Hawai‘i

NĀ MELE: TRADITIONS IN HAWAIIAN SONG
The Lim Family

NĀ MELE: The Lim Family

 

Our newest offering of NĀ MELE: TRADITIONS IN HAWAIIAN SONG features the hugely talented, musical Lim Family of Kohala, Hawai‘i Island. Family members perform regularly at the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, as well as the nearby Mauna Lani Bay Hotel, and they also travel often to Japan to entertain audiences and to teach hula. This program, recorded in PBS Hawai‘i’s Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Multimedia Studio, is a new setting for the Lims. But they seem at home almost anywhere, surrounded by music and family. On the program, you’ll see siblings Sonny Lim, Nani Lim Yap and Lorna Lim perform as a trio. Among the featured hula dancers are family members Namakana Davis-Lim, Brianna “Wehi” Lim Ryder and Asialynn Yap. Songs performed include “Lei Ana O Kohala,” “Ka Wahine O Ka Lua” and the instrumental “Pau Hana Rag.”

 

Program

 

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Lanai Tabura

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: Lanai Tabura

 

Named for the island where he was born, Lanai Tabura is well-known for his talents as a DJ, comedian, television host, actor and entrepreneur. Now he dedicates himself to one of his earliest passions – cooking – to share aloha across the globe through food.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, May 12, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 
Program

 

Lanai Tabura Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

I know so much about food, which is interesting. And it never came out of me until I started doing these pop-up dinners and these speaking engagements.  I did a Poke 101 class for Pinterest.  All these kids—you know, I say kids because these tech companies are all kids.  And all they know about poke is, it comes from a store.  So, I got to teach what poke really is, where it came from, how it became, and all this stuff.  And when I was done, my friends goes: How’d you know all this stuff?  I go: I don’t know.

 

So, you didn’t go look it up.

 

No.

 

You had it in your head.

 

Yeah.

 

And your heart.

 

Yes.  And your heart is the thing.  The intent; right?

 

M-hm.

 

So, I am realizing as I’m getting older, I can do anything I want, as long as there’s good intent.

 

Lanai Tabura has been doing just about anything and everything in broadcasting since his first television audition when he was six years old.  DJ, comedian, television host, actor, entrepreneur; his passion has turned to cooking, and he has dedicated himself to sharing aloha across the globe through food.  Lanai Tabura, next, on Long Story Short.

 

One-on-one engaging conversations with some of Hawai‘i’s most intriguing people: Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox.

 

Aloha mai kākou.  I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Lanai Tabura, who was named for the island where he was born, knew from a young age that he wanted to be in front of the camera.  He became a familiar name early on in his life for being a disc jockey at a popular radio station, and then for his comedy.  It wasn’t until later that he became known for his cooking, and rose to national attention when his team won the Great Food Truck Race.  Yet, cooking was one of his earliest life lessons. Lanai had to grow up quickly when his father left, and his mother went back to work.  As the oldest child, home responsibilities fell to him.

 

I grew up on a plantation.  My father left when I was young.  Three brothers.  And my mother said one day: I gotta go to work, I can’t stay at home with you guys anymore; you’re gonna have to step up.  What does that mean, you know, at twelve years old.  Step up; what do you mean?  I’m not gonna be home ‘til nine, you gotta cook dinner.  Cook dinner?  I’m twelve years old.  For three kids.

 

And how old were your brothers?

 

Makani, who’s right under me, is two years younger than me.  And then, you had Adam, which was five years under him.  And then, Stevie, which is a year under him.  So, you know, the youngest were four, five years old.  And then, Makani was ten.  You know.   So, that’s tough, you know.  And you grow up on an island where there’s not a lot of … which I think was good.  There was no fast food.  The stores closed at six.  I think the life-saver about our grocery store; you could charge.  Remember those days where you go: Oh, put it on the Tabura’s tab.

 

Exactly.

 

My mom’s tab.  And at the end of the month, you get the bill; right?  And then, you can divvy up.  But my father left with every penny in the bank and the clothes on his back.  Left us in a two-bedroom house, plantation style.  And we had nothing.  Zero, you know.  I remember when we applied for welfare, I was so embarrassed.  ‘Cause it’s Lāna‘i; everybody knows your business.  I was like: Mom, I can’t take this book to the store; people are gonna know we’re on welfare.  Today, they have a credit card.  Back day, they were pages of books.

 

But they also knew your dad had left.

 

Yes.

 

They knew everything.

 

Everybody did; everybody did.  He went to the airport and left the car.  For two days, we didn’t know where he went.  Two days, you didn’t know where he went, and then we found the car at the airport.

 

Did you ever reconnect with him?

 

Never.

 

You ever want to?

 

No, but I forgave him.  There was a point in my life where I was so angry about it. There was a point where I would go in the bathroom in high school, and cry.  ‘Cause like: Why, why?  What’s wrong this guy?  You know. And all that anger, of course, built up to bitterness.

 

And bitterness really poisons you, too.

 

That’s the word; very bitter.  And then, I was on a cover of a magazine.

 

Why?

 

I think it was for a TV show I did.  I was in my early twenties.

 

Okay; early twenties.

 

Yeah.

 

Got it.

 

It was a TV show I did, and I was on this cover. And he saw the cover, and he was in the mainland, and he wrote to the editor and said: I think that’s my son, I need to get ahold of him.  The editor wrote me like five times before I finally wrote back and I said: Yeah, that is my dad, you can send me his info.  So, the only contact I’ve had with him was through two emails.  One was him apologizing to me for what he did, and mine was forgiving him for what he did.  And I said: That’s it; you’ve finished this chapter for me, ‘cause now I feel this pressure is off, and I feel that I can move on now, the bitterness is gone.  I said: If you want to contact my brothers, it’s up to you and it’s up to them, ‘cause we’re all adults now.  So, that was my last contact with him.

 

Did he try to reach your mother?

 

No; and you know, my mother is not the type to talk bad about anybody.  So, she always made it open.  You guys want to talk to him, you can call him; you want to see him, you can see him. ‘Cause he will always be your father. But to me, a father has a different meaning.  He’ll always be my dad.

 

Right; that’s a verb.  Right? It’s what you do.

 

Yeah.

 

So, really, these are really formative things that happened to you.  I mean, things that change you.

 

Big time.

 

So, you were twelve years old thinking … Where’s the food that I’m supposed to cook for dinner?

 

Yeah; yeah.  So, if it wasn’t for my grandparents, who taught us how to grow vegetables, I don’t think we would have survived.  And my grandfather really became the father figure, even though he was a very harsh man.  He was Mr. Miyagi; everybody called him Mr. Miyagi.  He would teach you through lessons; he wouldn’t tell you.  He wouldn’t tell you that the fire is hot. He’s gonna give you a lesson, you know, or he’s gonna somehow drum up something so you go through the experience, so you get the lesson.  And then, he’ll ask you after.  That kinda guy; very old school.

 

Did you learn well that way?

 

Lots.

 

Was that a good way for you?

 

Yeah; I think so.  Now that I think about it, yeah.  But at the time, I’m like: God, you—

 

Why doesn’t he just say what he means?

 

Yeah; yeah.  Why don’t you say, you know.  I remember when I was a junior in high school, I wanted to go to junior prom. And my mom said: You can’t; we don’t have any money.  Expensive, you know, a tuxedo and everything.  And my grandfather was listening to the conversation.  And he goes: Hey, come outside.  So, I go outside.  He goes: You see this cabbage; not growing good.  Help me.  I said: What do you need me to do?  We need to till the ground.  Start tilling the ground.  Next thing you know, it’s an hour in, I’m sweating.  I’m like: How did I end up tilling cabbage?

 

What’s going on here?  Next day he goes: Tomorrow, I going come back here one o’clock. You help me; we’re gonna plant new cabbage.  So, he shows me how to plant cabbage.  This goes on for, you know, three, four months.  Comes time for junior prom.  Boy, come outside.  He goes: I need you to help me pick the cabbage; too heavy, my back sore.  I get a big bag, fill up the bag with cabbage. Let’s go to the store.  We go to the store, we sell the cabbage.  Look at all the money; I go: Grandpa, look at all this money.  What are we gonna do with it?  He goes: You go to the prom.  Three-month lesson.

 

Yeah; that is a great formative lesson.

 

Yeah.  But he did a lot of stuff like that.

 

And then, how did you learn to cook it?

 

Trial and error; trial and error.  Salt and pepper, you know.  That’s all you had.  It’s not salty enough, put more salt.  You know.  Too much pepper, put less pepper.  And then, of course, you watch your grandparents cook, you watch your mom cook when there were those days.  You really paid attention, ‘cause you didn’t want to just eat Spam and rice every day. You got tired of Spam and rice every day.

 

Did you think it was drudgery, or did you enjoy this?

 

You know what?  I enjoyed it; I enjoyed it.  It became a competition amongst the brothers.  You know, my third brother Adam became an amazing chef.  He cooked for Steve Jobs.  He’s cooked for all these different celebrities.  You know, we won the Food Truck Race because of him.

 

So, this life event that could have really unnerved you and really put you on a bad trajectory, it actually turned out to be something that became embedded in your life and a springboard.

 

The biggest blessing in disguise.  Everything happens for a reason.  And I think things would be much different if my dad was in my life.  And it could be way better, it could have been worse.  It would have been a different path, for sure.

 

Lanai Tabura wanted to be on television from the time he was a little boy.  After graduating from high school on Lāna‘i, he headed to O‘ahu to attend Hawai‘i Pacific University.  He didn’t stay long, though, because he found a new passion.

 

I went to a floor wax audition.  And it was a thousand kids, and my cousin ended up getting it.  But I was so fascinated by the concept of it.  Like: Wait, do it again?  What do you mean do it again?  You know. I was like six or seven years old. And I was so fascinated about the concept of you can be in front of this thing, and then people can watch it later. And I was fascinated about television, and I was fascinated how people can act like somebody else.  And then, you started watching television, I started watching Checkers and Pogo, and I started watching Andy Bumatai, High School Daze, and I started watching Booga Booga.  And it fascinated me how they can make people laugh, and how they can act like somebody else and make people laugh.  That was the fascination, I think.  I never thought I’d do standup comedy.  I started doing standup comedy ‘cause of James Grant Benton, Augie, and Andy. That was just a hobby.  I wanted to do standup comedy because of the timing; the timing part of it.

 

Which is the hardest part.

 

Yes.  And I found out that if you can master the timing, you can say anything you want. You can act, you can host, you can do interviews.  You know, radio really helped me with the timing part on interviews as well.

 

How did you get to O‘ahu to do all of this?

 

I had a scholarship, believe it or not, for volleyball. Hawai‘i Pacific University, Nahaku Brown did a clinic on Lana‘i, and I was a pretty good volleyball player.

 

You were all-state.

 

Yeah.  Oh, thank you.  Nobody knows that.  But anyway, she was offering a management scholarship, ‘cause they were gonna start an NCAA team.  Turned into a club team.  I got into radio at the same time, and then kind of moved out of it.

 

What’s a management scholarship?

 

They offer a couple scholarships for people to help with volleyball teams, like the women’s volleyball team.

 

Oh, I see.

 

So, you know, the guy that sets up the court, and you know, gets the water, and you know, gets ready for game day, gets the uniforms ready.

 

She saw your business side.

 

Yeah.  Yeah. Thank you, Nahaku.  But yeah, she really is the one that got me to Oahu.  ‘Cause we couldn’t afford college at all.  My mom was pissed when I dropped out.

 

Why did you drop out?

 

Radio.  When I started, my first day of college was my first day of my radio gig.

 

Oh …

 

Yeah.

 

There was competition between the two.

 

And it took over.  It took over not a little bit; it took over a hundred percent.  I was so fascinated by radio.  Again, I can tell people what to do, and they don’t even see me.  This was pre-Facebook, My Space, social media.  So, you know that everyone’s listening to you.  We had a twenty-one share at night, which was like three out of every five teens listening to us at night.

 

That’s phenomenal, because there were so many radio stations.

 

Yes.

 

I think we have the highest per capita in the nation.

 

Yes.  We did; there was like thirty radio stations for a million people.  You know.  But I was so fascinated by radio, and that was it.  I was indulged in it, you know.

 

And it paid you, too.

 

It did.  And that was the other thing; it paid me.  Right?  College wasn’t gonna pay me.  Working part-time at San Francisco Rag Shop was paying me pennies.  And being in radio, my first year was minimum wage, but after I proved that I could do what I could do, ho, I was living it up.  You know.  I had a car, I had a house, a condo.  I had a tab everywhere I went, because everybody wanted you to talk about their bar or their restaurant.  You know.

 

And yet, did you foresee what would happen to radio?  I mean, it hasn’t died like many people predicted.

 

No.

 

But it’s not the same; it’s a lot of consolidation and recorded voices.

 

Yeah.  There was one thing that I really … I really saw clearly, that it was gonna come to an end for me.  I saw it ten years before.  I’m still in radio, by the way.  I do shows in Japan.  But the actual twenty-four/seven, nine-to-five, working in radio every day, I saw it ten years before it even came.

 

You knew you would be recording your voice, and it would be played on different channels.

 

Yes; yeah.  I seen it.  ‘Cause now, I can eliminate that person, I can eliminate this person.  So, unless you were at the top of the food chain, you weren’t gonna get paid, ‘cause you were gonna be one of the people eliminated. Right?  So, I started my TV career, ‘cause I knew that I needed to get out of something else. And then, I started my entrepreneurship.  Try everything, what do I like, what don’t I like.

 

I wonder if one of the reasons you did the entrepreneur—I don’t know if it was innately inside you, or did you see fewer opportunities that were already created for somebody like you?

 

It was my mom.  Such a great question.  It was my mom that told me: What do you want to be?  I don’t know; I want to be on TV.  How do you know; you never try ‘em.  Right? Well, what you want to do; you want to be a realtor?  How you know; you never tried it.  You gotta try it first.  You gotta go see what it is first.  What if you don’t like the format?  What if you don’t like how it works?  What if you don’t like the politics of it?  You know.  What you going do?  That’s why until today, I was like, if I get opportunity—I look at everything as opportunity, by the way.  If I see opportunity, I’m gonna go dig into it.  I’m gonna go dig, and hey, how does this work?  I want to try.

 

And you’re willing to give your time to try it out?

 

Yeah.  I could die tomorrow.  I could die tomorrow; and then what?  My best friend died when he was thirty-five, and it was another huge lesson to me to try things.  Don’t be afraid.  I’m always gonna pay taxes, I’m always gonna work, so why not try it.  You know.  I commend people who can do something for thirty years, forty years, you know.  But it’s kinda not for me.

 

So, if you had a choice between a good, steady job and this tantalizing opportunity that you didn’t know if it would pay off, what would you do?

 

Tantalizing, one hundred percent.

 

Yeah.

 

A good, steady job is boring to me.  And it’s for other people.  You know, I commend you again.  That’s good, if you could.  I wish I could, because it’s security; yeah?  But it’s so boring to me.  It’s so boring.  I have so many wealthy friends that have been doing the same job for a long time, and they’re miserable.  They ask: What are you doing now, how come you’re doing this?  It’s like they tell me: I live vicariously through your social media, or your Instagram or, you know.  And it’s not that I’m trying to brag about what I do or anything.  I just do stuff that I love to do.  I want it to be fun.  Everything has to be fun.

 

And you’ve made it pay off for you.

 

It’s going to pay off.

 

It’s going to pay off.  Six years ago, I went bankrupt.  I lost three houses.  I think I had four cars.  For what? It was nothing, cars were nothing, the houses were nothing.  But it was a huge lesson, and I’m still going through that lesson, you know.  So, now, I have a new guard.  How do I not go through the same mistake; right?

 

Well, maybe you were trying to control circumstances before, and now you try to control yourself. 

 

Yeah; that’s what it is.  It really is.  I never had money before, and when you hear these stories about people who won the lottery or have done good.  You know, Larry Price always used to tell me: You’re not going get rich yet.  And I go: Why you always tell me that?  He goes: ‘Cause you need to learn, still.

 

Oh …

 

It’s not your turn; it’s not your turn.

 

So, did you just go crazy because you had available money that you didn’t before?

 

Oh, yeah.  And I went crazy in a sense of not just for me; taking care of other people. Which I should have … you know, I didn’t have kids.  I wasn’t prepared for that.  Nobody teaches you that.  You know, no one teaches you about taxes.  In school, they don’t teach you that.  No one teaches you that it can run out.  No one teaches you that this job can end.  You know, that kinda stuff.  So, I’m going through it every day still, today.  I think I’m gonna be that guy that doesn’t retire; for sure.  I love to work.  So, I’m gonna be working.

 

But you are gonna save money; right?

 

I’m gonna; yeah.  I started.

 

Because that’s the thing, is when you’re always living hand-to-mouth, regular savings is not a …

 

Yeah.

 

It’s not something on your list, because you don’t have it to save.

 

Yeah.  And it’s not part of your ritual, it’s not part of your everyday thing.  Because you never had it.  You know, I never had it.

 

And then, you assume if you have it, life will be easy.

 

It’s not easier.  It doesn’t get easier.  I think it gets harder.  You know, more money, more problems.  You know. It’s funny, ‘cause when you get more money, you think: Okay, now I can get the things that I need.  You know.  Or I need to get that, or I’ve always wanted to get that, I need it. You really don’t need it.  You know.  You need toothpaste and you need toilet paper.  Okay, I’m paying my bills, my kids are okay, I’m paying their bills, I have enough to pay for them to go to college.  Do I want to be wealthy-wealthy?  That’s starting to turn.  Before, if you asked me ten years ago.  I want to be wealthy, I want to be one of the wealthiest guys in Hawai‘i. Now it’s, I want to be one of the most happiest guys, and I want to be doing what I love to do guys in Hawai‘i.

 

In 2013, Lanai Tabura and his team entered Food Network’s The Great Food Truck Race.  They traveled more than four thousand miles across the country in their Aloha Plate Food Truck in a competition to see who could make the most money.  Well, their team won, thanks to the support of thousands of former Hawai‘i residents who came out to support them.

 

You know what’s so interesting about that whole race was the word aloha.  I’m gonna keep coming back to it, but the word aloha.  This is what happened.  I’m not gonna tell you the whole story, but what really happened was, what clicked it, and what sparked it, that Coconut Wireless, was one text.  I text Brook Lee, Miss Universe, good friend of mine: I am going to Idaho, I don’t know anybody in Idaho; do you know anybody in Idaho? That one text created this phenomena of thousands of people showing up to a food truck to support people they don’t know.  Why?  Nobody knew what was going on, nobody knew.

 

That’s right; the show wasn’t on at that point, right?

 

No; it wasn’t on.  Those thousands of people that you didn’t see on the television, because they thought we were cheating, showed up because they wanted to eat. They wanted to eat Hawaiian food, in the middle of Idaho, that they haven’t had for a long time.  People from twenty years transplants that lived in Idaho, fifteen years or what have you, people going to school showed up.  And I’ll never forget; I was in Minnesota, it was twenty degrees, raining sideways.  We went to an ice cream shop, and there was a guy who comes out with a University of Hawai‘i hat.  And he looks up at me, and he goes: Lanai, what are you doing here?  And I go: We’re doing this food thing, and I’m looking for a place to park.  I couldn’t say anything.  He said: What do you mean, this food thing?  Oh, we have this food truck, and bla-bla-bla.  He goes: Come here tomorrow, this is Grand Avenue, everyone will be here shopping.  I said: Really?  I said: You from Hawai‘i?  He goes: No, the girl who owns this ice cream place is from Hawai‘i, my ex-girlfriend. What?  Yeah.  He goes: I love Hawai‘i, I going tell all my friends come tomorrow; park over here. We show up; about two hundred people waiting in line, tents, raining sideways, it’s twenty degrees.  Who are these people?  We take about forty-five minutes to prep.  I walk out.  And I did this in every city; I would go down the line and I would thank people for coming and let them know we’re gonna open soon.  There was a lady, she’s gotta be in her seventies, and I said: I want to thank you for coming.  She goes: No, no, no; I want to thank you.  And I said: Thank me for what?  She goes: I’ve been living here for twenty years, and I never knew this many people from Hawai‘i live in Minnesota.  You guys know what you did?  I go: What do you mean, know what we did?  She said: You brought all of us together, through food.  And I was like: Holy moly, I never thought of it like that; right?  Where were we?  We were in the capitol of Spam.  Spam is made in Minnesota.  Right?

 

Then it’s a genetic connection.

 

Yeah.  There was another connection; Spam is made in Minnesota.  I meet this guy Matt, who helps us with the parking and everything, and I said: What are you doing here?  He said: I came to school here and ended up working here; I created a group called The Frozen Ohana.  And I go: What’s The Frozen Ohana?  He goes: Twenty-five hundred of us that get together every three months and have a barbecue, because we homesick.  And I go: Homesick from where?  He goes: From Hawai‘i.  I go: There’s that many people here?  He goes: Yeah.  And that’s what happened in every city.  I have a story for every little city, but that one was halfway into the race, and that one when it clicked in.  This is why people came together, ‘cause of the food and the Aloha that they wanted to share with their friends and their neighbors.

 

Plus, they wanted to support somebody who was on a quest.

 

Yes.

 

A Hawaiian on a quest.

 

Yes; totally.

 

So, are you using what you learned from that to do your pop-ups now in different cities all over the place?

 

I’ve been on this new journey because of it, of teaching aloha.  I have this passion for aloha.  I have this passion for teaching people that if you have aloha and good intent with anything that you do, you can do anything that you want.  You know what I mean?  You can be the best at anything you want, because you enjoy it.  You know, find what your passion is, and do it with good intent and aloha.  And that’s what I’ve been on this journey through with the food.  I’ve been teaching it through food subliminally.

 

I can see how you do it.

 

Yeah.

 

So, what’s an example recently of aloha through food?

 

I’ve been doing these pop-up dinners with different chefs.  And I sit with them, and we create the menu.  And the menu is always gonna be the plantation days and the migration of immigrants that came to Hawai‘i.  From Hawaiian food is the first dish, to Chinese, to Japanese, to Korean, Portuguese, Filipino.  You know. So, I walk through the timeline of it, and I figure out, will this dish represent that community or immigrant that came to the plantation.  Yes, it does. All right; now we’re gonna create a story behind it.  So, when you come to my dinner, you’re not gonna just have dinner; you’re gonna get an experience.  And the experience is gonna be the story of when the Chinese came in the late 1700s to trade sandalwood with Kamehameha, and then they introduced us to noodles and rice.  And when the Japanese came and introduced us to teriyaki sauce, and the musubi, and that’s how the Spam musubi came about.  And the Portuguese gave us oil and batter.  And the oil and the batter, they saw the Japanese guy eating raw shrimp and they said: You cannot eat that raw.  And they grabbed the shrimp and dipped it in the batter and in the oil. That’s why when you look at an okazuya, it’s flat, our tempura.  The Japanese took it one step further and put panko.  These stories is the way that I’m gonna get to you and share what aloha means. At the end of the day, all these plantation workers got a kau kau tin.  They sat in a circle, hot rice in one hand, hot food and vegetables in the middle.  And the Japanese said: Yeah, try my musubi.  And the Chinese said: Yeah, that’s noodles, try my noodles.  What did it do?  It brought us together.  And the Hawaiians taught us how to share, which is aloha.

 

Since he and his team won The Great Food Truck Race, Lanai Tabura has developed a passion for teaching aloha through food.  Whether it’s through his cooking shows or his pop-up dinners, he says he’s on a mission to share aloha.  Mahalo to Lanai Tabura for sharing his life story with us.  And mahalo to you, for joining us.  For PBS Hawai‘i and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Aloha nui.

 

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

 

I have kids.  I want my kids to live in a better world.  It’s a tough world right now, you know.  So, my whole thing is, how am I gonna use what I have built to help people.  My mom has done it her whole life; she still does it today.  My grandparents did it.  You know, my grandmother would make a big pot of chili and feed everybody. You know.   And then for years I’d go: Grandma, how come there’s all this Tupperware on the table?  How come you feeling everybody?  She goes: Never mind, you just bring this to Uncle’s house next door, you bring this to Auntie’s house.  That was how we lived on the ahupua‘a.  That’s how we shared, that was aloha.  Right? We have to bring that back.  We’ve made life too difficult.  So, I don’t want it to be difficult; I want it to be simple.  Ah, maybe I’m dreaming.  But I think I’ve made a pretty good start.

 

 

 

PBS HAWAI‘I PRESENTS
The Hawaiian Room

PBS Hawai‘i Presents: The Hawaiian Room

 

The Hawaiian Room, located in the famed Lexington Hotel, was an oasis of Hawaiian culture and entertainment in the heart of New York City. Between 1937 and 1966, hundreds of dancers, singers and musicians from Hawai‘i were recruited to perform at the entertainment venue. In this documentary, filmmaker Ann Marie Kirk shares interviews with over 20 former performers who speak candidly and fondly of their experience at the historic nightclub, and the culture shock of going from Hawai‘i to New York City.

 

Preview

 

 

 

NĀ MELE: TRADITIONS IN HAWAIIAN SONG
Pomaika‘i Lyman

NĀ MELE: Pomaika‘i Lyman

 

Singer/musician Pomaika‘i Lyman grew up under the guidance of a talented musical family, the Keawe Aiko ‘ohana. Her special mentor was none other than a beloved and legendary voice in Hawaiian music, her grandmother, Genoa Keawe. Lyman steps into the spotlight in this episode of our traditional Hawaiian music series. She’s accompanied by Po‘okela Wood on guitar, Keao Costa on bass, and Jeff Au Hoy on steel guitar. Lyman’s family and friends also share the stage to perform songs including “Beautiful Kahana” and the popular hula song “Noho Paipai,” also known as the “Rocking Chair Hula.” Lyman’s family brought some of Aunty Genoa Keawe’s furniture to our studio to bring a sense of mana and a feeling of home.

 

 

Here is a special digital short

 

 

 

AMERICAN EXPERIENCE
The Island Murder

AMERICAN EXPERIENCE: The Island Murder

 

In the waning days of summer 1931, Honolulu’s tropical tranquility was shattered when a young Navy wife made a drastic allegation of rape against five nonwhite islanders. What unfolded in the following days and weeks was a racially-charged murder case that would make headlines across the nation, enrage Hawaiʻi’s native population, and galvanize the island’s law enforcers and the nation’s social elite.

 

Preview

 

 

 

NĀ MELE: TRADITIONS IN HAWAIIAN SONG
Natalie Ai Kamauu and Family

Na Mele: Natalie Ai Kamauu and Family

 

Natalie Ai Kamauu’s voice fills the PBS Hawaiʻi studio.  Natalie performs with a passion that comes from the origins of the songs she sings, and the love she has for her family. She is joined by her husband, Iolani Kamauu, on guitar and vocals, and their daughter, Sha-Lei Kamauu, who accompanies the music with hula.

 

Program

 

Among the songs featured are “Pili Aloha,” which connects Natalie to her mother, kumu hula Olana Ai, and “Shower Tree,” which was written for Natalie and Iolaniʻs son, Chaz. Sha-Lei joins Natalie and Iolani with hula, including the playful “Hula Tease,” and a graceful accompaniment to Natalie and Iolaniʻs performance on “Uhiwai.”

 

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Kalaupapa Memories

Program

 

In this special edition of Long Story Short, we recall our 2009 stay in the Kalaupapa community on Moloka‘i. Members of the dwindling population of former Hawai‘i Hansen’s Disease patients shared what it was like, many years ago, to leave their homes and families. Norbert Kaiama Palea, Elroy Makia Malo, Meli Watanuki and Clarence “Boogie” Kalihihiwa speak of isolation, loss, community, hope and renewal.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, Apr. 28, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

More from this program

 

Clarence “Boogie” Kalihihiwa

 

Elroy Makia Malo

 

Norbert Kaiama Palea

 

Kalaupapa Memories Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

Meli Watanuki:

 

I pray a lot when I came here.  I pray so much, you know, for sad of me, and take away all that sad to me.  Yeah.

 

Because you had so much sadness, and you needed it to be gone.  And? Did the sadness go away?

 

Yes. Now, I’m happy right now.

 

Elroy Makia Malo:

 

This young boy asked me: Why you wearing dark glasses?  I said: What?  Why you wearing dark glasses?  I didn’t know what to say.  I said: Oh … you wouldn’t want to know.

 

Clarence “Boogie” Kahilihiwa:

 

I met some good people; good people.  I mean, they’re all gone, and you know, we have to carry on what their dreams.  That’s what I feel today.

 

Norbert Kaiama Palea:

 

Look around you; look what God gave.  Look around. You know, lots to appreciate for about. You know, I still have a good mind. Thank God for that.  You know what I mean?  It’s the way you think; the way you think, the way you perceive things.

 

These are four of the last individuals from the dwindling population of Hansen’s Disease patients in the Kalaupapa community on Moloka‘i.  We’ll hear more of their memories, and find out how each found a sense of peace after much sickness and sorrow, coming up next, on a special edition of Long Story Short.

 

One-on-one engaging conversations with some of Hawai‘i’s most intriguing people: Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox.

 

Aloha mai kākou. I’m Leslie Wilcox.  On this edition of Long Story Short, we’re recalling our 2009 trip to the remote Kalaupapa Peninsula on the north shore of Moloka‘i, where we talked story with some of the last remaining patients there. Kalaupapa is a place of great natural beauty, and yet, it will always be linked to the once dreaded disease leprosy, also called Hansen’s Disease.  Starting in 1866, thousands of Hawai‘i residents diagnosed with this disease were ripped from their families, and quarantined in Kalaupapa.  When I spoke with these four residents in 2009, they were preparing to travel to Rome for the sainthood ceremony for Father Damien. He was their hero, who cared for patients in Kalaupapa, and ultimately died of leprosy.  First, we visit with Norbert Kaiama Palea, who was just a keiki when he was taken to the old Kalihi Hospital detention center.  His next stop was Kalaupapa, where his father had already been forced to go.

 

My name Kaiama.  When I was a child, maybe about a year old, my grandfolks told my mom I’m gonna be taken away from her.  Just like that.  So, they said: We going give you the name Kaiama; it means strong.

 

Like the ama in the ocean, of the canoe.

 

You’re not gonna fall to the side, and all that.  So, I believed that, you know, the name.

 

So, when you received the name Kaiama, and they knew you had to be strong, and they said you’d be taken away, what was that all about?

 

I know my name is Norbert, but all my brothers and sisters, my family, they don’t call me Norbert.  Only the family call me that name.  So, all my brothers and sisters began to call me that every time they come.  You know, so I become it.  I don’t know, but they start calling me that name.

 

Do you think it was destiny that you came here, fate, or was that just a lucky guess that somebody thought you were gonna be taken away?

 

It was destiny.  And I have no regrets about it; none whatsoever.  I feel this way: that, you know, when something sad happens to you, you know, you grow from that.  Sadness is a good thing, you know.  Lot of people say: Oh?  Sadness changes your whole outlook in life.  So, my mother said: Don’t turn around.  So, when we got on the plane—I remember that, just before coming—everybody was crying, you know, and I was singing.  Just like their wails, their crying was above my voice.  So, I remember, I just looked back.  And then, I still remember their faces, my mother and my … in fact, before, they was crying, my mother said: Remember now, Kaiama, don’t cry, now.  I said: Ma, how come they’re crying?  But nobody’s crying; I don’t see no tears, but I can feel it.  And she said: Oh, because they love you.  You know, my mother had all the answers for everything. She was a wizard.

 

Here’s a mom who lost her husband, and the eleventh child.

 

Yeah; my mother was a very strong lady.  She believed in God and everything, you know.  So, she instilled in me something that no professors of mine that I’ve had over the years can ever give you that kind of value.

 

Your mom, you say, was very strong.  And of course, she had other children; you were the eleventh.  But I can’t believe she would have been that strong for so long, not being with her little boy.

 

Every time when I used to go home for funerals—and I just went to two recently. Every year, I’m going down for funerals. There’s so many of us; there’s hundreds of us.  So, I go to the funeral, and then my grandnieces, my great-grandnieces, they always say to me: You know, Uncle, every time Grandma used say she’d cry every single day, even ‘til now.  You know.  My mother used to say: They cheat me of you; they robbed me.  You know, the relationship between us.  And my brothers and sisters, too.  And when I talk about this place, and I want to come back, my brothers and sisters would cry.  My mother said: You didn’t have the sick, you know; remember that, you did not have the sick. You know, you didn’t do anything wrong.

 

There’s such loneliness here, and yet, such a sense of community, too.

 

I don’t feel.  And you know something?

 

You never felt lonely?

 

Never, ever.  It’s like this; I’m home here in my house.  Now, I know a lot of people that’s here, I’m younger than them; right? So, I look up to them, I respect them. Not because I have a better education, that I’m better than them.  No, I’m not. I’m below them.  So, if I know they’re sick or something, I go and take something to them, or give up some time and go there.  We don’t have time to worry about getting sad.  To me, you know, when you help other people, you’re actually helping yourself.

 

You know, it sounds like you’ve made the very best of this, and you have appreciation of abundance, not scarcity. But what about some of the folks who were here at the same time?  I mean, that can’t be that common a reaction, just acceptance.  You must have seen a lot of defiance and—

 

Oh, I’ve seen a lot of—oh, it’s heartbreaking.  I’ve seen it.  But then, as the years go by, because we have all these great leaders here, you know, one word from them, they can calm everybody down.  A‘ole!, they would say.  Don’t think, and don’t feel that way.  This is just a new beginning.  That is a beginning.  And why we’re here, we are not to question God; why you’re here.  It’s not for or me to say: Oh, why did you give me this sick? You know, the thing is to accept it, and make the best out of it.  And then, appreciate everything that’s around you, and then one day, you’re gonna see the beauty.  You see? Even if he sent us here, but look around.  You know what I mean?  Look, he gave us the most beautiful woman in the world.  That’s the icing on the cake.

 

Thanks to the discovery of effective treatment in the late 1940s, Norbert Kaiama Palea was eventually able to leave Kalaupapa to attend college, and pursue a successful career in fashion design.  He traveled widely, and returned.  He told me several times during our conversation that he was kolohe, or a rascal; not a typical patient.  Not long after we spoke near the large breadfruit trees in his yard in Kalaupapa, he was arrested.  The Feds took him into custody on suspicion of possession of meth amphetamine, with intent to distribute it.  He pleaded guilty in August of 2010, and served almost five years before his release in 2015.

 

Next, we chat with Clarence Kahilihiwa, better known by his nickname, Boogie.  Just a bit older than Norbert, he was diagnosed two years later, and by then, many patients were being treated at the Hale Mohalu facility in Central O‘ahu. Still, that meant uprooting the eight-year-old boy from his home in Kalapana on the Big Island.  Boogie had already said goodbye to three siblings, and eventually, he would follow them to Kalaupapa.

 

Why do they call you Boogie?

 

The real story.

 

Long story short; long story short.  Okay.  World War II … I think I was about three years old.  You know, we come from Kalapana, and we had the old type gas masks. And going school, even kindergarten, we still had to carry our gas mask.  But my sister them used to, you know, scare me, and then they call me Boogieman, Boogieman.  That’s how I got the name.

 

Did you actually get diagnosed?

 

Yes, I did.  Yeah.

 

And how old were you?

 

I was about nine.  Yeah. Or maybe I was eight in ’49, you know.

 

Was there a lot of worry on your part, on your family’s part, that you were going away to be checked out for a blemish, and when your sister and brother went, they didn’t come back.

 

I think it was more on my mom’s side.  In fact, in a way, I was kinda happy that I was in Honolulu, because you know, Honolulu was a different island to me.  And it didn’t bother me, really, that I was separated at that time, until maybe about two, three days.  Then my mom them left me there, and then they came back a short while afterwards. Maybe about a month, they came back to Honolulu.  And that’s when I really … I saw my mother crying.

 

And you were the third child she had lost to isolation.

 

I was the fourth.

 

Fourth child.

 

Fourth; yeah.

 

So, at that point, you were living in Hale Mohalu in Pearl City.  Didn’t they have a fence around it?

 

Oh, shucks.   To me, looked like one prison.  You remember the picture, Stalag 17, I think it was.  You know, they got the fence up like this, and they got the barbed wire this way.

 

Were there other kids your age, nine years old?

 

Norbert came in not too long afterwards.  Then, another week, a few more came in.  In fact, when I went to Hale Mohalu, looked like they just moved into Mohalu not too long ago.  After a while, I came up here.

 

Did anybody tell you you’re going there, and it’s in effect a death sentence, there is no cure, people get terribly sick?

 

No, not when I was young.

 

And you’ll never come back.

 

No, no; not when I was young.  Because I knew I was coming here to see my sister and my brother.  And I knew I was going back.

 

How many people were here when you came?

 

When I came, well, the first time I came here, I would say about over five hundred.

 

Patients?

Patients.

 

And now, fewer than twenty, this day in 2009.

 

I would say over.  But those days, people was dying too, see?  You know.  When you hear the bell, you know who’s that.

 

What was it like living here?  When were you a kid, what was it like?

 

It’s all right.  You know. Nobody tells me what for do.  We go down the beach, no fences around.  Only thing, we have to be home at a certain time, you know.  There was a little control on the staying up late, we need our nap in the afternoon. You know.  Was good.  I liked it. I met a lot of good people.

 

Was there a lot of sickness?

 

Yeah; there were a lot of people.  I mean, a lot of them at that time had kidney problems, heart failure.  Yeah.  A lot of them was blind; we had a lot of blind people, blind patients.

 

Did that make you afraid of what was ahead for you?

 

No; I didn’t think that way.  In fact, some of them became very good friends, and you know, they began to tell us stories about their time.

 

You’ve been to a lot of funerals in your life.

 

Oh, yes.

 

More so than the average person who does not live in Kalaupapa.

 

I think so too.  You gotta go, because that’s the last time you going see him, whether he’s lying in the coffin or what.  People have this thing about they don’t want to see a dead man.  I know that, but it’s the same when you have a photo.  You wish you could have said something, or you know.

 

So, you go, even though it takes it out of you.

 

Yeah; yeah.  You have to go.

 

In the fall of 2018, Boogie Kahilihiwa remains active in the Kalaupapa community.  He still runs the bookstore, and is president of Ka ‘Ohana O Kalaupapa, a nonprofit organization advocating on a variety of issues, developing a new memorial for patients, and perpetuating Hawaiian culture in the community.

 

Next, we meet a man who arrived in Kalaupapa the same year as Norbert Palea in 1947, and lived there for almost twenty-five years before returning to Honolulu.  You may recognize Elroy Makia Malo as a noted Hawaiian storyteller.  And many of the stories he’s told relate to coming of age in Kalaupapa.  Makia lived with his large family on Hawaiian homestead land in Papakolea until the age of twelve, when symptoms of Hansen’s Disease appeared, and he followed two siblings to Kalaupapa.  Once there, his symptoms got worse.

 

Is going blind a common effect of Hansen’s Disease?

 

For many, yeah.  Yeah. Was one of the things.  Not everybody became blind, but many.

 

When you felt yourself going blind, and knowing that others at the settlement tended to be shut-ins once they were blind, did you tell anyone?

 

No; not even the doctor.

 

You were trying to keep it a secret, so that you could be out and about?

 

I didn’t know I was blind.  So, the doctor asked me how I was doing.  I said, okay. A whole week, I couldn’t see.  But like I say, my mind was, it was temporary. So, I’d find my way to the bathroom by just hanging onto the wall, and crossing the floor by counting the doors where another bathroom is.  So, that evening, I got up, and I’m looking around—listening, rather.  Nobody in the hallway.  I walk out down the hallway, come to the nurse’s station, and nobody in there.  Right across the nurse’s station, right alongside the continuing hallway down the outside is this pillar.  I can see the light inside the telephone booth.  I walk straight to the light.  I said: Oh, Mama, Mama, this is Makia.  Mama, can you and Daddy come down tomorrow?  Yeah, okay, son.  They came down, and Daddy ended up sitting at the end of the bed, Mama sits on my right. And Mama always did this; she sit by me, and she grab my arm, she rubs my arm, rubs my arm.  And then I say: Mama, Mama … I have something to say. And Mama says: Yes, son.  Mama … Mama, I’m blind.  Yes, son.  She keeps on rubbing.  Mama, you heard me?  She says: Yes, son.  She continues rubbing, and each time it’s getting harder, and harder.  Mama, Mama, I’m burning.  And I could hear her sobbing as she’s rubbing harder, and harder. And my dad, I can tell when he’s crying; he starts sniffling.  You know.

 

M-hm.

 

And that was how I told my parents I was blind.

 

Makia Malo did much more than survive.  In 1971, he moved back to Honolulu and earned a degree in Hawaiian studies from the University of Hawai‘i.  Makia’s talent for storytelling caught the attention of master storyteller Jeff Gere, who presented Makia to audiences.  And then, Makia met and married Ann Grant, who provided the vision to bring his stories to school children.

 

Suddenly, I see a face, an almost featureless face, a face whose eyes show the discoloration of one blind, a face whose nose has been ravaged, flattened, and the skin mottled with so many scars.

 

Who made the first move?

 

Oh, her.

 

She wanted to take me to her apartment.  And I was thinking: Oh, jeez, how I going get home?  It was from that day on, she comes see me.  You know, we just kept in touch.  I just couldn’t see what this Haole girl from the mainland coming after me.  I thought she’s crazy.

 

I’m blind, I’m all jammed up.  I have an embarrassing history.  Didn’t matter to her.  But I felt bad for her.  Wow.

 

Sounds like she didn’t complain, her whole long marriage with you.

 

No, she didn’t complain.  She got angry often, and now and then, I would get angry too.  But she was my angel, man.  Oh, god.  What a life she helped me into.

 

In the fall of 2018, Makia Malo was living in Honolulu receiving special care.  His engaging storytelling helped to share the Kalaupapa experience with young people, and preserve it for future generations.

 

At this time in 2018, Meli Watanuki works in the Kalaupapa General Store. Back in 1952, she was diagnosed with Hansen’s Disease in American Samoa, and left her home and family for treatment in Western Samoa.  Later, she came to Hawai‘i.

 

So, how did you get to Honolulu?

 

Okay. So, when I paroled, you know—

 

They called it a parole?

 

Yeah, parole, just like you’re discharged from the sickness.  Yeah; the Hansen’s Disease.  So, my stepsister was here, and my stepmother.  They know that I was discharged from October 19, 1958. So, you know, they told me to come here in Hawai‘i.  And I said: Well, I’m not too sure.  But they said: You come, come; you just come out from the hospital.  Yeah; so that’s why I came Hawai‘i.  And then, I married, and then I moved out.  So …

 

You thought all your troubles were behind you; you got married.

 

Yes.

 

Did you have a baby?

 

Yeah. I have one child; it’s a boy.  So, 1964, I just see, because I know when I come Samoa, you know, I don’t know where to go pick up my medicine.  So, I thought it’s finished already.  And you know, they said: You’re supposed to go take your medicine.  I said: No, I did not, because I don’t know the hospital.  So, I went go take test, and just few weeks, and then they called me and said: Yeah, you set up something with your baby and your husband, and then you gotta go Hale Mohalu.  I said: Oh, fine.  And I feel that I better not stay there, because with my baby, I don’t want my baby to get sick.  Because he’s too young, I think only three years old.  So, I set up things, and I talked to my husband.  And my husband think, you know, just like you go hospital, you know, and few days come back.  But end up that was not.  Then, he came visit me with my son, and they see all the fence around.  But get plenty other Filipino there too at Hale Mohalu, so they was talking.  And he said: They talk Filipino.  And then, end up that was the last day I see him and my son.  They never come back.

 

So, you didn’t see your son from the time he was three, to the time he was in college?

 

No.

 

You seem so matter-of-fact when you talk about it. How much does it still hurt?  I know you’ve talked about it, you’ve had time to deal with it, but how are you with it?

 

I feel hurt.  It’s hard for me, trying to go help him and tell him, you know, your mom love you.

 

And now, nothing?

 

Nothing.  They never come back, they never call, no write.  So, I just let it go.

 

Why did you come to Kalaupapa?  You weren’t banished, you didn’t have to live here.

 

I feel happy.  Because when I came here, they was really good.  You know, and they tell me: Anytime, you can go Honolulu, you can go Las Vegas, you can go anyplace, but this is your home.  So oh, okay.  And I’m really, really happy, you know, to stay here.

 

And how’s your health?

 

My health is okay.  Only, I have asthma.  So, it’s taken care, you know, every time I go see the doctor.  Yes.

 

So, the Hansen’s Disease is not a problem?

 

No, it’s finished already.  Yeah.

 

So, you’ve had so much loss in your life.  Is that how you see it?

 

I really feel, what’s happened with all this thing they went do, I pray a lot when I came here.  I pray so much, you know, for sad of me, and take away all that sad to me.

 

Because you had so much sadness, and you needed it to be gone.  And did the sadness go away?

 

Yes. Now, I’m happy right now.  Plus, my husband, they are so nice to me.

 

Meli Watanuki chose Kalaupapa as her home.  In 2018, she’s lived in Kalaupapa for almost fifty years with her second husband, who passed away, and later her third husband, Randall Watanuki.

 

About eight thousand patients came to Kalaupapa, and most never left.  In the fall of 2018, we’re told only about nine patients remain in Kalaupapa out of the dozen still living.  It was a pleasure and an honor for our PBS Hawai‘i team to spend time with the residents. For Long Story Short and PBS Hawai‘i, I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Aloha nui.

 

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

 

So, when did romance blossom?

 

Oh, Leslie.  That was, you know, ’82 to 1995.  Then, that’s why, you know.  And I told him: Okay, you know what?  Time for me. Either you marry me or not, and you stay; you go, you move out, and I stay my house.  So, 1995, the first week of April, I told him: Okay, today is the day; either you move out, or we marry.  If we not marry, you move out.  If we marry, then you stay.  That’s all. You know, I cannot do this, no communion, I only go church and pray.  And then, he said: I want to marry you.  No kidding; are you sure?

 

And he wasn’t kidding.

 

He was not kidding.

 

 

 

PBS HAWAI‘I PRESENTS
Under a Jarvis Moon

PBS Hawaii Presents Under a Jarvis Moon

 

This film tells the story of 130 young men from Hawaii who, from the late 1930s through the early years of World War II, were part of a clandestine mission by the U.S. federal government to occupy desert islands in the middle of the Pacific. The first wave of these colonists was a group of Hawaiian high school students, chosen because government officials assumed Pacific Islanders could best survive the harsh conditions present on the tiny, isolated islands. For the young men, who were unaware of the true purpose of their role as colonists, what ensued is a tale of intrigue, courage, and ultimately, tragedy.

 

Preview

 

 

 

PBS HAWAI‘I PRESENTS
Journey to Emalani

PBS HAWAII PRESENTS Journey to Emalani

 

The commemoration of Queen Emma’s 1871 visit to the upland forest of West Kauai, as experienced by three hula halau, is the subject of this PBS Hawai‘i-produced film. It follows the halau and their kumu hula to Kokee for an annual festival of hula and chant, Eo e Emalani i Alaka’i (Emalani Festival): Tony Conjugacion’s Hālau Nā Wainohia; Charlani Kalama’s Hālau Ha’a Hula O Kekau’ilani Nā Pua Hala O Kailua; and Healani Youn’s The Ladies of Ke’alaokalaua’e. Hawaiian music icon Nina Keali’iwahamana narrates.

 

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Susan Ballard: Finding Strength in Childhood

 

Honolulu Police Department Chief Susan Ballard reflects on her formative years growing up in the South and the difficult experiences that drove her to develop strength and resiliency.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, Apr. 14, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Susan Ballard: Finding Strength in Childhood Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

It was a very interesting upbringing with my mom.  She was really into the manners, and the whole Emily Post.  And believe me, it stuck with me.  When you were at the table, if you ever tried to, like, reach across the table, your hand would get smacked, you know.

 

You always made sure you passed things around the table.  You had to have conversation.  And you know, when you think back, to this day, I really think that that’s one of the things that’s missing from so many families.  That, you know, if you really sit down and have a meal with your entire family, and you force the kids to talk about their life or what happened, you know, during school or whatever, you know, I think, one, social skills.  You know, instead of always looking at the computer.  And two, I think that, you know, we would have a lot less problems than we would have today if we still had family dinners.

 

The young life of future Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard was a mixture of practicing good manners, while learning to stand up for herself.  Sometimes, the two did not mix, but the result was that she grew up with strength of character, and people skills that helped her to become Honolulu’s top police officer.  Police Chief Susan Ballard, next, on Long Story Short.

 

One-on-one engaging conversations with some of Hawai‘i’s most intriguing people: Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox.

 

Aloha mai kākou. I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Susan Marshall Ballard became Honolulu’s first female Chief of Police in 2017, and hers was not a meteoric rise.  Barriers take time to overcome.  She had already served thirty-two years on the force.  Ballard was born and raised in the South, with Southern manners required at home.  But the kids at school were not genteel in their teasing.  She says they made fun of her for being tall and wide, with buck teeth. Her parents’ divorce forced her to grow up quickly, and as a young woman, she says she experienced domestic violence by a boyfriend.

 

I was born in Norfolk, Virginia.  But unfortunately, I was only there for about maybe five years before we moved away. And we moved to Jacksonville, North Carolina, and that’s where I started school.  And then, I was only there for about a year, and then, we moved to Fayetteville, North Carolina.  And no, my family was not in the military.  But my father was into the manufactured homes, so we always seemed to end up in large military cities.  So I went there.  I finished elementary school and junior high school, and high school in Fayetteville.

 

So, was he a salesman in mobile homes?

 

Yes, he was.  And then, he eventually became president of the company, and doing the manufactured homes. So, I lived in uh, mobile homes. I was the typical Southern type girl. You know, we started out in a single wide, and yeah, got to play out in the yard barefoot.

 

You know, run around in the South.  You know. And then we moved to double-wides, and then I think it was probably about junior high school, we had our first house.  We bought our first house in Fayetteville.

 

And your mother?

 

My mom was a homemaker up until my mother and father got a divorce.  And so, she took care of the house, and took care of us.  And then, she went back to work as a secretary at an insurance agency. Speaking of my mom, she used to always tell us when we were growing up that it’s not your kuleana.  And this was from the South.  And so, you know, we knew that it meant responsibility.  And this is like, North Carolina, and this is like, way back.  And so, when I came over here and I found out kuleana, and I was like … they said: Oh, that’s a Hawaiian word.  I says: No, it’s from the South.  And then, because, I mean, my mom—so I have no idea how she ended up getting that.

 

That’s so interesting.

 

Yeah; yeah, yeah.  Yeah. ‘Cause she used to always tell us: Don’t pay any attention, it’s not your kuleana, just let it go.

 

Did you have any idea how that came about?

 

I have no idea.  And she was not really—well, I would ask her things, like: What about this?  And ah, she never really—you know, she was—

 

So, old—

 

I couldn’t get information from her.

 

Old school.

 

Yes.

 

They don’t like to talk.

 

Yes.

 

Right?

 

Very much so.

 

Would you consider it a middleclass, non-dysfunctional childhood?

 

Yeah. Growing up, I would say that very much so is what, you know, would describe.  It was just like a normal upbringing.  You know, did school, did after school types of things.  And you know, one of the things when I was growing up is, I was … uh, quite large.  I was fat. I guess obese is more what the medical community was calling.  So, it was a interesting upbringing, because you know, when you’re in school, you know, you found out the kids were actually pretty mean when you’re overweight.  And my nickname was uh, Tub, Tub of Lard. So, all the way, even through high school until I left Fayetteville, even though I had lost weight in high school, I was still called Tubs.  Yeah.

 

How did you deal with that?

 

You know, I guess I was able to uh, carry my weight.  I did a lot of activities.  I was really good at football; they always wanted me to play the line in the neighborhood.

 

Were you tall as a child, too?

 

I was. I’ve always been taller than everybody else.  And so, I got to be the line in our neighborhood football team because, you know, I was so big, I could just knock people over.  I know, I know.  It sounds bad, but you know, I mean, you just kinda dealt with it.  But I mean, it was a name, you know, but we were still able to get along and, you know, do different things.  But it definitely does make a mark on you, you know.

 

And did it change your social life, do you think? I mean, do you wish you’d had a different social life?

 

Yeah, I think so.  You know, my mom was the typical Southern belle.  You know, we were raised with Emily Post.  So, you know, everything was manners and, you know, had the right way of sitting at the table.  We had to have dinner every night; Mom, Dad, you know, the kids.  My father traveled, so he was only at home on the weekends, most of the time.  But we were always required to have dinner, you know, as a family.  And then, she wanted us to go to learn to cotillion and go to the dance, and all like that.  So, like I said, I was large, so nobody wanted to take me to cotillion. So, I’ll never forget that my mom had to talk to the teacher, and had to ask one of the guys to please ask me to cotillion.  And that’s kinda something that sort of always stuck with me.  You know.

 

Was he good guy?

 

He was; he was.  He was very nice.  I mean, back in the South, doesn’t make any difference, ‘cause if you didn’t say, yes ma’am, yes sir, and treat people nice, you’d always get a whack one way or the other.

 

And you would actually do what your parents said, it sounds like.  Which often doesn’t happen nowadays.

 

Oh, yes.  And don’t ever bring a note home from the teacher.  Because if you got a note from the teacher, it didn’t make any difference; you were wrong.  The teacher was always right, so you shook in your boots if you had to bring a note home from your teacher.

 

And these things stay with you, as far as what seems right to you?

 

Yes; it really does.  And I think a lot of it is just, you know, how you treat people, you know, and just being able to talk to people, you know, and have a decent conversation. You know, ‘cause you were brought up to always appreciate, you know, everything that you have, and not take it for granted, ‘cause it can be gone the next day.  Which is what happened, like, when my parents got divorced.  It was like, we lived comfortably, and then when they got divorced, all of a sudden you had nothing.  So, you know, when you look back, you appreciate everything that you had, you know, when you were growing up.

 

Obviously, not everything was polite.  I mean, you were teased at school, and for a long time. How do you think that affected you, now that that weight is certainly not a problem?  I mean, how do you look at that experience, and how did it affect you?

 

Well, I think a lot of it, as far as affecting, you know, when I look at people, if they’re large, it’s like, you know, I can kinda empathize with them. And then, you know, a lot of times, you see people who are exercising who are large, and you know, human nature: Oh, look, that person’s fat, or whatever.  And I’m looking at ‘em going: At least they’re doing something.  You know, they’re out exercising, they’re out walking around.  So, you know, you give people more slack.  I mean, there’s no such thing as, you know, this whole perfect body thing, you know.  And especially for women; you know, we’re brought up that you’re supposed to, you know, look just so, and you’ve gotta be skinny.  ‘Cause my sister was completely opposite.  She’s probably about six inches shorter than me, she never had a problem with her weight.  The other thing I had, I had buck teeth, I had to wear braces.  But you know, she was always like … I don’t want to say perfect, but she never had to worry about, you know, her looks or anything. And she used to have guys always coming over to the house.  Where for me, it wasn’t until I lost weight that I actually really was able to, you know, really start dating.  And so, you do know that, you know, the whole body image, you know, is an issue.  And it does stay with you.  So that to this day, I mean, I make sure that I exercise and I eat right, because you know, I do know that even—is it right?  No.  But you know, I mean, if you see kind of an overweight man, you know, it’s like: Okay, well, you know, it’s okay.  But if you see an overweight woman, then it’s like: Oh, look, she’s not taking care of herself.  So, you know, especially in the position I’m in, you know, I always try and make sure that, you know, I exercise and eat right.  And I think that just always goes back to the childhood, that I never want to get to the point where I was overweight again, because I know how hard it was too, to lose weight and to keep it off.

 

Well, how did you do it, and when did you do it? You graduated still overweight?

 

No. I lost it when I was in high school. So, actually, I did it relatively quickly.  It was about four or five months.  It was like, from the end of my—I believe it was my sophomore year of high school, towards the end.

 

Was there something that made you do it?  I mean, was that some inspiration caused by an event?

 

There really wasn’t.  I think I just had gotten to the point where I was just tired of being made fun of, and it’s like, you know, it’s time.  I needed to lose weight, and you know, so I put my mind to it, and I did.  And of course, when you’re younger, it’s a lot easier to lose weight than when you’re older.

 

And you did it by a combination of dieting and exercise?

 

Diet and exercise; yeah.  Yeah. And from that point on, I have always exercised.  I mean, I was able to play on the softball team in high school, play on the basketball team in high school, because you know, I lost the weight and I was able to, you know, function in those type of sports.

 

No more linebacker stuff?

 

No more lineback.  I still played football, but you know, they let me be receiver now.

 

And so, then all of a sudden, guys came calling?

 

Well, I mean, yeah, more.  But I’m kind of selective too, so—

 

 

You know, we’d go out on dates and, you know, if I really didn’t like ‘em.  But I had a serious boyfriend in high school, and you know, we almost got married.  And then, I’m the one that’s kinda like: Um, this isn’t really what I want. And so, I usually get into long-term relationships, but I’m usually the one that—because I value my independence, and I think that came from when my mom and dad got divorced.  Because I saw my mom, who hadn’t worked, and all of a sudden, she had to get a job, and that you know, we basically lived from, you know, paycheck-to-paycheck, and you know, where was the next meal gonna come from. And so, I said to myself: I’m never gonna be like that, I refuse.  So, from that point on, I mean, I think I started working when I was like, fourteen years old. And actually, at that point, I really started saving for retirement.  Because I said: When I get older, I want to make sure.  I said: I can suffer when I’m young, but when I get older, I want to live like a queen.  And I said: I never want to be dependent on somebody, where I need them to the point where I can’t live my life.  And so, I think that’s really, you know, caused me to take a look at a lot of things.  And I think that’s why probably I’ve never gotten married, is because I like my independence, and I don’t like to really answer to anybody, you know, when I get home.  Other than my dogs.

 

What was life like when your dad left, and your mom was in reduced circumstances?

 

I mean, it was difficult.  I mean, one, because they didn’t get along.  You know, it was kind of an ugly divorce, and we had to leave our house and move into a two-bedroom apartment.  So you know, very small.  And my sister at the time, she and I didn’t get along at all, she didn’t get along with my mom.  So, it was just really—

 

Lots of conflict all around.

 

Yeah. It was just conflict everywhere. And then, so my sister ended up leaving, moving away, and so it was just, you know, me and Mom.  And you know, I mean, the fact that, like I said, you know, where was the next meal coming from.  And then, she had to go out, you know, and get a job.  And you know, all of the luxuries that I was used to no longer had.  And so, that’s why I went out and you know, got a job, and I figured I’d just, you know, take care of myself.

 

How old were you when you got the job?

 

The first job I had, I believe I was fourteen, close to fifteen years old.

 

So, this was all around the time that you lost the weight, as well.

 

Yeah; yeah.

 

All of it happened around the same time?

 

Yeah. Yeah, yeah.

 

Really kind of a pivotal period in your life.

 

Yeah. It really was.  Yeah.  And then, decided: Okay, well, I’ll go to college.  But there was no money for college, either.  So, my grandmother, when she was alive, every Christmas, I’ll never forget, my sister and I both, we would get savings bonds from her. We’d get hundred-dollar savings bonds from her.  And you know, when you’re kids, it’s like: Why are you giving us savings bonds; we want toys, we want material things.  Right?  But it was like she’d give us a savings bond every single year for Christmas and for our birthday.  And so, it had gone into the bank, and so because of that, I was able to pay for the first year of college.  And then, you know, while I was there, I was able to get, you know, a couple of jobs and was able to, you know, uh, earn enough money to pay for tuition and a place to live.

 

After graduating with her bachelor’s degree, Susan Ballard went on to graduate school in Tennessee, where she stayed and worked after receiving her master’s degree in athletic training, now called sports medicine.  She says she and her boyfriend decided to leave Tennessee and travel west.  They got all the way to Hawai‘i.  And it was here, she says, that her boyfriend smacked her. It was a turning point in her life.

 

When I left Tennessee, a friend went with me and we had stopped in California. And you know, obviously, looking back, you know, even when I was dating him in Tennessee, there were instances where he was very controlling, and you know, did things that he shouldn’t have.  But you know, you’re young, and it’s like, you know, you get into that: I’m sorry, but you know, you kinda made me mad, and—

 

And I’ll never do it again.

 

Right; never do it again.  That whole type of thing.  And so, you know, it didn’t happen like over, and over, and over again.  It was just occasionally.  And so, you know, you kind of put it out of your mind.  So, when we came over to California, and decided that you know, we weren’t gonna stay in California, and so we continued over here to Hawaii.

 

Now, why did you come to Hawai‘i?

 

Well, one, because there was no way I was driving back across the United States again.  ‘Cause we drove from Tennessee to California, to Los Angeles.  And I just was not gonna drive back.  And plane ticket is eighty-nine dollars one way.  So, jumped on a plane, came over, you know.

 

What were you thinking you would do?

 

Well, I figured if nothing else, I could go to McDonald’s and work as a manager at McDonald’s.  Because, you know, it was something that I had been doing working, so it was just kind of a stopgap and, you know, I figured I could get a job.  And that’s what I ended doing when I first came here.

 

And is what did he do?  What was his plan?

 

He really just kinda lived day-to-day.  And so, he got a job, you know, at one of the restaurants and stuff here. And then, we ended up getting an apartment, and then things just sort of kinda snowballed at that point.  I mean, he … you know, I caught him a couple times with other people.  He would come home drunk, you know, kinda force himself on me.  And then one time, when it got to the point where he hit me one time, I said: That’s it.  I said: You ever hit me again, I’ll kill you.  Because I knew at that point in time, I’m either gonna stay here, or I’m gonna get out. And obviously, it was hard, because I’m in a place where I really didn’t know anybody.

 

And cost of living was high.

 

Well, you know, I guess back then, I didn’t really notice it that much.  I mean, things weren’t that expensive.  And I guess, you know, I was doing okay, and I had money saved.  And money really never came into the equation as long as we were together, because we could split the rent, you know, and whatever that way.  But then, when I made that decision that I was gonna leave, it was like one of those, oh moments, and you’re like: Okay, now what.  So, I thought: You know what, if anything else, I’ll just get on a plane and I’ll just, you know, fly back to North Carolina. But you know, I had met some really nice people from Central YMCA, and they were officers, a lot of them were officers.  Funny thing about Central YMCA; you you had cops, and you had crumbs.  You know, so it was a really interesting combination. But the officers, I met this one guy, and I used to play racquetball a lot.  And so, I kinda told him what was going on.  And so, he came and he stood by.  He did what you call the standby, while I packed everything up to move out. Now, I’m standing there in the hallway and I’m thinking: Okay, so where do I go now?  So, he called a friend of his, who talked to another friend, and then I swear it was no more than maybe an hour later and he says: Okay, come with me, I’ve got a place for you to stay.  And so, this lady, her name’s Marsha, and she lives in Seattle now. But she had a studio apartment out in Makiki.  She actually allowed me to come to her studio and live on her floor, not even knowing me from Adam.  I mean, I could have been a serial killer, for all she knew.  But you know, this lady, a nice Japanese lady, she let me come, she let me sleep on her floor.  For four months, I was there, until another studio came open in the same building.  It was a little walkup in Makiki.  And you know, I mean, she taught me so much.  She taught me about taking your shoes off, going in.  You know.  The guys at the Central Y took me to the Korean bar for the first time, which was really an experience.

 

You know.

 

I mean, she was an awesome cook, too.  So, you know, I mean, I got to—

 

Local foods.

 

All the local foods.  I mean, you know, if it wasn’t for the folks at the Y, and then for Marsha, I’m sure that there was no way I would have stayed over here.

 

And what happened to the boyfriend?

 

You know, I don’t know.  I saw him one time, in town.  But I don’t know if he went back to the mainland, or if he’s even still over here.

 

So, you had to make a decision that enough is enough.

 

Yeah; enough is enough.  And you know, at that point, I said: You know, nobody’s gonna ever touch me again. You hit me, and literally, you’ll be dead.  Because you know, there’s no way that I would allow that to ever happen.  And you know, sometimes, you know, you just have to stand up for yourself.  And thank God that I learned to be independent, so the fear of going out on my own was not something that I was worried about.  You know, because, you know, especially if you’re young.  You know, if you’re young, it’s like you don’t worry about a lot of things, that you know, if they happen when you’re older that, you know, you can, you can just go forward and make it happen. Yeah.

 

When you came here, what did you think of the mix of races?

 

It was really a culture shock, because you know, you had all these people who didn’t look like you.  And so, you look around, and it’s like: Ooh, okay.  And then, you know, people would explain to me about all the customs and everything else.  And I was like: Wow, okay.

 

It’s a lot to take in.

 

It was; it’s a lot to take in.  And then obviously, you know, sometimes, you know, the discrimination against being Caucasian, Haole, whatever when I first got here.  And I think I took the bus for the first and got lost.  I ended up going around the island to get to Ala Moana Shopping Center ‘cause I didn’t know what I was doing.  I remember I was on the bus one time, and this guy looks at me and says: Eh, you F-ing Haole, get in the back of the bus.  And me, I’m just oblivious.  I’m like: Oh, who are you talking to?  I had no idea.  And it was the first time.  Because being from the South, I mean, basically you have Black and you have White. I mean, it’s pretty much that’s it. You come over here, and you know, all of a sudden you’re in a minority.  And it was something that I never really experienced before, you know, any type of racism, and it was sort of an eye-opening experience.  In the first six months, I was almost ready to pack up and leave.  But it was like all of a sudden at six months, you know, I looked around, and I was like … well, once again, people are just who they.  And it’s not like, you know, well, what is her nationality? I don’t know.  I mean, you know, Asian.  Are they Japanese, Chinese?  I don’t know; they’re just people.  What difference does it make?  You know. And so, it was, it was really a learning experience, and I absolutely love it because I love all the culture, the different cultures and stuff.  But you know, once again, you had to learn because you didn’t want to offend anybody.

 

Let’s see; you’re eight months into your five-year term as police chief.

 

Right.

 

You’ve gone through a lot of things.  Is there a common thread?  I mean, how do you decide?  ‘Cause you’ve always been in positions where you might be a one-of.

 

Yeah.

 

How do you know who you are?

 

You know, I’ve always tried to be myself.  I never tried to be someone I’m not.

 

You didn’t try to emulate anyone?

 

No; not really.  I mean, you know, as I was growing up, there really was nobody that I really wanted to emulate.  So, I sort of developed who I was along the way.  A good example is like, you know, on the weekends, I just wear my hamajang shorts and tee-shirts.  And people go: Oh, you’re the chief, you should dress up.  I’m going: No, that’s not who I am.  You know, and it’s the same thing about, you know, wearing makeup and things like that.  You know, ‘cause when I first became chief, they put all this makeup on me and made me take this picture.  And I saw it, and I said: No, take that down; I look like a hoochie-koochie mama.

 

You know.  But I just try to be true to who I am.  You know, I don’t want to be someone that I’m not.  Sometimes, I say things that you know, afterwards, they’re going: We can’t believe you said that.  But I mean, you know, that’s how I am.  You know, I try and be cognizant, and make sure that, you know, I don’t say anything inappropriate, you know, considering my position now.  But sometimes, it just comes out.  And honestly, you know what the best compliment I’ve gotten throughout my career with the police department, and even up to being chief, is people tell me: You have not changed one bit from the time that you became a police officer.  And that is probably one of the biggest compliments that they could have ever given me.

 

You’re at what, thirty-three years and counting in police work.

 

Yep; August 22nd, I’ll make thirty-three years.  Yeah.

 

We continue our conversation with Susan Ballard about her path to becoming Honolulu Police chief in the next Long Story Short.  Mahalo to Susan Ballard of Kailua, O‘ahu for sharing your story with us.  And mahalo to you, for joining us.  For PBS Hawai‘i and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha nui.

 

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

 

 

I know you always have loved pets.

 

Yes.

 

Is it since you were a little girl?

 

It was. I’ve always had either a dog or a cat, you know, in the family and stuff.  So, I’ve always been a consummate animal lover.  So, currently, I have three dogs.  I have Mango, who’s an English Setter; he’s the youngest.  And then, Kai; he’s a Golden Retriever.  And then, Kona, who’s the oldest, and she’s a Border Collie/Spaniel mix.  And she’s the boss of all three of ‘em.  And then, of course, I can’t forget Koa Kitty, who’s my cat who has no eyes.  He was born without any eyes.

 

How did you come to be his owner?

 

His mom.

 

Mom.

 

Yes; his cat mom.  Well, believe it or not, I actually happened to be on Craigslist, which you should never go on Craigslist.

 

Never, ever, ever, when it comes to animals, ‘cause there’s just a million of ‘em out there that need to get adopted.  I emailed, and so, this wonderful couple emailed back, and so we arranged to meet out in Waipahu.  Well, that’s all you need, of course.  Yeah. Okay; I got me a sucker, you know. So, I went down there, and I met them, and that’s how I ended up getting Koa Kitty.

 

And it worked out with the dogs?

 

It’s worked out well, and the cat walks around.  He’s learned how to go in and out the doggy doors.  I mean, the cat is absolutely amazing.  He’s been a wonderful addition to our family.

 

 


1 2 3 4 5 34