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ART IN THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY
Los Angeles

 

This four-part series provides unparalleled access to some of the most innovative artists of our time, revealing how they engage with the culture around them and how art allows viewers to see the world in new ways. The featured artists are grouped by their unique and revealing relationships to the places where they live.

 

Los Angeles
Featured are: Diana Thater’s immersive video installations; Liz Larner’s experimental abstract sculptures; Tala Madani, who skewers stereotypes in satirical paintings; and Edgar Arceneaux, who examines history through drawing and performance.

 

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Pam Arciero

 

Hidden beneath the antics of Sesame Street characters, you’ll find a principal puppeteer who hails from ʻĀina Haina in East Honolulu. Pam Arciero has been with the children’s series for nearly 40 years, primarily as Oscar the Grouch’s girlfriend, Grundgetta. Arciero got her start in the Department of Theatre and Dance at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. There, she joined a summer program in puppetry – one that would change the course of her life.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, Nov. 17, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Pam Arciero Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

How would you describe how you were in class?

 

I was kinda the loudmouth.  I mean, I spent a lot of time being told to be quiet.

 

Surprise!

 

And you built on that for your career.

 

I built on that. Yeah; that really made it … you know, it’s—it’s who you are. And really, every puppet is a part of you. You have to find that part of yourself that connects directly to the character in order to make it believable and real.

 

Meet this Honolulu native from ‘Āina Haina who is now a principal puppeteer on Sesame Street… next on Long Story Short.

 

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

 

Aloha mai kākou, I’m Leslie Wilcox. The characters of Sesame Street have become iconic staples of children’s programming – but have you ever thought about the people beneath the puppets? One of them, a principal puppeteer of the longtime children’s series, was born and raised in East Honolulu, and she’s my fellow Kalani High School grad – Pam Arciero. For more than three decades, she’s played Oscar the Grouch’s better half — or shall we say, grouchier half? – Grundgetta.

 

What are some of the great moments between Oscar the Grouch and girlfriend—your character—

 

Grundgettta.

 

–Grundgetta?

 

Um, well, we were gonna get married.  That was very exciting.  And then, we thought that uh, getting married would make us happy.  And being grouches, we don’t want to be happy. And so, we decided to call off the wedding at the last minute.  And then—but little did we know that actually, most people are not happily married, and so, we would have been perfectly happy. Who’s not a grouch; right?  There are times when you just a really grouchy.  And she—uh, she—also, she says exactly what she’s thinking at any given time.  You know, so that’s kind of a … in a world where you really do need to be circumspect a lot, you know, not … to offend anybody.  She just says what she’s feeling.  You know.  [GRUNDGETTA VOICE] That’s a hideous outfit.  You know, she’ll just go there.  So …

 

I know you took over that role from someone else.

 

Yeah; Brian Muehl had done it for one year, and I’ve done her now for thirty-four years.  So …

 

Did he give you any advice?  I mean, on how to play this woman grouch?

 

No.

 

He said: You’re—you’re the perfect person for this; you—I’ve seen you be a grouch.  And he handed it to me.

 

Oh, that’s it.

 

Basically.

 

Thank you for mentoring.

 

And I worked with him, yeah, on—on different shows, so he knew, he knew me a little bit.  So, he says: Yeah, it’s totally—y—you do it your way, ‘cause you know her better.

 

And you do other puppets as well.

 

Yeah.

 

Background, and who else?

 

Right.  That’s part of the—there are two skillsets you have to have.  Besides just doing a main puppet and a character, you do have to be able to um, do backgrounds.  And backgrounds are just like every dog, frog, cat, fish, bat; you name it, you get to so that stuff.  And then, there is assisting.  And assisting is actually a pretty major thing, and I actually love assisting.  Because you watch the other performer figure out how to do all these things.  And that is because some of the characters have um, two hands, like Ernie and um, Telly Monster has two hands.  And I consistently have been Telly Monster’s right hand for about 30 years.

 

Is that the important hand?

 

No, not really.  But it’s a balance.  Because your hand is in the head of the puppet, and then, your other hand is here—the left hand, usually.  And then, the right hand comes in, and you have to match and do everything in synchron- synchron- synchronicity with the other character, the other hand.  And it has to look natural.  It can’t look like this hand is doing this.

 

Right.

 

You know, you can’t be talking with this hand so… And movement is so important in puppetry.  In order to get a believable character, you have to break down the movement and take everything you do with the whole body, and do it between your elbow and your fingertips to make it … you believe that this is alive.  And you know, Bert—Bert moves differently than Ernie; right?  Bert’s very stiff when he walks, and Ernie’s kinda lumbering, and cute, and funny.  Um, and so, having a movement background is very great for puppetry, because you are breaking down the movement all the time in your head, and putting it, again, between your wrist and your elbow, and making people believe that Ernie is walking this way, and Bert is walking this way, very stiffly.  So, that analysis, the ability to analyze movement, and then put it into the character, is huge for me.

 

To be a puppeteer at your level, you also have to have lots of physical agility and strength.

 

Yeah; yeah.  We—we keep up.  I mean, when you work—when I first started working, and I first started working with Jim Henson, we did a hundred and ten shows in six months.  So, you were working every single day.  And I remember the first week I started, I was working in New York, and it was cold, and I was gonna get a cab home, and I’d been working all day.  And now, we work eight, ten hours a day with our arm like this, right?  We were walking, try and get a cab, and going… Somebody else, could you hail the cab?  I can’t lift this arm.

 

Oh …

 

I couldn’t do it, ‘cause it literally was that- that challenging.

 

And then, the focus to have everything between your hand and your elbow …

 

Yeah; that’s—it’s directing all your—all your energy—

 

Effort there.

 

Yes, right.  And it has to be alive, and all your acting goes into that little piece.  You know, so it’s—you learn it, and it takes a long time.  Really.  Uh, I—nobody walks in off the street and becomes um, um, a television puppeteer.  You just can’t.  Between the fact that we have three cameras, and—

 

Taking close-ups. 

 

Close-ups, and wide shots, and far shots, and you have to ride those three cameras looking at the monitor.  And the focus of the pup—the reason we do that is, the eyes don’t really see.  So, I’m looking at you right now, but a puppet might not be in the shot, because the eyes are stationary.  So, you have to learn to do that with each camera.  And every camera cut, you have to adjust the focus just enough to be alive, and looking down the barrel of the camera.

 

Right; all those intricacies.

 

So, that just takes time.  It just takes exposure um, to—to the process to being … all the details of what we do, it’s very, very—

 

Well, it also doesn’t look physically comfortable when we see you— I mean, and you’re right up against other puppeteers.

 

Right.  If you’re comfortable, you’re doing it wrong, is the rule of thumb [CHUCKLE] that we have among the puppeteers.

 

And yet, you love the work.

 

Oh, I love the work.  Uh, there’s nothing I’d rather do.

 

When you work with your gang on Sesame Street, everybody knows you’re from Hawai‘i, even though you haven’t lived here for many years.

 

Yeah; yeah.

 

But you certainly visit.

 

Yeah; uh-huh.

 

But how do they know?

 

Well, I often have a flower in my hair, and I—I often dress in Hawaiian clothes.  In the middle of winter, you’ll see me in a Hawaiian print shirt with, you know, sweater underneath, and tights, and … And I kinda talk about it a lot.  And sometimes, I’ll slip into a Hawaiian accent—you know, I’ll do a Pidgin accent when they’re giving me a hard time. Eh, what; I owe you money?

 

And you also created a character who speaks Pidgin.

 

Yes, I did.  Um, we had an outreach kind of Baby Muppets series.  And um, so it was Baby Big Bird, and Baby Cookie Monster, and Baby Abby Cadabby—different ones.  So, I played Auntie Nani, Big Bird’s auntie who took care of him as a baby bird.

That was very exciting, and I was able to push that Hawaiian influence in.  ‘Cause then they said: Well, maybe we’ll go Jamaican.  And I go: Well, you gotta get a Jamaican person, because I can’t do that one, for sure.  But they liked the idea that he was from Hawai‘i.

 

Nobody around you could really relate to the dialect, right?

 

Not too much.  But they could understand it.  That’s the advantage to Pidgin; it’s quite understandable.

 

M-hm.

 

Jamaican Patois—‘cause I worked in Jamaica a fair amount, is almost—if they speak quickly, you will just not—you can’t believe it’s even English, ‘cause it is so fast.  And so, they also do much more in-words; you know, words that only they understand.  But Pidgin is pretty understandable, by most—

 

And that was the whole point, right, in the plantation days, so that everybody could understand each other.

 

Each other; right.  So, that was the basis for it.

 

 

It was here in Hawai‘i where Pam Arciero, a creative since childhood, got her first taste of puppetry, at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa… and caught the attention of a visiting lecturer, a renowned puppet and costume designer.

 

 

I was getting a drama and dance degree at University of Hawai‘i. The gals I was hanging out with at the University had a puppet troupe called Mo‘olelo Ki‘i ‘Ilima.  And it was kinda- more or less sponsored by the University of Hawai‘i drama department.  That was Tammy Hunt was there at time, and she was wonderful uh, Theater for Youth teacher, and taught puppetry as well.  And so, she encouraged us to do shows…

…and we would do—go out into the community and do these little Hawaiian story puppet shows for umm, pretty much every elementary. I mean, I played every elementary school in the State of Hawai‘i.  I’d been in every auditorium at that time. That just sort of led me to saying: Hm, this is interesting, this is good; I can make a little money.  ‘Cause we made a little money doing it.  And then, they said: Well, this man’s coming to teach this summer; maybe you want to be in it.  And I said: What?  And they said: His name’s Kermit Love, he works with the Muppets, and he’s coming to teach this summer course, so you should take it with us. So, I said: Okay, sounds great.  And um, so I did, and he was wonderful. Kermit umm, was the man who built Big Bird, and designed Snuffleupagus, and he was a famous costume designer.  At the time, he was already long white hair, long white beard; it looked like you were taking a class with Santa Claus. But he’d already worked with Agnes de Mille, and Mr. Balanchine at the ballet, he’s built costumes and puppets for them.  So, he was just world renowned, and you were just like: Oh!

 

So, he was named Kermit before any other Kermit.

 

Yes. The story is—Jim Henson and Kermit Love lived in the same apartment building, and the doorman said: You know, Jim, there’s someone who’s named Kermit in this building; I think you should meet him.  And so, they met, and they realized that they had so many similar interests, and then Jim hired Kermit into the—

 

But there was already Kermit the Frog at that point.

 

Kermit the Frog existed, and Kermit Love was way older than that. So, that’s how they connected.

 

Oh …

 

And- and just- he was a wonderful influence; wonderful mentor.

 

And didn’t he want you to get into puppetry right away?

 

Who?

 

Kermit Love.

 

Yes, he did. Probably ‘cause I was really, like, gaga about puppets. Well ‘cause once I found it, when you find what you love, you just can’t stop, you know, obsessing about it.  Just like being in love with someone, you’re in love with what you’re doing, so you just keep every- every detail.  And then, I think because I was so willing to just learn, and learn, and learn, and practice, and practice, and practice, hours, and hours, and hours standing in front of a monitor and camera to get that right.  And I still do.  I will still rehearse when I’m not working.  If I haven’t been on camera for a month, I’ll pull out my video camera or—you know, now it’s so easy ‘cause you can flip up your computer and just work in, and make sure that everything’s working properly in your body.  Because the other thing, it’s reversed; right?  The monitor is backwards.

 

Oh, that’s right.

 

So, when you have your hand up and you move this way, it goes that way on the picture.  And so, if you don’t have your—there’s a point where you brain just clicks it over, and it makes perfect sense.

 

 

Physical agility, creative interpretation, and hours of practice – these qualities were instilled in Pam Arciero long before her time at the University of Hawai‘i. Since she was a little girl, Arciero loved everything about the arts.

 

 

I always loved um … dance and ballet, and play-acting was kind of what I did a lot of.  And I loved playing with dolls and small figures, actually, as a kid.

 

And did you talk—did they talk to each other?

 

Oh, yeah.  I—

 

Did you make the voices?

 

Yeah, not so much.  But actually, I did; when I watched TV, I always imitated voices as well.  That was really fun to me, to try and copy voices.  So, of course, my parents thought that was an extremely odd thing, but they—you know: Go ahead.  Um, and so … as a kid, I never thought I would be anything—I thought I would be maybe a ballet dancer, uh, maybe an actress. I like to sing, I like to make stuff, art stuff, so I kinda just liked doing all of the arts.  That was very interesting to me.  Not so good on the math side, but—

 

What about singing?

 

Singing; I always sang.  Yeah; I always sang a little bit.  And you know, once I was in high school, I was in chorus, and all the different things.  Um, and we did uh, acting, a little bit of the plays at Kalani. But everyone said: That’s not a real job; what are you gonna do, what are you gonna do?  And I just went: Well, I don’t know, I don’t know; maybe I’ll be a ballet teacher, maybe I’ll be a schoolteacher,  maybe I’ll be …

 

I know your father was in the Army as an officer, and then he was a Matson executive.

 

Right.

 

Did he have any thoughts about what you should do?

 

His encouragement really would have just been—he was very much about being who you are.  Which was kind of unusual in those days; right? He was a very romantic and—uh, soul.  And I think—I think the war was very hard on him, which is why he would—you know, he’d often … he’d recite poetry and go off on these kind of tangents with me. But like many World War II people, they never spoke about what really happened.

 

Right, there are not a lot of details.

 

There’s no details about what it was, but you could just tell.  He’d just go: You know, life is really short, you just can’t.

 

That was that generation. They didn’t talk about it.

 

It was that generation; they did not tell you what happened to them.  They did not.  So, they would react.  And you know, like many men of his generation, they always—they would … tie one on pretty frequently.  You know, they’d get drunk, and they’d start rambling these different stories.  But not much detail of what those stories were.  But he would also do funny voices.  And part of—I think my ability to get funny voices was to make him laugh, while I made funny voices too.

 

Oh …

 

You know, and he loved humor and poetry, and dancing, and music.  So, it was a- umm, a very—he was a very interesting man.

 

And what about your mom?

 

My mom is also—was also in arts and crafts.  She loved Hawaiiana, she was always in a Hawaiian civic club or in a—um, what were they called, the U.E., United—they had ladies clubs in those days, and she was always starting one in the neighborhood so that they could learn how to make Hawaiian quilts, or they could make recipes and stuff.  So, she was very uh, involved mom, and active um—

 

And so, both artsy parents.

 

Somewhat; yeah.

 

Arts-oriented parents.

 

Yeah, yeah. I guess that’s true, in comparison to some others.  Yeah.

 

You know, our parents did lots of backyard hula, luau kinda things, you know.  Um … and … she was a very fun person.  I just loved being with her.  And she didn’t really sing, but she would try.  And like I said, she would sing with the Hawaiian Civic Club and do different things, and so, the inspiration was always, with her, the community that was happening.  And her neighborhood community, all her—all my aunties in the neighborhood, they would have coffee every day together, and it was that kind of, you know, old school style.

 

Was she a stay-at-home mom?

 

She was a stay-at-home mom until I was about thirteen.  And then, um … during the war, she um … her college education was interrupted by the war.  So—and we all know what the war in Hawai‘i ‘The War’.  Um—

 

World War II. 

 

World War II; the only war.  Um, and she always tells the famous story, I know many people have talked about this, being in boats and picking up on Pearl Harbor Day coming, picking up stuff.  Um, and in fact, my grandfather, who was half Japanese, um, was driving by Pearl Harbor.  He was a single guy, and uh, he had been at a girlfriend’s house and was coming home.

 

It was about seven in the morning when—

 

Yeah.

 

–the bombs came.

 

Right.  Um, and apparently, they spotted him and picked him up, and they arrested him.

 

Oh, for being AWOL?

 

No; for being a Japanese spy, they thought.  And so, my father had to go and bail him out two days later once everything settled.  They—they pulled him out of jail, took him home, and say: No, he’s just—he’s a dentist.  You know.  He’s a local Japanese dentist.  And he wasn’t even all, he was half Japanese.  So, um … but she’d always tell story about that—stories about that, and that, and you know, after Pearl Harbor, hel—helping to uh, recover bodies and parts, and stuff, you know, and boats.

 

And she did that?

 

She did that.  She worked for U.S.E.D.  We always sang that song when I was a kid.

 

U.S.E.D.?

 

Yes, you know.  Fifty cents an hour, four bucks a day.  Um …

 

Mm.

 

So, she had those stories.  And then, you know, my father was … I guess everybody at that time was pretty much involved with the war in some form or another.

 

And what about culturally; what would you say your culture was, growing up?

 

My father, being Italian from the East Coast, brought certain sets of ideas.  Some of it was sort of the macho Italian stuff.  And then, my mom; she’s, you know, Hawaiian, Japanese, English, kinda local stuff.  So, our culture really was a mix of that.  And uh, I would lean towards Japanese culture, was sort of where our comfortable wheelhouse was, and then a lot of Italian spaghetti stuff.  So, I always like to say: I don’t know whether to have sushi, or spaghetti. You know, is kind of where I came from.

 

And you had a big family, too.

 

Yeah; there was five of us.  Is still five kids.  Um, and that was … you know, they were spaced out rather well; we’re about five years apart, for the most part.  So—

 

So, you get along.

 

Yeah.  You have an—always an older—older sibling doing something.  And it was bad.  When I went to Niu Valley, every single class I went to, my three older siblings had had that teacher.  So, they had expectations of what you were gonna be like, and it was like, I was never that—you know, whatever they—

 

You were different from the other kids?

 

Absolutely.  Every one of us were different from each other, you know.  So …

 

How would you describe how you were in class?

 

Umm, I was kinda the loudmouth.  I mean, I spent a lot of time being told to be quiet. Surprise!

 

And you built on that for your career.

 

I built on that. Yeah; that really made it … you know, it’s—it’s who you are.  Um … and I think that’s really one of the things always in my life, I’ve tried to strive for; just to be who you are.  ‘Cause you can’t be anybody else, really.

 

But how ironic too, because you’re always becoming other people, or other puppets—

 

That’s where I become other people.  That’s where you get to look at other people, and make fun of other people. By choosing their character traits, and rolling them into a puppet.  You know.  Um … an—and getting to explore—and really, every puppet is a part of you.  I mean, there’s that—you have to connect to it on some level, just like any acting role.

 

M-hm.

 

You have to find that part of yourself that connects directly to the character in order to make it believable and real.

 

These days, when she isn’t bringing characters to life on Sesame Street and other programs, Pam Arciero travels around the world to perform live or train aspiring puppeteers. She’s proud to serve as Artistic Director of the annual National Puppetry Conference at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre Center.

 

 

I had no idea that being in your field, you would be asked to go all over the world to teach, and to—

 

Yeah.

 

–perform, and—

 

Yeah.

 

It’s been—you’ve been everywhere.

 

Pretty much.  Um, I… I’m lucky that way.  I—I always wanted to travel.  Um, and so, pretty much, I go and I work.  I think … the most unusual place I went, I put in a—a large acting show in Saudi Arabia.  Um, and of course, there—this was about four years ago, three years ago.  Um … and they’re very repressive of women, um, as you probably know. Uh, I had to wear an abaya to work with my guys when we were outdoors.  But it’s a very schizophrenic thing, ‘cause once you’re indoors, you can take off the abaya, which is the black—the scarf and the black, and you can wear anything you want.  And we would work and rehearse, and do all our things, and then once I stepped—once I had to go outside, I’d have to get all dressed up to even just get in a car to go back to my hotel.  Um, and you had to eat separately; women eat separately from men there, if you’re alone.  Um—

 

Were the puppeteers squished up against each other, male and female?

 

No; they were the dancing ones.  They were the big—

 

Oh, I see.

 

–dancing, and they were all male.  There would be no females.  Yeah.  Females aren’t allowed to work.

 

How did they like a female directing them?

 

The guys liked it, ‘cause they were young men, and they keep—they all said to me: Pam, five years, it’s gonna change; I’m telling you, it’s gonna change. And I’m like: Yeah.  But umm, I would do semi-submersive things—subversive things.  Like, uh, if we did a song about driving, which we had a song called “Let’s Go Driving In An Automobile,” I made sure the one female character Khokha, which is umm, an Arabian character, she’s in all the Middle Eastern productions—she drove the car.  Because they couldn’t drive; women can’t drive.  So, I made sure the girl was always the one driving.  And then, we had this little thing where uh, Ernie and Bert teach you car safety.  And if you go through—and all the things—seatbelt, and you know—

 

Mm.

 

–all the things about being safe in a car—don’t hang out the window, then you would get a driver’s license.  And we made sure that every girl got a driver’s license and would go home and say: Mom, look, I have a driver’s license. Now, that just changed; right?  They just recently changed to have driver’s licenses.  So, that actually is a li—more of a change than I expected.  But the guys really said to me, when I—the guys I worked with really thought it would be completely different in five years, that it would be a much more open society.  And I just think it’s gonna take a lot longer than that.

 

What about women in puppetry?

 

So now, it is better.  It’s still not great.  If you look at the Muppets, the main Muppet guys are still six guys.  There’s no woman there.  But Sesame Street, we have five really strong women puppeteers, and we have nine really strong men.  That’s our core of puppeteers.  So, that balance has gotten much better.  And it’s a difficult thing, ‘cause not—initially, not that many women wanted to be puppeteers. It sounded—You know, if you’re an attractive woman who does a lot of voices, you can be a comedienne or an actress.  Why would you hide under a puppet; right?  And in fact, I was doing a show called The Great Space Coaster, and our guest was Steve Allen.  And he was playing the piano, and I was hiding under the piano doing the puppet on the side of him.  And the g—the human who was in our cast came out, and she—he’s talking to her, and I’m talking with him as a puppet.  And he looks at her and he says: Well, you’re not a puppeteer; right?  You’re much too attractive to be a puppeteer.  And so I stood up like this and looked at him, and said: What?  And he goes: Well, I didn’t mean—I said: Yeah, yeah, yeah.  And got back under the piano and went back to being a puppeteer.  But I didn’t get insulted by Steve Allen. Not many people can say that.

 

And you stood up and said you wouldn’t take that. 

 

Yeah.

 

So, better, but there’s still not a big infusion of women.

 

There’s still not a lot. Yeah, yeah. I mean, we’re working on it; we’re tr—constantly looking for women who are skilled, and training new women in.  And again, it takes a long time; you have to have the patience.  And it’s one of those things, either you have it or you don’t.

 

Mm.

 

And there are some people who can train, and train, and work, and work, and they still don’t have that natural feel for what—making the puppet alive.  And you have to have that core.  So, it is a kind of uh, unique-

 

Mhmm. Skill-

 

-skillset. But uh, I have traveled a lot, all over, um, directing those large dance shows, as well as teaching.  Um, I teach at … uh, Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts, I’ve taught.  I’ve taught at the uh, Taipei National University of the Arts.  In Yukon, all over.  Universe—University of Hawai‘i.  Um, and actually, I have a lovely University of Hawai‘i thing that I love, which is Kermit Love came to teach the University of Hawaii puppetry, and I took that course, and that set me sail on a course.  And then, I came back 30 years later to teach that same course to—at the University of Hawai‘i.

 

And was there a young Pam Arciero there?

 

Kind of; yeah. No, not that I know, but yeah.  But it was just really that … it was completing that circle.  I’ve been very lucky to have circles that complete in my life.

 

Pam Arciero has lived in Connecticut for more than three decades, but says Hawaiʻi will always be her home. Her two sons, both of creative minds, are pursuing an array of projects, including stand-up comedy, live music, film production, and video-game voiceover work. Of her husband, Steve Lanza, Arciero says: “He has been my biggest supporter and fan, and a guiding light when I need it.” Mahalo to Pam Arciero for sharing her story with us – and mahalo to you for joining us. For PBS Hawai‘i and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha nui.

 

 

Did you ever doubt yourself, that: Oh, maybe I shouldn’t do this?

 

Oh, yeah.

 

Or maybe I’m not—

 

The first few years.

 

–good enough?

 

Oh, yeah; I still do.  I still have my doubts. I’m like: What am I doing? How—how did I do … you know, that’s just part of the nature, I think, of being a performer, of constantly putting yourself out there, trying to put yourself out the best you can.  And then, there are times when there is no jobs.  Or you go to auditions—‘cause I still audition; we all audition to get whatever roles it is.  You go to auditions, and you leave and you just go: That was terrible; what—what was I thinking, that was an awful choice.  And then, you don’t get the job, and you go: Yup; definitely an awful choice.

 

Yeah.

 

You know.  So, that’s just kind of the way the business is.  It’s not easy.  It’s—it’s a hard … hard part of the business.

 

So, you have to have a thick skin and being able to take rejection, even now, after all this time in the industry, and all your accomplishments.  And you have to have a thin skin, because you’re dealing with children, and you have to be sensitive to that.

 

And you’re acting; you have to ac—be able to access your emotions in order to really get it across.

 

So, you have to really feel.

 

I—yeah.

If you really want to do something, you just have to do it.  And people are always gonna say: Well, that’s not a good idea.  And—but you have to say: Yeah, but …  I think if you do what brings you joy, and you continue to follow that, you will make it happen in some form or shape. In some ways, I guess people are just: Well, you’re a girl, you can be a ballet dancer, who cares what you become.  You’re gonna be a mom, was sort of how—

 

Mm.

 

Ultimately, you’re gonna be a mom, was sort of how the feeling I got from some people.  And it was like: No, no, you don’t understand; this is not about that, this is about expressing who you are through movement, through dance, through arts.  And I knew that in—intrinsically, and I don’t know why.  But I did know that that—that was the key for me, was just to follow, to stay the course, to do what I wanted to do, and it would pay off eventually.

 

You didn’t know what the end would be, but you—

 

No idea.

 

–knew this was the right thing to do.

 

Yeah, yeah; no idea.

 

[END]

 

 

 

NOVA
Decoding da Vinci

 

Leonardo da Vinci was a Renaissance genius. Not only did he paint masterpieces of art, but he was an obsessive scientist and inventor, dreaming up complex machines centuries ahead of his time, including parachutes, armored tanks, hang gliders, and robots. On the 500th anniversary of Leonardo’s death, with the help of biographer Walter Isaacson, NOVA investigates the secrets of Leonardo’s success.

 

 

 

INSIGHTS ON PBS HAWAIʻI
What’s it Going to Take? The Health of Hawaiʻi’s People

 

PBS Hawaiʻi is asking What’s it Going to Take?, in an ongoing series of live televised forums seeking to galvanize decision-makers, communities and all of us to make life in Hawaiʻi better. This special edition of INSIGHTS ON PBS HAWAIʻI (Thurs., Nov. 14, 8:00 pm) drills down on The Health of Hawaiʻi’s People.

 

A grim truth lies beneath the surface of Hawaiʻi’s four years of accolades as the healthiest state in the country. Hawaiʻi Community Foundation’s CHANGE Framework data shows that when income, neighborhood and ethnicity are factored in, almost one-third of island residents have high blood pressure – and residents in low-income areas on all islands live shorter lives. What’s it going to take to create a healthier Hawaiʻi? Join the conversation by phoning in, or by leaving us a comment on Facebook or Twitter.

 

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

 

Email:
insights@pbshawaii.org

 

Facebook:
Visit the PBS Hawai‘i Facebook page.

 

Twitter:
Join our live discussion using #pbsinsights

 

 

 

ART IN THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY
Mexico City

 

ART IN THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY
This four-part series provides unparalleled access to some of the most innovative artists of our time, revealing how they engage with the culture around them and how art allows viewers to see the world in new ways. The featured artists are grouped by their unique and revealing relationships to the places where they live.

 

Mexico City
Featured are Damian Ortega, who makes sculptures from ordinary objects; Pedro Reyes, who designs solutions to social problems; Minerva Cuevas, who creates interventions in public space; and feature filmmaker Natalia Almada.

 

 

 

GREAT PERFORMANCES
Red

 

Experience the passion of painter Mark Rothko in this six-time Tony-winning play dramatizing Rothko’s greatest challenge: creating the murals for New York’s iconic Four Seasons restaurant. Stars Alfred Molina with Alfred Enoch as Rothko’s assistant.

 

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Noa Emmett Aluli

 

“The health of the land is the health of the people” is a core belief for Dr. Noa Emmett Aluli. The Molokaʻi physician comes from a prominent Hawaiian family of medical doctors, academics, musicians and historical figures. In the 1970s, he made his own mark in history as part of the Kahoʻolawe Nine, a group of activists who stood up against the federal government to defend the island, used for decades in bombing drills. Dr. Aluli admits his personal mission to restore the health of Kahoʻolawe, and the health of Molokaʻi’s people, is a challenging long-term journey.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, Nov. 10, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Noa Emmett Aluli Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

The land is the religion, the health of the land is the health of the people, is the health of the nation.

 

Meet this Moloka‘i physician and Kaho‘olawe defender, Dr. Noa Emmett Aluli, next on Long Story Short.

 

Dr. Noa Emmett Aluli has been serving Moloka‘i as a physician for more than four decades. He’s perhaps best known for his work alongside other protestors to protect and restore Kaho‘olawe, where the U.S. Navy carried out bombing drills for 50 years.

 

Dr. Aluli grew up in an extended Hawaiian family in Kailua, on Windward O‘ahu. His family line includes medical doctors; academics; and the Hawaiian patriot, Joseph Nāwahī, who in the 1890s opposed the U.S. government’s annexation of Hawai‘i. Dr. Aluli’s family also includes notable names in Hawaiian music, including his aunt, the late Irmgard Farden Aluli.

 

The Alulis are known for music.  Are you musical?

 

No.  My father would say: Don’t even try to sing, son.  I’m named after my dad, who was named after his dad, and it just goes on.  Musical—and on the other side, the Meyer girls.  You know, Malia was the oldest, and Mele Meyer, and—

 

Manu.

 

—Manu. Those are all my father’s youngest sister’s kids. And so, it was one, two, skip a couple houses, my dad, his brother, then my Auntie Irmgard were there.  But on the other side is my mother with 14 in her family.

 

You were surrounded by people.

 

Yeah, yeah

 

So, all these cousins, and aunties and uncles.

 

And we had to know them personally.  We just kind of really had to stick together and support each other. My grandpa was one of um … I think seventeen people who testified at the very first hearing on statehood in 1935.  There were about 150; Umm, 90 were in favor, 60 uhh, were against.

 

And he was…?

 

He was—he had conditions.  He said for the wellbeing and wellness, and the non-extinction of the Native Hawaiian, he had hoped that we would be recognized, as they had the year before, recognized the Native Americans and set up them as, you know, governments within-

 

-Mhmm.

 

—the government.  So, he—that was what he was thinking.  He was always—he was one of the organizers of the ummm, homesteading act, and he certainly kind of argued for it. We—we have that kinda like DNA or ancestral memory, or responsibility that—that we’ve kinda like grew up with.

 

Okay. So, with that scene set, that’s a lot of people around you, and people before you, and lots of talents.  But definitely, the DNA, as you mentioned, for standing up and standing against what you felt was wrong. 

 

M-hm.

 

So, you have Chinese and Caucasian, but you pulled on the Hawaiian.

 

Right, three-quarters, give or take.  I don’t know exactly, but you know, those days, you never keep track… English.

 

English.

 

Irish … English, Irish.  We have a coat of arm in—on my grandpa’s side, Cockett.  And the other one—

 

That‘s another famous name in Hawai‘i.  So, Aluli, Meyer, Cockett.

 

Yes; fortunate.

 

Did you feel privileged when you were growing up?

 

Didn’t know it, but yeah, we kind of like were able to afford good schools. Umm, never went hungry. Umm, you know, was able to compete in the ocean, was able to fish and—never hunted, though.  But privileged in the sense that we were given lot of opportunities, and had to prove that we would be able to kind of handle things in the years to come.  That was the big test of growing up.

 

 

One of Noa Emmett Aluli’s first major tests was self-imposed— he chose medicine as his career path, for the sheer difficulty of the training. First he earned his undergraduate degree at Marquette University in Wisconsin. Then he returned to O‘ahu and graduated in the first class of the John A. Burns School of Medicine at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa.

 

I heard that in your high school yearbook, Saint Louis, you said you intended to be a doctor.

 

Well, I did that because it was the biggest challenge that anybody could ever accept.  And umm, it was kind of like in a sense and I’m gonna do it. But then, it was a challenge all the way through, you know, undergrad, and getting into medical school, and enjoying medical school especially in…It was a lot of work.

 

Did you think you were not gonna make it at any point?

 

Umm, yes, because I couldn’t- I couldn’t discipline myself to study things that I couldn’t really put my hands around.  You know, all the science. And the way we were learning things just by memory, rote, repeat-repeat-repeat.

 

You’re better at learning by doing.

 

Yeah, exactly.  So, after my one year in a rotating integrated umm, residency program, I told the professors that I wanted to go and learn from the community.

 

That’s Hawaiian culture, isn’t it?

 

Yeah.  So—and I chose Moloka‘i, because I was there in my fourth year as a rural health elective. Umm, and I wanted Moloka‘i because they were changing too.  And the professors in that time were studying what happened in Kahuku; was happening in Kohala, where the plantations were closed and the big hotels were gonna be the tourist destinations, and how people were gonna make that change.  And Moloka‘i was going to change that way, too.

 

Also, Moloka‘i is known as the most Hawaiian place. Or the most Hawaiian island, I should say.  Because I think it’s, what … the last data I heard was nearly 40 percent of the population is Hawaiian, and many are more than 50 percent.

 

Yeah.  Well, and it’s actually because it was a leper colony there.

 

Kalaupapa.

 

Yeah, Kalaupapa.  People just were afraid of being there.  And because it was actually the beginning of the homesteading program.  The very first homestead was Kalama‘ula.  And then, Keaukaha was the second one on the Big Island, and then came back to Ho‘olehua.  So, it really had a real strong kinda like presence there. And a small island, so everybody knew everybody else.

 

Was it hard for you to make that transition?  You were kind of a suburban guy.

 

Yeah.  No, it was pretty easy.  Because the way we were brought up too was, you know, you go to a house and you eat anything they serve. And- and I think it was because I was kind of like out there and interested, and people wanted me to stay on Moloka‘i, so they kind of took me in—uncle, auntie, and taught me what they could.  And you know, I think it was—when I look back, they kind of like had hoped that I would usher them to the next realm, taking care of them that long.

 

Moloka‘i would not be the only island drawing Dr. Emmett Aluli’s interest. His medical career was just blossoming when his next major life test presented itself: Kaho‘olawe. On January 4, 1976, Dr. Aluli was one of nine people who protested the U.S. Navy’s use of the island for bombing practice. They defied restrictions and landed on the forbidden “Target Isle.” These nine people came to be known as “the Kaho‘olawe Nine.”

 

I was kind of like on call for three days and I was working at the Queen’s emergency room.  And then, we had 72 hours off.

 

Mhmm.

 

So, I decided this was an opportunity; I wanted to do, I wanted to get away.  And so, I just kind of joined the group that was from Molokaʻi that was asked to come and kind of like see whether we could be part of this reclaiming of at least the fishing rights. Fishing around the island was so rich, and the fishermen, local fishermen wanted to be able to go there and fish.  And they were kind of like unable to get there, except that they snuck on.  So, then we just decided: Well, we’re here, we may as well go and look around a little more.

 

How did you all get together?

 

It was a guy named Charlie Maxwell.

 

From Pukalani, Maui!

 

Yeah, yeah, yeah.  Who was kind of like against what was happening uh, with the umm, telescopes at Haleakala.  But he was the one that was really kind of like organized uhh, and reached out.  And uhh, but nobody knew that this was gonna be a publicity thing; they weren’t really serious.  And so, when we kind of like knew the Coast Guard was called, alerted—

 

And you gathered on—

 

Yeah; there must have been like about 30 boats, more fishing boats.

 

So, Charlie had called; he put out a call for: “Let’s go to that island.”

 

Yeah.

 

Even though they say it’s forbidden.

 

Yeah; yeah.  And let’s make a statement.

 

Let’s make a statement and let’s land there.

 

Yeah.

 

Okay; and did he say you might get arrested, and it’s worth it?

 

No, no. We never got that: “Be careful, you might get arrested.”

 

It was more like: “Let’s just do this.”

 

Do it.

 

Okay.

 

But remember, there was an Alcatraz occupation, there was Wounded Knee, and so you know, people were just kind of thinking: “If this is what we gotta do as Native Hawaiians, let’s do it.” So, there was all that push to do something.

 

So, 30 boats left, but then they turned back.

 

They turned back.  Otherwise, they would have been confiscated.

 

And how did you get through?  Did you say: “I don’t care if the boat’s confiscated?”

 

No; so what it is, it was, once again, a reporter who kind of like knew a boat that was the fastest, that can outdo the—pick us all up, boom, take us in, and then get out.

 

Ah

 

So, that was how we did it.  We went, and the reporters turned back, ‘cause it was the boat that they had been on, but they took nine of us to the island.  And then, the Coast Guard came and took all the other seven.

 

But you and Walter Ritte were exploring the island for two days. Were you making yourself scarce, or were you just really exploring the island?

 

We were just kind of—we were bent on exploring the island.

 

And so, it was okay if you just—

 

Yeah. We just took off.

 

Wow.

 

In slippers.

 

For two days.

 

Yeah.

 

Before they came for you with handcuffs.

 

Actually, they cuffed our ankles. And they gave us a bar letter.  And so …

 

What’s a bar letter?

 

I mean, you can never return; you’re barred from the island.

 

Oh, I see.  Which did not happen; you went back.

 

So, we went back.  Because what we felt and saw was something just really different.  You know, like I personally had to go back and see whether it was real, that the land could be suffering that bad.

 

Noa Emmett Aluli and others kept returning to Kaho‘olawe in protest, despite those military restrictions. Then tragedy: On March 7, 1977, the charismatic musician and activist George Helm was heading back to Maui with park ranger Kimo Mitchell, in bad weather and rough water.  The two were never seen again. Dr. Aluli says that Helm, the fellow member of the Kaho`olawe Nine, had great potential and power as an emerging leader of the Hawaiian people. Dr. Aluli was devastated by the loss of George Helm.

 

I was wanting to just drop out completely.  You know, and just kind of move on.  But something just told me that, you know, you just at least carry his suit, and then you see that you’re successful. And so that’s one of the reasons why I’m still there to make sure that their loss or our loss is something that you know. We kind of like can make a difference and be able to kind of show some successes on the island, and show that we can green the island, and show that their life lost, not lost forever.

 

And did you know the other members of the Kaho‘olawe Nine very well?

 

No, not—not very well; not very well.  But I knew, because they were organizing on different levels, the—more like a legal kind of understanding of our claims and our rights.

 

But it wasn’t—there weren’t nine people picked because of their particular relationship and role. It was just- kind of an ad hoc group?

 

No. It was kind of a mixed bag. Yeah.

 

But what an amazing set of accomplishments was made by a group of people who didn’t even necessarily know each other ahead of time.

 

M-hm; m-hm. Well, so the magic—you know, they call it magic.

 

The magic.

 

Umm, because we knew that the more people we could take to the island, the more they would be inspired to kinda like do work that—

 

And you said you felt a kind of spiritual presence there.

 

I did. And I still do.

 

What does it feel like?

 

It feels as if you’re with nature, so strongly connected to it uh, that you’re kind of like feeling uplifted, or you gotta pass that responsibility, you know, that you kind of like sweat on that, and you understand that land.  But then now, you can get uh, get into the worship of the gods of the land. You know, and that was it, you know.  Pele creating new land, her sister Hi‘iaka the healer, and then there’s the other sister Kapo, and all the nature forms of all her brothers and sisters. You know, that’s all the people of old worshipped and had that connection to.

 

Dr. Emmett Aluli and others in the grassroots organization Protect Kaho‘olawe ‘Ohana, or P-K-O, continued their fight to stop the bombing on the island. In 1980, the U.S. Navy and P-K-O signed a Consent Decree, requiring the Navy to begin cleanup efforts, which are unfinished to this day. Then in 1990, President George H.W. Bush ordered an immediate halt to the bombing. Three years later, Congress voted to end military use, and Kaho‘olawe was turned over to the State. Since then, P-K-O and the Kaho‘olawe Island Reserve Commission, a State agency with which Dr. Aluli worked for more than 20 years, have focused on restoring the island that many regard as sacred.

Dr. Aluli draws parallels between the Kaho‘olawe protests four decades ago and the Mauna Kea protests against construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope on Hawai‘i Island.

 

The land is the religion, the health of the land is the health of the people, is the health of the nation. What it is, is the decision, the Supreme Court decision is, there’s no… “Mauna Kea is already destroyed, so it’s no longer sacred.” They could have used that argument against us. I mean, what, just bomb the s— out of the island; no longer sacred. So, we have to rethink this whole thing through, but you know…

 

Do you think there are a lot of analogies between Kaho‘olawe and TMT?

 

Yeah. It’s the same kind of arguments for Mauna Kea.  And that’s the sad thing.  We’ve kind of like really kind of like got stepped on. I think indigenous folks around the world have their own culture science-

 

Mhmm.

 

—and understanding. And that is respected even more.  It’s just a matter of this next generation kind of coming up and proving it, yeah?  That you can manage the forests, the native forests, like, you know, the Hawaiians of old did, and get as good results as the sciences of today.

 

No longer the Target Island, Kaho‘olawe remains damaged by decades of bombing. There’s a long-term strategic  plan to restore the land, called I Ola Kanaloa, or “Life to Kanaloa.” Kanaloa is the ancient name for Kaho‘olawe, … after the Hawaiian god of healing, voyaging, and the ocean. Elements in the plan are experiential learning for students; and healing programs for abuse survivors and  former prisoners; also, restoration of Kaho‘olawe’s native habitat and cultural sites.

Meanwhile, in his medical practice on Moloka‘i, Dr. Emmett Aluli continues to tackle another challenge: the health of Native Hawaiian people.

 

We still have the only cardiovascular risk factor study. Then putting that together with some of the uhh, economic determinates of health, and you know, the access that poor people don’t have, or uninsured don’t have.  And putting that together, and just really looking at it, and using that as a tool on Moloka‘i: this is where we are. And it’s worked.  And then, from that study, we went into the Native Hawaiian diet study. So, if you eat more taro, sweet potato, reef fish, you know, limu, you should be healthier. You know, how to kind of integrate more, how to kind of like … I guess, extend care more permanently, especially to the Native Hawaiians and how we’re gonna continue together like benefit from the different ali‘i’s kind of like priorities.  Then comes the- A part of that medicine is just trying to finish off some of my research, like creating health systems across the board for Native Hawaiians. That we have Hawaiians that should start looking at the different programs and support that they need, so we can really do a good cleanup and a good kinda future.  ‘Cause the way it looks is, we’re not getting any better.

 

As far as?

 

As our health.

 

As our health; oh …

 

I think more the social and economic determinates of health are increasing, and so … sometimes I look at: How do you change the “ainokea” attitude?

 

To “aikea.”

 

To “aikea.”  You know, the famous—and how do we—can I look at being able to instill that pride again.  You know. That—because I think people are looking at: Oh you was coming- you owe me, you owe me, you owe me for taking the land, for you know, taking the Kingdom, and there’s a lot of pissed-off guys out there. And how do we kind of make them kind of like … ‘Kay, we gotta work a little bit harder, we gotta learn our politics, we gotta bring that leadership back, we gotta bring that trust back.

We will be able to survive, but we just have to depend on our connections to land a little bit more.  We gotta get our strength back, connections to the land, our relationships to the land.  And to make it sincere.  I think that—that’s what we gotta do.  And I’ve seen that happening in different areas.

 

For example?

 

Oh; in some of the fishponds, He‘eia and umm, you know, I see it kind of like umm, flowering in some of the farming projects.  You know, especially in Molokaʻi and the Big Island.

 

Because you think the health of the land is reflect … that’s a determinant of the health of the people.

 

People; right.  Right.  And then, how we work all together as a nation, or as a community, or as a ahupua‘a.  That we just, you know, automatic.

 

But in these decades since Kaho‘olawe, you say, you know, the health of the people has not improved.

 

Well, I don’t see it, because there’s something else that’s interfering.  I think it’s just “ainokea” attitude that’s… we’re addressing suicide also. Umm, on Moloka‘i, we’ve had a string of suicides. Depression setting in.  You know? And we’ve gotta talk this through a little bit more.  We gotta focus on that.

 

Yeah.  I mean, I think you’re a person who’s in it for the long term.  I mean, you hung in there with Kaho‘olawe, and you’re still in there.  And you’ve worked really hard on Hawaiian health.  But you haven’t really gotten to see the fruition of your hopes, all your hopes.

 

I feel like … it’ll come.  I feel it’ll really come.  I mean, I’m seeing it develop umm, in some key people. You know, we’ve had couple of young guys come in and, you know, and get credits working in my clinic, and I just—they’re teaching me more than I’m teaching them. My patients ask me: When are you gonna retire, Doc?  I said: When I don’t enjoy it anymore.

 

Do you still feel like that activist inside?

 

Umm, yeah; yeah.  And like, folks like Art says: We gotta watch you, Emmett.

 

And that competitiveness that you had when you said: I’m gonna be a doctor, just because it was a hard thing to do. 

 

No, that was—that was just … I think that pushed me through, because I said: I’m gonna do it.  Like it’s pushed me through with Kaho’olawe, I’m gonna do it. With the other issues I’ve been involved in, I’m gonna do it.  And you know, I don’t expect to be able to do it all, but at least some footprints.

 

And some continuity,-

 

-Yeah.

 

you’ll leave behind, people who can do it, or who will carry it on.

 

Who will carry it on.

 

You seem like you’re prepared for the long view.  You know, things can’t get done as quickly as you want, but you’re gonna keep at it.

 

Yeah.  And people know that.  People know that.  Stay out of his way.

 

Longterm challenges and the never-ending desire to heal the land and the people—these seem to define Dr. Emmett Aluli’s life journey. As of this conversation in the summer of 2019, Dr. Aluli is 75 years old, and he says he has no plans to stop working to heal people and the land anytime soon. He says he’s most thankful for his family, his medical practice, and his good health. Mahalo to Dr. Noa Emmett Aluli of Ho‘olehua, Moloka‘i, 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.

 

 

What do you think the people of Molokaʻi can teach the rest of us?

 

“Molokaʻi, the friendly island” is because we adapted or adjusted to the leprosy.

 

Mhmm.

 

And it was okay to go there, and they’re family. And then, there’s—what I like is: “Molokaʻi ku‘i la‘au.” You know, strong, powerful healing. But the one that is being really shared is: “Molokaʻi ‘āina momona.”

 

Plenty.

 

Plenty fruits. And I think a lot of people are adopting that we gotta make our lands rich with food again.

 

 

 

FINDING YOUR ROOTS
Black Like Me

 

This acclaimed series with Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. explores the mysteries, surprises and revelations hidden in the family trees of popular figures.

 

Black Like Me
Bryant Gumbel, Tonya Lewis-Lee and Suzanne Malveaux discover a tapestry of the unexpected in their ancestry, revealing slaves and free people of color, Civil War legacies and forgotten European origins.

 

 

 

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