ambition

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Kim-Anh Nguyen

 

When she was 7 years old, Kim-Anh Nguyen and her family were uprooted from their home country of Vietnam after the war. Nguyen assimilated quickly in America, and she forged a path for herself in science as a researcher. She now heads the Blood Bank of Hawaii, which allows her to do what she says she loves best – connect with people.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, July 29, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Kim-Anh Nguyen Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

I always to leave the door open and have choices.  So, that’s why I got my MD, but also my PhD.  And so, my first job was half research, half working as medical director of the Blood Bank.  And after

a year or two, my boss had a heart-to-heart talk with me, and she said: Kim-Anh, your eyes light up when you work in the Blood Bank; maybe that’s where you need to … spend your life, is to follow your heart.  And that was the hardest decision that I ever made, to close my research lab and follow my heart.  And I’ve never looked back.  And here I am, running the Blood Bank of Hawai‘i.

 

Ever since she was a teenager, Kim-Anh Nguyen wanted to make medical research her career.  Her parents told her they didn’t want her to become a kooky, nerdy scientist, but she became a scientist anyway.  And then, her heart took her down a different path.  Kim-Anh Nguyen, 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.  Dr. Kim-Anh Nguyen moved to Hawai‘i in 2013 to accept the position of chief executive officer of the Blood Bank of Hawaii.  It was the job, not the culture, that attracted her to Hawai‘i, because she’d become accustomed to fitting in where she was.  When she was seven, her family was airlifted from Vietnam as the war ended.  Their new home turned out to be New Jersey.  And the name of her English language teacher? PBS children’s programming.

 

I was actually born in what’s now Ho Cho Minh City.  Back then, it was Saigon, South Vietnam.  And I lived in a suburb until seven years old, ‘til 1975.  And it was a normal childhood.  We had an outhouse.  We did not have indoor plumbing.  And we had a real honest-to-goodness icebox.  I would go down the street and pick up a block of ice, and put it our icebox, and that was our refrigerator.

 

Voila; icebox.

 

That’s right.

 

You mentioned it was a calm suburb.  So, no signs of war raging around you?  I mean, that was the time.

 

So, that was the beauty.  Until the day I left Vietnam, Leslie, I never saw a gun.  And my father had been in the military and had been drafted, my cousins were in the military.  But for me, it was just life as normal, and I never saw any violence.  Not ‘til the end.

 

How fortunate.  And in the end, you mentioned you left at seven.  That was under duress.

 

So, we were one of the families that were airlifted out in a helicopter.  We were so fortunate.  My mother was a secretary for an American company, and after they evacuated their American staff, a few of them were able to sponsor local staff.  And so, my parents heard one day: Take a small suitcase, take your immediate family, show up at the airport with a little bit of money, and that’s it.  And then, next day, we knew, we left everybody, we left everything, and we all stood out on the tarmac.  And a big helicopter came down, we piled in, and that’s how we left Vietnam.

 

Was it one of those scenes that we have seen in the old footage, where people were trying to get in and get up into the chopper?

 

Fortunately, Leslie, we weren’t that last cohort out.  But people were clamoring.  And so, that was the first time I ever saw a gun, and it was a man who pulled out a gun to keep the peace and quiet.  And it was scary.  We all huddled on the tarmac, and then the big, loud helicopter came.  And it was a cargo helicopter, and we all piled into the cargo bay.  And off it went.

 

So, you couldn’t tell family members outside your immediate family that you were leaving forever?

 

No.

 

That must have been really hard.

 

I remember my last thought before getting on the helicopter, not about my family, not about Vietnam, but that I was sad that I would never see my grandparents again.

 

So, they left without knowing.  They weren’t told: We have to steal out in the middle of this.

 

They knew.

 

They knew.

 

And they knew also that most likely that this was it.  And it was.

 

And they knew they couldn’t go?

 

They couldn’t go.

 

But they were glad to see you have a chance to go.

 

They wanted the best for us, but they knew that they couldn’t go.  And so, that was the bittersweet part, Leslie.

 

Did they survive?

 

So, they did.  And they lived a long life, but I will say it was a very, very hard ten years after the fall of Saigon.  Very hard times.

 

Mm; that must have been hard.  Meanwhile, you’re in a new country, learning a language, and have your own challenges.

 

That’s right.  So, to continue the story, that helicopter touched base in the middle of the Pacific on an aircraft carrier, which landed in Guam.  So, we actually lived in Guam for a little bit, and then we eventually ended up on the mainland, made our way in tent cities, aircraft hangars.  And we were the first cohort in the refugee camp at Fort Chaffee, Arkansas.  And that was a beautiful time for us.  We actually lived in the barracks with hundreds of other refugee families.

 

That was beautiful?

 

Yes, because it was a permanent dwelling.  For the first time, it wasn’t an aircraft hangar, or a tent.  And so, each family was separated in the barracks by a blanket that was hung from the ceiling.  And we made friendships there that survive to this day.

 

Wow.

 

Yeah.

 

Eventually, you were relocated?

 

That’s right.  So, after about three months, we were sponsored by my mother’s company, and we ended up in a town called Fair Lawn, New Jersey.  And I remember we landed at the Holiday Inn on a Friday, and on Monday, my mother reported for work.  And it was just before the American Bicentennial.  Pretty amazing.

Pretty amazing.

 

Looking back.

 

And could you speak English at all?

 

I spoke no English; zero.  My father spoke no English, and my mother had a rudimentary knowledge of English. That’s it.

 

And how were you received by the folks of New Jersey?

 

You know, looking back, Leslie—and this is one of my life lessons.  The American people welcomed us with open arms.

 

No prejudice?

 

Oh, you know, we had the prejudice and, you know, the little taunts from kids. But the most important thing is, we had a lot of help.  And so, what I’ve learned from that is, success is part individual effort, but a lot of it is systems.

 

Well, your mother’s company deserves a big—I mean, kudos to them.

 

That’s right.

 

Took you out of the country, and then gave your mom an immediate job.

 

They were so good to us.  They helped us find a house.  And you know what they got out of it, Leslie, was they got two employees that worked there their whole lives.  And advanced within the company.

 

Who’s the other employee?

 

My father.

 

Oh, he joined as well.

 

That’s right.  He ended up working in building maintenance, which was what we called facilities at the time.  And he worked there for over twenty years.  My mom retired there.  She started as a secretary, went back to school, and ended up in the accounting department.

 

How did you learn English?

 

I learned English through PBS, believe it or not.

 

Did you?

 

I learned English watching Sesame Street, The Electric Company, and Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.

 

Oh, that’s wonderful.

 

True story; true story.

 

And that got you what you needed?  You got enough English from that to build on?

 

TV can be amazing.  I was a latchkey kid.  And so, I watched hours, and hours, and hours of good old fashioned TV.

 

Wow.  You had good taste.  You went for PBS.

 

I did.

 

And how was it in school?  I mean, it’s hard enough to progress, you know, in learning if you’re language-challenged in the beginning.

 

So, I was very fortunate in that I was seven, which is around the age for critical language.  So yes, I didn’t know any English, and so, I started taking remedial classes.  But my teachers were very good to me, and uh, I learned very quickly.  Like again, TV and Sesame Street helped a lot.

 

So, did you become a Jersey girl?

 

I did. I grew up in Bergen County, New Jersey, so Fair Lawn.  So, when I’m stressed out, sometimes I say: Come with me to Fair Lawn, hot dawg.

 

 

My mother has a part-Vietnamese, part-Jersey accent.  So, I cringe.  Her voicemails: Hi, it’s your mom, cawl me.

 

That’s so funny.  And actually, she’s originally from North Vietnam.

 

That’s right.

 

So, the accent is probably even more different.

 

Funkier.  That’s right; that’s right.  So, when I speak Vietnamese, I actually speak with a northern accent, a pronounced northern accent.  But I grew up in the south.

 

How long did you stay in New Jersey?  That was where you spent your entire childhood?

 

I did. We spent our entire childhood there. My mom still lives in the house that I grew up in.  My sister lives in New Jersey.  And I’m the one that’s gone far, far away.

 

You know, whenever you’ve had something sad happen, and you find yourself in a better place at that time, you’ve still left your home.

 

That’s right.

 

You still left a place that you meant to stay. I mean, how do you feel about the loss of that county for you, your nation?

 

It’s there.  It definitely is there.  I’ve learned so much from it, but there are tradeoffs.  So, for instance, very fortunately, the town in New Jersey where I grew up, there were no darkies, as I call it.  We were one of the few minority families.  So, the good news is, I don’t speak with a Vietnamese accent, very assimilated.  The tradeoff is, you know, my Vietnamese is not that good.  And even today, I have very loving, but remote relationships with my family.  And so, it really is bittersweet.  There is some loss, but so much more gain.

 

Did anybody begrudge you jumping at liberty?

 

You know, I’m gonna be honest, Leslie.  There’s a bit of survivor’s guilt among some of us that left for better lives.  Among families, there is sometimes hard feelings. For the most part, I think that’s water under the bridge, and most families have reunited, and obviously, we love each other.  But yes, there were some hard feelings.  There were some hard feelings, jealousies, misunderstandings.

 

And there were some Vietnamese who left and resettled in America who didn’t have as much success as you did.  They struggled here.

 

Again, this is where … I want to reiterate how much welfare, religious groups, programs, support systems really matter.  They really do.  And so, not everybody had that support network, that safety network.  Some of it was individual effort, but a lot of it was luck and the assistance and the altruism of others.

 

By the time Kim-Anh Nguyen finished high school, she had decided that she’d become a scientist.  She credits those who helped her along the way to achieve her dream, but at the heart of it was her own passionate curiosity and determination.

You went to Ivy League universities.  BA, MD, PhD, very impressive; Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania.  Wow; okay. How did all that happen?  I imagine you were really quick in science, math.

 

You know, again, I think it’s a combination of my own gumption, if you will. If I were to describe myself, Leslie, I would say that my intelligence is average.

 

I doubt it.

 

Average.  I don’t have a lot of talent, I’m not a great artist or an athlete.  I think I have curiosity and gumption, so that’s number one. Number two, though, and I think just as important, I had so much help and support.  I had the best teachers who believed in me, and said: Kid, you know, you can do it if you want to.  I had scholarship programs that were made available.  So, it truly was a combination of individual effort, but systems to help support that individual.

 

Once you into one of those systems—and Harvard is good example, I mean it’s a tough place to be.  It’s very competitive, and you know, there’s a lot of undercurrents there. How did you handle that?

 

Well, you’ll laugh.  But freshman year, I lived with three or four other women.  And four out of the five of us got a letter that said: You are in danger of failing at least one class.  Can you imagine?  So, yes, it was a tough place, and it was a real wakeup call.  But we all woke up, and we realized that it’s not just hard work, but also learning the system, and learning ourselves.  And all four of us that got that letter turned it around and have since done very well.

 

Did you know what you wanted to do when you started college?

 

I did know that I wanted to become a scientist, and just learn how the human body worked.

 

‘Cause you said you’re curious.

 

That’s right.

 

And it was about how the human body worked.

 

Absolutely.  And so, I always wanted to be a scientist.  But sadly, my parents were quite dismayed, because they did not want me, a girl, to become a quirky, kooky scientist, as they called it.  And so, they were hoping against hope that I would change my mind.  Never did, though.

 

You wanted to be a researcher to begin with, didn’t you?

 

I did. I did, and I had some wonderful mentors. And I actually did get my PhD and started my career as a researcher.

 

Then, what happened?

 

Well, you know, I think I followed my heart.  My first job was half research, half working as medical director of the Blood Bank.  And you know, I spent more of my time doing the Blood Bank medical director job than my research job.

 

Where was this?

 

This was at the Blood Bank in San Francisco.  And after a year or two, my boss had a heart-to-heart talk with me, and she said: Kim-Anh, your eyes light up when you work in the Blood Bank; maybe that’s where you need to … spend your life, is to follow your heart.  And that was the hardest decision that I ever made, to close my research lab and follow my heart.  And I’ve never looked back.  And here I am, running the Blood Bank of Hawaii.

 

I don’t know anyone who grows up saying: I’d like to run a blood bank.  But I can see how fulfilling it is to do so.

 

You know, one of the best decisions I ever made in my career, Leslie, was to come work at the Blood Bank of Hawai‘i.

 

Did you answer an ad for that?

 

I was actually fortunate to be recruited to work here.  I had never been to Hawai‘i before interviewing for this job.

 

And that was five years ago?

 

Five years.  Here I am, five years later, I’m raising my family here.  And I see firsthand how this community supports its blood program. And I am thrilled to work here. It’s a fantastic opportunity.

 

What did you experience as you moved here for the first time, took a job here?  You never lived in a state where there were—I mean, you said there weren’t many Asians where you grew up.

 

I think people who live in Hawai‘i sometimes may not know how lucky we are here.  Because as I look around, there are people who look like me.  Not just around, but policewomen and men look like me, the mail delivery person looks like me.  That’s not true everywhere.  And so, I think Hawai‘i is a special place.  It really, really is.  We grow and live together, and we understand diversity.

 

Had you missed that, or did you not have it so you didn’t miss it?

 

I felt it keenly, Leslie, coming from Vietnam to New Jersey.

 

And that was double, because you were—

 

That’s right.

 

–an immigrant.

 

That’s right.  And you know, I took it in stride, ‘cause what choice do you have.  But coming to Hawai‘i, and seeing how we all for the most part are able to live together, what we have here is special.

 

What was it about the Blood Bank that got you going?

 

So, the beautiful thing about working in a blood bank is that I can use the medicine that I learned, that I got trained in, but it’s also a community resource, it’s a mom and pop small business, and it’s also a nonprofit.  And so, all of that combined, I think, makes the Blood Bank work fascinating.

 

And you save lives.

 

At the end of the day, I come in to work to save lives.

 

That sounds like a very fulfilling mission.

 

It is. And what we do is, we connect donors in the community to patients in the community.  So, it’s a full circle.  Hawai‘i depends on two hundred people every day, rolling up their sleeve.  The blood supply is precious, and is perishable and fragile.

 

What’s the most rare type?

 

So, Hawai‘i, actually the Blood Bank of Hawaii has the nation’s largest repository, largest repository of a very, very rare type called Jk3.  And it’s more commonly seen in Polynesians.  So, most people don’t realize that we are getting asked for this very, very precious rare blood from the mainland all the time.  And if something were to happen to Blood Bank of Hawaii, the nation would lose this very, very rare blood type.

 

And do you ever use it up here?  Is it really in short supply here?

 

All the time.  All the time. And so, we’re very fortunate to have a small group of donors, and we’re always screening the population to look for that next donor.

 

Are there are cultures here, since we have so many, that have different views about blood gifts?

 

Absolutely.  So, there are certain myths that are more predominant in certain ethnicities or cultures. And one of them is my own culture, Vietnamese and Chinese.  Many of my people believe that we’re born with a finite amount of blood in our bodies—that’s not true, and that if we donate blood or even give a blood sample, that that’s one less pint of blood I have.  Fortunately, that’s not true; our body is constantly renewing that.  But it takes real education to overcome that myth.

 

So, do you have a smaller percentage of Vietnamese and Chinese givers?

 

So, you know, the beautiful thing about Hawai‘i is, our donor population much more mirrors our patient population.  But you’re right; we have an opportunity to grow our minority donors.  We do not pay our blood donors.  And most people think it’s because we’re trying to save money, we’re a nonprofit.  That’s not the reason.  It’s safety. People who donate out of the goodness of their hearts are a different profile than people who donate for money. And so, we do not pay our blood donors, for the safety of the blood supply.  So, the cost of the blood bags, the staffing, all of the testing that we do, we put that cost onto the hospitals, and we charge a processing fee. But we are nonprofit, so just a tiny little margin goes into improving our program.

 

I look at what you started out to do, and what you’re doing now, and it’s just incredibly different from what you started out to do, even when you said: I’ll be the medical director of the San Francisco blood bank.

 

Well, when I was a kid, I always pretended that I was, you know, a guest star on the Donny and Marie Show, believe it or not.  And I look back at that, and some of the hobbies that I have. I guess in a way, it’s prepared me to be out there; out there in the front, and connecting with people.  And yes, I’m a nerd, but I love connecting with people.

 

I don’t know how many nerds are really good ballroom dancers, which you are.

 

Oh …

 

How did that happen?  You’re a ballroom dancer.

 

You’ve guessed my secret.  That’s actually a real passion and joy of mine, is ballroom dancing.  I did not go into it, believe or not, with the approval of Mom and Dad.  They really did not support my having one man in my arms one minute, and another man another minute.

 

Were you in high school when you started?

 

I started in college.  And I caught the bug, and it’s fun.  I love music. It’s fun, it’s social, awesome exercise, and it’s a way to express myself.  Because different songs call for a different character, and it’s a different part of command that comes out.  So, in a way, that is my job now.

 

I saw you in a—I don’t know if it was YouTube.

 

Oh, my gosh.

 

It was a video with your husband.

 

Oh, my gosh.

 

Dancing at the Blood Bank.

 

I owed my husband a lot of honey-do’s for that one.  I think that just goes to show I’ll do anything for Blood Bank of Hawai‘i.

 

At the time of our conversation in the spring of 2018, anything included leading a capital campaign to raise money to build a new facility for the Blood Bank of Hawaii, which was displaced by the Honolulu rail transit route.  Mahalo to Vietnam born, New Jersey raised, Hawaii resident Dr. Kim-Anh Nguyen of Honolulu for sharing your life stories 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.

 

[END]

 

 


PBS HAWAI‘I PRESENTS
Kū Kanaka/Stand Tall

 

In August 1969, 15-year-old Terry Kanalu Young became quadriplegic after a diving accident. Initially bitter about his circumstances, he eventually realized that his rage could destroy him – or he could learn a great lesson from it. This film explores Young’s life journey, from a Hawaiian history student to an activist and community leader, and how he used his insights about identity and trauma to offer hope to dispossessed Native Hawaiians.

 

To learn more about Terry Kanalu Young, be sure to see this interview.

 

 

GROWING BOLDER
Every Day Be a Victory

GROWING BOLDER: Every Day Be a Victory

 

In this episode of Growing Bolder TV: life will present every one of us with challenges, but we can overcome any obstacle when we start Growing Bolder. Meet ordinary people who are extraordinary role models.

 

Tony Handler was living a great life. He was married to the woman of his dreams, raising a family and enjoying every single day. But in an instant, everything changed. Doctors not only told him that he had pancreatic cancer, but they broke the news that he likely only had a few years to live. That was decades ago. And Tony has never given up hope. Despite grueling treatments, experimental drug protocols, surgeries and later, battles with liver, prostate and skin cancer, Tony kept moving. He started to run and that led to competing in triathlons. Tony says that every time he crosses a finish line, he’s beaten Mr. Cancer, and now he’s taking that positive attitude and paying it forward.

 

Other featured stories:

• Doug Ulman: Set Unachievable Goals
• Every Day is a Victory
• The Art of Rebellion
• The Takeaway: Don’t Procrastinate

 

 

GROWING BOLDER
Leave The Past Behind and Start Growing Bolder

GROWING BOLDER: Leave The Past Behind and Start Growing Bolder

 

In this episode of Growing Bolder TV: why keep doing something that doesn’t make you feel like you’re living your best life? Get inspired to make changes and pursue your true passions.

 

Featured stories:

• The Extraordinary Life of Ms. Vi
• Toni Tennille on Starting Over at 75
• Financial Planning is Life Planning
• John Seevers is Standing Tall
• Military Legend Shares His Memories of D-Day
• The Takeaway: Wear the White Hat

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
They Did It Their Way

 

Long Story Short looks back on three previous guests who paved their own paths in life and followed their instincts, often against the grain of society’s expectations. Featured: Marion Higa, who spoke truth to power as Hawai‘i’s State Auditor; Kitty Lagareta (now Kitty Yannone), CEO of public relations firm Communications Pacific, whose career has been punctuated by a healthy dose of risk; and Kimi Werner, who gave up her success in competitive spearfishing to reconnect with the ocean in a more meaningful way as an environmental advocate.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, May 6 at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

They Did It Their Way Audio

 

They Did It Their Way Transcript

 

Transcript

 

MARION HIGA: At times, it felt almost personal.  But I didn’t take it that way, because it was my job.  And I always go back to the constitutional language; this is what the constitutional drafters expected of this office.  And as long as I’m doing that, then any governor can complain as much as they like.

 

KITTY YANNONE: I’ve had Democrats publicly won’t have anything to do with me. But late at night, when they need some advice, they call me, and they return my calls.  I’ve had media people.  I think when you’re a little more outspoken and they have a sense you’re authentic about it, they return your calls.  And you know what?  It never stopped me from doing what I do, with the utmost integrity and professionalism.

 

KIMI WERNER: All I just told myself is: I want diving to always give me that feeling that I had of bringing home those little fish, you know, on that first dive, and knowing in my heart that I was happy and proud of that, and that I felt satisfied with that.  And that’s the feeling that I wanted.  I didn’t quite know what type of path that would take me on, or how it would affect my career, but I just knew I wanted that back.

 

Marion Higa stood up to two governors to stop an auditing practice that she felt was inappropriate.  Kitty Yannone defied the local political system by supporting a Republican for governor.  And Kimi Werner was at the peak of her powers when she quit national spearfishing competitions.  They followed their instincts and their hearts, and they did it their way, 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.  Sometimes, it takes an enormous amount of courage to do what you know to be right, when others want you to do otherwise, when it would be much easier to simply to go with the flow.  On this episode of Long Story Short, we revisit three women who have previously been guests on this program.  Each followed her own path, respectively refusing to give in to political pressure, community disapproval, or turning away from a popular identity that did not reflect her core values.

 

We begin with Marion Higa.  For almost two decades, she was the Hawai‘i State Auditor, investigating the use of State resources and exposing inefficiencies. She as unflinching when agencies criticized her, knowing she had a job to do, and believing she was representing the best interests of the people of Hawai‘i.  One of the highest visibility audits she performed was on the Superferry. The State government wanted the Superferry to be up and running as soon as possible.  But the community was divided in its support for the ferry. The State Auditor was called in to analyze the administration’s environmental review.

 

The environmental groups had challenged the lack of the EIS early enough.  I think it wasn’t completed by the time they started sailing because you might remember that the first ship was delivered. And I think Superferry was trying to avoid the timetable, and so they had planned to start service to Nawiliwili, again, because they could do that most easily.  And people in Kaua‘i jumped in the water and kept them from docking, so they never docked.  They had to turn around and come back.  Now, in the course of all of this, then the State had put up forty-two million dollars’ worth of improvements.  But because of the way they designed or had to design these improvements, and the sourcing of these materials, it could not be used, because they were not U.S.-sourced. That was the other problem.

 

What did you hear from the administration about that?

 

Oh, they objected, of course, to our findings, and had their own responses. But I mean, we could support our findings.

 

What was your recommendation? 

 

I think our recommendation was … well, first of all, the EIS; I mean, there was no question that they had to follow the EIS.  But I think eventually, we softened the recommendation, because there was the other court case that was still proceeding and was going to the Supreme Court.  So, I think we predicted that nothing be hard and fast decided until that case was settled. Eventually, the court came down, one could say, on the side of the environmentalists, and required the EIS.

 

How did you feel about the stinging rebuke from the administration?

 

I didn’t take it personally.  I mean, I expected it, because there was so much at stake.  And I understood that even the legislators, some of the legislators who had been avid supporters would be disappointed, at best.

 

Especially since they had put through a bill that allowed … it seemed it was written for a particular company, but general language was used, except the timeframe was so short that it looked like it was written specifically for the Superferry.

 

Yes; it looked like special purpose legislation, which again, is not permitted by State law.

 

And so, that was people you worked for who were on the other end of criticism.

 

That’s right.  And so, you know, they’re party to that process.  But again, it’s like: Well, that’s my job, I have to say it the way it is.

 

Even if it’s your job, and you say you’re doing it on the straight and narrow, what’s it like riding that wave, where basically are taking shots at you as you take that position?

 

You know, like I said, it’s my job.  This is what the constitution was intended for us to do, and if we can defend the work.  And so, the process seems so laborious, and it’s so careful.  There’s a whole system; it’s all electronic now, the working papers are electronic.  But there’s a citation system involved in our work, so every fact can be traced back to a source document.  And so, working for the Auditor’s Office is not easy.  You have to be very meticulous, and be able to defend your work. But as long as the overall conclusions are supported by this mountain of evidence, it’s all defensible.

 

I always used to think it was so funny when you’d come walking into a legislative hearing room, hearing about an audit of the administration.  I mean, how tall are you?

 

Four-ten; barely four-ten, more like four-nine.

 

Four-ten; and it was as if a towering figure were coming in, this shadow was entering the room.  Did you get that feeling, that’s how people were reacting to you?

 

Sometimes; yes.  Uh-huh; uh-huh.

 

And you wouldn’t back down, either.

 

No, because that’s not my job.  My job is to support the report, because that stands for our work.

 

Any memorable exchanges between you and someone else?

 

A few times.  I guess I was at … Ways and Means once, and I had a minority member ask me … hunched over the table like this, he says: Ms. Higa … who do you work for?  Who do you work for?  Ms. Higa, who do you work for?  And I said: The people of Hawaii.  No; who do you really work for?  The people of Hawai‘i.  What he was trying to get me to say was, I work for the majority party.  And that’s not who I worked for.  I said: The constitution says I’m the auditor, I’m the State Auditor, I work for the people.  So, he gave up.

 

Kitty Yannone, formerly known as Kitty Lagareta, started her professional journey as a volunteer fundraiser for the Ronald McDonald House.  This eventually led to her present career as the CEO of a successful company offering integrated communication services.  Kitty Yannone is known for following her instincts.  She’s bucked public opinion, and risked her business.  One of her biggest risks was in ardently supporting a Republican candidate for governor.

 

I’d met Linda Lingle when she was mayor of Maui through some volunteer work with high school students that we’d gone over there to do, and I didn’t know her very well at all.  And she called one day and wanted to meet with me.  And my husband answered the phone, and he said: The mayor of Maui wants to talk to you.  I’m like: Why does she want to talk to me?  It was like, a Sunday.  I go: What does she want?  And he goes: Why don’t you talk to her and find out.  She asked if she could meet, and she was thinking about running for governor in a couple years.  This was maybe a year or two.  And so, I went and met with her.  I think I spent five hours asking her questions, and I knew nothing about politics. And she said: That’s okay, we’ll figure it out; it’s a big race, I need a communications person, I think you’re kind of a smart person.  And I’d volunteered on a couple political things, but nobody ever wanted to use that part of me they wanted me to stuff envelopes, which was fine, or do stuff which was happy to do, and it’s important stuff.  But I was kind of intrigued by having somebody want me to be involved in the strategic side.  So, I started helping her in ’98, and I immediately got calls from a lot of people around town, friends, parents of kids.  You know, if you’re gonna do politics at this time, it’s really kinda stupid to get involved with the party that has no power.  And I said: Yeah, but I like this candidate, and I really want to do this.  And I didn’t lose any clients; no clients said: I’m gonna quit.  They just, I think, were kind of bemused.  And Linda came within five thousand votes, and it was a huge learning and a wonderful experience for me, except for the losing part. But we all took it harder than she did. And before we had even let the dust settle, she was saying: We’re gonna do this again in 2002.  And I remember thinking: Eee, I don’t know.  But of course, I was onboard for 2002.

 

Had you suffered business-wise, advocating for her?

 

You never know what you don’t get.  I think once people realized she was a serious candidate, I certainly did, you know, I think.  And I tend to vote for people, and like people more than parties.  I don’t really feel connected to parties.  I’m sort of a fiscal conservative and a social liberal. And particularly during that time, it was like somebody had branded a big R on my forehead; she’s a Republican. And all that they equate with anybody of any political party is interesting.  And so, that was a new experience for me.

 

But you weren’t following the playbook of most public relations executives.  You were following your mind and, to some extent, your heart.

 

Yeah. You know, I believe in that, because I think a lot of executives, if they can, they do that.  And I just feel even when it’s a learning experience, having the experience makes me better overall.  And that was a learning experience.  And by gosh, in 2002, we pulled it off, and that was interesting. And I thought we were done.  That was the other thing, kind of still had naïveté, not having been in politics.  It was like: Okay, we’re done, I can go back to my life.  And I remember Linda called and she said: You know, I think you would be one of the people I want to recommend for Board of Regents.  And I remember saying: Oh, why that?  I mean, I don’t know.

 

Talk about political.

 

She had to talk me into it.

 

What you got into was a mire with the president of the University, Evan Dobelle.

 

Yeah.

 

And a very slippery situation.  And your expertise is public relations, but it was very hard to manage it. 

 

Yeah; and it’s hard to be in it and manage something.  I know that.  Therapists will tell you: I can’t do therapy in my own family.  When you’re one of the players in something, and everybody’s got their own opinion, you’re not the PR managing something then, I think.

 

And as the chair of the Board of Regents.

 

Yeah.

 

I mean, I think there was a perception at some time that you were bungling it.

 

Yeah; yeah.  I actually thought I was.  I knew it was bungled, but I also had the perspective of there was a whole bunch of stuff.  You know, it was an employee-employer relationship between the Board and Evan. And there are certain laws you have to follow, confidentiality and things.  So, we were not in a position to say: Hey, we tried this, we did this. And I think the employee can say whatever they want pretty much, really.  And you see that over and over.  So, that was a disadvantage, and it was hard.  The other part was, you know, you will never know the effort we made to do it carefully.  And the sense, I think, that was there was that, I have this contract, no way you’re gonna get me out of it, and I’m not going anywhere.  And as time went on, I think it became clear the University was suffering, and we had to do something.  And in fact, our creditors told us that.  And it felt very bungled.  It felt like there were lots of pieces that you couldn’t control.  It was horrible watching the public perception of it, and knowing there was another story, but you can’t be the one to tell it. You’re the employer.  That was really rugged, I think for all of us. And yet, I found the decision we made to be the right one.  I’ve never regretted that decision.  How it unfolded and what it looked like on the outside; yeah, there was a lot of regret about that, but not the decision.  And I don’t think any of us did.

 

So, the right outcome.

 

The right outcome; and it really was.  You know, that’s the decision.  I mean, there were regents who quit because they didn’t want to go down.  They knew what needed to be done, but they didn’t want to be in the middle of all that.  And there were some amazing people who stuck around and said: This needs to be done for the good of our university.  And I think there is some vindication in what happened at Westfield College.  It’s pretty much what happened here.  That’s taken a different more public turn, I think.  But came many years later, but it was there, and we did make the right decision. And under David McClain’s leadership, we went on to have some finished capital campaign, move a lot of things forward at the University.  And I look at it that way and say: Yeah, there was some personal pain, and I could have avoided it, but maybe it wouldn’t have been the right people in the room to make the decisions that I think were good ones if all of us had done that.  I’ve never found discomfort to be an inhibiting factor.  I used to give a speech after—this was when they were saying: Fear is your friend.  I use it as like, rocket fuel.  When I feel that, it tells me to turn on all my senses and look at something carefully. But sometimes, it really energizes you. And maybe that’s what I get from my mom and dad.  ‘Cause my mom and dad, in their own way, overcame a lot of stuff in their lives, built a really nice life for them and their family, and still do.  And they had certain values, and it didn’t include being afraid, or being uncomfortable, being something that pulls you up.  Yeah.

 

I’m sure you had some sleepless nights over the regents matter.

 

Many; I think I didn’t sleep for like a whole year.

 

And that was okay with you, ‘cause you felt like you were doing the right thing?

 

I felt like we were doing the right thing, and I felt like, you know, sometimes that’s what they call—that’s what I consider when I see people go through that, and I do with my clients sometimes, who are struggling with hard decisions and want to do the right decisions.  And I think I’m grateful I’ve had that experience a few times in my life, because I think that’s what you call political courage.  I call it that when I see it in other people.  And when you’re in it, it doesn’t feel like any kind of courage; it feels like a nightmare.  But in the end, if something good came out or a group of people were able to come together to make something happen that was right or needed to happen, or bigger than they could do on their own.

 

What if it fails?

 

Yeah; it does.  I failed in ’98.  Do you know how many people wouldn’t even talk to me after ’98?  She’s the one who went to the other side, you know.  I lived through it.  I don’t know; I feel like I have to live in this world and do things that I think are important.  I can’t always defer to, that might hurt my business, or that may not.  Then I’d just be kind of a shallow person, I feel.  You have gauge with life and with issues, and with people, and the world you live in.

 

Kimberly Maile Reiko Werner, known as Kimi, is a roving ambassador for the American Clothes Company Patagonia, as well as a trained chef and self-taught artist.  She grew up in rural Maui, tagging along on ocean dives with her father as he hunted for fish to feed the family.  Unsatisfied with her early career choices, she started thinking that maybe her childhood pastimes could still be part of her life.  She learned to spearfish, became an accomplished free diver, and a national spearfishing champion.  Yet, despite the success and recognition she was gaining through her awards, she realized that spearfishing competition wasn’t the right thing for her, either.

 

You know, my first tournament, that first national championships, that was really special.  And coming back home to Hawai‘i was just the best feeling in the world, because Hawaii is just the most supportive, loyal, wonderful hometown, I think, that anyone could ever ask for, in my opinion.  And the way that people supported me was something that I just was so grateful for.  But I think after that, it was never quite the same, because I almost just felt like I just always had a title to defend.  I did continue to win in competing, but it was just never as fulfilling to me.  And I noticed that even when I would go diving, you know, on my own just for food, all I was thinking about was competition, and you know, I started to think of fish as points, rather than even as food.  And once I realized that, I didn’t like it.  I just realized it’s changing me.  You know, it’s changing this thing that’s so sacred to me.  It’s something that my parents, you know, taught me these values through this.  And it’s not about these values anymore; it’s really about trophies and winning, and recognition.  And this was the thing that really made my life fulfilling again.  Am I really gonna do this to it?  Am I gonna take it to a level where it’s all about, you know, chasing titles?  Like, I didn’t like that.  And so, just for those own personal reasons of how I found it affecting me, I did walk away from competition.

 

I saw you do a TEDx talk, and you said that even though you knew it was the right thing to do, it didn’t mean that other people weren’t very disappointed in you, and that you felt really bad about it, too.

 

Oh, definitely.  I mean, it was one of the toughest things I’ve done, because it was right in the peak of what could have been my career.  You know, I had sponsors now, and you know, people that believed in me, people that looked up to me.  And all of a sudden, I was just gonna walk away from it.  And it let down a lot of people, and definitely disappointed people. And for myself too, I mean, I did feel a sense of, you know, confusion, because I felt so lost.  I didn’t really know who I was without that.  It had become so the tunnel vision of my life, and pretty much, you know, everything that was confident-building seemed to come from that department.  It was the first time where, you know, my art started to sell more, because my name was out there more.  And it just seemed like it was something that was causing so much personal gain that for me to turn and walk away from it, I definitely felt like a loser.  You know, I felt like a waste of talent, and I felt like I didn’t quite know if I would like … you know.  I didn’t know the effects it was gonna have.  I didn’t know how much it would bum people out, or if I would just never be really supported again, really.

 

What happened, then?

 

It took me a while, actually.  It was probably a year where a lot of times I would go out diving, and all of a sudden, it wasn’t the same happy place it used to be.  You know, when I say I’m totally present in the moment, and those voices in my head go quiet, it wasn’t happening; these voices were just telling me that I was a loser, and I was failure, and you know, what are you doing, like why are you quitting.  And it was still, you know, looking at the fish as points, and so then, I’d have to get out of the water with no fish.  And then, I really would beat myself up.  Like, I’m not even good at this anymore, I can’t even dive ‘cause my mind’s all messed up.  And I got pretty depressed.  But through that, you know, I just kinda took some breaks from diving and whatnot. And then this one day, couple friends of mine like said: You need to get back in the water.  Like, let’s go.  And so, we all went out on our kayaks, and again, my brain was just still fighting itself, and I just felt like I wasn’t diving the I way I dive; I didn’t have it anymore.  And so, I’m like: Let’s just pack it up and go, guys.  I know what you’re trying to do, and I know you’re trying to bring me back, but it’s just not fun for me anymore, and there’s nothing worse than the feeling of actually being out here and it not being fun anymore, so I just want to go home.  And they said: Okay, let’s go.  But then, I said: You know what, let me just take one last drop.  And I put my spear gun on my kayak, didn’t even take it down with me, and I just took a dive.  And I had my two buddies, you know, spotting me from the surface, so it was safe.  But I just took a dive, and just told them to watch me, you know, took a dive.  And I got down to the bottom, and I just laid in the sand.  I just crossed my arms and I put my face in the sand.  And I laid there, and I let every single critic come through my head, every single voice, every single thing that I had beat myself up about, like, I just let it come.  And I listened to every single put-down, worry, concern, fear.  And they all came, one after another, and I just waited, and I just still waited, held my breath.  Okay, what else you got; give it to me.  You know, I just waited, and waited, and waited until there was nothing left.  And when there was nothing left, there was not one more voice that could say anything, you know, hadn’t already heard.  Like, it just went quiet.  And as soon as it went quiet, I opened my eyes and I’m on the bottom of the ocean, and I was just back.  I think the competition, and just more than that even, just the expectations that I was putting on myself.  And I think that can happen a lot with anybody who tries to turn their passion into a career; it can get quite confusing.  I think a lot of times, we go into jobs because we’re so passionate about our craft, and then before we know it, you know, we’re not really enjoying it anymore, and we’re going through the motions because we’re trying to hit these certain marks of society, whether it’s financial success, or I need that house, or I need that car, and before you know it, your own beautiful passion that kinda becomes this vehicle for living unauthentically, and doing things based on expectations that were never really yours to begin with, maybe. Because before, to me, it was never truly about like, oh, that moment when you spear your fish.  But it was the feeling that I felt when I would take a drop, and just the serenity that would come over me, and just this feeling of welcome home.  And when everything just turned quiet, and I was still there holding my breath, and I looked up and I just saw my two friends, and I saw the sun just sparkling through the ocean surface, and I just looked at the beautiful ocean and hear the noise, you know, the sounds of the ocean, and that was it.  I was like, that’s the feeling; that’s the feeling that satisfies me.  And soon as I came up, I didn’t even have to say anything; they knew.  They knew exactly what had happened, they knew exactly. And I smiled at them, and they were just like: You’re back.  And I’m like: I’m back.  And that was that.  And after that, then I just started diving for food again, and just realizing like that’s something sacred to me, and I’m going to protect it with everything that I have.  I’m gonna do everything I can to keep this pure.  Even if it means no success comes from this, this is mine.

 

Kimi Werner, Kitty Yannone, and Marion Higa followed their instincts and listened to their own voices to do it their way. Mahalo to these three women of Hawai‘i for sharing their stories with us.  And mahalo to you, for joining us.  For PBS Hawaii 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 still get approached by people, total strangers.  You know, I mean, it’s always complimentary.  I know it’s a curiosity.  I mean, I go into restaurants, and I know people recognize me. You can tell when you’re recognized.

 

And so, do they say: What did you really think?

 

Sometimes, people will say that.  But most of the time, people will come up and thank me for the work that we did.  So, I’d like to think that there were some good effects, for some folks, anyway.

 

Things that I have done that were much harder learning experiences than I anticipated. Ronald McDonald House was that way at times, and certainly Board of Regents, and getting involved politically. There are things in my company I don’t have a business background, and I’ve had to learn through trial and error, experience.  I wish I’d known more, but I came out the other side knowing it now, and I don’t regret much of anything.  I think, you know, I’ve had sad things and hard things, and it’s life.  And you know, as long as I keep getting up and experiencing it, I’m kinda happy.

 

I think by following that passion and really making the commitment to be true to my love for it, surprisingly, it did bring success, and just in so much more of a meaningful way.  Because now, it wasn’t just any sponsors that I was working with; it was sponsors and companies like Patagonia who truly hold the same values as me, who aren’t just, you know, trying to sell an image or, do what’s trendy, but really, really believe in trying to make this world better, trying to give back to these beautiful natural elements of our world.

 

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Benny Rietveld

 

Benny Rietveld’s first experience playing music was at the age of six, in the piano department at Gem’s in Kapalama. “I liked the idea that you could press something, and it creates this…cool sound,” Rietveld remembers. He was mentored by band director Henry Miyamura at McKinley High School, and played in local jazz and rock bands before moving to San Francisco and touring with Sheila E. and Miles Davis. Today, Benny Rietveld plays bass for Carlos Santana, and still sits in with the Hawai‘i musicians he grew up with.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, Oct. 14 at 11:00 pm and Sunday, Oct. 18 at 4:00 pm.

 

Benny Rietveld Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

Do you think music is more than just fun?

 

Totally; yeah. Music is powerful, music is magic. It allows us to do so many things invisibly. You can put it in the background, you can have it in the foreground, you can stop, start. You know, it’s always there, and it helps you celebrate things, it helps you mourn. It drives people to battle, you get married and you can create babies with it. It transports you, it reminds you of things in your life, just hearing something. Like, oh, my god, you know.

 

M-hm.

 

It’s an incredibly powerful force, and it can actually change people’s lives, you know. And that’s why I think musicians have a really big responsibility to just keep on point, keep being mindful, keep getting better, showing up. Because it’s a really powerful thing.

 

Benny Rietveld, who still calls Hawai‘i home, is the bassist and music director for Santana, a band he first heard when he was a young boy growing up in Honolulu. He’s been recording and touring with Santana since the 1990s, and he’s also known locally as a member of Topaz, a jazz fusion band that he and his high school friends had in the 1970s. Benny Rietveld, next, on Long Story Short.

 

Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawai‘i’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in high definition.

 

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Benny Rietveld has recorded three albums with the iconic Latin rock band Santana, including Supernatural which became a worldwide sensation when it was released in 1999. Rietveld was born in Holland to parents of Dutch, French, and Indonesian ancestry. They moved their family to Hawai‘i when Benny was three. He grew up in Honolulu, where he started showing musical talent at a young age.

 

I took piano lessons when I was six.

 

Why did you take piano when you were six? Now, that’s early. How did that happen?

 

Remember Gem Store on—well, I don’t know …

 

Kapalama?

 

Yeah; in Kapalama. Yeah. Well, we used to live in Kalihi, and so we’d go through there, and it was always the piano section, and I was always plinking on the piano, you know. And my mom thought, Oh, he’s musical. You know how kids, you know, they hit a hammer, and it’s like, Oh, he’s gonna be a carpenter when he grows up.

 

But were you plunking better than most kids, do you think?

 

I don’t think so. I just liked it. I liked the idea that you could press something, and it creates this cool sound. I think. That’s how I remember it. And then, so we got like a little piano, upright piano, and she gave me lessons at Palama Settlement. And I think the first teacher was named Mrs. Leong. I think. But I didn’t really like ‘em. And I was like, Oh, really? You know, really like boring music, and River keep on rolling. You know. I just didn’t get it. And then, when was ten, we still had the piano in the, you know, attracting dust. And then, the song Hey Jude came out from the Beatles, and it had that cool piano intro. I was like, wow, that’s cool. I was like, wow. And then, oh, it’s sort of like that instrument that’s in our living room. So, I was like, huh. And it was really easy for me, and it was really fun. So, I thought, well, this is great, I’m gonna keep doing this. You know.

 

Then you learned other songs.

 

And then, I learned the entire Beatles catalog, practically.

 

By yourself, or with a teacher?

 

No, no; by myself. Yeah. You know, then I was hooked. And it was like, this is fun, I don’t want to do anything else. And I was just on my way. And then, I met my cousin, the guitar player in Topaz, or calabash cousin, actually, Fred Schreuders. And he was slightly older than me, but he was already playing music. He was, you know, playing guitar, and his dad also played music. So, I was like, wow, cool. And we met, and we jammed, you know, tried to play songs together.

 

You were on the piano?

 

Yeah; and then, I branched out to drums, and then a little bit of bass. And then we started, you know, playing. Hey, let’s do a band, you know. And so, yeah, we put together a band. So, when I was about twelve, I was playing in these dances at, you know, Star of the Sea.

 

And that was kind of the beginning of that. So, you know, I met the guitar player for Topaz way back then.

 

You were just picking it up as you went.

 

Yeah; yeah. ‘Cause it was easy.

 

And you were playing for high school dances at age twelve, or middle school dances?

 

Yes; yeah. My parents were really worried. ‘Cause there were some situations where sometimes we’d play a party, and and more like a high school kids’ party. And so, there may have been some illicit drugs.

 

And it was nighttime.

 

And it was nighttime.

 

Driving.

 

Yeah. So, my parents, you know, lost a lot of hair.

 

And you gave them reason to.

 

A little bit. But, you know, I wasn’t that wild.

 

And where were you on instruments? ‘Cause right now, you’re a confirmed bassist.

 

Yeah.

 

How did you pick the bass, or did the bass pick you?

 

Well, yeah. This is the joke. Usually, the bass picks you. It’s usually because you don’t know anyone else who plays the bass. So, you’re like, oh, you play the bass. So, what happened to me was, I was playing drums in this little dance band, and our bass player left. So, we didn’t know any other musicians, but we knew one drummer. So, it was like, well, what do we do? You know, so we’ll just get him, and you play bass. So, that’s how it happened. But I kept playing guitar with Joe the Fiddler, because, you know, it worked better for chords and stuff, and I kept up on piano playing. You know, I just like always was interested in all of that stuff. But you know, I started getting kinda good on the bass, which is easy to do.  Yeah; so that was that. It just happens like that, you know.

 

What schools did you go to?

 

I lived in town mostly, and I went to McKinley High School.

 

You had a band director who is legendary.

 

Yes, legendary; Henry Miyamura. He’s like one of the big musical mentors of my life, and of Noel’s life, and of Allen Won’s life, too, the other guys from Topaz. He was … amazing. He was like that Mr. Holland guy. I mean, just deeply, deeply committed to the real essence of music performance, which goes beyond, you know, the notes and stuff, but the actual conveyance of the emotion or of the story, or of the tragedy or comedy, or whatever. And to get a bunch of high school kids, half of them who weren’t really gonna go into music anyway, or most of them, and get them to sound as good as he got those bands to sound was really a remarkable feat.

 

How do you think he did it?

 

I think he really loved music, and he loved people. He knew how important it was, you know, even if we didn’t. You know, we were kids then. He knew.

 

While Benny Rietveld was busy playing music through high school, his parents were thinking about his future. They didn’t consider music to be a suitable career path. But Benny was already doing what he loved, and it wasn’t long before his talents took him from the local venues in Hawai‘i to a larger stage.

 

Did you decide consciously, I’m going to be a musician as a livelihood?

 

I don’t think so. The only time it was a conscious thought was like as, you know, graduation from high school was imminent. Then my parents were like, So, you know, what are you gonna do? You’re gonna go to trade school? You should go to trade school, because you know, you learn a trade and make a lot of money. I guess they didn’t see me as the scholarly type, which I wasn’t.  And I said, Oh, I’m just gonna play music. I just assumed I was.

 

Were you already getting paid to play?

 

Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Just like, well, I don’t know. You know, I just thought I was gonna be a musician. And they went, What? No, you can’t. And they were very upset for a little while, only because, you know, they just saw their child being an intravenous drug user and being in the gutter, and you know, whatever. So yeah, I totally get why they freaked out. But then after a while, they thought, Well, he seems to be doing okay, and he’s playing, you know.

 

And you went to college right after that, here.

 

Not right after, but yeah, I did.

 

Oh; so you graduated from high school.

 

Graduated from high school. I was living on my own. I think for about a year, I was living on my own, then I got a scholarship for UH, through Mr. Miyamoto, who suggested I do that. So, he championed me as far as getting a scholarship.

 

And didn’t graduate.

 

No.

 

Because?

 

‘Cause I was also playing music, and then I got a road touring gig with The Crusaders. It was very short. But with all my other gigs in Hawai‘i, and then going off to the mainland for a little bit, just like I lost the whole momentum.

 

How did you make the transition from having lived almost all of your life in Hawai‘i, to the mainland, to the continent?

 

With scarves and heavy sweaters. Basically, that’s how I made the transition. I went to San Francisco first.

 

And that was, I’m going to go try my luck in the San Francisco Bay Area?

 

Well, because I had a friend there already. And he said, You gotta come here, there’s a lot of good music there. And there was, at the time. Lots of great musicians there.

 

You played with some biggies, fairly early on.

 

No. I mean, I don’t know. Pete Escovedo, you know, I learned a lot from him. Ray Obiedo, you know, he used to play with Herbie Hancock and really good songwriter. And a lot of really great local San Francisco Bay Area musicians.

 

When was the first time you played with someone that you went, Whoa, I’m with so-and-so, I’m intimidated?

 

Well, sort of like Sheila E, because her producer was Prince. So, he’d be around, and I’m like, Whoa, you know, ooh. You know. That was my sort of introduction to the high end pop world.

 

And you went on tour with Sheila E, didn’t you?

 

Yes, yes; for about two years.

 

How did you get along with Prince?

 

He was like kind of a mysterious background guy. So, he didn’t talk much to us, but he seemed okay, you know. But he kinda kept more to Sheila and, you know, just sort of like that.

 

Now, did that tour lead to anything?

 

Then I was playing around the Bay Area for a while, and then, I guess Miles Davis was looking for a bass player, and he kinda wanted that sort of Prince-influenced sound. Then we rehearsed, and I met Miles, and it was crazy. And I think I was too much in shock to be actually intimidated, tell you the truth. It was only until I think a year later, I was on the stage, and I was like, Holy crap, that’s Miles Davis. You know, and then I had that moment. But I think, you know, your body blesses you with the gift of shock, so you’re just, you know, immune.

 

And how was it? You know, you have to feel each other in music, you have to work together. How did that go?

 

It went fabulously. You know, he would, you know, give direction while we’re playing, and sometimes before the shows we’d talk about let’s do this part a little faster, or let’s do this kinda rhythm and, you know. And we would keep trying, and so really, back then it was like a laboratory, you know. Because we would do the same song, and it would just evolve. It was like a petri dish. I mean, the songs would evolve so that if you hear the same song two years apart, they’re almost radically different. You know, the tempo is like way slower or faster, and this part is really loud, you know. It was really, really interesting, and it just demanded that you focus a hundred percent on him and the music all the time. You know. That was the big deal.

 

You had to be really mindful.

 

Yeah; like mindful to an incredible degree, because if you weren’t, then then he’d know, you know, and then those eyes would, you know, turn. You know, zzzz, laser, laser. So yeah, you really had to have presence of mind.

 

So, you had a real sense of what he wanted, who he wanted—

 

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

 

–how he wanted.

 

Yeah, yeah. And yet, there was that … still, the challenge was to inject yourself in that, within that framework, you know.

 

And he expected you to.

 

Yeah; yeah, yeah, yeah. And so, that was really intimidating, ‘cause I felt like I wasn’t really mature enough as a musician to inject a lot of myself. I don’t know, maybe I did. I don’t know.  That was another coming of age thing, because I had to, I think, almost completely relearn music. You know, really music and bass playing, and the ethos of what it means to be a bass player and what it means to be a musician.

 

Why?

 

Well, because I hadn’t learned all these really basic fundamental things well enough, you know.

 

So, you were good enough to get in the band.

 

Yeah.

 

And once you were there, you had to up your game.

 

Yeah; yeah, yeah. It was like raw talent is one thing, but to really like hone it is another thing.

 

After two and a half years playing with Miles Davis, Benny Rietveld moved on. Two months later, he met Carlos Santana.

 

Coincidentally, I did a recording session with Carlos Santana.

 

You sound so casual when you say that.

 

Well, no. I mean, because it just happened, you know. It was somebody else’s session, and we met. And that was another intimidating moment, ‘cause it was Carlos Santana, and I grew up looking at that album cover, you know, and all that stuff, listening to all those albums over and over again. And he said, Yeah, you know, I might need another bass player, and you know. Luckily, we lived both in the Bay Area, so I called him and I said, Yeah, I would love to play. Are you kidding? You know. So that’s how that happened.

 

Aren’t you the musical director as well now?

 

Yes. I don’t know, I’m not really the musical director so much as like traffic cop. You know, ‘cause I consider Carlos actually is the musical director, ‘cause he’s very hands-on and he has an uncanny ability to know what he wants. It’s more about during the show itself, when he calls an audible, which he does every time, then I just help direct traffic. Okay, we’re going here now, instead of, you know, how we rehearsed it.

 

How much of the year do you go on tours?

 

With Santana, it’s roughly four to five months out of the year. But it’s broken up. You do get burnt out, you know, no matter what you do. And it’s always gotta be really, really high level, energy, fun. And the minute it’s a little bit below that, then we’re not doing it.

 

Do you ever get sick of being asked to play a song you love, but you’ve heard it and you’ve sung it … Black Magic Woman, so many times before?

 

No; love it. It’s great. I don’t care about all the other times I’ve played it. It’s like, oh, wow, this is the first time I’m playing it. You know. That’s special, and we have to convey that to people every time. That’s the hard part. That’s the higher level stuff. Not playing the music; the notes are like whatever, you know. That’s like hammering a nail; okay? But it’s how to get into that thing, and it sounds so, fluffy and goofy, you know. But that is, to me, the higher level of music.

 

Did working with Santana when you started require a different sensibility than working with Miles Davis? Did you have to shift in any way?

 

Only superficially, actually, with the style of music, the genre, you know. Because it’s more rock-oriented, Latin, which we hardly ever did in Miles’ thing. But in essence, it was actually very similar, because they both demanded passion and fire, and presence of mind, like all the time. And not being afraid, you know. I think that’s another thing. You cannot have any fear.

 

Is there a way to describe how they work musically, and how you work with them musically?

 

With both of those guys, it was about trying to … articulate the in-articulable.  That’s the weird part about music, is that like underneath the hood, underneath all the technique and theory, and all the numbers, which are all useful, underneath it all, I like to say the last thing that music is about is music. You know.  It’s really about feeling and life. And it sounds so, you know … fluffy. You know, like, Oh, it’s feelings. You know. But all the major guys hardly ever talk about nuts and bolts of music, you know. The jazz guys, a little bit more, because it’s more their realm, you know. But all those guys share the predilection for using aphorisms to describe music. It should sound like, you know, red wine streaming through. You know, something like that. And sometimes, it just sounds so bonkers, you know, to the uninitiated. But then, you realize it’s just a personal lexicon and a cosmology. And actually, now that I’ve known Carlos for a while, it makes complete sense, you know. Now when he says something, you know, like really poetic, I’m actually kinda knowing what it means in dry, boring music terms. Sometimes Miles would say—an actual musical thing would be like, Give that part a little lift. Instead of, you know, doong, doong, doong, doong; maybe like doong, ka-doong, ka-doong, ka-doong, doong, ka-doong. You know, all these little things between. I think everyone knows that deep down inside, it’s really silly to talk about music, because it’s the most abstract of all art forms, you know. But we try, anyway. We have to, sometimes. You know, we’re trying to convey what we want, you know.

 

Although Benny Rietveld lives in L.A. when he isn’t touring with Santana, he likes to come to the place he calls home: Hawai‘i. In 2014, he and some of his former bandmates from Topaz reunited for a show.

 

What brings you back to perform with your old high school buddies?

 

Love of music, and love of them. You know. We’ve kept in contact all this time.

 

And tell me what the names are. Who’s your gang?

 

The gang is Noel Okimoto on drums, Allen Won on the saxophones, Fred Schreuders on guitar, and Carl Wakeland on keyboards.

 

That’s a pretty amazing group from McKinley High School, isn’t it?

 

Yeah. Well, me and Allen, and Noel are from McKinley. Carl is from Mililani. Fred ended up graduating from Kaiser High School. We got kind of popular because we were this bunch of high school kids that could play this kind of difficult and technical music known at the time as fusion. And we loved jazz and all that. So, there weren’t many eighteen-year-olds playing that at the time in Hawai‘i. So you know, we got a kind of rep, and we were the little darlings there for a while, and we even played at La Mancha for two weeks. We disbanded ‘cause we all had stuff, and we were doing our lives. And Noel stayed here, so he’d play. And his late dad, unfortunately, George Okimoto, would go to his gigs all the time. And George actually managed us back then, because he was the manager of Easy Music Center, you know, by McCully. And so he was like, You know, you kids really got something. And he got us equipment to use, you know, cool new gear. So he was like our manager, and really championed us. Cut to couple of years ago. We’re at Gordon Biersch, I’m visiting, and I see Noel, and like you know, listening to him, Byron Yasui and all these great local guys. And there was Noel’s dad, George Okimoto, and he goes, Eh, hurry up, you know, get a reunion. And it was like, actually very bittersweet because he actually made a joke. He was like, Eh, hurry up, before I die.  And what I got from that was like, he wasn’t really joking around. He was like, you know, everyone is about to move on here, and you guys should do something, ‘cause it was really special. So, we did a show last year. It was really, really fun. So, this year again, earlier in the year, we recorded a CD. But you know, we all have these other crazy lives, and we’re not gonna like, Yeah, let’s have a band and tour together. That’s not gonna happen.

 

Did you ever conceive, did you ever think in your young life, that you would be in your fifties, and it’s a tour, it’s concerts and crowds, and music, and vans?

 

I had no idea. Who really knows what their thing is, you know.

 

And how long do you see that going on?

 

Playing music, being involved in music for me will go on until either I die, or I find suddenly that I don’t like it. You know. I don’t really see the latter happening.

 

Benny Rietveld has not stopped having fun playing music since figuring out how to play Hey Jude on the piano at age ten. Along with his raw talent, his dedication to his craft, his ability to work with people, his fearlessness and his determination took him to a world stage. Mahalo to Benny Rietveld, a proud graduate of McKinley High School in Honolulu, and longtime bassist for Santana. And thank you, for joining us. For PBS Hawai‘i and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha, hui hou.

 

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 PBSHawai‘i.org.

 

[END]

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Kevin Matsunaga

 

Kevin Matsunaga of Lihu‘e, Kaua‘i, never imagined he’d follow in his father’s footsteps and become a teacher. He found his calling as the digital media teacher at Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School in Lihu‘e. His students have won many national video competitions. In 2007, the Hawai‘i Department of Education recognized Matsunaga with a District Teacher of the Year award.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, Sept. 13, at 11:00 pm and Sunday, Sept. 17, at 4:00 pm.

 

Kevin Matsunaga Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

Our kids have to deal with a lot more nowadays. They can’t make mistakes like we could. You know, with social media, if they make a mistake it’s film that’s put out there, and it’s, you know, hard for them. But they’re also the most tech-savvy people that we have. You know, the kids that are going to want to put in the work are gonna do it. I do see it’s kind of a shift in where you don’t have as many that maybe want to do the work. This whole millennial thing in which people are lazy and things like, that I mean, I see some of it. Luckily, the kids that I work with, you know, they want to be there, they’re interested in this, and it’s easy for me to kinda push them, because they want to be there. That makes a huge difference.

 

It isn’t just by luck that Kevin Matsunaga has students in his digital media classes who want to be there, and who want to excel. His dedication, encouragement, and belief in his middle school students have a lot to do with why they win national student video competitions. Kauai public school teacher Kevin Matsunaga, next, on Long Story Short.

 

Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawai‘i’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in high definition.

 

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Kevin Matsunaga was a teacher’s son who had no intention of becoming a teacher. But life happens. Trained on Oahu, he serves today as a teacher and technology coordinator at Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School in Lihue. At the time of our conversation in December of 2016, he was well into his sixteenth year of teaching there, an award-winning digital media teacher, and he’s a leader in the statewide teachers’ steering committee which advises Hiki No, PBS Hawai‘i’s groundbreaking student news network. When he was a boy, his father saw that he was good at organizing and taking care of his younger cousins at family gatherings. Yet, the idea of becoming a teacher never appealed to Matsunaga. In fact, there wasn’t much about school that he found interesting.

 

We lived in Lihue. In fact, you know, we actually still live there now. Life was really easy and simple. My father was an educator, so he knew all of my teachers. So that made it a little bit hard for me, ‘cause I was kinda more the kolohe one, tried to be, you know, class clown or whatever. But it was nice. You know, back then, I could get on my bike, and that was my freedom. I could go anywhere I wanted to, and my parents didn’t really seem to mind too much.

 

No cell phones.

 

No cell phones, no GPS tracker, no call in to Mom to let you know. And as long as I was home by six, it was fine. If I was late, then there would be a problem with my dad, ‘cause he was the one that cooked.

 

So, he wanted you there for dinner.

 

He wanted me there for dinner. Yeah; ‘cause my mom worked at the hospital in the evening shift, so she was gone from three to eleven. And so, my dad was the one that, you know, when we came home school, he was the one making sure we had our homework done, made sure we took a bath.

 

Your dad was of Japanese ancestry.

 

Yes.

 

Your mom was from Brooklyn, New York.

 

Yes.

 

Irish woman.

 

M-hm.

 

How did that work? How did those cultures mesh with you?

 

I guess I consider myself more Asian, I guess, in the sense that we lived in Hawai‘i. My mom was considered like a Haole in the sense that, you know, she came from the mainland. But she really took to the local ways. She really saw the aloha spirit. And so, whenever we would go to family get-togethers, my mom would always be one to help out; she would never sit. Even if it wasn’t at our house, she would always get up, and always help out and wash dishes, you know, put things away. And so, I think our family saw that, and you know, she really embraced that sense of ‘ohana and aloha. I think she was wonderful as a mother.

 

You said later, you came to appreciate your dad more.

 

My dad, it was pretty, you know, black and white. You know, if we didn’t do something, if a teacher called us for any reason, it was … I don’t care what you have to say, if your teacher had to take the time to call me about something, you know, you’re doing something wrong. And so, it was tough, and back then, I really didn’t understand what they were doing. I just felt it as being real constrictive and overbearing. And you know, when I was in high school, I had a curfew. And I had a girlfriend who could stay out longer than I could. So, it’s kind of embarrassing to have to tell the girlfriend, I gotta go home, ‘cause I gotta meet my curfew. But only when I became an adult and had my own kids, then I kinda realized, you know, that what they were doing was a good thing. You know, kept me from trouble, and made me responsible.

 

You have teenagers now.

 

I do. And, yes … seeing what what they did for me, you know, at the time I didn’t appreciate it. And in fact, my relationship with my father was kinda rough when I was in high school, just because he valued education a lot, ‘cause he was an educator. And I was more of the ones that, you know, I was happy with getting a C, I was happy with being the lower one in the class in the top class, but not really pushing myself too much. ‘Cause I was more worried about who I was gonna go out with on the weekend, or what my friends were gonna do.

 

I would think that when a son goes into the same profession as his father, I think people tend to think, Oh, of course, you know, you wanted to do that from the beginning. Did you?

 

No. Growing up, I was always the one that seemed to have to take care of my younger cousins. So, we’d have a party, a family get-together, and our family was pretty large. My dad had several brothers and sisters. And so, we would have these large gatherings, and I had younger cousins, and I would always seem to be the one that was kinda taking care of them, making up games, keeping them occupied while the adults did their thing. And so, I just enjoyed that; I just enjoyed playing with them, kinda connecting with them, and just trying to keep them entertained, I guess. And so, it was my father, though; he was the first to say, Hey, you know, I’ve noticed that you really work well with kids, and so, you might want to think about being a teacher. I didn’t really find myself, as far as you know, taking school seriously until I was in college. It wasn’t until my second year in college in which I though, Okay, like, I can’t fool around. This is my parents’ money, and this is my life I gotta deal with. And and I had always wanted to make them proud. And so, I just always wanted to kinda, you know, make them happy. And so, I think once I started buckling down, started getting better grades, and taking it seriously, then our relationship changed, you know, much better. Yeah.

 

‘Cause he took your behavior really personally.

 

Yeah. And I think he always knew that I had what it took to do well, but I just didn’t apply myself. And I kind of feel the same way, too, with my kids. If I don’t see them trying hard, I get upset. And so, I’m kind of similar. It’s like, even though we try not to be our parents, we somehow still do become them.

 

Right.

 

Kevin Matsunaga took a teaching job on Oahu as soon as he earned his degree in elementary education from the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. Wanting to look out for his father after his mother died brought him back to Kauai.

 

Once I was in the College of Ed, I got a job at the A-Plus program at Hokulani Elementary School behind the dorms. And I loved it. I loved, you know, interacting with them. And I kinda knew that, okay, I think this is what I want to do.

 

And you met and married, along the way.

 

Yeah. So, my wife was actually my boss in the A-Plus program. And I was her aide. I taught on Oahu for seven years, and that’s kinda like towards the end is where things happened with our family. And in 2000, we moved back to Kauai, and I was able to open a brand new middle school that was, you know, coming on board. And so, I got to be there from the very beginning and kinda helped shape how things were at the school.

 

And Chiefess Kamakahelei is a very interesting middle school, for those who are used to old school buildings, because everything about it is really built with middle-schoolers in mind.

 

We have different houses for each grade level. And if you go into the sixth grade house, there’s less planters, because kids as sixth-graders, they just want to move around. You go to the eighth grade house, they have a lot more planters, places for kids to sit, because eighth-graders just want to sit and hang, and talk story, or go on their devices. And so, yeah, our school, you know, they took a lot of feedback from a lot of people in how middle-schoolers act, and what kind of space they need, and they put it into the school. So, you know, here seventeen years later, it still looks fantastic. We have an awesome staff that keeps it looking like a new school. And when we have visitors for the first time, they often ask, Is this a private school? We do have, you know, quite a bit of the population that needs some assistance.

 

At what point did digital media kick in with you?

 

When I applied for the job, the principal, Maggie Cox, at the time—she’s a board member for the Board of Ed now. But she knew this was gonna be the school that everyone was gonna look at for technology. So, she said in the interview, I want a morning announcements show, I want it live, I want it live TV. So, instead of, you know, when we were going up to school, you had, you know, someone coming on the PA system, playing the bells, you know.

 

Ding-ding-ding.

 

Yeah.

 

And so, she wanted it on TV. She had seen other schools do it, and so, that was one of the requirements. And I was like, Sure, I can do that. But I really hadn’t done that up to that point. I had worked with kids creating videos at my other school, but nothing was live. And so, I was like, Okay, I gotta figure out how to do this. I love computers and gadgets, and so as a teacher, I always tried to bring in some sort of technology aspect into it. So, I had my students—they had pen pals in Florida, you know, at that time through email. We did all kinds of things. And so, this was one thing that we did. And I was sharing this project at a technology conference that the DOE used to sponsor, and across from us, across from my booth was a high school that had set up their things, and they had videos. So, I’m sitting there across the way, and I’m watching these videos. And like, they’re really, really good. And like, Waianae High School, you know; wow, they’re doing some really awesome stuff. And so, I struck a conversation up with Candy Suiso. And at that time, I wasn’t really doing a lot of digital media. I just thought, Wow, that’s really cool, what they’re doing. But we just hit it off, and when this job came on, when they said, Hey, you gotta teach this live, or you gotta have this live morning announcement show, the first person I thought of to go for help was Candy. And so, I contacted her, and she allowed me to come out and visit the program. And that’s where I got a lot of good advice, took it back to our school. At that time, I only taught an advisory class, and that class kinda ran the morning announcements, and I asked to teach one elective class. And so, that was the beginning of our media program. And then, back then, we just, you know, were doing PSAs, small kinds of videos in school. And Candy created their first, like, workshop for teachers and students. And so, she, of course, you know, let me know about it. And what we did was, I took two students to Oahu one summer, and we went to one of their first camps. And she gave us, at this camp, this binder with all of these awesome, you know, lessons in them, activities. And I kinda treated that as my digital media bible, and I used that for years and tried to, you know, supplement it with my own. Kept in contact with Candy. And she was the reason why, you know, I kinda credit her a lot with our success, because she was very, very open with sharing anything that she had to help another teacher. And so, I’ve tried to take that example and lead that same way, by giving, you know, anything that I have to any other teacher that’s starting out.

 

So, there was nothing official to pick up off a shelf.

 

There was nothing.

 

Or link to.

 

We had nothing. You know, it was just a handful of teachers that were doing a lot with digital media. And we just helped each other. You know, we all just shared what we had, things that worked with us, things that didn’t.

 

Isn’t that interesting. And now, your group, which is called the Hawai‘i Creative Media Group, is teaching other teachers on all islands.

 

Yeah.

 

It’s a formalized group now.

 

Yeah.

 

Outside the DOE, but still very active in helping DOE teachers.

 

Yes. And you know, every single person on our team is just hugely talented. I mean, you know, they just know so much.

 

What do they have in common? I mean, because when you see digital media teachers in Hawai‘i, it’s not like you can stereotype them. Not by age, or anything else. What would you say is the common denominator?

 

I think the common denominator is that each one of us is dedicated to our programs. I mean, I think, like any successful program—and it could be a band, you know, that has an amazing instructor.

 

Needs leadership.

 

Yeah, you need leadership. And I think that’s where all of us—what we all have in common is that we really, truly care about our students, and giving them the best opportunities that we can provide them. Going above and beyond what’s called for in the school day to mentor them after school, on weekends, or setting up programs like our camps. Each person is just dedicated, you know, beyond measure. Everyone is just focused on how they can help their kids. And they don’t do that for themselves. You know, they don’t put their name out. It’s for the kids. And so, I think you need people like that to have a successful program.

 

It wasn’t long before Kauai’s Kevin Matsunaga started entering his students in national video competitions. This required a new level of commitment, and skills and efforts that went beyond the classroom.

 

If you’re gonna take your students to STN, or Student Television News, the really ambitious competition nationally, you have to raise money to do it. I mean, parents don’t have money to take their kids to the Northeast, or wherever it’s gonna be. And there are other neighbor island competitions. How do you get the money to do all of that?

 

We have to fundraise.

 

How do you do that?

 

You assemble a dedicated group of parents. You know, you work with them from the very beginning. You explain, okay, this is what we do, this why we do it, and here’s where we want to go; but I can’t do it by myself. I need support, I need parents to help work, you know, craft fairs, or you know, our breakfast, or sell cookbooks. You know. You just need to have a large number of people that are behind you. And for us, we’re really lucky; we have really good parents that, you know, understand what their child gets out of the program, and so they’re willing to put in that work. And it’s a year-round thing. I mean, we start fundraising when we come back. We’re already planning what we’re doing in the summer, for next year.

 

How much money do you have to raise, say, just for the Student Television News competitions?

 

It used to cost about fifteen hundred at the lowest, up to like, twenty-eight hundred at the highest. It just kinda depends.

 

Per student?

 

Per student. And so, last year, since we went to Atlanta and New York, it was probably close to like, twenty-five hundred a student. This year, surprisingly, it’s close to that. Because we’re in LA, but then, nobody wants to drive in LA. You know. And so, we have to rent a bus, and buses are expensive. So, you know, a day in a bus, you know, is several hundred dollars. And we’re staying at hotels that are two hundred a night, you know. And so, yeah, there are cheaper places that we could go to, you know, like the convention hotel. Even the convention hotel is two hundred a night. And so, it adds up. And so, yeah, we have to raise a huge amount of money.

 

So, you’re teaching digital media like nobody’s business, and then there’s this other operation which you’re also part of, which is just generating funds.

 

It’s like I’m a professional fundraiser, almost. You know. ‘Cause we’re going from thing to thing. We’ve done carwashes, we had a golf tournament, we just had our breakfast this past weekend. And we’ve done craft fairs. Our digital media, Hawaii Creative Media created a cookbook this year.

 

I mean, so your weekends are pretty much gone for that; right?

 

A lot of times; yeah. And so, unfortunately, you know, my family has had to kinda take some of that on. But all of my kids have been in through my program, so they understand why it’s so important, so they don’t give me a hard time.

 

Your students need to perform quality work in a, quote, foreign city, on deadline. And no excuses. You know, no dog ate your homework; it’s all about here’s the deadline, if you fail to get it in, if your computer didn’t render quickly enough, too bad.

 

It’s probably the most authentic assessment that you can ever find. You know, the DOE talks about trying to get authentic assessment. But these competitions, I don’t think you can find anything better than that. Yeah, like you said, the students, they have to perform, they have to be ready, they have to problem-solve if something happens. They have to navigate their way around a city that they’ve never been in, they have to go and find a story on a topic that they were just given that morning, and they only have a few hours to get it done.

 

And they have to depend on each other to do the work.

 

Exactly.

 

So, everybody’s important.

 

Exactly.

 

And you have to put things aside if you have issues.

 

Yes. And sometimes, those lessons take a while to learn, but they get there at some point. But yeah, it’s all of those things. I tell my parents and my students that, you know, digital media, yes, that’s the name of our class, but we really teach a lot of life skills. You know, how to communicate with each other, how to get along with other people that, you know, you may have a hard time with. Meeting your deadlines, and being prepared for your interview, and having your equipment read, and you know, all those things.

 

Talking with adults, and setting up interviews.

 

Yeah. You know, we fully believe in that, you know, we need to teach them what they’re gonna see. And so, when the deadline, when the clock hits zero, even if you’re five feet away and you’re ready to put your flash drive into the bucket, it’s gone and you’ve lost that chance, ‘cause you didn’t make that deadline.

 

And an amazing thing happens, and it was chronicled in this documentary that PBS Hawai‘i did about your schools going to Atlanta for the competition. The Hawai‘i kids all sat together from different schools, and they cheered for each other, even when they themselves were up for the same award, and lost.

 

Exactly; yeah. It’s something we started, you know, a couple of years back in which … you know, it’s hard to pinpoint what exactly that is, other than that’s just the aloha spirit, and … you can just see it, you can feel it. All of our schools, we all know, and the other schools know that, too. But for those of us in Hawai‘i, we understand it’s really hard to get there, because we have to travel, no matter where it is. We have to raise money, and you know, get your paperwork approved by the district. And you go through all of these hoops to get there, so we understand how much work is involved. And I think there’s just the respect that we have for one another that, you know, when we get there … if we don’t win, but Hawai‘i wins, it’s still a win. And I think that’s just the culture here in Hawai‘i.

 

And the middle school PSA contest winner for 2016 is Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School.

 

Hawai‘i, Hawai‘i, Hawai‘i, Hawai‘i …

 

I think it’s fascinating to think about, because so many people here think, Well, you know, our public schools, they’re criticized for being mediocre.

 

M-hm.

 

And some of these top-performing digital media teams are coming from low-income schools or isolated schools.

 

Exactly.

 

How do you explain that?

 

They have good teachers. They have dedicated teachers that are willing to put in that extra effort, that believe in the kids, and will do anything to help them succeed. I mean, look at Waianae; Searider Productions is a prime example. You know, that community is known for so many other things. You know, the negative, the homelessness, and everything else. But they’ve totally broken that stereotype down, you know, by the success that they have. And it’s because it started with Candy, you know, and what she believed in, this idea to use digital media in her Spanish class. And then, it came down to her students, John Allen, who—

 

Took over for her.

 

Who is there, yeah.

 

As a teacher.

 

Was a former student, who totally, you know, bought into it, saw what it did for him, and he wanted to do the same for others. And so, you gotta have that person that’s willing to be that dedicated person that is willing to put in those extra hours.

 

Even though it’s often not even a regular class. You’re doing it after school.

 

Yeah; yeah.

 

Or in between other projects, summers. Is there something really inspiring or life-changing that you’ve seen happen in your classes?

 

I think the thing that inspires me more than anything is just seeing that change in a child. And I think that’s one of the reasons why I became a teacher, is because I like to see change. You know, so in my spare time, I like to weed in the yard, because I can see the progress that I’ve made, or the progress I haven’t. But I like to see that progress, and teaching does that. Because you can work with a child, put in this effort, and you can see before your eyes them, you know, getting it. You know, that spark; Oh, I got it now, I understand what you’re trying to say. And then, you see them apply that. That, to me, is inspiring. I mean, that’s the kinda stuff that keeps me coming in every day and being a hundred percent committed, is because you see this change, and you see the kid that started with you who could barely say any words outside, wouldn’t talk to you unless you asked a specific question, and then to see them grow in the time that you have them to where they’re a confident, you know, young person willing to speak to anyone. I mean, that’s the stuff that’s inspiring, more than anything else. I think that every teacher uh, every digital media teacher pushes their kids to try to be great. And that transforms itself into other areas that the kids are working in. And I think that prepares them just for life in general.

 

That cuts across everything, then.

 

It cuts across anything. I think it doesn’t matter whether it’s in school, outside of school, in their personal private life. I think just knowing that you have someone who believes in you, that wants you to do well and is not gonna let you settle for anything less than great.

 

Teacher Kevin Matsunaga’s goal for his students is not to win contests; it’s do their best. Their best often wins local and national awards. And Matsunaga has been recognized as the State Public School District Teacher of the Year. Mahalo to Kevin Matsunaga of Lihue, Kauai for your innovative teaching example, and your commitment to students year, after year, after year, preparing them for life and the workforce. And mahalo to you, for joining us. For PBS Hawai‘i and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha, a hui hou.

 

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.

 

Every day is different. There are no two days that are gonna be the same. Even if you have the same students every single day, the kids are gonna come in, and some days they might have a great day, some days they may not. You know, you’re teaching different subjects, you’re teaching different things, and … that’s what I love best about teaching, is that every single day is different. If I got stuck in a job in which I did the same thing day-in and day-out, not too much change, it would be hard for me.

 

 


What Drives KEN BURNS?

 

CEO Message

What Drives Ken Burns?

 

Ken Burns, Photo courtesy of Justin Altman

 

Filmmaker Ken Burns, who’s coming out with an 18-hour Vietnam War film to be shown over 10 evenings this month on PBS Hawai‘i, freely admits that he’s a workaholic; that he’s obsessive in his pursuit of archival material for his films; that his detractors dismiss him as long-winded.

 

And Burns can laugh at himself.

 

As he did when he was being honored as the greatest American documentary filmmaker of his generation. Stepping up to receive a lifetime achievement, he joked that he’d prepared a nine-part response.

 

He had to learn about laughter, since sadness and loss were prevailing childhood themes.

 

Burns, 64, is clear about what drives him and his compulsion to look at the past. It is the death of his mother, Lyla Burns, just before he turned 12. She had suffered from breast cancer for nearly a decade.

 

Burns remembers coming home from school or play every day and telling his ailing mother stories about what had happened, in effect sharing life with her. After she passed away, he recalls watching movies with father, Robert Burns, and seeing him cry, which was something his father didn’t do in other circumstances. That’s when young Burns says he grasped the storytelling power of film.

 

In a short video posted online at creativeplanetnetwork.com, Burns says: “I found myself becoming a documentary filmmaker, trying to tell stories and using American history to tell those stories that I wanted to tell. When you look back at it, the job that I try to do is to wake the dead. And it doesn’t seem too far a leap to understand, from that early decision to be a filmmaker, who I really want to wake up.”

 

From the earliest time that he can remember as a child, he says he knew his beloved mom was sick. He was not close to his father.

 

As a young man, he rejected chasing a Hollywood-type career. He says he innately knew, and was taught at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts, that “there’s much more drama in what is and what was, than in anything the human imagination can dream of.”

 

Delivering the commencement address at Stanford University last year, Burns explained that delving into history can lead to personal and professional breakthroughs.

 

“The past often offers an illuminating and clear-headed perspective from which to observe and reconcile the passions of the present moment, just when they threaten to overwhelm us,” he told new graduates.

 

Burns wants this newest film with his creative partner Lynn Novick, about the divisive Vietnam War era, to spur national healing.

 

As he told an interviewer from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee:

 

“We caught something during the Vietnam War – like a virus – and we are still suffering from the effects of that virus today. I’m hoping my film is a bit like a vaccination – that it exposes you to a little bit of the disease to permit you to go past it and heal from it.”

 

I invite you to join me in viewing this new Burns/Novick film series, starting at 8:00 pm, Sunday, September 17, on your TV station, PBS Hawai‘i.

 

A hui hou (until next time),
Leslie Wilcoxʻ signature

 

 

Nasser’s Republic:
The Making of Modern Egypt

 

This is the first film created for an American audience about Gamal Abdel Nasser, one of the Arab world’s most transformative leaders. In 1952, as an unknown, young, Egyptian colonel, Nasser led a coup that became a revolution. Over the next 18 years he challenged Western hegemony abroad, confronted Islamism at home, and faced deep divisions among the Arabs. He emerged a titanic figure but also established the region’s first and much emulated military authoritarian regime.

 

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