advocate

FRONTLINE
Targeting El Paso

FRONTLINE

 

How El Paso became Trump’s immigration testing ground and then the target of a white supremacist. Through interviews with border patrol agents, militias, local advocates, and migrants, the inside story from the epicenter of the border crisis.

 

 

 

INSIGHTS ON PBS HAWAIʻI
Sex Trafficking of Minors in Hawaiʻi

 

In the midst of Hawaiʻi’s beauty, there is a dark side, hidden from plain view. It is a world in which children (legally defined as individuals under age 18) are trafficked for sex. Hawaiʻi was the last state in country to pass an anti-sex trafficking law. Advocates say Hawaiʻi still lacks a law mandating training to help law enforcement personnel and others identity victims. Is Hawaiʻi doing enough to prevent the Sex Trafficking of Minors? Join the conversation on INSIGHTS ON PBS HAWAIʻI. You can phone in, or leave us a comment on Facebook or Twitter.

 

National Human Trafficking Hotlines


 

Hawaiʻi Trafficking Hotlines

 

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

 

 

 

PACIFIC HEARTBEAT
Visions in the Dark: The Life of Pinky Thompson

PACIFIC HEARTBEAT: Visions in the Dark: The Life of Pinky Thompson

 

This film is a Hawaiian story of pain, promise, challenge, triumph and leadership. Sustaining a serious eye wound in Normandy during WWII that left him in the dark for two years, Myron “Pinky” Thompson emerged with a clear vision of his purpose in life. Thompson would go on to be a social worker, mentor and revered leader in the Native Hawaiian community who left a legacy of positive social change, pride in Pacific heritage and a strong sense of native identity among Hawaiians that flourishes today.

 

Preview

 

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Mahealani Wendt

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: Mahealani Wendt

 

Growing up in the crowded, rundown tenements of downtown Honolulu, Mahealani Wendt witnessed the poverty of the Native Hawaiian people around her. That ignited a passion to help, and she spent more than three decades fighting for Hawaiian rights, with a long run as the Executive Director of the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation in Honolulu. Today she lives in Hāna, Maui, and is a poet and author.

 

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

 

Program

 

More from Mahealani Wendt:

 

“Righteous Cause”

 

Hawaiian Homeland

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, March 24, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Mahealani Wendt Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

When I went to Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation, I’m not sure that the most effective thing I could do there was as an attorney.  I worked as a volunteer, I worked as a grants writer.  I knew nothing about writing grants.  You know, a lot of times, you’re fueled just by passion, and you have so much … I don’t know how else to put it.  You know, you just feel so, so intensely about something, and it drives you, and you do everything you have to do to make it happen.  And that’s how I became a grants writer.

 

Her success as a volunteer grant writer led to a thirty-two-year career fighting for Native Hawaiian rights.  Mahealani Wendt of Maui, 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.  Mahealani Wendt is the retired executive director of the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation, a community activist, accomplished writer, and poet.  She’s the eldest of seven children, grew up on Kaua‘i and O‘ahu, and now lives on farmland on Maui in Wailua Nui along Hāna Highway.  She knew from the time she was nine years old, living in the rundown tenements of Downtown Honolulu, that she wanted to help others.  She was deeply affected by the poverty of Native Hawaiian people she saw around her, and despite being poor herself, she says she was raised in a loving, nurturing environment, and never went hungry.  In childhood, she developed a love of writing and reading.

 

My father is Spanish; he’s second generation.  My grandparents emigrated from Spain in 1906.  They were plantation workers, the first sugar plantation in Hawai‘i, Kōloa Sugar. And so, they settled on Kaua‘i. And eventually, he met my mother, who’s from Hilo; she’s Hawaiian.  And we grew up on Kaua‘i there.  It was very beautiful, very country.  We had horses, cows, pigs, chickens, raised every kind of, you know, fruit tree, we had a garden. We were cray fishing, climbing trees; all this stuff we did, it was beautiful.  My parents separated.  You know, we were pretty innocent; we never understood what happened.  We just knew that one day, my mother decided that we were going to move, and she brought us to Honolulu.  It was a really different lifestyle.  You know, it was kind of an idyllic life, country life, and we moved to the heart of Honolulu, to the tenements.  And I still remember our address; it was 1278 Fort Street.

 

Fort Street.

 

Yeah; Fort Street, and there were twenty-seven steps going up to the second floor where we lived.

 

This was an old, beat-up building.

 

Yeah; it was the heart of the slums, the tenements in Honolulu.  This was in the 50s, mid-50s, and these tenement buildings, the closest thing that would kind of resemble it would be the buildings in Chinatown.  Those are far more well-maintained than the ones we lived in.  The buildings we lived, I’m now understanding, they were at least fifty years old.  They were wooden, they were termite-eaten.  They were firetraps, basically, you know, not fit for people to live in, but we lived there.  My mother, when she left, you know, didn’t have really the means to support all of us, and so … that’s where we lived.  Some slept on the bed, some slept on the floor.  We had, I think, three showers, cold water.

 

On that floor?

 

In the building.

 

In the whole building?

 

Everybody shared.

 

And how many people were in the building?

 

There were fifty-two rooms. There were three areas where we could do our cooking.  There were kerosene stoves.

 

Was it dangerous?  I mean, I know from a fire standpoint, it was dangerous.  What about from a human standpoint in a rough part of town.

 

It was a rough part of town. From my standpoint, I never saw any danger, I never experienced any danger.  It was a new world; I thought it was really kind of cool and exciting. New kids to play with, new people to meet, new aunties and uncles.  All Hawaiians in that building.  You know, in the same way they do now, the aunties take care.  So, we felt very protected and free, and I never felt any danger.  If you were entering from the sidewalk, you know, there were these narrow steps that went to the second floor.  And the pool hall was downstairs, next to a Chinese restaurant, next to a grocery store, next to, you know, all these different kinds of—

 

So, it felt like a neighborhood to you.

 

It did; totally.

 

No creepy people hanging around.

 

I never remembered any creepy people.

 

You know.  And I mean, when I think back on it, I think: Wow, it would be like, you would think there would be creepy people, but in my child’s eyes, I never saw creepy people.  To me, they were really nice; nice people.

 

And you felt adults were looking out for you, too.

 

Yes, we did; we felt very protected.

 

I wonder how your mom felt with seven kids to take care of.

 

We owned our own home on Kaua‘i. My grandparents homesteaded twenty-five acres there, and you know, the lands are still there.  So, you know, what caused her to feel so compelled to move, we never understood.  I never even understood it as an adult.  But there we were.  It must have been very stressful; we were really poor.  I sold newspapers.  I thought that was really cool, ‘cause I could have spending money, you know, and stuff. I was selling newspapers.  My corner was Fort and Kukui, and I sold the Honolulu Advertiser.  I sold forty papers, made a dollar.  And then, that was my lunch money.  I made most of my money from tips, ‘cause I was so young.  You know, I was like, nine years old, standing on the corner with newspapers.  Oh, poor thing, you know.  So, they’d give me a dollar.  Wow, that’s a lot of money.  That’s what I would make for the whole, you know, selling forty papers.  So … I thought it was great.

 

M-hm.

Again, the perspective.  You know, as a child, I was innocent.  I saw all of it as a great excitement.  It was just a different thing, you know.  I mean, one thing, for example, when we lived in Kauai, the store was really far.  You know. When we moved to Honolulu, the store was downstairs.

 

It was amazing.  I was just like, enthralled, you know.  When I lived on Kaua‘i, we’d go to the movies once, you know, every six months or something.  When we went to Honolulu, we lived next to the theater.  You know.  So, that’s how I saw it from a child’s sort of sense of wonder.  It wasn’t until I was, you know, older, maybe intermediate school, I sort of kinda understood that we were really poor.  And then, as I got older, I realized that, you know, the auntie that, you know, was so sick, and da-da-da, this is why.  And then, I realized that, you know, so-and-so, that you know, we really thought was really a cool guy, he’s in jail because he did this.  You know, so I had a sense of perspective, but it was afterwards.

 

After the fact.

 

Yes.

 

Did you ever connect with your father again?

 

Yes.  We saw him as we could afford to.  I think he would send money and, you know, we’d go.  But it wasn’t very often.  And he came to visit us once.  You know, he was not a Honolulu man; he was a hunter, a fisherman.  He would come back from the mountains with, you know, these burlap bags full of ‘o‘opu to feed our family.  You know, very subsistence lifestyle.  When he worked, he worked as a heavy equipment operator, kind of a laborer.  I loved my dad.  Both of my parents read to us.  My father would put us on his lap and read.  You know, those experiences.  I came to really love literature and reading from both parents.  My parents were very good parents, in spite of the separation. And my mother was very strict; she taught us very fundamental values, and we were expected to, you know, adhere to them.  And if we did not, the punishment was swift and sure.  All of the kids turned out good.  I went to Royal School.

 

Royal School.

 

Yeah.

 

Okay; elementary.  And then?

 

I went to Royal Elementary, and then I went to Central Intermediate.

 

And then?

 

And then, I went to Kamehameha in my sophomore year.  I liked public school.  Public school was awesome; I learned a lot.  You know, again, the common theme of, you know, this love of literature, that was more than reinforced in the public school.  In fact, at Kalaheo Elementary, where I went to, you know, from first to third grade, my second grade teacher, Mrs. Robello, encouraged me when I wrote a little poem for my mother.  You know how teachers do.  It’s so important.  She took my little poem, she put it on the wall.  You know how teachers, you can encourage by telling everybody, you know. And when her students would make a little picture, she’d put that on the wall.  So, she had ways of encouraging and making you feel: Ho, this is something I can do.

 

How long were you in the tenements?

 

Well, we lived in Honolulu for three years.  There was a terrible fire in the tenement next door.

 

Another wooden building?

 

It was a wooden building; it was right next to ours on the next block, and it burned down.  And four people died in that fire.  One of the ones who passed was a three-year-old who was my brother’s playmate.  And so, it really affected everybody, the family.  It really had an impact on me.  And it was just … I don’t know; I’ll never forget it.  We stood out there and watched this whole thing happen.

 

And watched it burn down.

 

Yes.  We lived there until my mother could find someplace else she could afford.  So, we moved close to Queen’s Hospital; same sort of building, but not as big.  We lived there for another, like, three or four years, and then we moved, and we actually moved to a much nicer place. Things were getting better; you know, Mom could find work, and so, we moved to a much better place.

 

How formative was the experience of living in places like that, those two different buildings and the fire that took your acquaintances and friends?

 

I know that it has everything to do with my community advocacy work, especially on behalf of Hawaiians.  The people who made a difference in our lives when we were growing up were the social workers who reached out to us. They were so kind.  They were so kind to my mother.  And I grew up feeling that I wanted to be a social worker.  I changed my mind when I realized I didn’t have the fortitude.  I saw what they had to deal with.  And I’m a little bit emotional; I have a really hard time focusing, you know, when I see that.  I got older, I guess I gained a perspective.  As a child, I didn’t really understand what that environment was all about.

 

Yeah; you thought they were nice people.

 

I thought everybody was nice.

 

But they were carrying all this pain, I suppose—

 

Yes.

 

–that they saw.

 

M-hm.  And as I got much older, and we learned our history and, you know, the displacement, I started focusing on Hawaiians.  It happened kind of gradually.  I was, you know, someone who was intent on a social work profession, but I also had competing things that I was really interested in.  The literature thing was always an interest.

 

After graduating from Kamehameha Schools, Mahealani Wendt went to work for big corporations, first on the continent, and then back home in Hawai‘i.  She was good at what she did, but her heart was not in the corporate world.

 

Right out of high school, I lived in Texas.  And while I was in Texas, I worked for a very large insurance company, a national insurance company, and I learned a lot about corporate business.  And so, I worked there for five years, I worked my way up.  Then I came home to Hawaiʻi.  I worked for a local corporation called Crown Corporation.  They had a bunch of industrial loan banks, they had securities firm, they had insurance. You know, I mean, some of the companies are still around; a lot of them are no longer.  But you know, they were real estate developers; all of that.  I was into that.  And I was like an admin assistant to vice president.  So, I did that.  And then, I went to college.

 

That was good preparation.

 

Yeah, it was good preparation. But interestingly, I started doing the community activism, you know, the demonstrations and stuff when I was still working for this corporation.  And my boss, who was a vice president, said: Just don’t let me see you arrested, or on TV. You know, something like that.  I said: I’ll be fine.

 

You know, so I always like, had these two like, sort of identities there.  I would be this corporate thing at work, and then, you know, uh, the rest of the time, I’d be … and then, I decided I needed to go to school, because I needed skills to do the thing I wanted, which is [SIGH] effectuate social reform.  Working for business was really a survival thing for me.  I had good skills, I had good typing, accounting; those sort of things. I had skills that I could market very readily in the business environment, so that’s where I went.  But that’s not where my heart was.

 

So, you’re taking political science now at the UH.

 

M-hm.  I’m taking political science, and I have an opportunity to do an internship with Legal Aid Society, along with thirty other interns, students at UH Mānoa, political science majors.  And we’re placed at the Legal Aid Society of Hawai‘i at a time when, you know, we were coming into a growth of social programs, social economic programs in our community.  So, there was this quantum leap in legal services available to the community through Legal Aid.

 

Because there was more funding.

 

There was more funding.

 

More value placed on that.

 

Yes.  I chose to go with the so-called land unit at the time.  And in the course of my internship, I was assigned to work with community organizations in the Hawaiian community. And that sort of was a catalyst for my future work.  I attended law school, I left law school.  I was very active in the community.  I mean, actually coming into this kind of work, the genesis of it was community activism.  So, the early so-called land struggles—Kalama Valley, Kokua Kalama, He‘eia Kea, Waiāhole-Waikāne, Niumalu-Nāwiliwili on Kaua‘i, Mokauea Island—all of those struggles, I was there.  I was there. I was not there as a leader; I was there as someone who felt compelled to be there.  I really related to what the people were suffering, and I felt I had to be there.  It’s a combination of that activism and my experience at the Legal Aid Society leading me to Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation.  You know, it’s kinda like all boiled into the picture.

 

Why did you leave law school after college?

 

Well, I had children.  At that time, I was a single parent.  That was part of it; it was the economics of it. You know, when I went to Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation, I’m not sure that the most effective thing I could do there was as an attorney.  I found my niche was really talking to the staff about community; how community felt, you know, what was important.  Because sometimes the rigor of legal linear thinking separates you from community. And I think you need both.  So, I think it would have been fine to go through law school, but at that point in my life, I felt I would be more useful in bringing that perspective to the firm.  And I think that it worked really well.

 

And you worked your way up to heading the office; you ran the office.

 

Yeah.  So, the first position was an interim attorney who agreed to come over from private practice to sort of get us started.  The second was Melody MacKenzie.  Then after, I think, a year or two, the first gentleman moved on back to private practice after kinda mentoring us.  I became the third staff person.  And Melody MacKinzie was my boss for, I don’t know, maybe six, seven years. And she taught me so much.  I just owe her a great debt of gratitude.  She’s the kindest, the most brilliant mentor a person could have.  I mean, I just love her; I love her to this day.  She was the executive director, but I guess she was kind of, you know, having to do a lot of this admin stuff.  And it just seemed more efficient to have me do the administrative part, you know, deal with personnel hiring, firing, that sort of thing.  ‘Cause I had a background in it.  Melody has those skills, but she’s also brilliant; a brilliant jurist, a brilliant scholar.  You know, I mean, talking story as a staff, and it just seemed like, you know, a more sensible way to go.  And so, I guess in name, you know, I became the head of the organization, and then she could focus on cases and clients, you know, and I could just deal with the other stuff.

 

You did that for a long time.

 

M-hm.  Well, I retired after thirty-two years.  So, yes, I did it a long time.  It was fun.  I loved it.

 

What kinds of cases did your firm handle?

 

Well, our cases were all Native rights cases.  So, you know, they’re kind of characterized as the things that we require in order to be Hawaiian.  Hawaiians were being affected with respect to land tenure, their ability to hold onto their lands, ability to hold onto their natural resources, have access to it, ability to engage in traditional and customary practices that they require to be Hawaiian.  If their access to the ocean is cut off, then they can’t go fish, they cannot gather limu; these kinds of things.  The ability to exercise practices relating to their traditional religion, things that would impede it, ability to access their trusts, the Hawaiian Homelands trusts or the public lands trusts.  All of those things became our areas of focus.  We had genealogists on staff, we had title people on staff.  We had Hawaiian translators on staff, because we’re dealing a lot with archival documents, many of which are only in Hawaiian. So, we had people on staff who specialized in translating legal documents.  So, the shop is a specialty shop, you know, asserting the rights of native people.  And we did well.  There were many cases that we did, that I’m very proud of.

 

That was a very … just vibrant time, and also, it was a time of people coming into age and being very proud, and also running into a lot of walls, too.

 

Yes; yes.  And I think with knowledge comes power.  You know, and the more we’re able to understand our history—and of course, language is a window into culture, the more we understand our language the more we understand better who we are.  Part of that is having, you know, connection to land, connection to water, connection to ocean, continuing to keep traditional practice vibrant and alive. All of those things are important. And you know, ultimately, it’s about values.  And as many other peoples, including indigenous peoples, those values are really important, not only for us here as a people in Hawaii, and not only for all of Hawai‘i, but even globally.  You know, you join with other peoples.  There are certain values that are universally exalted as being life-affirming and necessary in order for, you know, humankind to thrive.  We can make a contribution, and it’s really, really important that we be allowed to be a people.

 

Why do we do this?  We do this because we love Hawai‘i.

 

A&B doesn’t own the water, the taro farmers do not own the water.  Our people own the water.  Ke Akua owns the water.

 

Ae!

 

Ae!

 

Ke Akua owns the water.

 

Ae!

 

For all of us.

 

So, let our people live, and let the ‘aina live, forever. [INDISTINCT]  Stand up so that we can make that happen.

 

Mahealani Wendt met her husband, Ed Wendt, through her work in native water rights.  He’s a taro farmer with kuleana land.  Where they live in Wailua Nui, in Maui’s Hana District, is beautiful, but as always, farming kalo is hard work.  Besides her passion for justice, Mahealani Wendt has always had a love for poetry and writing.  Even as head of the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation, she found time to write, and has received numerous literary awards, both nationally and internationally. We’re going to close now with a reading from one of her poems that reflects back on her childhood.  Mahalo to Mahealani Wendt of Wailua Nui, Maui, for sharing her 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.

 

At statehood, we trundled kerosene tankards over rutted Honolulu sidewalks, past beer halls, pool halls, taxi dancehalls, past honky-tonk dives, juke joints, and shoeshine stands, to rooming house kitchens where we lit our communal fires and kept vigil for the one day our nation would be restored.  The torches burned bright as we stood watch.  Our children, listless on tenement floors, their coverings prickling with insect filth, and the grit of ambient sounds, incessant scuttlings and winged scurryings inside squalid floors and walls, we sensed a slow collapse under the terrific weight of a people whose gods kept watch with them there. The minions of forest, river, and ocean gods, companions in these root places whispering their encouragements as generations of children turn to hear, like flowers brightening to sun.

 

[END]

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Celebrating Dads

 

In this special Father’s Day compilation, we celebrate dads and the life lessons they’ve passed along to their children. You’ll hear stories of how fathers and father figures influenced business adviser Pono Shim, comedian Augie T, entertainer Melveen Leed, champion spear-fisher Kimi Werner and community advocate Kamuela Enos.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, June 16, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Celebrating Dads Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

We’re about to celebrate fathers and the life lessons they passed along to their children, 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.  Welcome to a special edition of Long Story Short celebrating dads.  You’ll hear stories of how fathers and father figures influenced business adviser Pono Shim, comedian Augie T, entertainer Melveen Leed, champion spear-fisher Kimi Werner, and community advocate Kamuela Enos.

 

Let’s start with a clip from my 2012 conversation with Pono Shim, CEO of the Oahu Economic Development Board.  His parents, Alvin and Marion Heen Shim, were known as political visionaries.  Pono shares the life lessons he absorbed from his father, and lessons related by family friends.

 

What have you learned from your dad?

 

Oh, gosh.

 

I take it he didn’t sit down and tell you: Son, here’s the way it is.  This is stuff you just learned through osmosis?

 

What did I learn from Dad … so much.  Guardianship; a lot of guardianship.  Here was a man who was born very, very poor, whose parents were divorced really young. And so, he would tell me that he really was raised like an orphan.  And then, he came to Kamehameha from Maui.  And when he came, he was so poor.  I remember Uncle Bill Amona when my dad died—he was my dad’s classmate. He said: Pono, when did your dad make his decisions that his life would be committed to making a difference for people, to serving people?  He said: He never really talked about that.  And Uncle Bill said: You know, when we were at Kamehameha, all of the students were boarders.  This was at Bishop Museum.  And he said: You know, I have these pictures of watching your dad almost like his hands are under his chin the fence, because all of us from O‘ahu would get visitors on the weekends, and they’d come and they’d sometimes take us home, but they’d always bring food and gifts.  And he says: I can just see your dad kinda just watching us, and nobody ever came for him, and he had this smile on his face; he didn’t hold it in a negative light, but he would just observe.  And he says: Something keeps taking me back to those moments.

 

So, he went from being essentially a loner at the fence, kind of dreaming, with nobody coming to see him, to having friends from many walks of life, and a big family.

 

Yeah. Well, you know, I wouldn’t say he was a loner, because my dad was kolohe.  I mean, really, really, kolohe.  His oldest and best friend was Uncle David Peters.  And Uncle David tells a story, and he’ll still tell you the story of how the two of them got arrested at age five.

 

Five?

 

Yeah. He said: Officer Hanohano arrested these two boys who weren’t in school; so vagrancy.  And you know, they would blame each other—Yeah, your father got me arrested.  And you know, I don’t think anybody who knows Uncle David and my dad would say it was Uncle David.  My dad was kolohe.  But yes, he had a lot of friends.  Very, very engaging; very well-connected.

 

What was the secret to his forging so many tight relationships?

 

When I was in kindergarten, my first day of school, I came home and he said: How many friends did you make today?  And I said: None.  And he said: Weren’t there other kids there?  I said: Yeah. So, he said: Let me teach you how to make a friend.  And he stuck out his hand and he said: Hi, my name is Pono; what’s your name?  And so, he practiced with me.  And probably the most significant thing ever taught to me in my life was that.  If there’s one thing I look back at—first day of school, Dad said, How many friends did you make today.  And so, I’d like to believe that’s what he was doing, and he’d make friends.  But then, how do you keep friends?  That’s the thing.  And I think it’s because he was able to really focus in on the relationship, and put a priority on the relationship.

 

Our next guest learned early on about prioritizing his relationships.  Comedian Augie T found out that his girlfriend was pregnant with their first son while they were both still in high school.  Knowing he’d have to make sacrifices to support their child, he followed his father’s admonition and gave up something he loved—boxing, a sport he says taught him life values like discipline and hard work.  As Augie explains in our conversation with him in 2018, those lessons were soon put to the test.

 

At sixteen, I became the Golden Gloves champion.  I boxed; I was like PAL champion.  At sixteen, I entered the Golden Gloves, I won the Golden Gloves. At one time, I was ranked seventh in the U.S. for boxing at junior flyweight.  And then, I made that mistake.  You know, I don’t call it a mistake, because I love my son, but like I did, I made a mistake and made my girlfriend pregnant.  And with that, came responsibility.  So, my dad was like: Eh, boxing; you have to go work, because I’m not supporting your kid.  It was tough working at Jack In the Box, you know, knowing that you have to pay for medical. And I wanted my son to carry my name, so it was important for me to work hard, so that I can be a good example for him growing up.  But I wasn’t making enough money.  So, I applied at Kapi‘olani Medical.  I got on the bus, and I wanted one interview that day.  I told her my story, and I said: I’m determined, I want to work.  And you know, the rest is history.  I stayed there for sixteen years.  The day I graduated from Farrington High School, I got part-time with benefits.  Now, having benefits is like, a lot.  You know, they were able to cover my medical expenses, and because I worked at the hospital, the hospital paid for the other half.  So, I was able to, you know, take care my son and, you know, provide.  So, you know, that for me was big, providing. Because even as a kid growing up in public housing, I never wanted to be part of that vicious circle, and I saw a lot of that happening.  And there was a side of me that said: Yeah, Augie, you screwed up, but now you gotta take responsibility, and you gotta work.  Yeah?  And that’s what I did.

 

And you did it by working pretty much all the time.

 

Yeah.

 

In many ways.

 

Yeah; and I still do, Leslie.  I still do, and I love it.  I love being out there and talking to people, you know, watching people’s lives change. You know, it helps me as an entertainer doing comedy.  So, you know, I’m thankful every single day.  Yeah.

 

It’s amazing to have such a long run of it. Because you’re on a treadmill, and you have to be creative and be okay without sleep many times.

 

Yeah.

 

Because you got a day job, you got a night job, you’re promoting.

 

M-hm. Twenty-six years of doing comedy.

 

How has your humor changed over those twenty-six years?

 

Yeah; you can tell.  I mean, when I first started, I was like the moke action guy.  You know, a little older now, I’m seeing life differently. You know, there’s a lot of observance.

 

You do more social observations.

 

I talk about my kids, I talk about my family.  You know, that way, you cannot get in trouble.

 

You can get in trouble talking about your family.

 

You can. You can, by your mom.  That’s it.  You know, you shouldn’t say that, Augie; so stupid, you.

 

You know, but they love it.  They love it when I talk about them.  You know, I have an overachieving daughter that created B.R.A.V.E. Hawai‘i.  It’s a anti-bullying foundation.  My stepdaughter does my bookings.  Bo and Taj, you know, they help Dad look good; they do my hair.

 

They both are hairstylists, and I talk about them.  They’re both, you know, openly gay men.  You know, twelve, thirteen years ago, talking about your kids being gay was like, almost like, whoa.  But now, I get stories on how people say: Aug, because was so easy for watch you accept who your kids are made it easy for me.  So now, I get guys, construction workers, cops: Augie, I like tell you something.  What’s that, brah?  Eh, my boy mahu too.

 

All right. Yeah!

 

How was that for you?  Did you immediately accept when they told you they were gay?

 

Yeah. You know, at the end of the day, that’s your kids.  That’s why it’s so hard for me to see parents that you know, like, disown their children. That’s your kid, that’s your blood, you know.  Yeah; I might not agree with everything, but that’s my kid at the end of the day.

 

In the fall of 2018, Augie T performed at what he called his last headlining show at Blaisdell Arena an announced he would no longer focus on comedy; he would be pursuing other projects.

 

Our next entertainer, Melveen Leed, had an outdoorsy childhood.  Growing up, she split her time between her mother on O‘ahu and her grandparents on Moloka‘i.  With her birth dad out of the picture, Melveen’s grandfather was her father figure. In our conversation in 2018, she recalls how her grandfather introduced her to music, the wild outdoors, and the meaning of hard work.

 

I was brought up a real, real old-fashioned way, and I’m so glad I was.  Washing our clothes in the streams, you know, growing up like that, growing our own vegetables and fishing, hunting, you know. And we knew how to work hard.

 

What did the family hunt for?

 

Well, my uncles and them, especially.  I went on just a few, but I would never do that again.  As I said, my grandfather used to say: You carry down what you shoot. Oh, shucks.  You know, no, I’m not going carry the deer down by myself. Uh-uh.  So, I wasn’t interested in that.  I was more interested in fishing.  And my grandfather taught me how to make fishnets, from scratch. Yeah.

 

Did you try to throw them, too?

 

Oh, he taught me how to throw.  And so, we had a needle to make the nets; that’s called a hia.  Okay?  And then, we had the rectangular wood, and that was the size of the eye of the fishnet. And that was called the ha ha. See?  So, my grandfather would teach us how to patch the nets, and he had a pocketknife that he used and we made the hole, and we patched the nets, you know.  And so, things like that.  My grandfather was a remarkable man, and he was the one that actually made an ‘ukulele for me when I was only about three years old.  And so, I played the ‘ukulele and sang for all my grandparents’ guests.

 

How did you learn; did you watch somebody else?

 

My grandfather; yeah, I just watched him.  For some reason, I’d watch someone play an instrument, and I’d grab the instrument and I’ll play it.  You know?

 

From the beginning?

 

Yeah; by ear.

 

From an early age?

 

Yeah; early age.

 

Tell me, did you know your biological dad? Was he in your life?

 

I learned about him only when I was about fifteen years old.  That’s when I knew who my real father was.  ‘Cause it was kept a secret from me.  Walter Chun Kee; that was my dad.  He was from Maui.  And then I found out I had siblings on Maui.  So, I have one sister and three brothers.  And so, one brother, we lost; that’s Jimmy.  So, I found that we have siblings, siblings there.  And then, we found one more sister in Puerto Rico.  My dad was busy.

 

You’ve been married several times.

 

Yes.

 

Do you have stepchildren and …

 

Oh, yes. They’re all like my children, still, you know.  Yes.

 

Lots of family, all along the way.

 

Yes. And you know, it was a learning time for me, too.  Because I had gone down to the bottom.  I picked myself up, you know, every time and I said: I can do this.  Yeah?  And I’d start from scratch.  I’d leave everything behind, and I’d start from scratch.  I mean, everything; my clothes, everything behind.  I just walked out and started from scratch.

 

Wow.

 

Yeah.

 

You seem like a very hopeful and optimistic person, because you got married again.

 

Yeah.

 

And then, again.

 

Yes.  I probably was looking for like, my grandfather’s image.  You know, ‘cause he was a perfect father, grandfather, husband to my grandmother. You know, he was a great caretaker, and he was an inspiration.  And I could sit and talk to him.  He was a man of few words, but when he spoke, they were words of wisdom.  You know, I look up to him.  And I finally found that man, and that I’m married to now. Yeah.  And he reminds me so much of my grandfather; very dignified, you know, and very caring, and puts me on a pedestal, puts me first like how my grandfather put my grandmother on a pedestal first.  She always came first.

 

Our next guest also spent much of her childhood in nature.  Kimi Werner, a former national spear-fishing champion, spent her early years in rural Haikū, Maui. In a 2016 conversation, she recalls her childhood living off the bounty of the land and sea.  Thanks to her father’s influence, she would develop a lifelong love for freediving.

 

My life was just one that was really focused around nature.  We lived on this property where we had absolutely no neighbors in sight, and so, the only things that I really knew were just my family and the natural world that was right outside of my doorstep, really.  Our house was like, a little shack, pretty much just falling apart at the seams.  And I remember I could never really explain to kids like, what color it was, ‘cause it just depended on what kinda moss was growing on all the rotten wood.  But at the same time, it was just an absolute magical childhood.  We spent out days outside, and gathering food with our family.

 

So, you say you didn’t have a lot of money; you had these natural resources.  Did you feel poor?

 

I never felt poor.  I mean, I remember when I did start school in kindergarten, like kind of realizing then that I had less material things than all of the other kids.  But I never felt poor.  In those years, especially, I would say I felt so rich with just activity and fun.  I mean, every morning, my job was to go out and gather the chicken eggs from under the house, and pick whatever fruit were ripe, and to spend the days underwater diving with my dad, and just watching him bring me up fish and lobster for dinner. Like, that doesn’t feel poor.

 

You would float above him as he went way down?

 

I was just a tagalong.  I was about five years old when he started taking me diving.  And I would just float, and just watch him.  My main goal was to keep up with him.  And I remember, as long as I could see the bubbles of his fins, I knew I was going in the right way.  And then, when he would take a drop, then I’d be able to catch up, catch my breath, and put in my orders for dinner, really.

 

And would he actually be able to get you what you wanted, the type of fish you wanted?

 

He would. He would pride himself on that, basically.  If my mom wanted to eat octopus or if she wanted to eat lobster, or fish, whatever it was that she wanted, he always, you know, would see it through and make sure he got that for us.

 

It’s amazing how formative that experience of foraging as a little kid and diving with your dad, I mean, it seems to have shaped your life.  That’s what you do as a career, to a great extent.

 

It really has. You know, I think like anything, you adjust and you adapt.  And I definitely did adjust and adapt to the new more modern life that was given to me, and I got bicycles, and nicer clothes, and friends, and you know, got used to the store-bought eggs.  And we just evolved that way.  But I think it was later in life when I was an adult, still kinda going through the motions of what seemed like progress, and was there with my, you know, degree and my job, and doing everything I could to kind of connect the dots of what should make a fulfilling happy life, but still, there was just something in me that just was longing in a way, for the past, and realizing that it had been that long, and there was still just something calling me back to those really early childhood memories.  It is what shaped my life.  I think for the longest time, I believed that you have to let go of the past, and you can’t go backwards.  And even though I did accept that, finally, when I was about twenty-four years old, I just kind of started to realize that, you know, maybe it wasn’t something that’s just left in the past; maybe it is something that I can incorporate into my world today.

 

Our final guest also took up his father’s passion, not right away, but later in life.  Kamuela Enos is director of social enterprise at Mao Organic Farms on O‘ahu’s Wai‘anae Coast.  Mao helps at-risk youth in the community reconnect to the land, their ancestral roots, and themselves.  Kamuela’s father, activist Eric Enos, was a pioneer of this land-based approach to community healing through the operation he co-founded, Ka‘ala Farm, also in Wai‘anae. When Kamuela sat down with me in 2018, he reflected on his father’s journey and the indirect path that would lead Kamuela to the same work in what’s now known as ‘aina-based education.

 

It was borne out of this idea of reclaiming land and identity as a response to the Hawaiian renaissance, of having had that part of our identity kind of been told explicitly to step away from.  You know, it’s important for you to assimilate into contemporary American society, and to, you know, be a good American, and to take all the vestiges of your ancestry, your language, your practices, and put that behind you.

 

When did your father start reclaiming the land?

 

You know, I remember that, ‘cause I was really young.  And he, you know, was from Wai‘anae, he went to Kamehameha Schools, and then actually, he went to college.  And going to college at UH in the late 60s, early 70s, you can only imagine, like, colleges across the campus, you know, that was the heart of the civil rights movement, and the birthplace of the Hawaiian renaissance too, when you started actually learning your history and realizing that we weren’t allowed to understand our ancestry from a place of strength.  He was coming of age, and he was heavily radicalized, and he got a job teaching at Wai‘anae High School, where he got a chance to really see it, from how I understand it, his stories.  He was one of a few men who was of Hawaiian ancestry from the community actually teaching, and he was able to hear how teachers were talking about kids from Waianae.  So, he often tells me like, he had to quit, or he would have been arrested.

 

He was so angry at the messaging.

 

And just like, the disregard and the blatant racism that he saw behind the scenes. And then, he took up work with an organization that worked directly with at-risk youth.  And it was from that point that … it was called The Rap Center, where he began to take students—young adults, actually, not students, that were kind of out of the system, hanging out at the beach parks, walking in the mountains, to kinda get them away from where they would just hang out and associate, and do all the things that were leading to their delinquency, back up into the mountains to kinda understand, take them out of their environment and put them in a new environment.  And there, he started seeing all the remnants of the taro patches.

 

How did he come to acquire the land?

 

That’s a really interesting question.  I think back in the 70s, it was just like: You know what?  We’re just gonna clear this place out, bring water down, and reclaim it.  And if people don’t like it, then they can come and talk to us.

Was it abandoned land?  Who owned it?

 

It was in the back of the valley.

 

Probably State-owned?

 

State-owned land.  And they just decided to have these youth repurpose their time at this—I don’t know what they were supposed to be doing, but what they ended up doing was cutting, clearing out haole koa, and putting in PVC pipes and bringing water back down. And then, learning from people on the east side of O‘ahu who were still doing traditional taro farming, like, how do we grow this.  And I think that was a really important thing for me to understand.  Like, he wasn’t just trying to reclaim ability to grow food, but he was trying to reclaim the ability to grow people, and therefore, the ability to regrow community.

 

And it’s so interesting that it’s not like you suddenly see your future open up.  I mean, you are following clues along the way, listening for the sounds in the forest, kind of.

 

And getting slaps in the head when I step out of line.  You know, I think it’s never about us; I think it’s always about how people guide us.  And like, you know, we have to learn how to humble ourselves to the fact that we’re put on paths, and kicking and screaming, and resenting it is part of it at times.

 

Or taking the wrong path.

 

Taking the wrong path.

 

Taking the wrong path.

 

You know, I think there is no straight path.  My dad used to always tell me: You gotta walk the crooked path straight. It’s like, it’s not a clearly laid out path for you.  And you know, it’s one that you have to open yourself up to the process of learning. I was put on the path intentionally that has really allowed me, more than anything else, an opportunity to be in a place to help people I care about.

 

Thank you to Kamuela Enos, Kimi Werner, Melveen Leed, Augie T, and Pono Shim for sharing personal stories about fathers, father figures, and fatherhood.  To all loving fathers, mahalo nui for your guidance and wisdom.  On behalf of 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.

 

AUGIE T:

I worked for Mayor Billy Kenoi, and we did a senior summit.  And he goes: Aug, you like come up and say something?  And of course, he was worried, because you know, I talked about my dad.  You don’t want to talk about being old in front of old people.  But, my dad lives with me, and he’s dealing with dementia. And I talked about my dad, and how, you know, he remembers stuff like forty, fifty years ago, but he cannot remember anything in the last ten minutes.  I came home one day, and he was like: Who made this soup?  I go: Dad, I made the soup.  I never know you know how make soup, Augie.  This good soup.  Where your brother Ernie?  Ernie lives Mililani.  Ernie live Mililani?  I never know Ernie live Mililani.  Who made the soup?  Dad, I made the soup.  Good soup, this.

 

 

 

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Review a transitional year in the life of farmer, slow food advocate and sansei David “Mas” Masumoto, and his relationship with his daughter Nikiko, who returns to the family farm with the intention of stepping into her father’s work boots.

 

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