advocate

Changing Season:
On the Masumoto Family Farm

Changing Season: On the Masumoto Family Farm

 

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.

 

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.

 

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]

 

 

Peter, Paul and Mary at Newport 1963-65

PETER, PAUL AND MARY AT NEWPORT 1963-65

 

This special captures the spirit of the times when folk music dominated the Top 40 charts, providing the soundtrack for enormous, unprecedented changes in the American social-political landscape. Songs include “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” “If I Had a Hammer,” “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “Wasn’t That a Time.”

 

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MISTER ROGERS:
IT’S YOU I LIKE

MISTER ROGERS: IT’S YOU I LIKE

 

Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, the pioneering PBS series that premiered nationally 50 years ago, is an enduring landmark in the world of children’s television and beyond. Hosted by Michael Keaton, this commemorative special features Whoopi Goldberg, Chris Kratt, John Lithgow, Yo-Yo Ma and Esperanza Spalding, along with and neighbors “Handyman” Joe Negri and David “Mr. McFeely” Newell.

 

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AMERICAN MASTERS
Holly Near

AMERICAN MASTERS: Holly Near

 

An outspoken political activist and singer-songwriter, Holly Near’s music and life story illustrate how song can have the power to send a clarion call and influence the course of social justice – from the lesbian and women’s movements to anti-war efforts and the fight to give South American women a voice.

 

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LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Puanani Burgess

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: Puanani Burgess

 

Puanani Burgess is a Zen Buddhist priest, poet and community mediator from Wai‘anae, O‘ahu.

 

Burgess was once a committed protestor and resister. She developed her skills as a law student to become what she calls a “dragon feeder” – someone able to navigate the complex rules of a large system like government or the DOE the way one might negotiate with a stubborn dragon.

 

 

She discovered that the people who were on the other side of the issue were not monsters. So Burgess embraced a role as a mediator, creating a safe space for people to come together and speak earnestly. She asks them to “dig the lo‘i deep” with her to understand each other, as she says in her poem “He Alo Ā He Alo” (Face to Face).

 

Today, she likes to describe her work as the community’s aunty. “Aunty is such an important job,” she says.

 

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

 

Puanani Burgess Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

I remember you in the 1970s, ‘cause I was a news reporter, and you were, I would say … a protestor, a resistor, an activist, and an advocate.  And some would say, radical.

 

Yes.

 

Are all those things true?

 

Yeah.

 

She started as an activist, but now helps to bring opposing sides together to build what she calls Beloved Communities. Puanani Burgess, 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.  Puanani Burgess is a Zen Buddhist priest, a poet, mediator, and community builder.  In the 1980s, she was part of a group that helped bring about community-based economic development in Wai‘anae, and later other communities.  This started during the controversial development of West Beach, known today as Ko Olina Resort, which Burgess and her allies started out opposing.  She’s been married for more than fifty years to activist, attorney, and retired executive director of the Wai‘anae Community Mental Health Center, Hayden Burgess, also known as Poka Laenui.  Puanani Burgess spent the first twenty-five years of her life with a Western first name, but later embraced her Hawaiian identity and the name Puanani.

 

I was born in 1947.  And I think a little bit of time went by after World War II.  But during that time, parents were very cautious about what they named children.  And coming from both a Japanese and a Hawaiian background, they were doubly cautious. So, in those days, they were giving children English names; that’s what we called them.  And so, it was beautiful American kind of names so that when we went to school, we wouldn’t be … looked down upon if we had a Japanese or a Hawaiian name.  So, my parents named me Christabelle, and I was named after my father, who was Christopher, and it’s Yoshie after Yoshiyuki.  And Sonoda is my family name, and Burgess is my married name.

 

Where does Puanani come in?

 

My mother told me that she stuck in Puanani just in case when I grew up, if I wanted to be attached to where I come from, I would have something.

 

But those were the days when people wanted to be known as Westerners.

 

Yeah.

 

Americans.

 

And hid all of their children’s identities behind that American Western name.

 

Well, so you were called Christabelle or Christy?

 

I was called Chris.

 

Chris?

 

Yeah. Throughout all of my high school, up until college, I was known as Chris Sonoda.

 

Now, Hawaiian, Japanese is your ancestry.

 

Yeah.

 

With some …

 

Chinese, French, German.

 

Most of the blood is Hawaiian, Japanese.

 

And Japanese.

 

So, your dad Japanese, your mom was on the Hawaiian side.

 

Yeah.

 

Did that create any cultural crosscurrents?

 

Oh … those two races were always in conflict with each other, and I could not understand why.  I just knew that it was.  I wrote a poem called Choosing My Name.  And in it, I put a line in there that my father’s family would call my mother kuroi mame, which meant black bean.

To her face?

 

In back of her, but in front of me.  And so, I really didn’t know what that meant until I got older, and then I understood what they were saying about her, and that notion of color.  And it reminded me of how my mother would introduce me when we’d be going to somewhere, to a store, and she’s see her friend.  She’d introduce me: This is my daughter; look at her, she’s so fair, isn’t she beautiful. It was the color of my skin that really was important to her, that I was light.

 

So, that’s the Japanese side.  What did the Hawaiian side say?

 

Well, they didn’t much care for her being married to a Japanese man.  And I never understood the racial tensions; I just knew that they were there, and they were played out in different ways. It made it very uncomfortable to go to family gathering, ‘cause you never knew where you stood.  And so, you just sort of made your way.

 

What did your parents do, and what were your parents like?

 

You know, I remember my mother as being a civic leader.  So, she was someone who could organize people.  She also was pretty well educated for her day.  She went to Mid Pacific Institute when it was sort of the Punahou for the middleclass.  And she turned out to be a really good teacher for me.  She was the one who really pushed me toward education and reading.  So, she taught me how to read when I was very young.  And that that saved my life.

 

Where were you living then?

 

At that point, we lived in Kalihi, on Colburn Street.

 

Now, you moved around quite a bit in your youth; right?

 

Quite a bit.

 

Wai‘anae, Liliha?

 

Liliha, we lived at Damon Tract before going back to Wai‘anae.  I think, you know, it’s really hard to talk about poverty and being poor.

 

What was the reason for the poverty?  Was it employment?

 

I think it was employment, but it was also … I think, you know, my mother suffered a lot.  She had various degrees of mental illness.  And so, her life had never been happy, and she’d always been trying to figure things out.  And I think the marriage between my parents was not always the best and most comfortable. But I think they both tried the hardest that they could to make a good life.

 

And stayed together?

 

They divorced when I was eighteen.  And I continued to live with my dad, and my mother lived on her own.  So, it was a very chaotic childhood, and yet, I’m here. So, I went to the University, and my major was English, and I thought I wanted to be a writer.  And poetry was something that I didn’t know I could do, but I did.  And so, I started to develop that part of me.  And so, my poetry has been the way for me to really start to deal with some of the hard truths of growing up.

 

While Puanani Burgess—still going by the name of Chris Sonoda, was discovering her talent for poetry at the University of Hawai‘i, she met and fell in love with Hayden Burgess, the future attorney and community activist from Wai‘anae.

 

I think, you know, Leslie, the thing that changed most in my life was meeting the man I was going to marry.

 

Is that right?

 

Yeah.

 

In Waianae?

 

I met him at the University.  But he and I knew each other when we were children.  So, he lived around the corner from where I lived.  My family lived in a row of Quonset huts on Halona Road in Lualualei Valley, and his family lived on Puu O Hulu, which is right around the corner from us.  And then, we met when we were at the University.  I was a freshman, he was sophomore.  And it was very clear that we were made for each other from the very outset, I think within the first couple of months.

 

What made it clear?

 

I think his confidence.  He was sure that this was the relationship for him.

 

And you were young when you got married; right?

 

Yeah; I was twenty.

 

Twenty.

 

That’s fifty years; that’s a lot of time.

And?

 

And I still like him.And we still get along.

 

And you have children together.

 

We do; we have three incredibly interesting children.  And so, when we married in 1968 … I like to tell this story; I like to remember it.  He told me in the first month of our marriage: Your job is not my wife; I’m gonna do the work I’m put on this earth to do, so that means you have to do the work you were meant to do, and it’s not my wife, so you gotta figure that out.

 

Did you know what the answer to that was?

 

I had no idea.  And I was mad.  Because I had been brought up to be a good local girl, I’m gonna be a good wife and a good mother.  And here’s this guy that I just married telling me: That’s not your job; you gotta go find your job, ‘cause this is not it.  And I thought: Oh, what did I step into?

 

At the age of twenty-six, Chris Sonoda Burgess embraced the Hawaiian name given to her by her mother, and began calling herself Puanani Burgess.  But she was still figuring out what job she was meant to do.  While in her second year at the William S. Richardson School of Law at the University of Hawai‘i, she began to find her way.

 

The childhood that I had created where I wanted to go, but I didn’t know what that was called.  So, I tried law school.  And a really interesting moment was in my second year of law school, I clerked for Cynthia Thielen.

 

The Republican lawmaker.

 

Yes. She was Legal Aid attorney, and she was the attorney for the Protect Kaho‘olawe ‘Ohana.  And Cynthia was a great mentor.  So, she assigned me to the PKO.  So, I did research, and I helped negotiate things.  So, one of the things I helped negotiate with them was the building of the first hālau on Kaho‘olawe.  And the ‘Ohana thought: We cannot be there always, but this hālau will stand for us, and it will remind the Navy that we have returned, and we’re here to stay.

 

A lot of people disagreed, you know, with what they were doing and the style that they did it.  But if you ask those same people today—and there have been articles written by people who had been critical about that movement then, you ask them today, and they will tell you that the ‘Ohana and Kaho‘olawe has done more to spiritualize Hawai‘i and Hawaiians than anything that has come out in a long, long time.

 

You know, once I got bitten by the activism bug when I went to law school …

 

The Hawaiian Renaissance was in full swing at that time.

 

Yeah. Everything was happening.  And we were engaged in working with some of the people at Makua and Sand Island, who were pushing back against evictions.

 

All social justice projects.

 

Yeah; all of them.  And so, we entered the stream just at that time.  And we entered with education.  And we entered with being able to organize a cogent strategy.

 

What was life like at that time?

 

Wild.

 

Wild and heady?

 

It was wonderful.  I mean, because I was organizing with a group of people who were my age: Eric Enos, Gigi Cocquio, Hooipo DeCambra, Sister Anna McAnany; a whole group of leaders. We were all in our twenties and thirties together.

 

And that was the 1970s, wasn’t it?

 

Yeah.

 

And yet, you were in law school, and decided not to continue in, I think, your third year.

 

Yeah.

 

Why not?  That seems like a good thing to arm yourself with, if you’re an activist.

 

It was. And … I don’t know.  I didn’t want to be a lawyer.  Because I worked in my husband’s law firm in Waianae, I understood what the ordinary practice of law was like.  I didn’t want to do that.  I wanted to be more active.  So, the law school helped me develop infrastructure in my community.  So, we built organizations in which we were doing the work.

 

You were doing the incorporations.

 

Yup. And the 501c3’s and helping people establish themselves, and finding the funding, and talking.  I became a great dragon feeder.

 

What is a dragon feeder?

 

Dragons are systems, big systems, like government, like KSBE, DOE.  And dragons have lots of rules.  And they usually give you those rules in writing.  And your capacity to read and follow those instructions allow you to get into the dragon’s lair.  And so, law school prepared me so well to be a dragon feeder and a cultural translator.  So, I was working with community activists, and I was translating it into language that the dragon could understand.

 

I’m sure you helped get grants with byzantine rules too; right?

 

Yes. And I was giving them back the information that they wanted from us.  And so, the rule was, if you don’t want to obey or follow what the dragon wants you to give him or her, don’t apply.

 

During the 1970s, Puanani Burgess continued to involve herself in community struggles in Hawai‘i as an activist and advocate. In 1984, she and others from the Wai‘anae Coast community opposed the Ko Olina Resort development and what it meant for the land, other natural resources, and the way of life.  The mediation between residents and developers became a turning point in Puanani’s approach to community building.

 

So, it was at that time that we were doing the mediation with West Beach, was a really big deal.

 

West Beach is Ko Olina.

 

Yeah.

 

The future Ko Olina, now thriving Ko Olina.

 

Yup. And at that time, those of us in the community were pushing back against that.  And we were saying: You know, you folks going make money, but the only way we going make money is if we drive from here, and go over there and work. And then, maybe you going build houses, but the people who going occupy those houses will not be people from here. We need to have economic development that really is built from our value system.  And so, that conversation began to take place between us and the people who were the powerbrokers in the downtown business and political sector.

 

So, you mastered the cultural translation skills. Were you still a resistor, a protestor, an activist?

 

Yup.

 

So, you’re on the other side of the table, saying: This is what we want.

 

Yes; this is what we want, this is what we need, this is what we’re fighting for. And yet, I was beginning to listen to some of the things that they had to say.

 

Because it turns out, they weren’t monsters?

 

No; they weren’t.  And I think that’s the point about building Beloved Community, that you figure out a way that you can hear the other side of the story, and not necessarily fight against it, but create a space where I can show you who I am, and you can show me who you are, and collectively, we can figure out what parts of this work and we share.

 

And yet, at that time, I’m sure that was a brave stance, because in the parlance of the time, that was selling out.  Right?

 

Exactly.  And that was hard.  And that’s where that poem, He Alo ĀHe Alo, came from.  For me, it was a pushback against people who were criticizing us for doing the mediation with West Beach.  And I said: Come here; come stand in the lo‘i with me before you start yelling at us about what we should and should not be doing.  One of my best teachers was Tanouye Roshi, who was a Zen Buddhist priest at Daihonzan Chozen-ji in Kalihi Valley.  So, he was the mediator for the West Beach agreement. And it was interesting, because he could bring the Japanese side of the mediation.  Because they were Japanese developers that were doing the work at West Beach.  And so, culturally, he brought the owners of the development to the table, not just the highest administrative officer of the development company.  We were now dealing with the owners of the development. And Roshi Tanouye, the first thing that he said to me is: You have to always negotiate at the right level.  You folks are the owners of your community; you have to talk to the owners of that.

 

What was the result of that?  You know, were there compromises that had to be made, that you wish had not had to be made?

 

Well, the developer wanted to continue to build, and our effective stoppage of that really kept people from work.  And so, the compromise was, we resolved that they could continue, and that the funds that they contributed to the community were going to be used to build economic development from our point of view.  So, that was both the compromise and the promise.  My understanding is that they were soundly criticized for doing this. They didn’t have to; they could have held out.  But now, all the other developers are now having to think about and work with communities who are pushing against them.  So, there’s precedence.

 

Puanani Burgess continues to bring people and organizations together who at first see each other as opponents, or even enemies. She creates a space in which each can share with dignity what he or she believes is important.  She calls it Principles of Building a Beloved Community.

 

Well, I think, you know, I always long for calm, for a space free of tension. And … I’m always trying to figure out how I help other people enter that space.  I think a lot of my work is being a trickster.  And so, I use a lot of technique that looks like one thing, but it’s something else.  So, one of my tools is a ball, and I do a process called The Weather Ball.  And in it, I ask you to tell what the weather is like inside of you right at this moment.  And so, when people tell what their weather is like, they often tell you why it’s that way.

 

And do you think they’re really honest with you on that first go-around?

 

First go-around; yeah.

 

What do they tell you, for example?

 

They say: Oh, the weather is stormy, that you know, before I came here, I had a fight with my husband.  We do the story of your weather before I ask anybody even to tell their name, where they come from, or why they’re here.  ‘Cause in communities, certain names carry meaning.  So, in Waianae, if you say Burgess, have some people who like talk to you.  But if you say Burgess, have some people who never want to talk to you. So, no information in the first round. And so, when people do the Weather Ball, this is the first round, and you hear truth from somebody, as much as they can give it to you at that moment.  And because it’s a ball, the way people hold it is like this.  And if they’re scared, they squeeze it.  You know.  And that gives them comfort, so that they can release what it is.  And so, that as a first round really helps people to understand.  And for me, it’s a way of managing power in the circle.  So, most of my circles do not require anybody to raise their hand. Once you get to the point of asking people who’s ready, and somebody raise their hand, then you know the power going shift to that person, because they’re the ones who ready to talk.  And then, everybody else going follow, and then every other circle, they going wait ‘til that person raise their hand.  So, I don’t do anything like that.  It’s just, I start, and I’m not in the power grid; I’m facilitator.  And then, we just go around.  And so, it’s not anybody choosing to start.  A lot of, you know, what I’ve done in the past, I do things around vision mapping.  Helping people talk about what their vision is, and then having people show each other their vision maps.  And then, recognizing: Oh, we agree, I never knew that.  And because people don’t have a way of talking to each other deeply, they never get to see the depth of what they really mean, until someone like me facilitates a process in which they can both come in equally, and they can both show up as they are.  So, one isn’t mediating, and the other one is not the one who’s being victimized.

 

At what point could you tell your husband: You know, you told me go find out what my job is.  At what point could you come back and say: Hey, this is my job.

 

I still don’t know what my—I know what my work is.  My work is auntie.  That’s what I’ve become.  I’ve become auntie to so many people.

 

You know, there are a lot of women who don’t like to be called auntie, because they think it connotes age.

 

Yes.

 

Others say it’s respect, it’s a family spirit. You’re on that side of it.

 

Yeah; it’s all of that.  It is age, it is experience, hopefully wisdom.  But my job is auntie.  And I take it very seriously.  So, I get to work with all kinds of people and all kinds of different organizations, and I’m auntie to them.  And because I am auntie, the ways I’m able to teach them is not just modern ways; it’s also older ways.  I can teach them through poems, through stories, through experiences.  So, you know, auntie is such an important job.

 

Auntie Puanani also is an ordained Zen Buddhist priest.  She says the lessons learned from her mentor, Zen Priest Roshi Tanouye, have taught her how to breathe and remain calm during conflict, to help her see the multiple sides of situations and stories.  And she continues to share her thoughts through poetry.  Mahalo to one time fierce protestor and resistor, now calm community builder Puanani Burgess of Wai‘anae, O‘ahu.  And thank you for joining us for this edition of Long Story Short on PBS Hawai‘i.  I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Aloha nui.

 

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

 

So, when I wrote that poem, Choosing My Name, and I spoke about that very difficult part in our lives, and the place it was printed was the Star Bulletin, so everybody saw it, including my Japanese family.  And so, they started to call my father and asking: Why is she revealing these things? My father, to his credit, said: That is her life; it’s what she experienced, she has a right to it, leave her alone.

 

 


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