Aloha

KĀKOU – Hawai‘i’s Town Hall



KĀKOU – Hawai‘i’s Town Hall

“KĀKOU” means “all of us.” But it doesn’t mean we all agree.

 

When we can speak to each other honestly and listen earnestly… When we recognize that we are all in this together… When we are engaged in working toward a common goal, that is “kākou.”

 

PBS Hawai‘i hosts a periodic series of live town hall events called KĀKOU – Hawai‘i’s Town Hall. You can email us with your thoughts in advance or during the live conversation at kakou@pbshawaii.org, or post on Twitter using the #pbskakou hashtag. The town hall will also be live streamed on pbshawaii.org and on Facebook Live, where you can also join the conversation.

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Fred Hemmings

 

Fred Hemmings has lived life as a waterman, an entrepreneur and a lawmaker – but he says he’s most proud of being a “local boy.” He shares his experience growing up in Honolulu in the ’50s and ’60s surfing alongside Duke Kahanamoku in Waikīkī, and how his time as an amateur surfer led him to a career that championed professional surfing.

 

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

 

Fred Hemmings Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

Have you ever had a spill, where you thought you were gonna die?

 

Yes; yeah.

 

Held underwater?

 

Yes; it’s the worst way to die.

 

Do you know which way is up when you’re down there?

 

No, because for a minute, you’re in sheer terror, thinking you’re gonna die. And one of the things you tell yourself on a big wave wipeout is, you don’t take your death breath. There’s a point where your body says you gotta take a breath, and it takes a breath, and you swallow water and you die. So, it is an absolutely terrifying feeling. Yeah. But you only feel it if you live.

 

Fred Hemmings has had many death-defying experiences that he lived to tell about. Waterman, entrepreneur, lawmaker; he’s done it all. And not for love of money; mostly for the sheer enjoyment of doing it. Fred Hemmings, 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. Ask anyone who Fred Hemmings is, and you’ll get a wide range of answers: legendary surfer, channel winning canoe paddler and steersman, professional surfing contest producer, marathon runner, national television sports commentator, State Representative and State Senator, and back in the day, a Punahou School football player on a renowned championship team. Retired now, Fred Hemmings has been all of these things during his lifetime. Yet, for all of his endeavors and accomplishments, there’s one description that he is most proud of: local boy. It speaks not only to his family roots, but to his pride in his island home. The third of six children, he grew up in Honolulu in the 1950s and 60s in a landscape that is unrecognizable today.

 

I count as one of my greatest fortunes, besides my family, being born and raised in Hawai‘i. My roots are very deep in Hawai‘i. My mother’s side of the family, which is Portuguese, got here in 1881 from Funchal, Madeira, Portugal of a Portuguese island. And my dad got here in 1925 from New York City, as a young boy. We were a home of modest means. We weren’t by any means wealthy. And you know, we lived rather frugally. It was an interesting time. Lived in Kaimukī; born and raised in Kaimukī. Kaimukī boy.

 

You also lived in Kāhala, though.

 

I lived in Kāhala uh, when it was pig farms, and farms.

 

And it was all muddy, it had dirt roads.

 

Oh, there were basically three paved roads: Aukai, Kāhala Avenue, and Kealaolu that goes along the edge of the golf course. I lived on the next road up from Aukai; it was called Farmers Road, and it was a dirt road.

 

And there was a reason it was called Farmers Road.

 

Exactly.

 

People don’t realize that now, perhaps.

 

Yes; yes. Between Farmers Road and Kaimukī, there was no houses, because there was no subdivision. And it was three-acre farm lots.   Bishop Estate, which owned it all, had three-acre farm lots. And my grandfather, Arthur Freitas, a gentleman of Portuguese ancestry, and a great bon vivant, what a character he was. He raised horses. So, we had three horses, and we lived on a three and a half acre farm lot along with mostly Japanese farmers who were growing lettuce, cabbage, and other things in Kāhala. But Farmers Road was a farmers’ road. I went to Star of the Sea, a Catholic school, you know, my early years, a kindergartner. I went to Star of the Sea when it was still across from the old Keokara Store. There was no Kāhala. Keokara was on the corner of what now would be Kilauea and Wai‘alae Avenue. And across the street was the old Hung Wai Gee that then turned into Star of the Sea School. And so, it was the old Hung Wai Gee. Classic; you know, the wood buildings and all of that. So, that’s where I started school.

 

Your mother was Portuguese.

 

Yes.

 

Your dad, English-Irish.

 

Right.

 

What was your family culture like?

 

You know, there’s really something funny. As rough and tough as my father was, hard-drinking, you know, a real rugged guy, the facts are that Portuguese women, they’re even tougher. But she was real quiet, you know, but ultimately, my mother would rule the day. And she instilled in us a lot of the values that I think have been an asset in my life. Most especially, I think values that come from what I call the holy trinity of humankind. You know, we’re physical beings, and we nourish that through exercise and good health and eating habits. We’re intellectual beings; we nourish it through education. But most importantly, I think is, we’re spiritual beings, and who we are, the goodness of who we are is our spiritual being. And my mother, in her own way, being a Catholic and being the way she was, she nourished honest, hardworking, spiritual values that I think endure throughout the betterment of humankind. So, she was something special.

 

What were you like as a kid? You said your dad was rough and ready; were you?

 

We all had nicknames; my dad named us. My sister was Big C; my brother Mark was Butchie. My nickname was Bully Beef.

 

Because?

 

I was a bully beef kinda kid. You know, I was a rough, tough, rolling around, rough ‘em up kid.

 

Does that mean you were a bully?

 

No; it just meant rough.

 

Bully.

 

Yeah, yeah.

 

I know what you mean.

 

Bully, bully, bully boy, you know.

 

Yeah.

 

Bully boy kind guy.

 

So, you’re always ready to wrestle, or whatever it was.

 

Yeah, yeah. Yeah. And being a hard-headed young boy of Portuguese ancestry, if anybody would give me any grief, you know, I wouldn’t back away. I got in my fair share of fights when I was kid.

 

When you say your fair share, what does that mean? In connection with Portuguese ancestry?

 

Well, you know how kids are. No, kids argue about all kinds of different thing. And you know, like if I got off the bus in Kaimukī from Punahou, I was all of a sudden a Haole getting off the bus from Punahou. You know. When I was at Punahou, I was Fred Hemmings the Portagee. But when I got off the Punahou bus in Kaimukī, because I was getting off a Punahou bus, I was a Haole. So, guys would make remarks. Eh, Haole; eh, Haole. You’re too young to remember this, but they’d say: Eh, you like beef?

 

Oh, I remember that.

 

You remember that? You like beef? Eh, punk, you like beef? And I’d say, yeah.

 

And it was because of your ethnicity?

 

Because they perceived me as a Punahou Haole. It was stereotyping of the worst sorts. You know.

 

And on the Punahou side, they said what?

 

I was a Portagee; Fred Hemmings the Portagee.

 

And what did that connote in those days?

 

I wasn’t one of them. You know, I’m a kid, and I’d say: Well, I’m really not one of these guys, I’m not a wealthy Caucasian; I’m a Portagee at Punahou. You know. And I was on financial aid, and I worked in the cafeteria. One of my claims to fame is, my Aunt Min Marciel introduced the malasadas to the Punahou carnival.

 

There you go. So, did that do the trick? Did you feel like one of the bunch?

 

Nah … I’ve always taken pride in my Portuguese heritage.

 

And you distinguished yourself at Punahou as an athlete.

 

M-hm.

 

In those days, football was everything.

 

Oh, gosh.

 

And you surfed as a recreational fun thing.

 

I grew up in a surfing family. My dad and Lex Brodie surfed together in Waikīkī as young boys. They both went to Roosevelt together. And so, my playground when I was kid wasn’t on a baseball field or anything; it was the surf at Waikīkī, where I learned to surf. And one of the greatest blessings in my life is growing up in the shadow of Duke Kahanamoku and the other beach boys. But my father wanted me to be a football player. ‘Cause he played football at Roosevelt, I was gonna play football. So, I got involved in Pop Warner Football, and I did pretty well at it.

 

What position did you play?

 

Funny story; let me tell you. I found out in my senior year at Punahou when I played with Charlie Wedemeyer, the ILH championship was a real big deal back then.

 

Absolutely.

 

‘Cause that was the only game in town. I found out I was pretty fast and could run well. ‘Cause I was linebacker and, you know, all these little, scrawny little running backs would come out of the backfield, and I’d nail ‘em like a heat-seeking missile. I should have been a running back, but I had polio. Four of the children that were alive in the early 50s, we all had polio. And so, my father decided in his mind that I was a plug, that I couldn’t fun fast ‘cause the polio was lumbar polio, and my legs were quite weak for a while. I had to do a lot of things at Shriners Hospital to rehab my legs. Didn’t cripple me, but it made me not be able to run fast. So, my father said: You’ve gotta play on the line. So, I ended up playing on offensive center in middle line, which is kinda fun. Not as fun as running with the ball and making a touchdown, you know, ‘cause linemen, they don’t get any credit. We just block and get our butts kicked. But it was great.

 

When did you get polio?

 

1952.

 

So, you were just a little kid.

 

Yeah. It was just weak legs for a while, and I eventually rebounded out of it. And within two or three years, you know, I was running and jumping around like any normal kid.

 

But your dad had a sense that you could use your legs, but not fast.

 

Exactly. In his mind, I was a plug. And he’d call me that, too.

 

Oh; what did that do? Did that make you feel bad, or did it make you want to …

 

Oh, I believed him. Yeah. That’s one thing parents should really learn is, be careful of what you say to your kids. ‘Cause they’re more than likely gonna believe you. And so, always plant seeds of confidence and goodness with your kids.

 

So now, you realize that you could run fast, and knock people down.

 

Yeah; by the time I was a senior at Punahou playing with Charlie Wedemeyer, I was playing on the line now. We used to play both ways; offensive line, and then defense. I was a linebacker, and I could run down the little backs, and you know, like I said, nail ‘em. And I said: Eh, I’m not that slow, I could have been a running back.

 

And that was a great team you were on.

 

Oh, it was unbelievable. I’ll never forget, Leslie, what a thrill. November, Turkey Day of 1964, we took a bus with a police escort to the old Honolulu Stadium. We warmed up on our field, not in the stadium, and they were all wondering where’s the Punahou team. And we took a bus. We ran off the bus through the portal, and right onto the field to play the game. And I was one of the captains. And we beat Kamehameha. We were tied; we’d gone through the whole season, Kamehameha had lost a game, we’d lost a game. So, Turkey Day was for the championship. And there were twenty-five thousand plus people in the old Termite Palace, which was the stadium. There were folding chairs along the edge of the field so they could maximize the crowd. And we ran onto the field, and at the end of the game, we won twenty to six. We beat Kamehameha for the championship. Which back then was a real big deal; ILH champions.

 

Fred Hemmings grew up surfing in Waikīkī. He competed in amateur surfing events around the globe, winning many of them. This was during the 1960s, when the surfing craze was taking over the nation, and Hemmings saw an economic opportunity.

 

I didn’t go to college. I went to college for one year at UH, and then I quit to start professional surfing and start the business of professional surfing. I went surfing, basically. But I’m telling all my grandkids, and as I told my children: You’ve gotta go to college if you want to be successful. But as fate would have it, not going to college was, in a curious way a blessing for me, because I didn’t have an occupation. I could go where my nose took me in life. I surfed with the greatest surfers of the 20th century and in the 60s. Joey Cabell, Paul Strauch, and then a guy who was the first Pipeline which history has forgotten, a guy named Butch Van Artsdalen, and myself were the Duke’s surf team.

 

You also mentioned that Duke Kahanamoku was perhaps one of the greatest citizens of Hawaii you’ve ever met.

 

When I was a little boy, back then, lot of local guys would call the younger boy: Eh, boy. You’d never say the name. He wouldn’t say Fred; Eh, boy. But then, I got to be a member when I got to be a fairly good surfer; I got put on the Duke’s surf team, and I traveled with Duke. I think I can honestly say the most beloved citizen of Hawai‘i, the person we loved the most because of the content of his spirit, not his accomplishments, was Duke. A handsome Hawaiian, a man who knew no malice or negative.

 

So, you were an amateur surfer. Surfing in competitions, you did well in competitions.

 

Yeah; I did pretty good. I never surfed professionally. I started professional surfing. Surfing had grown under the leadership of a guy named Eduardo Arena of Peru, and he developed a world surfing championship. They held the first one in Peru in ’65, and then they held one in San Diego, and finally went to Puerto Rico when I competed in it and did pretty good. It’s their fiftieth anniversary this year. I read a poem, probably the only thing I ever remember, poetry in school; it was by A.E. Housman. It said: Smart lad, to slip betimes away, From fields where glory does not stay, And early though the laurel grows, It withers quicker than the rose. It was about an athlete who died young, and they were carrying him through the town. And laurel would never wither, because he got buried as a champion. And what that said to me was that, leave the field when you’re a champion. You know, don’t become a has-been. And I didn’t want to become a has-been, but I also saw the economic opportunity of starting professional surfing. I got hired by the Smirnoff to put on their meet, which originally was California, and then it moved here. And the following year, in 1971, I started the Pipeline Masters, which believe it or not, is in its forty-eighth year. Gosh; I think I was eight years old when I started it.

 

And you’re not involved in it anymore?

 

No; I sold my proprietary—same thing with my life. In 1988, I was really proud Leslie. I had surfing events on all three television networks. This was before there was cable television.

 

While Fred Hemmings was busy with his amateur and professional surfing careers, there was another sport that was close to his heart. He was a champion outrigger canoe steersman.

 

I learned to steer a canoe in an old koa boat called the Ka Moi. It’s now hanging in the bar of the Outrigger.

 

That’s the other thing; you were a member of the Outrigger Canoe Club, even though, as you say, you’re a family of modest means.

 

Right.

 

How did that happen?

 

That happened very modestly. You know, we couldn’t charge in the snack bar or anything, but we were all members ‘cause my dad wanted us to paddle and surf, and he wanted us to be members of the Outrigger. And we were. And you know, the Outrigger is like Punahou; people can sometimes stereotype the Outrigger. But I’m so proud of the Outrigger. It has really contributed significantly to watersports in Hawai‘i. Outrigger paddlers and surfers have been amongst the world’s best. It’s won more Moloka‘i to Oahu canoe races than any other club.

 

So, it was your hangout when you were in school?

 

Paddled every summer. You know, we had regattas. Back when I started paddling, there were no fiberglass canoes, there was only koa canoes.

 

And they were heavy.

 

Oh, yeah.

 

What about the paddles?

 

The paddles were wood and very heavy. Yeah. But things have changed, progress. But to the credit of canoe paddling, they’ve done an excellent job of preserving the integrity of the sport.

 

And you’re a steersman. So, that’s a very key position on the boat. All of them are key positions, but you call the shots on the boat. What does a steersman do? Maybe you could explain all the things.

 

You’re very intuitive that way. I used to steer, and I was very much the boss of the boat. The steersman thinks about the course, the steersman thinks about working the ocean, working the wind, how to avoid currents. And there’s a thousand things a good steersman should learn about. When you’re in the Molokai race, is the tide coming in? If it is, you run a little more inshore, because it runs faster near the shore. The tide’s going out, you stay away ‘cause it’s pulling Makapu‘u from Moloka‘i. So, there’s all these little subtleties to being a good steersman, that the steersman should worry about. Of course, in the regatta season when they race around flags, it’s a little different.

 

Your family seems to have a steersman gene. Don’t you have generations of steersmen in your family?

 

Four.

 

Four?

 

My grandson Trevor, who’s sixteen now, just won the state varsity paddling championship, steering at Punahou. So, he’s a fourth generation canoe paddler steersman. Which is something; fourth generation. My dad, my son. My son’s won a couple Moloka‘is. He’s real good.

 

I saw a photo of you surfing this huge wave in a canoe.

 

Yeah.

 

Where was that?

 

A place called Castles. Ancient times, it was called Kalehuawehe. Those swells come from New Zealand. They come actually five thousand miles; it takes them ten days to get here. And by the time they get here, if it’s a really huge swell, it can get up to fifteen feet out at Castles. It’s where Duke got his legendary ride in 1917, from out at Castles.

 

Have you ever had a spill, where you thought you were gonna die?

 

Yes; yeah.

 

Held underwater?

 

Yes; it’s the worst way to die.

 

Do you know which way is up when you’re down there?

 

No, because for a minute, you’re in sheer terror, thinking you’re gonna die. And one of the things you tell yourself on a big wave wipeout is, you don’t take your death breath. There’s a point where your body says you gotta take a breath, and it takes a breath, and you swallow water and you die. So, it is an absolutely terrifying feeling. Yeah. But you only feel it if you live. So, I can remember a couple times. Yeah.

 

And how did you break out of it? How did you get free?

 

You finally break the surface and you take a breath. And you know, you live.

 

You were able to endure until you can get out, get up.

 

Well, once you get your air back in your lungs, you know, the next wave comes. What happens when you wipe out is, the water in the surf line is usually moving. ‘Cause once a wave breaks, it becomes moving. You get pushed in. That’s where rip currents come from. So, you get pushed in enough where you’re not in the lineup for the next wave, usually. So, the next wave hits, you know, it’s soda water. You just dive under it. You know. And when you wipe out on a big wave … this was before you could get towed in; you had to paddle in. So, you’re taking a lot of your energy; it’s like running, and then, you jump in a washing machine. And usually, when you wipe out, you get—pah! You know, you smack the water. So, you put all those combination things; you don’t get held under much longer than twenty seconds, but that’s plenty enough to drown. ‘Cause you don’t have any air. And you know, when you suck in a breath of air, that air goes to the muscles that are working. And so, you can try to release quick. But fortunately, you know, most of us made it successfully. There are some that haven’t, though.

 

When you’ve had a close call like that, how long does it take you to go back into the water, in big water?

 

As long as it takes to get your board, and go back out.

 

Fred Hemmings continued to take ocean risks that could have ended in disaster, and he took some hits on land, too. It wasn’t until he had a particularly harrowing tree-cutting accident that he started thinking differently.

 

I’ve had my share of accidents. I cut my toe off; three of my toes off with a lawnmower. The worst one was actually pretty serious, and this happened late in 2015. I was sawing down a tree along the side of the road, and it fell down and it kicked back, and it hit me in the chest and broke eight of my ribs, punctured my lung, and crushed my shoulder.

 

Were you alone?

 

By myself; yeah. I’ll never forget this. So, I flew through the air. You know how they say when you die, you relive your life. I said to myself: Oh, S, I killed myself. Then I blacked out, and then, I finally came to, and I couldn’t move the side of my body. It was a real funny feeling. And I reached into my pocket and grabbed cell phone, and I called some people, and they called the ambulance. But then, when I went to the hospital, they OD’d me on opioids, and my heart stopped, and they had to jolt me back. So, I’m very cautious now when I do yardwork.

 

But you still do yardwork?

 

Little bit.

 

Did your life change because of life-threatening incidents like that? Have you changed your life any?

 

I’ve had a lot of life-threatening incidences. But this one did change me. All the rest, like almost dying in the surf, and you know, having all these other perilous situations I’ve been in; you know, I’ve done a lot of things that are kind of on the edge. But that did change my life.

 

How so?

 

I was scared.

 

Of?

 

Death.

 

Mm. And so, you’re careful?

 

Yeah. You’re scared of losing not your life; you’re scared of losing your grandkids, and your family, and you know, things you love.

 

Yeah.

 

So, it’s a strange feeling.

 

Mortality.

 

Yes; mortality. Exactly. I used to, with reckless abandon, take the canoe out to Castles to ride big waves in a canoe. I’m a little gun shy now; I’m not gonna take a chance that’s gonna kill me. You know, when you’re younger, you know, that’s part of the DNA of humankind. There are some guys that got that alpha gene, that they’re gonna risk their life, and that’s what progressed humanity, is the guys that leave the safety of the status quo and venture. You know, it’s a star trek gene, I call it. It’s the genetics of star trek, to go where no one’s gone before. That’s what advances humanity.

 

Are you saying you had that before, but now, you’re reining that in?

 

I had it in spades. I mean, I had it triple-time. And now, well, I’m also seventy-two years old, so I don’t have to go. I’m done there. You know, I’ve done my star trek going places where no one’s gone before; big waves, politics, surfing, paddling. You know, I’ve pretty much done everything I’ve wanted to do.

 

What’s your goal now?

 

What’s my goal?

 

Yep.

 

My goal is to enjoy my family and loved ones with the remaining years I have, and to rekindle friendships with friends around the world and nourish, you know, relationships. I’m not a very materialistic guy. I drive a Honda; you know, I’m not a high-end guy. I don’t need to go to fancy restaurants.

 

You don’t hire a yardman. Or maybe you do now.

 

No, I don’t.

 

You don’t?

 

I still do a little bit of my own yardwork. You know, the family compound, we have some guys that come in and help out. But I’m a good supavisah.

 

I can ‘em where to go.

 

So, you’ve never regretted that you didn’t go for riches, you went for experience?

 

Exactly. That’s a good thing. I pay my bills, but I’m not a rich man. I have a beautiful family, and I pay my bills, and I’m able to put food on the table, and that’s rich enough for me. And what’s really nice now for me is, I’m at the age where I can travel to other places and have friends. I love going to Peru, and I have a lot of friends around the world that I can occasionally visit, and they visit here. So, it’s a rich life without a lot of money.

 

Besides being a legendary waterman, Fred Hemmings is probably best remembered as a rare Republican State Senator in Hawai‘i. And he brought the first surf shop to Ala Moana Center. In 2017, he wrote a book, Local Boy, a memoir. Mahalo to Fred Hemmings of Lanikai, Windward Oahu, for sharing your stories with us. And thank you, for joining us. For PBS Hawai‘i and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha nui.

 

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

 

I would run at night. I wouldn’t go to bed; I’d meet a buddy at nine-thirty, ten o’clock at night, and run in the mountains. And so, I wrote about it in the book; it’s under Running. It says: One of the most beautiful moments ever was when Kent and I were running the Maunawili Trail to Waimanalo on a cool, full moon night. About halfway to Waimanalo, we rounded the Ko‘olau Ridge that was high promontory. It was very still and eerie, and quiet. The luminescent moon was bright, casting a blue hue over the Windward Coast. It was ethereal. We stopped running, and pulled plastic ponchos from out butt packs and lied next to the trail, and basked in the soft light of the eerie night. Surely, God was on the high altar on the Ko‘olau Ridge. He touched us. So, that’s a message, I think, that I learned, that you know, money can’t buy that, those moments. You know, we have such great gifts, if we take the time to appreciate ‘em. You don’t have to be a rich fat cat, or you don’t have to have a fancy car. You don’t need to go to, you know, wherever to be happy. You take it in your own spirit, what you appreciate in life.

 

 

A Concern About Hawaiians Leaving Hawai‘i

 

CEO Message

A Concern About Hawaiians Leaving Hawai‘i
Left image: Community Advisor Dr. Shawn Kana‘iaupuni, left. Right image: Community Advisory Chair Karen Knudsen with fellow member Les Murashige

Left image: Community Advisor Dr. Shawn Kana‘iaupuni, left. Right image: Community Advisory Chair Karen Knudsen with fellow member Les Murashige

Community Advisors pictured, from left: Cheryl Ka‘uhane Lupenui (Hawai‘i Island), Les Murashige, Dennis Bunda, Kainoa Horcajo (Maui), Marissa Sandblom (Kaua‘i) and Dr. Shawn Kana‘iaupuni. Not pictured: Chuck Boller, Lei Kihoi (Hawai‘i Island) and Corrina Moefu.

Community Advisors pictured, from left: Cheryl Ka‘uhane Lupenui (Hawai‘i Island), Les Murashige, Dennis Bunda, Kainoa Horcajo (Maui), Marissa Sandblom (Kaua‘i) and Dr. Shawn Kana‘iaupuni. Not pictured: Chuck Boller, Lei Kihoi (Hawai‘i Island) and Corrina Moefu.


Leslie Wilcox, PBS Hawai‘i President and CEOBesides our statewide, governing Board of Directors, PBS Hawai‘i has a Community Advisory Board, with all of Hawai‘i’s counties represented, to give us feedback about programming and other community engagement.

 

At a recent meeting, these Community Advisors shared thoughts about the central question of our April 19 KĀKOU – Hawai‘i’s Town Hall: “How do we keep Hawai‘i, Hawai‘i? One theme of the discussion was concern about Native Hawaiians choosing to move out of state.

 

Dr. Shawn Kana‘iaupuni of Honolulu says there are research initiatives to measure the current outflow of Native Hawaiians. “That’s our host culture,” she noted.

 

Cheryl Ka‘uhane Lupenui of North Hawai‘i Island mentioned that community changes are affecting a school which uses a curriculum based on the Hawaiian culture. This curriculum is deemed less relevant to the needs of new students.

 

Maui’s Kainoa Horcajo said that newcomers and visitors are using social media to confer new names on treasured places, resulting in a “homogenization” of Hawai‘i.

 

All of the advisors counseled PBS Hawai‘i staff not to worry if the Town Hall turns dour. They pointed out that change is inevitable, and mindfulness is a positive first step if we want to keep Hawai‘i, Hawai‘i.

 

More to come on this subject…Aloha nui,

 

Leslie signature

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Senator Daniel Akaka

 

Original air date: Tues., Jul. 29, 2008

 

You’ve heard the expression, “Nice guys finish last.” Not true. Not when it comes to U.S. Senator Daniel Kahikina Akaka. Except at the very beginning of his political career, he’s been number one in the balloting for every elective office for which he’s run. Political supporters and opponents agree on one thing: he’s full of aloha – real aloha.

 

Daniel Kahikina Akaka is the only Native Hawaiian and the only member of Chinese ancestry serving in the U.S. Senate. Since 1976, he’s represented Hawai’i in Washington, D.C. – first in the House of Representatives and now in the Senate.

 

Daniel Kahikina Akaka Audio

 

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Transcript

 

Aloha no, I’m Leslie Wilcox of PBS Hawai‘i. You’ve heard the expression, “Nice guys finish last.” Not true. Not when it comes to U.S. Senator, Daniel Kahikina Akaka. Except at the very beginning of his political career, he’s been number one in the balloting for every elective office for which he’s run. Political supporters and opponents agree on one thing: he’s full of aloha – not a cheap, smarmy version, but real aloha. Join me in a conversation with Hawai‘i’s junior United States Senator, next …

 

Daniel Kahikina Akaka is the only Native Hawaiian and the only member of Chinese ancestry serving in the U.S. Senate as I speak. Since 1976, he’s represented Hawai‘i in Washington, D.C. – first in the House of Representatives and now in the Senate. Our conversation begins at his birth, through a story heard from his older brother, Abe, who would become the Reverend Abraham Akaka of Kawaiaha‘o Church.

 

Well, when I first entered the world, let me tell you about what Brother Abe said. He said that I came before dawn, and that my dad helped to bring me into this world.

 

Was it in your house?

 

At home.

 

Where was home?

 

And home was in Pauoa Valley. And they cleaned me up, according to Brother Abe, and my dad called the family to the parlor, and we had what we called at that time, ‘ohana. And ‘ohana was a devotion. And it was an ‘ohana to celebrate my birth. And when the ‘ohana was finished, according to Brother Abe, Pa named me Daniel. And he said that Daniel will someday be in the lion’s den. And in a sense, that was prophetic. Because when you think of what I’m doing now as a Senator, in a sense, we are in the lion’s den, and that Daniel will prevail, as it is in the Bible.

 

What part of what you do now puts you in the lion’s den?

 

It’s the kind of issues that are raised by members of the Senate, in our case today, and the way in which they try to have people join them in some of the issues, and the way they try to pass it on the floor. And I will tell you, it’s done in a procedural way, but the way it’s done, it’s tough.

 

Whats the most ferocious lion you faced?

 

Well, the most voracious lions are my friends [chuckle] who have issues that are dear to them. And the thing about me and coming from Hawai‘i, I will tell you, I would say would really benefit others who are also in Congress, is that you can still be friends.

 

So the toughest adversaries are your friends?

 

Yes. And that doesn’t sound right, but we are friends. And they’re friends today, and it occurs today with me where, after we’re done with the debate, and the bill is either passed or fails, they will come up to me and shake my hand, you know, which shows that the friendship was still there. And that’s a good way to serve.

 

So there you are, a few minutes old, and your family’s having a devotion, and you’re being named Daniel. And then what happened?

 

Then I then took my place in the family, and I was number eighth.

 

Were you the last?

 

And the baby of the family—and I was the last. But with eight kids—you know, it’s hard for me to imagine supporting eight children.

 

How was your life? What was it like?

 

It was good—I would use that word, although, it was difficult, because of the situation and circumstances. When I tell you that we lived in a two-bedroom home, and we had a lanai that we used too, as an extension.

 

So who slept where in this two-bedroom house?

 

Well, most of the children slept in one bedroom, and some in the parlor, and some in the other bedroom. And Pa and Ma slept in one, and they slept on the floor.

 

No beds?

 

There were beds, but we slept on the beds.

 

And your parents let—

 

Yes.

 

Theyd take the floor.

 

Yes. And we would have ‘ohana twice a day in the family. So early morning, before my dad went to work—

 

And where did he go to work?

 

He was an ironworker. He worked at Honolulu Ironworks.

 

Was that in Kaka‘ako?

 

It was.

 

That was a hardcore place. Lots of industry and—

 

Yes.

 

–tough folks.

 

Well, it’s located right across the present Federal Building, where the restaurants are. And he worked there every day. He was a molder.

 

What does a molder do?

 

He would use sand to make patterns in which they poured the steel to create whether it was a gear, or whatever.

 

Oh, I see.

 

And most of the work was for sugar plantations. So whatever parts that they needed, they made there.

 

And your mom, did she stay home with eight kids?

 

She was a housewife. She was pure Hawaiian, and very, very gracious, loving Hawaiian woman; rotund. And I remember her as such a beautiful lady.

 

Did she speak Hawaiian?

 

Oh, yes; she and my dad spoke Hawaiian.

 

When they didn’t want you to know what they were—

 

Yes, and—

 

–talking about?

 

–unfortunately, in those days when we were little, they would ask us not to speak Hawaiian; to speak English. Learn English as best you can, because that’s the language today.

 

Your dad was also Chinese, right?

 

Yes; he was Chinese, and his dad came from Fook Yuen, China, and married a Hawaiian girl. And they lived in Pauoa.

 

And in fact, his name, and your middle name, both refer to Chinese origins?

 

That’s right; and in Hawaiian, it’s The East.

 

Kahikina?

 

Kahikina.

 

What lessons did you learn from your mom and your dad, and how were they different?

 

My mom and dad, as I said, were very spiritual people. For us and the whole family, you know, the church was so important. And so Sundays for me, as I grew up, it was church day. In the morning, we would—there were times when we walked from Pauoa to Kawaiaha‘o Church. And we’d be there for Sunday school in the morning at nine. And after that, then we went to regular church service, which was done about noon. And then we went home, and we’d have lunch at home. Then we went to another church in Pauoa Valley at two p.m. Then we’d go back home and get ready for church again at Kawaiaha‘o, where we would have Christian endeavor classes, which started at six. And at seven-thirty, the evening service began, and we’d stay for that. And after the service we went home. That was our Sunday. But even with that, there was ‘ohana in the morning and ‘ohana in the evening for the family every day.

 

Devoted and devout. And headed for a life of service. Daniel Akaka would go on to graduate from Kamehameha Schools in 1942 (having witnessed the attack on Pearl Harbor from Kapalama Heights).

 

He served in the Army Corps of Engineers during the War; and become a school teacher and a principal before entering politics. Dan Akaka followed his faith in God and in people who advised and supported him all the way to Capitol Hill.

 

Your brother, Abraham, would grow up to have a very prominent position as pastor of Kawaiaha‘o Church. You were the choir director for seventeen years.

 

That’s correct.

 

The family was so spiritual. Did you ever have a crisis of faith?

 

I can’t remember that. I don’t think so.

 

You never said to yourself, Where’s God when I need Him, and—

 

No.

 

–maybe this whole thing I’ve grown up with isn’t really —

 

Well, when we grew up, my mother and dad really—I mean, they talked to us a lot too, you know, and they were sure that we understood that we could trust God. And anytime you need Him, He’s there. And I must tell you that it has helped me all my life, including where I am now.

 

And when you don’t get what you pray for?

 

Well, there’s a reason. I mean—

 

And do you under—

 

–that’s how they—

 

Do you—

 

–taught us.

 

–understand the reason?

 

That’s right. And well, we may not at that time. But later on, when we look back, we say, Oh yeah, we didn’t understand it that time, but things work out.

 

I’ll bet you were under some influence to become a missionary yourself.

 

Yes; yes. And later on, I came to think that, you know, there are different ways of being a missionary. You don’t have to be a preacher, like Brother Abe. And Brother Abe, for me, was doing so well, I thought, Eh, one in the family is enough; and so I would maybe do my work in other ways. And this is why I went into education, as I did, and that was to help people.

 

I presume you jumped on the GI Bill and attended college on that basis.

 

Yes.

 

Would you have gone to college otherwise?

 

No. You know, it was a blessing for me. The GI Bill, you know, helped not only me, but it helped Senator Inouye and Senator Matsunaga as well, and many others.

 

You went on to get a Master’s in education as well.

 

Yes.

 

Was that also on the GI Bill?

 

Yes; yes. So we really benefited. But when you look at it, what we did during our time really changed the world. And in Hawai‘i, it changed Hawai‘i too, because many of them became leaders in the legislature as well, and leaders of the government. And so my feeling was, we gotta have a GI Bill for our latest veterans. And so I’m so glad we were able to pass it, as we did.

 

In 2006, Time Magazine ran a feature that called you one of The Hill’s five worst legislators.

 

Yeah.

 

It said that you’re living proof that having experience doesn’t necessarily mean you have expertise, and it called you a master of the minor bill—minor resolution on the bill that dies in committee.

 

You know, they were very wrong, really wrong. And my colleagues told me that. They said, What? You know, this is wrong. For instance, one of the big bills that I just passed was the Filipino veterans. Sixty-two years, they haven’t been able to pass it, and I passed it. That’s really big. And there are other bills that I can mention, but these are important bills that I was able to pass. But I passed it, you know, using the Hawaiian method of dealing with my colleagues. And they appreciate it.

 

And I sense that you’re not there because you’re terribly ambitious to succeed in a certain way; you’re there because you enjoy it.

 

Well, it’s not only that, but I’m there because I can help people.

 

Because you—

 

That’s the—

 

–you’ve been effective.

 

–real reason. And I’m not there for Dan Akaka; I’m there for the people of Hawai‘i. And so whatever I do, as a matter of fact, many times, my staff would tell me, Eh, get up front. But I don’t. I would rather stay back a step and …

 

As a matter of fact, if you wanted to retire, you’d be under intense pressure not to leave, because of your seniority.

 

That’s correct. And we’re able to do so much for Hawai‘i, and for our country. And we’re doing it.

 

So you’re—how old are you now?

 

I will be eighty-four.

 

So what do you see in the way of your future? How do you expect the future to play out for you?

 

Well, I look at continuing to have good health, and to continue to do all I can to help the people of Hawai‘i, with my experience, with the way I work with people, and to help this country. And now with a new administration coming forth, you know, we need to transition into a Congress that can really produce and help our country and Hawai‘i. Speaking of producing; there is the Akaka Bill, which has been waiting and waiting and stalled and

stalled.

 

Do you think it’ll pass?

 

It can pass, if we can get it to the floor. Now, I’m saying it that way, because this has been the problem.

 

M-hm.

 

That I’ve not been able to get it to the floor. It passed the House twice; it passed—this Congress. And the reason is that in the Senate, one Senator can hold up a bill. And that’s what happens. And to get it to the floor, we have to use what we call cloture; we have to invoke cloture. And to do that, we need sixty votes, not majority. And so to get the sixty votes, it’s really tough. The last time I did that, I ended up with fifty-six votes, and therefore, couldn’t get it to the floor. But if we can get it to the floor, we’ll pass it.

 

Whats been dubbed the Akaka Bill is legislation to provide federal recognition of a Native Hawaiian governing entity. In the U.S. Senate, Dan Akaka chairs the Congressional Taskforce on Native Hawaiian Issues and the Veterans’ Affairs Committee. On the Hill and at home, his life is about building and keeping relationships. He and his wife of sixty years, Millie, have five children, fourteen grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

 

Where does Millie enter the picture? When did she come into your life?

 

She came into my life before I went to the Pacific, into the Army.

 

Where did you meet her?

 

She met me. [chuckle]

 

She wanted to meet you? Is that what you’re saying?

 

That’s right. See, I was with what we called the Junior Hawaiian Civic Club. And to take members, we would have to interview them.

 

M-hm.

 

So I was interviewing members, and she was one I interviewed.

 

Now, was she doing that ‘cause she wanted to meet you?

 

Well, I learned later, was she wanted me to interview her, and she was sure that she came to me. And that was the beginning.

 

You know, after six decades of marriage, your wife still comes to the office every day, and essentially puts in the same day you do and is so supportive of you. And you two seem like you’ve still got this very good thing going, very close.

 

Yes. She takes good care of me. As a matter of fact, she has that responsibility of keeping me healthy. And she comes to work every day. She’s my only unpaid staff. I tell her that.

 

What does she do in the office?

 

Well, she comes in, and she usually meets with guests who come. And many of them from Hawai‘i, or most of them from Hawai‘i. And she’s the type that, as soon as she gets in the office, she takes off her shoes and she walks around bare feet. And so some of the guests, they look down and they say, Ooh [chuckle], she’s bare feet. And I always tell them, Look, you folks are welcome to take off your shoes in my office—

 

[chuckle]

 

–and be comfortable.

 

But you know, she could easily stay home at your condo in DC—

 

Yeah.

 

–or go meet with friends; but she’s always there. Why is that?

Yeah. Well, she loves to do that, because she sees people, and she’s able to talk to people. And I guess it’s better than staying home. But she likes that style. And the other reason, although I’ve never said it, that she helps—we need three passengers in the car.

 

[chuckle] To get into the zipper lane—

 

To use the HOV.

 

–or something? [chuckle]

 

And without her, we don’t have three. [chuckle]

 

Whos the other one? Who’s the third?

 

The other is Jim Sakai, who is my administrative assistant, who picks us up, you know—

 

[chuckle]

 

–in the morning, takes us home at night. And so the three of us use the HOV.

 

You spend most of the year in DC, right?

 

About ten months. Yeah.

 

What do you like about living in DC? And why is it so important to you to continue working, long after a time when many folks would have retired, take it easy?

 

Well, there’s so much to do there, and that’s what I like too. The hours are long. I keep telling the young people; I said, Look, you never stop learning in your life. I said, I thought I was learning a lot when I was in Kamehameha; I thought I was learning a lot when I was at the UH. I said, But here, I’m still learning. I said, Every time there’s a new bill, there’s something new to learn. And my health has been good. And Millie has been very supportive. So that helps me do my job.

 

She’s completely herself.

 

Yeah, oh very.

 

Despite who she’s around, right?

 

Oh, yes. And even my colleagues know that. You know, she’s herself, and she says what she wants to say. And there isn’t a lot of pressure to kind of conform and be a certain way, and be accepted in a certain way?

 

You haven’t—

 

Yes.

 

–felt that?

 

Well, I’ve felt that. But she’s one that does what she wants to do.

 

And — And you support her to—

 

Yes.

 

–being that way.

 

But— Herself.

 

–you know, my colleagues like that. So whenever they see me, even today, they don’t say, Danny, how are you? They say, Danny, how’s Millie? [chuckle]

 

Millie will say what she’s thinking, won’t she?

 

Yeah; oh, very much.

 

Has she ever told anybody off on Capitol Hill?

 

Yes. [chuckle] Yes; but she says it in a way where—that they accept it.

 

M-hm.

 

And you know, if you get hurt—

 

And you do the same thing too, don’t you?

 

What’s that?

 

I mean, don’t—

 

Yeah.

 

Aren’t you able to tell people things in a way that they don’t get offended, even though it’s counter to what they’re thinking or what they want?

 

Yes; that’s what I call the Hawaiian style of communicating. And it works, and I just hope that more people would use that. And people like you for it, and feel that you’re a good friend, and they can trust you. That’s the other word that’s so important up there.

 

Tell me, what’s—give me a course in how to disagree, Hawaiian style.

 

Yes. Well, one is to be sure that your friend, your opponent knows what you’re all about, and where you are. And if you know that what you’re trying to do is what he doesn’t want, and you need to find out what it’s all about. And try to present it in a way that is non-threatening. And that’s a big thing. And to say it in a way where, you know, you’re not yelling or screaming, and you’re telling him in a nice way, or even say, You know, my friend, I disagree with you.

 

But first—

 

You know.

 

–you say you have to understand who they are, and what they want.

 

That’s right; that’s right.

 

Let me ask you this. And you’ve seen this in campaigns, you’ve been through it all. When one is nice and kind, that’s often mistaken for softness, weakness, being less than smart. Tell me your experiences—

 

Yes.

 

–in running up against that.

 

When I first went there, many people told me that. They said, Eh, you can’t be like that. And now that I’ve been there all these years, I’ve gotta tell them they’re wrong. That you can be nice, but you’ve gotta be up front. You’ve gotta be sure they know where you are and what you’re doing, and why you’re doing it. And they appreciate it. And so that’s something I think that more people in elected office need to do, and use that method of dealing with people.

 

You mentioned that, when you came into the world, you were called Daniel because your role would be in the lion’s den.

 

Yeah.

 

Do you feel that has come to pass?

 

Yes; I feel, definitely, that the story about Daniel, of course, he was cast into the lion’s den, and the reason for that

 

 

was for the lions to devour him. Which they didn’t. And he lived through that, and became a leader after that. And I think, you know, the spiritual background and all of that, you know, helps you to survive.

 

But the difference is, you don’t want to leave the lion’s den.

 

Well, I hope someday we can calm the lion’s den and make it more productive. But that remains to be seen. This fascinates me, because it seems as though the thing to do when one has been very successful on Capitol Hill, is not to aspire to a wonderful retirement and take it easy; it’s essentially to work as long as you’re capable of working, and even die in office.

 

I mean, is that what you foresee?

 

Well, I foresee working as long as I can. [chuckle] You know, and, being in that position I’m in now, you know, it’s a great way of helping our country and the rest of the world.

 

Have you and Millie talked about that?   Does she want to take it easy at all? Or is she completely happy with, this is how it is, well—

 

I wouldn’t say she’s completely happy, but she lives with it, and she—

 

But you’ve told her, This is me, I—

 

Yes.

 

–would like to

 

Yes.

 

–continue on

 

But she’s supported—

 

–Capitol Hill.

 

–me; supported me very well. And that helps me in what I do. Yeah. So I’m so fortunate and feel been blessed too, with Millie and my family.

 

And what a high achieving person, what a high achieving life you’ve had.

 

Yes; and when I look back at my life, there was a reason for all of this, since I was born. And as Daniel, I’m still serving.

 

So you think that it was preordained, it was foreseen that you had this role in your life, and it was up to you to make it happen?

 

I feel that way; yes. Yeah; so when I think back, you know, on when I came to this Earth, I was destined, I guess.

But I didn’t know it. And I’m still on my way.

 

Still on your way.

 

Yeah.

 

An unknown author once wrote, “It’s nice to be important but it’s more important to be nice.” The “Hawaiian style of communicating,” as Senator Akaka puts it, will be conducted on Capitol Hill for as long as he’s able to serve. Mahalo to Dan Akaka, and to you, for joining me this week. I’m Leslie Wilcox with PBS Hawai‘i. A hui hou kakou.

 

The people of Hawai‘i tend to work together so much better than other places. And as a result, they’re able to be more productive. They’re able to do more things and are able to do it in such a way where people enjoy it and not take it as somebody losing something. And I feel that that style is really needed in the Capitol and in the country. And I think the diversity of Hawai‘i, the diversity of people has helped to bring that about. Hawai‘i is Hawai‘i because of its culture, its people, its diversity; and we need to keep that.

 

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Witness Hōkūle‘a’s inaugural 1976 journey from Hawai‘i to Tahiti, the preparations leading up to it, and the behind-the-scenes turmoil that threatened to derail the voyage. Rifts are seen among leadership, between leadership and the crew, and among crewmembers. The film by Dale Bell was co-produced by the National Geographic Society and WQED Pittsburgh.

 

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This special edition of HIKI NŌ highlights some of the best stories from the spring quarter of the 2016-2017 school year. The outstanding HIKI NŌ stories in this compilation show include:

 

“Mochi Pounding” from Maui Waena Intermediate School in Kahului, Maui:
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“Tough Vice-Principal” from Ewa Makai Middle School on O‘ahu:
A classic “don’t judge a book by its cover” story about a vice-principal whose tough exterior belies her heart of gold.

 

“Fashion Entrepreneurs” from Sacred Hearts Academy on O‘ahu:
Two Honolulu-based fashion entrepreneurs mentor young local designers who are trying to break into the business.

 

“Tie-Dye Artist” from Kalani High School in East Honolulu:
Inspired by 1960s cultural icons like The Beatles, a Honolulu teenager launches her own line of tie-dye clothing.

 

“Diabetic Athlete” from Waiakea High School in the Hilo district of Hawai‘i Island:
A star high school athlete faces his toughest opponent off the court: Type 1 Diabetes.

 

“Pedestrian Walking Flags” from Wai‘anae High School in West O‘ahu:
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“The Fact of You” from Kaua‘i High School in Lihue:
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“Ukrainian Student” from Nānākuli High and Intermediate School in West O‘ahu:
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This special compilation show is hosted by Moanalua High School student Camryn Tabiolo, who will be entering her school’s HIKI NŌ program in the fall of 2017.

 

This program encores Saturday, Sept. 2, at 12:00 pm and Sunday, Sept. 3, at 3:00 pm. You can also view HIKI NŌ episodes on our website, www.pbshawaii.org/hikino.

 

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