to have this environment of entrepreneurship, of I want to get ahead, of I want to work hard, I want to give to my community.

 

KUKUI: Over time, we nurture, trust and respect, and love. And for Kainoa, who came into the program… he was a wonderful digital media specialist, and so straight out of high school from Sea Rider Productions, he was sent out into the world to unleash himself onto the college scene. And he didn’t do that well. Because William, worked at the farm, he said, Well, you know, Kainoa’s not doing anything. Why don’t you guys come and then be a part of this college program? You still want to go to college, right, Kainoa? And, Yeah, Papa, I do. And so he did. And over the time that he was at the farm, he learned along with his peers not only how to handle college, but also how to manage work and family life. Because he still lived at home. And then he went through this physical transformation. About a year ago he really started to appreciate the stuff that he was learning on the farm, and so he would take home food to cook at home. And then on Sundays, when everybody else is sleeping or having fun, he and another boy would come to the farm and help water the farm for Uncle William. And because we have wireless access, they would do their homework out on the picnic table outside of the offices. They would cook for themselves. They would go harvest some food, cook, and I think over the last year, he lost about a hundred and forty pounds. And he’ll be graduating next semester, and his plan is to go to UH and get his four-year degree. So very proud of him.

 

GARY: The cool thing is, we’ve got a ton of these stories. And we’ve got the stories of the kids that are still in the program, or have graduated, but also the kids who’ve left early. There’s a lot of kids who leave early, because mainly they find that farming is not part of what they want to do. Because the farm is set up, the work is three to four days a week, and it’s tough. And you go to college. And when kids first come to the farm, they generally come because we’re gonna help them pay for college and give them a stipend. And the farming … they could live without, some of them. And that’s part of the stereotype of working on a farm in Hawaii and the US that we had to deal with. So in 2003, I think, was our first real official ten-person youth leadership training of these young people straight out of college. And one of them went through the whole ten months, and during that ten months, he turned eighteen, and he was all over the place. He would argue with the young women. He was just growing up. And he graduated, and he did what a lot of young guys in Waianae, when they have family resources, he went to work for his uncle. And that’s what happens a lot, you know. I’m gonna work for my uncle—he’s a contractor, and he was gonna go get a plumbing apprenticeship. And anyway, it fell through, and so he came back, and he came back up to the farm and he said, Uncle Gary, I know the farm’s growing, can you give me a job? And I said, Okay, I’ll give you a job if you make your salary. We’ve gotta make more money, and that’s what you’re gonna get paid. And anyway, he stuck it out, and now he’s still with us, and he’s twenty-five years old, and he’s now the assistant farm manager … His name is Manny. He represents what we believe is the untapped potential of young men in Waianae. He could run the farm himself. I’ve seen him, talk story with Alan Wong about food, talk story with Ed Kenney about food. At one of the fundraisers, he was talking about the farm to Pierre Omidyar who’s a billionaire. He represents, I believe, what a young farmer in the State of Hawaii should be. Not just a person who’s able to toil in the fields, but he can talk about the vegetables, he can cook the vegetables, he can inspire other young people to want to do the job he’s doing.

 

Well, farming has become remarkably complex. You’ve got to be a weather person, and a scientist, and a marketer. It’s a very—

 

That—lots of fun too.

 

—tough way to make a living.

 

Gary: Well, I think, we’ve tried to take the farming and make it sexy, and make it interesting. And the best and easiest way to do that is to allow the young people do, firstly, a bit of everything. So that they a typecast, weeding a lot.

 

But they also get to do all the other jobs. And you know, packing vegetables to go to Town Restaurant or to Whole Foods is one of those things where they start to see the pride in doing it.

 

And the connections.

 

GARY: And the connection. The KCC Farmers’ Market selling vegetables, that’s the ultimate job. And we’re hoping now that the next step for us is that especially some of the young people who really have all of a sudden like farming will be farmers, and will either farm larger spaces with us, or go on by themselves. And Manny and his now wife, Summer are talking about buying a piece of property or they’ve saved a deposit to buy a house.

 

KUKUI: And I think that’s what I love most about what we do, that we’re providing this way for young people, at an early age, to build equity. It’s not just equity, financial equity, and also equity in terms of the relationships that we’re creating with other people in our community, and with the land that feeds them. So you know, it’s so nice.

 

Despite the ongoing success of MA‘O Organic Farms, there are still many challenges for the Waianae community—particularly for its young people. But for those who work the land, the farm gives them a chance to work through their frustrations.  

 

GARY: I get angry every single day at the farm when we’re sitting on … you know, we had five acres, now we have a eleven more, and I look south and I see Lualualei Naval Base with antennas everywhere. And it was tough to be angry at that, eight or nine years ago when the base was operating. But now, it’s closed. We drive past seven and a half thousand acres of land that and we have everyday normal people saying, Why aren’t we feeding ourselves. What makes it even more ridiculous is we drive past the beach parks, and we see family, friends—kids, you know, in the farm, their families and friends, our families and friends homeless.

 

KUKUI: Young people are coming from those places where there is a lot of injustice being felt. Dad losing a job because he’s too low, or he didn’t have the right educational attainment, or Sister is gonna be kicked off of welfare because she no longer qualifies; or I gotta continue to go work three jobs just to keep the lights on. We know too that some of them are the only wage earners in their homes right now. They’re going to school to make sure that they have some sort of future to get a better job, but at the same time, they’re at a very low wage sort of job. And sometimes those issues all sort of bubble up, and they come to the surface. And I think Ma‘o provides that wonderful opportunity to help them deal with it, so that it doesn’t become anger, so that there’s some constructive way to talk about how that happened to their family, to themselves. We give them an opportunity and a way to sort of come to terms with that anger. And we’ve been lucky enough to work through a lot of those issues and understand that it’s so complex that we really do need to build those times in our families, build that capacity in our youth and ourselves to take care of that.

 

In 2009, after almost a decade of hard work, MA‘O Organic Farms is expanding its acreage and its packing facilities. Kukui and Gary Maunakea–Forths’ social enterprise is not only enriching the lives of young people, it is setting a standard for sustainability in Hawaii’s future. Thank you for joining us. For LONG STORY SHORT and PBS Hawaii, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Until next time Aloha A hui hou kakou.

 

 

GARY: I think that rootedness is the first step for the young adults to really understand where they situate themselves in the world. We call it the context that they come with yeah?

 

KUKUI: We’re still learning about what is the best way to convey that, and to teach that, and to make our youth and our community comfortable with the images that both they perceive of themselves as having or being, and what outside of Waianae is looking in and seeing, or acceptance of who you are, and being okay with that, its really critical for our youth to develop well. And, you know, sometimes it’s just a matter of creating time and space for them to be able to discuss that very question. And taking us out of the decision making, and putting them into the place where they decide, and empower them to have that conversation.

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Ari Southiphong (Andy South)

 

Original air date: Tues., Jun. 11, 2013

 

Finding the Light

 

Leslie Wilcox talks with fashion designer Ariyaphon Southiphong, formerly Andy South. In the first of two episodes, Ari talks about growing up in Waianae, Oahu, discovering fashion as a career choice and landing a spot on the fashion competition show, Project Runway. As Andy, he maintained keen focus on school projects and clothing design, with questions about gender identity lingering on the backburner. In 2012, Andy changed his name to Ari and now identifies as a transgendered female.

 

Download: Ari Southiphong (Andy South), Finding the Light Transcript

 

 

Original air date: Tues., July 9, 2013

 

A Life Redesigned

 

In the second of two episodes, fashion designer Ariyaphon Southiphong (formerly Andy South) talks about her transition to becoming a transgendered female through hormone replacement therapy. Ari elaborates on the challenges her transition has presented and the insight it has given her, both personally and professionally.

 

Download: Ari Southiphong (Andy South), A Life Redesigned Transcript

 

Transcript

 

Part 1: Finding the Light

 

My name is Ariyaphon, Ari for short. And my mom renamed me. I asked her to, because it was very important for me to remain connected with my family, to remain connected with my mom. Ariyaphon means the blessing of radiant light, or the power of radiant light.

 

Which definition did you pick?

 

The meaning that she would have spelled it was, the blessing of radiant light. And the spelling that I chose translates Ariyaphon to the power of radiating light.

 

Power.

 

Honolulu fashion designer Ariyaphon Southipong, former the man known as Andy South, 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; I’m Leslie Wilcox. Ariyaphon Southiphong is one of Hawaii’s most recognized young fashion designers. Name doesn’t ring a bell? You may know her better as Andy South. In 2010, Andy South was a top-three finalist on Lifetime Television’s fashion reality show, Project Runway. In 2012, a year before our conversation, Andy changed his name to Ari and began his transition to becoming a female. A child of Laotian immigrants, Ari, then Andy, grew up far from the glamour of fashion and television. Born in Kailua on Oahu’s windward coast, Andy lived with his parents, his sister, half-sister, and two half-brothers. Andy’s parents had a tumultuous marriage. By the time Andy reached the third grade, his parents had split, his mother remarried, and the family moved to the other side of Oahu, to Waianae.

 

And what prompted the move to Waianae?

 

Farming. [CHUCKLE]

 

What kind of farming?

 

Catfish farming. Catfish, and sunfish which is —

 

Tilapia.

 

— tilapia.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

It’s a fancy word for tilapia. But yeah, so freshwater sunfish, freshwater Chinese catfish. When we first started, we actually did an above-ground tank in our back yard in Kailua, and it leaked into the neighbor’s yard. It was a huge ordeal with us running into a lot of issues. It was also our test period, right, of trying to farm raise fish and see if it would be viable for us to actually do it as a business. We eventually moved out to Waianae, and I lived there most of my life, actually.

 

What brought your parents to Hawaii?

 

A better future, quintessential immigrant parents. But more so in my mom’s case, it was specifically … she had actually come here with her first husband, who is the father to my three eldest siblings, who are half siblings for me. But they came as college students, and it was also to escape Communism. My mother, youngest of five girls, daughter to a governor. So, when the whole government was overturned, they were actually warned to leave the country, or they would have eventually been killed if they were ever caught. So, that was their reason for leaving.

 

Is there an exciting escape story?

 

No. [CHUCKLE] College. [CHUCKLE] So, they didn’t have any —

 

Visa.

 

Yeah; college visas. And at the time, they were actually coming back and forth to Hawaii for college at the University of Hawaii. And it just so happened that things with the government weren’t going well, and so, eventually, Mom based herself here and slowly, everybody was sent over, starting with the kids. So, all of my twenty-plus cousins have gone through my mom’s household, when they were in their teens going to high school, starting college. And then, their parents made their way over.

 

So, your mom was a privileged daughter of a governor, to struggling catfish farmer in Waianae.

 

Yeah; basically. My mom would talk a lot about her growing up in Laos, and a lot of things that she … I guess, throughout our lives, growing up as farmers, she would reminisce sometimes about the easier times when life wasn’t so hard, basically.

 

She had somebody tending to her all the time.

 

Exactly; yeah. But I love when people reminisce. I love old stories. I love speaking to older people. I just think that life is so interesting in the way that the stories are all different, and then you realize it’s how they have come out of situations, or how they turn situations o benefit from, and to turn them into blessings, as opposed to letting it kill them.

 

So, you’ve always kind of been attuned to coping skills?

 

Yes; I think so.

 

And resilience?

 

M-hm. And I learned that all from my mom. And my mom still is the hero that I have, which I think a lot of people can say that their mother is their hero, or their father is their hero. I think for every child, it’s very deep for different reasons. And for me, it’s because I’ve watched my mom be the strong woman that she is, and I’ve seen her in her weak moments. You know. But even in that, she had shown such great strength by not letting it show.

 

Growing up as the boy known then as Andy Southiphong, Andy found his mother’s lesson of resilience to be a valuable and recurring one, as childhood teasing led to bigger questions.

 

Do you remember some of the early things that you had to use resilience to overcome when you were a kid?

 

[CHUCKLE] A lot of teasing.

 

About what? What kind of teasing? Regular kind?

 

Yeah, well, a lot of regular teasing, which is kids being kids. I obviously wasn’t the popular kid growing up. I wasn’t athletic. I was actually a lot heavier when I was a child, so I was teased a lot for, one, my weight, for me being just naturally effeminate as a boy.

 

Did that bother you?

 

It did, but I never let it get me down. Because I think I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of mentors throughout my life, and they’ve been my teachers, a lot of my instructors.

 

What did the teachers say, or how did they let you know everything’s okay?

 

I guess it was the positive feedback that I was getting from them for my work, and for me being a good student. For them constantly telling me, You’re gonna go far. And even in elementary, that matters so much to the development of a child. Because had they not been that positive with me — and I don’t think they ever knew that I would get teased or that it bothered. I was never bullied, per se. I never was picked on, but you have other students in your class of how many really rowdy boys, and you don’t fit in with the boys. And then, if you play with the girls, that’s more reason for you to get teased, right?

 

Did you try to sound less effeminate?

 

Growing up, I did, throughout high school. It started to matter more as I grew older, and as I reached high school. Because that, I guess, is … you start to really decide who you are.

 

Or it’s decided for you?

 

Yeah; it’s decided for you based on the opinions of your peers. And I tried to; I took a weightlifting class as an elective. But I don’t think I’m the correct person to go to weightlifting.

 

And did you talk roughly? [CHUCKLE]

 

[CHUCKLE] I’m pretty sure. There were a lot of moments that I tried to. Locker room situations were awkward, because a lot of people just gathered and assumed that I was gay, and they would voice that. And so, from early on, that’s when I was like, Okay, maybe I am.

 

Did you know you were gay?

 

I did. Well, I knew that I wasn’t straight. That’s the thing. And the closest thing that I knew of to what I really am was being gay.

 

But you didn’t think that quite hit it?

 

No; never. And that’s the thing, and maybe that was the reason. That was probably the reason why I never fully accepted it. I didn’t come out to my mom ‘til I was twenty-one. Among my gay friends, my other gay male friends, I never felt like I … I still didn’t fit in. Something internally just wasn’t right. After high school, in college, I actually met more gay friends. Going out to the clubs more, meeting more of the community, that I started to meet transgender women and transgender men, drag queens or cross-dressers, that I started to realize that there’s much more to the community, than just being gay or straight, or bisexual or gay or straight. And it started to open my eyes, because then I started to get to know them. I started to get to know people for who they are. That’s never something that I allowed myself to do before, because I was so focused on school, focused on my career. And that’s how I am. When I was in college, everything was school-school-school. I was sewing all the time, I was doing extra projects, ‘cause that was my focus. And it could have been a distraction.

 

That’s what I was gonna ask you.

 

Yeah.

 

Do you think you did that as an escape from questions about identity, which are central to any young person. It’s who are you? What am I evolving into?

 

Exactly.

 

Who will I be, who am I now?

 

Well, ‘cause I knew that I had a talent that was received positively. So, I think that’s why I was always drawing, I was always creating. In high school, I always loved the big projects, the projects that every other kid hated. I loved building. We had to build these huge insects at one point, we had to make cell models. And I loved it. I spent all my money, all my allowance at craft supply stores. And on the weekends and on the school breaks, I would stay home and watch Home and Garden Television, and all these craft shows that I loved, and I started dabbling in quilting. And my mom taught me needlepoint when I was very young, so that’s where I got a lot of my initial sewing skills from. But that was my way of putting my best forward, because I knew that that was something that was very positive in me.

 

And were you consciously thinking, there’s other things I have to pursue, but I just can’t get to that right now?

 

M-hm.

 

I don’t know what it is, but something’s up with me.

 

Yeah; always. That’s always been in the back of my mind.

 

The former man known as Andy Southiphong set aside questions about identity and instead focused on finding a career that would play to his creative strength. During his senior year at Waianae High School, Andy fell in love with a career option he had not previously considered.

 

All those career days, and nobody mentioned fashion?

 

No; not at all, not in Waianae. And it wasn’t until I went to a State college fair at the Blaisdell that I found a connection with it being creative and seeing what you create being taken to a commercial sense, and being sold and being worn, and actually being utilized every day. For art to have a purpose; that was really, really interesting to me. To see something that you create become something functional in the real world. And so, after that college fair, I decided that I wanted to do fashion. That’s why I say it was serendipitous, because had I not gone to that career fair, I wouldn’t have realized that it was possible.

 

What were you looking for at the career fair? Did you have something in mind?

 

 

At the time, I was in culinary arts. And before that, it was architecture and mechanical drawing, and I had taken classes in both throughout high school as electives. And that’s because I loved being in the home, I loved to cook, I loved to do crafts with my mom. And so, I was trying to find something that was something that I loved. You’re told that you should do …

 

 

Build on what you know; right?

 

Yeah; build on what you know, choose to do something that you love, so that you’re happy.

 

Not long after that serendipitous discovery, Andy Southiphong branded himself as Andy South and enrolled in the fashion technology program at Honolulu Community College. He gained a reputation for designing edgy couture gowns. Several years after graduating, serendipity found Andy once more.

 

I think you were only twenty-three when you got yourself on Project Runway.

Yes.

How did that happen?

I went through an audition process. I had gotten a call while I was at work, and it was the casting agent for Project Runway, who had gotten my number from someone else. And they said that, We called a few people locally in the area, and they all had you at the top of their list to contact to audition. So, they invited me to audition. And even then, it was maybe a week before the deadline, and I was like, I don’t know. I had already looked into the audition process, I looked at the deadlines.

 

Was it a lot to do? Did you have to make something?

 

[SIGH] It was a lot of prep. Because you have to submit a portfolio, a digital portfolio, and you have to do a three to five-minute audition video, fill out the application, which I believe was twenty-some-odd pages. A lot. And that was like, written pages. And then, there was another forty of what you had to read for the contract. So, it was a very daunting process that I was just kind of like, Ah — I kinda wrote it off as like, Oh, I’ll try next year. But by them calling me I said, You know, what’s the worst that can happen? I’ll just continue doing what I’m doing.

 

I’ll stay up late a few nights and get it done.

 

Yeah. So, a lot of things happened just in that instant, because I knew that I listened to what I was supposed to do. I could tell that God was telling me, You need to do this because you’re getting too comfortable. ‘Cause at the time, I was working for another company locally, another fashion brand, but she was more focused on manufacturing and selling. So, not as creative, I was doing a lot of office administration stuff and shipping orders, taking orders, but really learning the business. And that’s really where I learned a lot of what I need to put into practice now.

 

And by this time, you were out of Honolulu Community College’s fashion program.

 

M-hm. I was already talking to the owner of the company about taking over. Taking over the company so she can retire, and I would have been set. I would be running another company, but it wouldn’t be the company I’m running now. And so, the fact that I acted on that gut instinct that told me, Okay, you need to do this, you don’t know what’s gonna happen but you need to do it and just be open to the possibilities. And that was me listening what I was supposed to do. The things playing out the way that they did that told me, Okay, you’re about to embark on a really crazy ride and you better free yourself up, and be open to what’s gonna come.

 

And you acquitted yourself in the way your mom said you should, with strength of character.

 

Right.

 

Was that hard to do? I mean, it must have been tempting sometimes not to make a snarky comment, as everyone else seemed to do.

 

Right. That would have been the easy thing to do. But I think I kept in mind that you’re always on camera, you’re always on a microphone, so even if you said something in private, they would ask you about it later.

 

 

And it’ll exist on tape forever, or digital records.

 

Exactly. So, I always kept that in mind, which kept me from overreacting. But I think after I grew out of my childhood tantrums and as I matured, I grew calmer in my thoughts. My friends always told me that I have a really calm demeanor about myself, that even in the thick of stress, in the thick of chaotic situations, I’m able to think logically and to be levelheaded about my reactions. And there are times when I’m running around the studio, crazy, and I’m telling people to do ten things at one time and I’m yelling at people, but most times, I’m actually much more thoughtful about my actions, and that helped me. That and also making sure that I had … many people don’t know this, about how important my faith is to me. And the more I talk about it, I think you hear it, that it plays a huge role in my day-to-day, even though I don’t talk about it and I don’t make it an Evangelistical thing. But I kept my Bible with me, and I prayed every night, and I just wanted to keep myself centered, keep myself grounded, ‘cause I knew that I was entering a place that I wasn’t familiar with. And I didn’t want to be just caught off guard and lose myself, I didn’t want to lose myself in it.

 

Rather, Andy Southiphong aka Andy South, was finding himself. At the brink of his fashion design success in Hawaii and on Project Runway, Andy was beginning to resolve those questions about his identity, that he had long kept in the back of his mind.

 

When did you discover transgender living?

 

Well, my first time doing drag was probably years into going out in the gay scene. And it’s not one of those things that had tormented me my whole life. I just knew that something wasn’t completely there, but it was never pressing on my mind all the time. So, I decided to do drag one year in Portland.

 

Was that because you’re a fashion-conscious person, or because you thought maybe you’d like to be a woman?

 

I thought that that was actually my opportunity to see if that was something inside of me that needed to come out. And along the lines of being a drag queen and being a performer, you’ve got a huge gray area of being a transvestite or a cross-dresser, which is a man who dresses up in women’s clothing, and then, transsexuals and transgender people.

 

And there are some people who really don’t know. They’re somewhere in between.

 

And there’s every different level in between being a cross-dresser and a transgender individual. So, I think that’s why a lot of the confusion comes up with people in the public just not knowing a lot, or not knowing enough. So, a lot of times, being transgender gets mixed with being a cross-dresser, and you know, you’re gay.

 

It’s a big category.

 

Right; yeah. Because a cross-dresser technically usually consider himself gay, because they still like men, they like being a man, but they like dressing up as women just to perform for fun. So, I’ve been asked many times, So are you gay? And I don’t consider myself gay. But it kinda just opens up the topic of conversation for all this gray area that can get very exhausting. And there’s a lot of different levels, but I don’t think that we shouldn’t talk about it, because every person is different. And it really should be as the person identifies himself is what they are. Because gender, sexual orientation are completely different; completely different things.

 

Talk about that, ‘cause I don’t understand that.

 

Gender and sexual orientation are different. And I think it gets mixed up, because your gender is often called your birth sex or your sex. Right?

 

Okay.

 

Meaning physically, what you have. And sexual orientation is whether you are homosexual and you like being a male who likes other men, or a female who likes other women. But gender identity has nothing to do with sex.

 

I see what you mean.

 

It has nothing to do with sexual lust, it has nothing to do with the taboo of a man having sex with what most people will call a tranny, which I find very offensive. I’ll joke around with my other sisters about it. When I talk to my sisters and referring to myself, I like to keep things light. And so, sometimes I’ll refer to myself as Trandy. [CHUCKLE] ‘Cause I’m Andy, and I’m transsexual. But even my family has had to learn a lot about, I don’t consider myself gay, I consider myself a woman who was born a male. Because I’m not attracted to other gay men. I thought I was when I was trying to live as a gay male. But I see myself with a straight man, I see myself having a real family, living as a woman, being completely that female role in society.

 

And yet, you’ve chosen not to have surgery. You’re doing hormones, right?

 

M-hm. Yeah.

 

Is there a longer term plan?

 

There’s a longer term plan, and the first steps are to get onto your hormone replacement therapy. Because it takes time, and you have to equal it to a girl going through puberty for the first time.

 

So, as you’re building a business, you’re going through this transition. And that affects even what your name is.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

You could have kept your name.

 

M-hm; yeah.

 

What made you decide not to? It’s the Andy South brand

 

Right.

 

And your name is?

 

My name is Ariyaphon, Ari for short. And my mom renamed me. I asked her to, because it was very important for me to remain connected with my family, to remain connected with my mom. And throughout the initial steps of my transition, I just wanted to be very sensitive to the fact that I wanted my mom to be as much a part of my life as she wants to be. Every mother wants to be a part of their child’s life.

 

Why did she choose that name? Does it mean something?

 

Yeah. Ariyaphon has the meaning in Sanskrit, which is the Buddhist language. She went to the temple to ask for two names; one of them being Ariyaphon. And the meaning of it, depending on the spelling, either means the blessing of radiant light, or the power of radiant light.

 

Which definition did you pick?

 

The meaning that she would have spelled it was, the blessing of radiant light. And the spelling that I chose translates Ariyaphon to the power of radiating light.

 

Power.

 

[CHUCKLE] Exactly.

 

And so, this is a personal brand. So, you have to make that distinction between, this is me, and this is me. So, essentially, your transgenderism becomes a conversation in your business.

 

Yeah.

 

It’s the first thing out there, if you’re the spokesperson.

 

M-hm. It does. The true test was, I had done this after we had started working with Neiman Marcus, which is really great for a brand, being associated with a high end retailer like that.

 

Was that a factor for them, the fact that you’d chosen to go transgender?

 

No. I actually met with them about my second collection that they were purchasing, and I had gone as female. And at the time, I wearing a wig, and I was dressing in women’s clothing. But of course, in the beginning, I was very androgynous and maybe a little bit more detectable as not being a genetic female. And I conducted the first part of the meeting with just them, just their buyer and me, that’s it. And then, midway through, we got to catch up a little bit more, and then I told them, and I said also, I mean, I’m sure you guys know this by now by coming here, that I am now living my life as a woman and I have chosen to transition and act upon what makes me happy. I just wanted to make sure that the lines of communication were open. The main thing that I told them was, If you have any questions or concerns, or anything about what I’m going through, ask me. Don’t feel that you can’t ask me because we’re professional or we have a professional relationship. I want you folks to be open with me, and I want you to know that me doing this is not gonna affect my business. But this is my personal journey that I’m deciding to take.

 

What was the reaction?

 

They were supportive. And along with everybody, everybody was supportive. Because it goes back to what my mom first told me when I had come out to her as gay. It makes so much sense, because when you allow your professionalism, when you allow your character to speak before you do, there’s no denying that you’re one that should be respected. I think that was the main thing, that was my mom’s main concern with me living the living the life that I choose to live.

 

What a groundbreaking conversation you had with Neiman Marcus. How often do those conversations take place?

 

Probably not often, because you don’t hear a lot about transgender business owners or transgender women who are in the process of making that transition as they conduct business.

 

Yeah.

 

Usually, it’s before or after.

 

A lot of people would handle it a lot differently than you did. Because, you chose to just say, Here’s the deal.

 

Yeah. And I decided that because quite honestly, I knew that I wasn’t happy internally. And I guess what I always value above everything else is that I’m living a life that I feel fulfilled, and that I feel happy. Because if I’m not happy with the life that I’m living, there’s no way that I can do good for other people.

 

Ariyaphon Southiphong currently operates her clothing line, still branded Andy South, out of her workshop in Honolulu’s Chinatown. In a future episode of Long Story Short, we’ll talk more with Ari about her life as a transgender woman. For PBS Hawaii, and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou.

 

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

 

I love fashion very much, but it’s not the only thing that I love. What I love most is actually creating opportunity. Seeing something good being done for the world, thinking that I’m gonna leave the world a better place that what it was is why I live every day. And I’m given the opportunity by having a company, by forming my company, by having the drive that I have, having the courage that I have to do it, make the choices that I’ve made, and to continue living my life, as well as living my life in a good way, and creating a lot of great things for the community and for society, and specifically with creating jobs, creating opportunity for young talent that’s coming out of Hawaii.

 

Part 2: A Life Redesigned

 

I’m hoping that me living my life in a public manner gives the opportunity for discussion and opens up the floor for people to realize that being transgender isn’t being a freak of nature.

 

Honolulu fashion designer Ariyaphon Southiphong, formerly the man known as Andy South, 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; I’m Leslie Wilcox. Honolulu fashion designer Andy South first gained national recognition in Season 8 of Lifetime Television’s reality competition show, Project Runway. In 2012, Andy announced that he was now a she, a transgendered female. Her mother renamed her Ariyaphon Southiphong, or Ari for short. Her clothing line continues to operate under the Andy South name. As of our conversation in 2013, Ari has not yet undergone gender reassignment surgery. Ari has been on hormone replacement therapy, biweekly injections of testosterone blockers and estrogen, which she plans to take for the rest of her life. When Ari, who had already built the Andy South brand, first told her mother about wanting to start hormone therapy, her mother had her concerns, based on a previous transition attempt.

 

Her first question was like, Why would you want to do this? Because she had gone through my first transition, which was right before Project Runway, and I stopped right before.

 

Were you not sure you wanted to?

 

I wasn’t sure.

 

Ah …

 

Yeah. I wasn’t sure about my first transition, because it was so quick. My body took to the hormones so quickly, the changes were coming on too fast. And I felt like I had made the decision based on pressure, or encouragement from people who didn’t really know me as well as I, thought that that person or that influence should be coming from. And so, I took a step back and I actually had a lot of resentment toward being transgender. I didn’t go out anymore, I had stopped talking to a lot of people. Because had to deal with my own internal conflict of, What did you just do to your body? A lot of things caused me to hate myself.

 

That’s what you were feeling like right before you went on the TV show?

 

Yeah.

 

‘Cause you were still centered.

 

Yeah. That’s what I was feeling right before going on the TV show. But that first transition and then off of it, I took it as, well, it was probably a lesson learned. And then, when it came up again, this was after I came back from Project Runway, and a lot of great things were happening, again that same feeling of something is missing. I had already gotten a glimpse of who Ari was. Who I was as a female.

 

Did it come to you as a visual? ‘Cause you’re a visual person.

M-hm; it did.

 

You saw yourself as a woman?

 

Yeah, I started to see her more often. I saw myself as a woman much more often, because I had that first glimpse of my first, few months on transition. In the beginning, I used to always talk about the Andy South woman, and she was always on the show. A lot of people will recall and they all became fans of that warrior woman that I was designing for. I guess what I realized was that the imaginary person I was designing for was me.

 

I see.

 

So, that imaginary Andy South woman who was a warrior. Because I felt like I had to fight for whatever it is that I wanted to do. And especially at that stage, it was such a breaking moment of my career that I think a lot of the reason why my designs came out as very hard and very defensive was because I felt like I was constantly fighting. I was constantly competing to remain in the game. And then when I came home after that initial collection — I mean, the back story to my collections are always very extensive. Because it’s about the woman and what she’s going through. And after that first collection, at the end of my first fashion show actually, the last model came out with this huge costume that was ripped away. It was about a girl going through the seasons, transitioning through winter, and then at the end breaking into the first glimmer of spring with the ice melting away and her hard exterior melting away. The next collection was extremely feminine. But I think that they made sense with the Andy South brand completely, because even though it looked like light and dark, the story was like a next chapter to this girl, where a lot of it was silk hand-dyed ombre, beautiful colors, like the water. Because I imagined this girl now coming out of this melted snow, out of this debris, like everything was frozen over and that she was coming out of this muddy, murky water, renewed and was finding a new femininity in herself. And that was in the same collection that I decided to make my transition.

 

This time, Ariyaphon Southiphong was confident about transitioning to a female body. But that didn’t make the journey an easy one.

 

Do you spend any time saying, Why me?

 

Many times. Yeah; many times. I constantly ask, Why was I born this way?   And after college, I actually transitioned from Buddhist, ‘cause I grew up Buddhist with my parents, and I became a Christian. But I understand a lot of the Buddhist teachings that my mom taught us. I constantly pray, and I constantly have conversations with God on a regular basis. And then, when I was dealing with the reality of my transition, and quite often the struggles. And a lot of people see me now, and they see me received very well in the general public. There’s a lot of things that I deal with internally that aren’t so … glamorous, they’re not positive, a lot of things that I question about myself.

 

Self doubts, you mean?

 

Self doubts; yeah. All the time. Because society is always telling you one thing, even though in your gut that you need to do the other. And especially in the beginning, I constantly prayed about, Is this right? That was my main prayer.

 

Did you have a mentor or counselor?

 

I mean, I did talk to my doctor about it, who diagnosed me with gender dysphoria, which allowed me to start my transition.

 

So, you have to say you’re mentally ill in order to begin something that you say is going to heal you.

 

Yeah. Because in the medical world, that’s the way it’s treated. You treat gender dysphoria by allowing yourself to live in the form, and attain that physical being that you identify with for your mental sake. Which when you think about it, it’s so … [SIGH] … it’s almost pitiful, when you think about it, of someone having to succumb to admitting to that, and admitting to them suffering from mental illness in order to be happy. Because I don’t think it’s a mental illness. I think that it’s just the life that I was born into. This is life. And my main conflict with God in the beginning was, like the main question was, Is this right?

 

Did you say, God, you know, You know I’m not your son, I’m your daughter?

 

Right. Yeah; exactly. I used to always ask, actually; I don’t ask anymore, because I know that for whatever the circumstances and whatever He has in front of me and before me, this is the path that He’s determined for me, and the journey that He’s already laid out, because He knows that I can handle it.

 

There are a lot of segments of the Christian church, and there are some elements which would say, Come on, that’s not right.

 

Of course.

 

I know you’ve heard it, and what do you do say?

 

I think that everyone’s walk with God is different. And especially with being a Christian, there are so many different variations, I would say. Some being a little bit more by the Bible, being closer to Catholicism. But for me, religion has always been kind of not a big question, but I’ve always been one to ask questions. And the reason why I think I’m such a strong Christian is because I found Christianity and I found God on my own. I wasn’t brought up forced to go to church. I wasn’t brought up forced to do anything religious. But I knew He was calling me. A lot of thing that happened in my childhood and my life, just aside from me being transgender, have already told me that He has been calling me back to Him, to know Him, to live my life in a way that will affect the world in a really great way. In the beginning, I used to always ask, like, Well, am I really supposed to live this life? My fear was that I was doing something wrong. My fear was that I was being selfish and acting upon my own want to be a woman. Going back to people telling me it’s a choice. People telling me that this is a decision you make, you’re not born this way. But for me to live as a straight male does not make sense. For me, it doesn’t make sense.

 

And for you to live as a gay male doesn’t make sense.

 

It doesn’t. It doesn’t anymore. Because I mean, the first thing people ask with the hormone replacement therapy is, Well, how do you change, how do your thoughts change? And for me, I just make more sense internally. My thoughts make sense, things seem more balanced.

 

With balanced thoughts and a decidedly female perspective, Ari Southiphong says she has a greater understanding of how to design clothes for women.

 

My idea of designing for women has changed, because now I’m wearing the clothing. Of course, my body is different from, your genetic female body that you have to fit, but the same things apply as far as you know, wanting to cover certain things, or wanting to wear a bra, which in college, I never really cared about. Well, the girl can go bra-less, I don’t care. Being a man designing for a woman, I didn’t have that innate sense of fashion being completely functional. You know, I always wanted, the really fashion-forward pieces, and I always designed for the very fashion-forward woman.

 

This should expand your market, shouldn’t it?

 

M-hm; exactly. I mean, as the business grows, in our first two collections, I learned a lot about our clientele, real women who bought our clothing. And I think it’s very common for students and for young designers to design for a very petite frame, for a very thin model. But the majority of my clients and my customers are older women who are not, size zero to a four. And so my design sensibility has changed according to, one, my personal transition and now being so connected with the brand, that I am the brand, but also, on the business side, designing to maintain my customer and give my customers what they want.

 

Would you do men’s clothes?

 

I have started. And that’s something I started to do before my transition for myself to wear. But I recently started to do some menswear pieces, and starting with the basics. Because I think with the women’s wear, I’ve gotten a very good grasp on the fit and the styles that I love to design and my customers love, but with the menswear, I guess I’m more focused on the fit. So, I’m doing a lot of basics, a lot of basic button-downs, cargo shorts, just to get the fit right. Because for a brand, that’s the most important thing, is that the product fits the customer.

 

I always look at, say, Vogue, and there’s some hideous looking dress on the runway, and they say, Metallics are in. And you think, Who would ever wear that? So then, your job is to convert that into something people would want to wear, using the theme or the color, or the something.

 

Exactly. The magazines will list the trends. So that’s why I always say the magazines really the ones who run the show. Because whatever they say, whatever magazines say are the trends are what the consumer will look for.

 

And then, you adapt that sense of a trend. Because you know, so many things aren’t wearable.

 

Right. Well, ‘cause fashion is a creative industry. You run the gamut from being commercial, commercially and retail-conscious of running a company, and making sales, and making things affordable. And then, there’s the extreme creative side of it, with haute couture, and handmade garments that are much more like art pieces.

 

Where do you see yourself?

 

When I first started, I saw myself doing a lot more couture, because I love the creativity of it. And I still do. And I would love to do couture gowns all day, every day, and I would love to go to France and study under a real couture house. But the reality is, to run a business, that’s not gonna be possible. I have to form a brand that’s much more wearable. And actually, I prefer to design things and manufacture them, and create them for people who love them and actually wear them. There’s nothing more exciting than seeing one of your pieces in the street.

 

So, is your ideal customer somebody like you, or is it somebody else?

 

I think my ideal customer is someone who’s like me in the sense that they’re risk takers, that they know who they are. And that’s what I base the Andy South brand off of. ‘Cause my logo is —

 

Authenticity.

 

Authenticity; exactly.

 

And that’s your life struggle.

 

Being who you are.

 

Ari Southiphong, the former Andy South, is self-assured about who she is. But she’s also well aware of the challenges that transgender dating presents, especially someone who’s in the public eye.

 

If the future is a husband and a family, how does that get accomplished?

 

Finding the right person. It’s gonna take a really, really amazing man to be that person, to know himself well enough to know that falling in love with me, or being attracted to me isn’t being attracted to a man. And I’ve met some really great couples with some of my sisters who are who are now sex-changed. They’re post-op. But a lot of times, the ones that have a really strong relationship are the ones that first started dating not knowing that she was born a man, and they built a relationship just exactly like a straight couple. And then later down the line, she has to tell them, because she can’t hold the secret in. When they meet the family, then it gets complicated, so it has to come out.

 

Yeah; but I would think that that would put you at risk for a blown-up relationship, or even violence.

 

Exactly.

 

Because you didn’t tell.

 

Yeah; exactly. So, you never know how someone’s gonna react. And not that it’s a matter of deceit and trying to trick someone into thinking you’re a genetic female, and tricking them into fall in love with you. I see it more as because of the society we live in, to have it at the forefront complicates a lot of things with people. And letting it come out over time, I think allows the person to get to know the person for the real reasons. Get to know their character. And whether they fall in love, they fall in love with that person’s personality, their strengths, their humor their beauty from within, before they completely shut the door on the fact that this person is transgender, even post-op sex change.

 

So, a lot of it is context.

 

A lot of it is context. And the reason why girls are working the streets, and they’re becoming creatures of the night is what I would say —

 

Which really puts them in position for violence.

 

Yeah. The girls who have to work the streets at night, they put themselves in a lot of danger.

 

Now, why do they have to work the streets at night?

 

Employment opportunities for transgender individuals, especially mid-transition or very early on when they’re still very androgynous, they’re very difficult to find, and it’s very difficult with the current laws. One thing that I hear from many young girls is when they get a job, if they show them their ID card with their gender on it, then they’re required to use the male restroom, or the gender marker that’s on, say, their driver’s license.

 

I see.

 

Because they’ve basically told them, I’m male. But for someone who’s living their life as a woman, that’s difficult. And that’s like kicking them when they’re down making them go into use the male restroom, for people to see that they are male. You know, that they are transgender. No matter how passable they may be on the outside with their features, the fact that it’s lingering, that’s the risk we take for living this life. And a lot of transgender deaths and murders go unaccounted or unspoken about, uninvestigated. They get swept under the rug, because it’s … sad to say that it’s just not a priority. Being transgender heightens that risk of someone trying to pick a fight with you, especially men who see you as a man and see you as a freak. So, the danger level of living a public life as transgender, it’s very high especially if you’re in the wrong place. But thankfully, I’m in Hawaii.

 

Have you ruled in or ruled out surgery?

 

I haven’t ruled out surgery at all. And ideally, if I could get everything done and be perfectly healthy, and live a full, great life, long …

 

Surgery is a risk, I guess. I mean surgery is a risk, and that’s a big one.

 

Surgery is a huge risk, and I know that my life purpose is more than just making the complete transition to being completely physically female. Because like I said, gender is internal before it is physical. When I first transitioned, it was very young of me to think that I wanted to do everything as soon as possible. I wanted to do everything quickly, so I can get on with my life and I can live my life. But as I transition, I learned to really, really love myself for the first time. And even before that, loving myself as gay male and accepting myself, it’s not the same when you finally accept yourself for who you are. And whether or not the surgery and the final—you know, ‘cause that’s like a final step to achieving the closest possible likeness of living as a genetic woman, right now, it’s not that important to me, because what’s important is my career.

 

Ari Southiphong, formerly Andy South, is also passionate about advocating for the transgendered community. Her openness about her transition comes from a strong desire to educate.

 

So, the T in LGBT stands for, what?

 

Transgender.

 

So, not transsexual, it’s transgender.

 

Transgender and transsexual are pretty much the same.

 

But I’ve read, speaking of looking things up. I read that you don’t have to have hormonal treatment or surgery to identify as transgender.

 

You don’t. You don’t have to have any procedures done, you don’t have to be on hormones to identify yourself as transgender. Like I said, gender is internal before it is physical.

 

And you know, there all these categories where you could get stuck on side streets, instead of seeing the big street picture. Like, transvestite.

 

Yeah.

 

Where does that fit in?

 

Transvestite is a gay male — or not even, it doesn’t have to be a gay male. It could be a straight male, as well, that cross-dresses.

 

So, people have to learn what transgender is, because we have all these labels. We use names we don’t even know what we’re talking about.

 

Exactly. That’s what I always encourage people to learn. Not only for the sake of me being able to share with them, but also for them to be knowledgeable, and for them to not look a fool either. That’s probably really embarrassing when you’re talking to somebody who does know what they’re talking about, and you’re using terms in the wrong context and in the wrong form. And it’s disrespectful as well.

 

I think there are very few people having conversations like this. You know, you’re open, you’re explaining something to me that I don’t know very much about. What would you say to people who really don’t have a clue about what being transgender means, and they’d like to know, and they don’t know how to talk to people about it?

 

You can research. A lot of what I did before my transition was actually research online, mainly because I needed to find out for myself, kind of unclouded by the opinion of the person sharing with me what being transgender is. But then also talking to people who are. Talk to them, because chances are, you might even know somebody who is, and you may just not know. Like, talk to them regularly now.

 

But how do you bring it up? I mean, what if they’re not?

 

Well, I mean, don’t just go and ask any random person, like, Oh, so are you transgender? You’ve gotta be really sensitive about it.

 

Good way to start a conversation.

 

Yeah. You’ve got to be sensitive about the form that you speak about it. But I think if you know somebody who is, I think asking about it is much more of a welcome thing than people might think.

 

Than tiptoeing around it.

 

Than tiptoeing; yeah. It’s much easier. I have a much greater sense of relief when people ask me about it, because I like that people are interested in knowing what it is that I’m going through. And the fact that they’re open to learning, that’s the first step to educating more people, and it’s the first step to transgender individuals becoming more a part of society. I mean, we’re steps behind the gay community, because there are a lot of things that don’t protect us, because a lot of our issues aren’t brought up and aren’t dealt with. They’re just not discussed enough to determine things and laws to be in place that are appropriate for us, but also appropriate for the rest of the community as well.

 

But on the other hand, I think people are reticent, because it’s so personal. And yet, it’s central to you.

 

Right. And I think in my case, I’m very open about it, because I realize that my life is in the public eye, that I can’t disappear and come back as a woman and expect to have the same life. So, that’s kind of the cross I bear. Alongside of the business purpose that I serve and the career that I’m building and the opportunities it offers, I’m hoping that me living my life in a public manner gives the opportunity for discussion and opens up the floor for people to realize that being transgender isn’t being a freak of nature. And I really want people to realize that, yeah, I am transgender, and I run a business. Because you don’t see that often. This life can seem difficult, being transgender, and it is. This isn’t a life that I would wish on anyone, because it’s not easy.

 

Because that’s front and center, everybody reacts to that first; right?

 

Exactly; exactly.

 

And even among very well-meaning people, and I think so many people are well-meaning, you hear all the pronoun confusion.

 

Yeah.

 

He, she, he she.

 

And my mom does that too. She still sometimes slips and calls me, he. But I understand that she raised me as a son for twenty-five years, and so for me to expect her and my family and friends to automatically change overnight, that’s selfish on my part. Me allowing myself to live my life is not selfish. It’s the right thing for me.

 

With confidence, Ari Southiphong is looking ahead, and her Andy South business is the priority. Her high end clothing brand is seeing growth. She’s forging ahead in the challenging fashion industry, while navigating new dimensions in her personal life. For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou.

 

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

 

It’s much greater than just tolerating. You tolerate your crappy neighbor, you tolerate your husband’s snoring. But to really be accepted in a community, I think, is just such an uplifting feeling that probably I’m most thankful for, is for the support that I’ve been getting from fans and from community members who have thanked me for taking a stand, and for honestly just being me.