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LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Stephanie Han

 

Award-winning writer Stephanie Han draws from her life experiences to inform her poetry, fiction and non-fiction, which frequently grapple with identity in multicultural settings. Her childhood was anchored by books, which helped her make sense of others and the world around her. Though her life has taken her around the globe, she now calls Honolulu home where she continues her work as a writer and educator.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, Oct. 20, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Stephanie Han Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

Reading is one of the few creative art forms where we enter the mind of somebody on a deeply intimate and personal level, across time, across cultures. You’re concocting in your mind what the person looks like and they become something you invent.

 

As a child, she found refuge in books, which she called her friends because her family moved so frequently. She says reading and writing are linked and somehow writing chose her and she became a writer. Stephanie Han, 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. Stephanie Han was born Stephanie Mi Suk Yoo but goes by her maternal family’s name. A resident of Kaimukī, O‘ahu, she’s a teacher with a doctorate at Punahou School at Honolulu, and she’s a writer of poetry, fiction, and non-fiction, much of it about one’s identity in multicultural settings. Dr. Han is the author of “Swimming in Hong Kong”, a collection of short stories. Her father was one of Korea’s top scholars before he came to the United States to attend university, becoming a medical doctor and research scientist. Her mother was raised in Kunia Camp in central O‘ahu, a descendant of the first wave of Korean immigrants to Hawai‘i.  Stephanie Han’s parents met in the San Francisco Bay area, and after they were married, lived all over the United States, fueled in part by their wanderlust.

 

Where do you call home?

 

Now, Hawai‘i is home and in a sense I think it always was a spiritual and familial home to me, we just simply moved around the Continental U.S. I’ve lived in every place except the Pacific Northwest because my family was peripatetic, we were itinerant, and I have been as an adult. But this is the one place we always came for weddings, funerals, family birthdays, and gatherings, so, I would say, in a sense, if I could call one place an idea of home, this would be it. Hawaii was where I could have a sense of belonging, where I could have an Asian face but I could speak English and it wasn’t a big deal, um, where I saw different kinds of cultures and people interacting in a relatively peaceful way and this was a contrast to growing up in the mainland in certain areas where my family were kind of these pioneers, in the Midwest or in the South or even in certain areas of New England.

 

Did you experience racism or was it people who simply didn’t know what to say to you and said the wrong thing?

 

I think it was both, you know, my mother grew up in Kunia on the plantation and so when kids were kind of chicken fighting and kind of bullying me and beating me up when I was in third grade, she wasn’t gonna have that. She was, she…um, immediately asked um, somebody in the Korean community whose father knew judo, to take me on as a student.

 

So she was not a hovering parent in the sense that she approached the bully, she prepared you to approach the…

 

Yes.

 

Ok, so what happened?

 

And so, because she grew up, you know, watching boxing matches and wrestling in the Kunia gym, and so, yes, I was supposed to be a good Korean-American daughter, but I needed to know how to fight back. And so, um, we, me and the bully, we had it out in front of the drinking fountain. He was a head taller than me and the kids gathered, and I don’t even know how it…after a month, I was very confident, after judo lessons for one month, I obviously felt I could take him on, and um, you know, he hit me, and I punched him back, and then we were hauled off to the, um, by the school librarian, who, now, I know they must’ve thought it was really hysterical because I was a head and a half shorter…

 

And boy-girl, I mean usually boys don’t take shots at girls, right?

 

And boy-girl, exactly, and then…

 

So this is a bad bully…

 

Yes, and then, he was crying and I was not, I was just in shock and just paranoid that my mother would get mad at me and he never bothered me, nor did anyone ever bother me at the school again, and I was never physically bothered like that again because it was…it’s all psychological, right? It’s how you carry yourself.

 

Why did you move so much?

 

That was my parents, I think their adventure. So, for my mother, being, growing up pre-statehood, her adventure of travel…I mean, my family traveled a lot overseas, too, but her adventure was in the mainland and for my father, as an immigrant to the United States, this was also his adventure of seeing America.

 

That meant you switched schools a lot.

 

I switched schools every year until I was nine.

 

That’s a lot.

 

What you get used to is, you know, making friends, and you also get used to leaving, it prepares you for different kinds of relationships and different kinds of ways of navigating, and it also obliges you to be more open, and what it did was, it made me closer, I think, to my family and to my parents, and to hold on to things that were permanent, let’s say like coming here, seeing Grandma in the summer or seeing my cousins here, this became a kind of…a permanent idea.

 

Did you have any tricks about how to make friends as a kid when you were starting a new school?

 

No, and I think it did become difficult and it’s what propelled me to become a reader and a writer…because, um, at a certain point, I think, you know, we were often in these places like Iowa, where there were not a lot of Asian-American children, and I remember telling my mom that I had troubles making friends and she said, well, if you read a book, you’ll always have a friend. And this had to do with how she was, I think, and she was a bookworm, and she was a mom who, um, you know, sought out intellectual and creative things, and we didn’t talk as much about feelings, we could find those through books and things like that, so, um, you know, books became my world, books became a way I could make friends, she was right. Books became a path to understanding and to figuring out how people behaved, and from reading comes writing, an idea of expressing personal narrative.

 

I think I’ve heard you say that uh, your mom taught you the importance of creative expression, your father taught you never to quit, which came in very handy when you’re a writer seeking publication.

 

Yeah, so that was definitely my father. So there’s a saying he used to tell me, fall down seven times, get up eight times. A really perfect example of it was me with math studies. So when I was in ninth grade, I went off to boarding school at Phillips Academy Andover, I was a straight-A student prior, I get to Andover, everybody was a straight-A student, so, I really struggled, and I was getting a…I think I was failing math, and so, my father and mother said, we’re tired of you, you know, calling us up at, you know, every night, crying about your math homework so you come back for Thanksgiving. So I came back for Thanksgiving, I did math six to seven hours a day with my father, and um, flew back, I passed the exam, and then I stepped off the plane in December and my dad said, we’re not…we’re conquering this math thing. And so, I did math with my father…I went to work with him six to eight hours a day, every single day of my three week holiday. I would sit there in the gas station, in the front seat of the car, while he’s pumping the gas, doing math problems, um, I did the entire math book, over Christmas.

 

Did you want to do that? Did you resent that?

 

Uh, at first I resented it, but then after awhile I liked it. Like I still know the quadratic formula to this day, because he made me write it down 27 times, because he said if you write anything down 27 times, you’ll never forget it. What it showed me was that you don’t have to be good at something, you can persist and you don’t have to quit, and then I went back and I went from being a D-student in math to two A’s.

 

What does your dad think of your career? He seems like a very success-oriented guy and goes by the numbers, and being a writer is not going by the numbers, especially as a female…

 

Yeah…yeah, my dad, um, human being status is, um, granted upon a Masters degree, so now I have a PhD, so you know, it’s ok.

 

Don’t you have two Masters?

 

Yeah, I have two Masters degrees.

 

And a PhD, the first PhD in English Literature…

 

Literature, from City University of Hong Kong.

 

And you do a lot of professional teaching as well?

 

Yes, so, I consider myself a writer and educator, and I think, you know, my father was a, you know, he was a research scientist and a university professor, too, so he’s proud of that, you know, so in a sense, although it wasn’t in science and most of his family were medical doctors, even my aunts who were 85 years old in Korea, were medical doctors in Korea at the time, which was quite radical for women, but so now, you know, he knows I teach and I write and it’s something that is parallel…parallels his interests.

 

Stephanie Han’s award-winning writings are influenced by the books she read growing up, as much as by her life experiences. Her narratives often center on female protagonists who deal with issues of race, gender, and colonialism, and above all, identity.

 

You said your friends were books?

 

Yeah.

 

And you do live other people’s experiences through books?

 

Oh yeah, like my early experiences were just, you know, like in Iowa reading Laura Ingalls Wilder. I used to ask my mom why she didn’t wear a bonnet and churn butter…like why…

 

Because that’s the real mother…

 

Yeah…I sent away to the Laura Ingalls Wilder home for photos of Laura Ingalls Wilder. So there are family photos of the Ingalls and Wilder family with my family photos because they, it became such a part of how I was trying to understand where I was living.

 

Did you watch the TV show, too?

 

Yeah, but I didn’t like the TV show as much. That was kind of just a short cut, and I was one of those, you know, that didn’t match, that was in, you know, on the shores of Silver Lake, that wasn’t in the second book, you know, I could really…

 

Who’s [INDISTINCT] anyway?

 

Yeah, yeah, I was like, you know, Pa didn’t play the violin like that. You know, I was really…I could be very exact about it. And there were some, also some things that were not quite, you might say kosher, about those books, of when it was written. You know, their treatment…her treatment of how she saw Native Americans, or how Pa was doing the darky kind of dance where he was wearing blackface, and I didn’t understand this as I was reading it, so I find it sort of interesting, you know, how you read one book to open your mind, and I did need those books when I was little, to understand the farm children that I was going to school with and their background and then how later you read them differently. So, um, but yeah, you know, that’s when I would, you know, I’d say, can we have apple pie like Farmer Boy? You know…

 

But reading does…depending on what you read, does teach you empathy, or at least the ability to identify

 

Yes.

 

with somebody else whose, maybe, outer behavior is off-putting…

 

Yes.

 

Because you don’t understand it or you don’t think there’s a reason for it, but when you read a book and you see what’s going on inside…

 

Yes, because reading is one of the few creative art forms where we enter the mind of somebody on a deeply intimate and personal level, across time, across cultures, even when we’re seeing a movie, we’re looking at somebody from the outside in, right? We’re looking at their face. We’re not looking inside their brain. So, when you’re reading, we’re entering somebody’s very intimate thoughts, it’s that magic…

 

And heart.

 

Yes, you know, how they’re dreaming, how they’re feeling, and sometimes you know, when you’re looking at a picture, um, or illustration, you might initially, you could have these reactions, you could be put off by their clothing or something and you might not be able to enter them in the same way, but when you read something, you’re concocting in your mind what the person looks like and they become something you invent. So, reading also propels us to imagine and it works a different kind of imagination gear, in a way, and we, we relate that to ourselves. Like, yeah, I remember I was riding a bicycle, yeah, that’s what it felt like, this person must be riding a bicycle in the same way, yeah, you know, and it becomes something else, verses, you know, I love photography, and I love film, and I love video, and, you know, all these other kinds of visual images, but, it’s something else, you’re outside in.

 

That’s a great point. What are some of the books that have made the most difference to you in reading?

 

Well, I would say…

 

Besides Laura.

 

It changed, yeah, it changed over the course of time, right? So, um, you know, I read, you know Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison. When I was a teenage girl, then I read Maxine Hong Kingston, The Woman Warrior, and that blew me away, I would say really the opening sequence, because it was the first time I could see the picture. There is a woman of color and she kind of looks like me, she’s Asian descent, and look, she wrote this book, and look, this character is not, you know, is fierce, and is a warrior, and is running through the woods and doing these things, and that was really eye-awakening, and I love Jane Austen. Years later, I read the Makioka Sisters by Junichiro Tanizaki in translation which is very similar to the Austen book, and that was the book that my mother told me to read and I could see how she transposed ideas of, you know, protocol and manners and this, and how they came through to my upbringing. My narrative has always been something that’s been changing, um, narratives that were…I was told and then tried to imitate, so, I think about this idea of the stories that were maybe told to, let’s say me, through a religious or philosophical structure, which were Confucian virtues, right? Which were…Confucianism is built on the pillars of five relationships, right? King, subject, teacher, husband, wife, and almost all of them are hierarchical, except friend to friend, but there’s a very strict hierarchy that organizes a lot of Asian culture and that was the narrative, in a sense, that I think played out for me or continued to play out in a lot of my life. There was also narratives, uh, folk tales that I was told, so…a traditional, it’s a Japanese folktale, it was also told to Korean kids, was Peach Boy, which is…I’m not sure, do you know it…

 

Momotaro?

 

Yes, and I’m sure you’re familiar with this story…

 

I grew up with that story.

 

Yes, and he comes with a peach to this older parents, and he fights…you know, he makes friends with the dog, the pheasant, and the monkey, goes off and he kills all the monsters, and he comes back with wealth to his village and he’s the hero of the story, right? And this is a typical, Joseph Campbell journey…mythic…myth of the hero, which crosses cultures, right? But there really is not…we don’t find the myth of the heroine, and Campbell had said that’s because the wisdom that is had, women always have inherently, and Campbell was writing and speaking at a different time period, because women do need a narrative.

 

What you said before reminded me of something…I was fortunate enough to interview W.S. Merwin, and he said, um, when life is going along pretty well, you tend to read prose, but when you have something awful happening, some emotional thing, what do you do? You read poetry.

 

Poetry…

 

Is that true?

 

Yes, that’s totally true, and I write poetry um, when I have no words, that’s what I say, and then I write prose to try to make a linear sense of an issue.

 

As an adult, Stephanie Han has lived in many different places around the world. She kept moving in part because of the adventure of experiencing different cultures, but that was not her only motivation.

 

You told us how your, your family moved around quite a bit because of your father’s career when you were a child, but you continued to move around as an adult.

 

Yes, it set the pattern. So I thought…so that’s how I became an expatriate, ectera ectera, it set a pattern where you think moving is normal, um, it’s strange because there’s a different skill-set involved with staying, right? And so that’s, to me, this is now my question too, of staying, you know, this is my home now, so this is…this is the question of staying, and um, yeah, you set the pattern because, you know, and what you realize is, there are many people who actually do this…were just…were…maybe we don’t talk about it quite as much, or we’re referring to one place as the home, but a lot of people are rather itinerant.

 

It seems to me that you’ve been in a number of first-of situations, you might’ve been the first Asian girl in a class or…I mean, you’ve done so many um, so many activities in different countries, uh, what have you learned from that? Because it’s not surprising to me that you became a writer, somebody who’s already good in English and…generally, writers keep their distance, they’re detached.

 

Yeah, I think um, what I learned is that you have to be open and you have to be curious to different experiences and you also have to be tolerant, and I think being overseas um, for different periods of my life, also opened that up, and what I also found is language, speaking different languages matters, but you really need an open heart and you need to be able to laugh with somebody, you need to be able to eat food, you need to listen to their music and maybe dance a little, and that becomes more important than, often than, um, let’s say, exchanging literary ideas.

 

And when do you know it’s time for you to move on, or in the past, how did you figure out…was it outwardly directed or did it always come from within?

 

Um, no, sometimes people moved because they think moving will solve things, but moving doesn’t often solve what you…it could solve temporarily, a job, but maybe that’s the job wasn’t really what needed to be solved, or a question about this, right? So…

 

It’s a way of distracting yourself, in part?

 

Yes, right, and you know, there’s more…you know, there’s the adventure of being out verses sometimes, if you stay in one place, the adventure becomes of going in and going still, or going deeper, so I, you know, I…I’ve had people tell me, you know, I don’t think you can come to necessarily, any more wisdom, traveling and moving, then you can come from being in one place and going deeper. You might find that you can still come to very similar ideas of people and behavior and spirit, and some of the people I consider the most wise, who I seek counsel or friendship, or guidance from, are people who are in one place. Because they came to similar ideas and then moved and came to a different way of seeing things that were incredibly wise.

 

Interesting. One thing about staying is that you…if there are issues, you have to either work them out or, or hole up in yourself, and generally people do either…I mean, I would hope people who stay, find a way to work things out.

 

Yeah, and this just becomes the retreat of a writer, too, right? Reading and writing, for me, um, was always a bit of a social, personal retreat, so, I didn’t neces–, you know, if, the outside became too strange or difficult or, I just would read more or I wrote more, which I…I don’t necessarily advise to everybody.

 

Well, why have you moved as an adult?

 

Um…

 

Repeatedly?

 

Yeah, mostly, it was, I think it was work and opportunity, and a desire to seek, and a desire for adventure, and so I think that was the phase that I was also in, and um, there’s like a whole community, you know, if you’re an expatriate, that’s what you do…you just…you move, from place to place often.

 

And you always find people like yourself…

 

Mm hm, and it becomes a community.

 

It is a community.

 

So that is a community.

 

So how do you find people in that community?

 

Um, you know, they can initially be a much more often welcoming and opening…open to people, because everyone wants a place to live, everyone knows you need employment, so people come rushing forth with opportunities or jobs or places to live, they know you need help with this, because it’s kind of this strange pioneering community, right? Whereas, if you often move into community where people have been entrenched for along time, they’re more closed because you’re an outsider and the peculiar thing is, you know, expatriates, they often never really occupy the place that they’re in. They live in the peripheral of wherever they are and that is the community, it’s being on the periphery.

 

That’s interesting, so, perhaps, at this point in your life, that is still your home?

 

Um, no, I’d say…it’s funny, that’s why I think I ended up here because I don’t have to always be on the periphery here. I do have maternal family and maternal roots here, so it allows me to step in here. I didn’t attend school here which makes, you know, Hawaii is very rooted in people’s young, younger years of schooling…

 

Where did you graduate from…

 

Yes, but um, you know, my son is now local to here and my family is here in that sense, or I should say some of my older relatives. So, I can be both an outsider and an insider here and maybe that’s just right.

 

At the time of this taping in 2019, Stephanie Han is teaching at Punahou School and lives in Kaimukī, O‘ahu, where she also continues to write. Mahalo to Stephanie Han for sharing your stories with us and mahalo to you for joining us. For PBS Hawai‘i and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha nui.

 

I don’t think people choose to be writers, I think writing chooses you and then writing becomes a compulsion. Reading and writing are very linked and um, when it is a certain level of a compulsion then it flows through you and you feel at that moment, this is what you were meant to do and you draft it very quickly and it’s almost as if your body is a kind of vessel for what the words are supposed to be, and there’s other times you sit there and you’re just miserable and you try to run away from the desk and you decide at that moment you need to clean your room, but um, you know, so it varies and you just have to, you know, kind of sit your butt in the chair.

 

 

 

[END]

 

 

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Travel from the Silk Road to the Yellow Sea with host Michael Wood as he explores the history of the world superpower that is China. A thrilling and moving epic of the world’s oldest continuous state with the landscapes, peoples, and stories that have made today’s China.

 

The Last Empire/The Age of Revolution
Journey back in time to see the splendor of the last Chinese dynasty, the Qing. Then, witness the fateful First Opium War, which sparked the fall of the empire, and, after the 20th-century revolutions, the birth of today’s China.

 

 

 

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In the first hour, see the stunning achievements of two of China’s most brilliant dynasties: the Song, creators of a Chinese Renaissance; and the Ming, builders of the Great Wall and the Forbidden City.

 

 

 

THE STORY OF CHINA
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THE STORY OF CHINA: Ancestors / Silk Roads and China Ships

 

Travel from the Silk Road to the Yellow Sea with host Michael Wood as he explores the history of the world superpower that is China. A thrilling and moving epic of the world’s oldest continuous state with the landscapes, peoples, and stories that made today’s China.

 

 

 

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A profile of the trust organizations in Hawaiʻi. Produced and directed by Lisa Altieri.

 

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Nani Lim Yap

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: Nani Lim Yap

 

Musician, singer and dancer Nani Lim Yap tells how her Lim family’s music grew from an entertaining pastime to a career that takes them around the world to perform. She also reminisces about her upbringing in Kohala, Hawai‘i Island, and the way she keeps the traditions and stories of her ancestors alive as a kumu hula.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, June 23, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Program

 

 

Nani Lim Yap Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

I can remember when we were trying to do chants and mele.  We would choose other places, and something would tell us: Why are you choosing to do an O‘ahu mele, when there’s so much right here?  Not somebody came to us and told us; it was this feeling that you got, like, there’s stories here that need to be told, so tell these stories first. And that’s how we began going in that direction, telling those Kohala stories, singing those Kohala mele.

 

Nani Lim Yap, descended from the ali‘i of Kohala, keeps the traditions and stories of her ancestors alive through mele, chant, and hula.  A member of the remarkable Lim musical family, Nani Lim Yap says she’ll always call Kohala home, no matter how far her travels take her. Nani Lim Yap, 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.  Nanette Lim Yap, better known as Nani, was one of six children growing up in Pu‘u Hue in Kohala, on the Big Island of Hawai‘i, where her father was a cowboy at Parker Ranch.  In their isolated mountain community, playing Hawaiian music was the family’s primary source of entertainment.  The musically gifted family was discovered by the rest of the world when Nani’s mother, the late Maryann Lim, was asked to play at the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel when it opened in 1965.  Performances soon became a family affair, and the music group known as The Lim Family became a well-known, much-respected, and popular Hawaiian music group. Learning the songs at a young age came easily to Nani, she says, because it was not only through her parents that she learned Hawaiian language.

 

My father worked for the Parker Ranch.  And they had these little stations, and little housing for the workers.  And some workers would have their families, whole families.  So, we were one of them, another family.  Just two other families, other than us.  And so, we were raised out there.

 

So, very remote.

 

Very remote.  So remote that when we did move into town, streetlights bothered us.

 

Well, when you say town, do you mean Kohala town?

 

I mean Kohala town.

 

Because it was so far.

 

And the streetlights bothered you?

 

Yes; all of us.  And we’d be up at night, like …

 

‘Cause starlight was all we knew, you know.  But we grew up at Pu‘u Hue.  And very close; all of us were very close, me and my brothers and sisters.

 

Your parents would take you on long rides, and you had a Rambler station wagon. They don’t even make Ramblers anymore.

 

No.

 

Not for many years. 

 

No.  So that story is all of us in that car.  Like when it was time to go holoholo, oh, my gosh, we’re gonna go someplace.  And it was my father; he just loved to drive. My father, my mother, one child in the front, and all the rest of us just filling up the back seat.  And we would go.  We would have one ‘ukulele.  We fought over the ‘ukulele like: Who’s going to play the next song?  So, if you make a mistake, you gotta pass that ‘ukulele on.

 

This was as you’re driving along.

 

As you’re driving; yeah.  So, goes like this, goes like this.  But if you were the longest, then you were the winner.

 

So, very competitive kids.

 

From when we were young.  And you know who won the ‘ukulele; right?

 

Who?

 

Me.

 

Always?

 

Yeah.  That’s why I’m the ‘ukulele player.

 

It’s so interesting, ‘cause none of you has had formal training in any of this.

 

Nope.  Nope. Not in music.

 

You picked it up, and figured it out, and listened, and learned.

 

Yeah; my father taught us how to play all the basic keys.  So, if you try to give me a sharp or a what, it’s like: show me it.

 

You show me it, and you tell me it, and I’ll get it.

 

And do you read music?

 

No; no.  Even my brother, when we were growing up, I would take him to his piano lessons.  So, he’d be playing along and playing along.  And then he’d finish, and she’d say: All right, Elmer, now read the notes. ‘Cause he’d be playing by ear, by what he heard.

 

Really?

 

Yeah.

 

And Elmer is Sonny?

 

Yeah.

 

Was music always a part of your life?

 

See, my father and his friends played, and my father and my mother sang to us.  That’s what they did.  Yeah. So, my mom sang, and my father played, and that’s how we knew that they had that.  And my mom had a hula background, and she was our first teacher.

 

Were they singing in Hawaiian?

 

In Hawaiian.

 

And did you understand Hawaiian?

 

This is how we understood Hawaiian, is my grandparents. My grandfather and my grandmother spoke fluently.  And they were our babysitters.  So, when we were little, it was so easy to understand what they were talking to us about.

 

That’s manaleo style, isn’t it?

 

Exactly.

 

It’s the real thing.

 

So, understanding them, even being around them and hearing them talk, we knew exactly what they were talking, ‘cause from babies, we knew that.  But however, my parents, my mom them didn’t follow through.  ‘Cause it was at that time when it wasn’t good to speak the language.

 

You were supposed to go Western.

 

Yeah.

 

And succeed in that world.

 

It’s so sad.  Just one generation away, you know.  And we’ve lost so much.  But however, if a song played, you knew exactly what the song was talking about. Because it was just automatic; you just knew Hawaiian already.

 

So, you didn’t just listen to the music; you could know what the songs were about.

 

Easily; easily.  Even my mother was surprised.  Like, we had this old radio, just this old radio, and you only could play it as certain times, ‘cause you didn’t want to break the radio, ‘cause that was like your communication to the world.  So, it was like, okay.  And then, the songs would play, and we’d be like, we know it.  And so, I’d tell my mom: I know exactly what this song is saying. She said: You do?  I said: Yeah.  And I’d tell her what it is.  She said: That’s amazing that you would know that. I said …

 

That’s what it says.

 

Yeah.  And then, I’d um, gesture things to her.  I said: Because I think this is what they’re saying.  She said: Oh … oh, so … you have that hula sense already.  Yeah?  So, just by knowing what that was, making interpretive movements, and then her being our first teacher, that gave me the—you know, it’s not that gave me the know-how, but it’s just automatic that everything came into play.

 

So, for you, it wasn’t choreography and the movements of hula that came first; it was the story behind the music.

 

Definitely, definitely; story behind the music.

 

You’ve had your fascination with non-Hawaiian.  You did Beatles, and Elvis, and Supremes; right?

 

Everything.  I love Supremes.  I love all that kinda music.  I loved it, and I would sing it, too.  We’d all sing it.  And then, we just realized that Hawaiian was where it’s at.  Because it was always around us, always around us, Hawaiian music.

 

But one day, there will be dancers who are saying: I’m from the Nani Lim Yap, that’s who gave birth to me.  Even though you’re saying: I didn’t really do anything except pass it through.

 

I’m hoping.  And they know; they know what my intention is for them, is that they continue. Any of the mele that I’ve taught them in their lifetime that they’ve been in hālau with me will remain the same.

 

Nani Lim Yap of Kohala, Hawai‘i Island, was twelve years old when she started performing with her family at the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel.  Dancing hula or singing with her family, whether it was on a formal stage or at a baby luau, became a regular part of her life.  Yet, she didn’t necessarily see herself growing up and becoming a professional musician, or a kumu hula.

 

After high school, you moved to O‘ahu.

 

Yeah.

 

To beauty school.

 

Yeah; I came to beauty school.  That’s what I wanted to be; I wanted to be a beautician, they said back then.

 

So, you didn’t see being a musician or performer as a career, then?

 

No.  No.

 

Even though you’d actually made money for it already in your teens.

 

Yes.  I don’t know; I wanted to do hair, I wanted to do hair from when I was younger.  If somebody was available during the afternoon on a Saturday or Sunday, they were sitting down in this chair, I was gonna give them some kinda up-do or something.  That was what I thought I knew, that’s what I wanted to do.  But then, when I came home and I had my first job at Mauna Kea, in the evening time my parents would say: Come over here and sing with us.  And the first time, my father said: What’s wrong with you?  I could not look at the crowd.  I would sing backwards like this, or sideways.  My father said: Is something wrong with you?  I said: I can’t look at them.  He said: Stop it; stop it, stop it.  Like, I would just try not to, I was afraid of the crowd.  Isn’t that crazy?

 

But you’d performed before.

 

No; I performed before as a dancer, but not as a singer.

 

I see; I see.

 

So, it’s like, okay.  Then I had to break that habit, break that habit.  And then, the next time, my father would say: You guys gotta smile; you have to smile, you have to smile.  And I was like: Okay, smile.  This was when I’m singing, and I’m trying to.  Because I don’t know; I didn’t think I was like, that great.  So, I’d be like, I don’t know if they like it, I’m not sure if they’re gonna like it.  And then after, you get your confidence up.  And then, the more I played, the more money I made standing up and playing than standing up all day to do hair, and my feet would be sore. So, it was like, okay, that’s just the easiest route to go, just play music.

 

I know you were a co-kumu hula with your elder sister Lei for many years. And now, all three of you; Lorna, Leialoha, and you have your own hālau.

 

Separate; yeah.  Which is fine.  I think we still all have the same mindset.  We were raised in that kind of environment, you know.

 

Same mindset, but different visions?

 

Yes.  I guess our missions have changed, I think.  You know, what is it that you really want to accomplish; yeah?  For us, lineage is important; yeah?  What are we passing on, what is the style that our kumu from Kohala taught us.  ‘Cause that’s it.  Somebody said: Is that your Kohala style?  And I would say: I think so.

 

What is Kohala style?

 

See?  Everybody would ask me that, and I said:  I’m not sure. But some others, if you were on the outside looking, they would say that’s distinctly different from Ka‘ū.  And I thought: Really?  I never saw dances from Ka‘ū.

 

So, you still can’t quantify it, but people from all over see it as being different.

 

That’s different, that’s a Kohala style.  And I was like, okay.

 

But you can’t point to any one thing about it?

 

Nope; nope.  Because it translates to us as being something that we’ve always done. And so, if you’re wanting to perpetuate, I think future wise now, I think that’s where hula is now, at the lineage state, at a place of lineage.  Like, what are you passing on; yeah?  So, my thought is: Do you mix both styles together, or do you carry this lineage through and make sure that your students now understand that you learned from this?  And this would be part of your koi or your—

 

Are you allowed to combine your own mana with that, with someone else’s?

 

See?  I think you have to honor them.

 

Ah …

 

If you took hula from them, I think you have to honor them and keep that as a separate entity that moves forward.  When I look at hula, yeah, I look at just being a vessel. That hula moves through me. Yeah.  Lineage comes from kūpuna. And then, the lineages that come from Kohala before that; it’s all of this that goes through this.  Yeah.  I cannot claim I own that.  I cannot claim that it’s actually from me.  It comes from a place, and it moves through me.  It has to.

 

And do you change it, by virtue of its having moved through you?

 

Oh; so a lot of the mele that we’ve learned from them, those mele still remain.  Mele that, like, from research and all those movements, all those things that we’ve shared with you, and what we’ve choreographed now; same style.  The style remains the same.  That’s how you continue that.

 

Nani Lim Yap of Kohala, Hawai‘i Island, has made a successful career as a member of The Lim Family, playing Hawaiian music with her brother Sonny and her sister Lorna at the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel and Mauna Lani Bay Hotel.  She also has been successful as a kumu hula, entering hālau into the Merrie Monarch Festival that have been perennial winners.  But even with all the success, surviving as a musician often means traveling outside the State.

 

The way to make money and to support your family the best, I take it, is if you fly away.

 

Yeah.  Now; now, yeah.  Because they want that music, they want to dance that hula.  Yeah.

 

What does that say that it’s not valued that much in Hawai‘i, in our commerce centers? Waikiki, which used to adore the entertainment.

 

Yeah.  Gotta bring that back.  I’m not sure how.

 

But Japan and who else?  Japan loves hula.

 

China, now.

 

China.

 

Yeah.  Sweden, Taiwan.

 

And you’ve been to all these places?

 

I’ve been to Taiwan to teach, I’ve been to Japan to teach.  People want me to come to China.  And I’m like: China?  Are you sure they’re ready for us?  I’d have to start, like, teaching them from the very beginning.  No; that’s what they want, they want it.  And yes, that is the place to make the money.

 

You know, I’m surprised you don’t have a fulltime family travel agent.  Because I know we’ve talked to your husband a lot in arranging appointments with you and your family, and he’s always booking flights, isn’t he?

 

He’s really good at it, that’s why.  There was a time when we … I’m not sure.  I think it was earlier in our hālau career, where we were booked by Hayden Holidays to go to the mainland, just like for about six years, we would do it. And he’d be the one; they’d book all the flights and everything for us, but he’d be the one.  Like, all right everyone, this is the last day, get everything together.  He gets everybody up, he gets everybody on the plane, he makes sure everybody is … so everybody knows him as Ed, the tour director.

 

Because he did that so well.

 

How does it work as a family?  I mean, I know there’s a family business, but there are several family members involved. And you all play in different combinations, in different cities, at different times.  I mean, so hard to keep track of you.

 

It is.

 

How does that work as a business?

 

Well … there was a time, I think, when we stopped doing the job at Mauna Lani, that we all decided to do other things.  So, my brother is a soloist.  He’s still there as a soloist, which was good for him. Yeah; it’s good for him, ‘cause then he can be expressive to his own type of thing.  And then, we’d have the Atrium job, which would be a combination of people.  So, Lorna would do that, and then my husband Ed would do that, and then my daughter Asia would help them do that.  And Asia learned how to play bass from her father, so that’s her instrument right now. So, all the different combinations. If she can’t go, then I would go down there and sing in that.

 

So, you can always find a family member who’s very versatile to jump in.

 

Best to do that.  Yeah; best to do that, is to keep your family together.  Keep your family together.  Then of course, my brother had his own Hawaiian group, too, with some of our local friends from Waimea and Kohala.  They were so good.  They played all the Eddie Kamae songs, ‘cause that was what their group loved to do that.  Yeah. And then, now he plays with a lot of other people.  Which is fine, as long as we’re not playing.  You know, The Lim Family together.

 

But it all seems to work out, no matter what.  You know, you’re hired to do all kinds of gigs, and it seems like you can kind of manage so many things at once, I guess because you have so many people who can jump in last minute.

 

Yes.  For our regular jobs, yes, people could take over for us.  Well, well, Mauna Lani just closed, yeah, so that job, we don’t have anymore.  For me, I’m kinda happy, because it was from the beginning of time, when they first opened.

 

And they’re doing renovations; right?

 

Yeah, renovations; yeah.  It’s gonna for a year and a half, I think, or almost two years. Something like that.  Yeah; so you know, we just have just the Mauna Kea show, and that’s all taken cared of.

 

Which means you can all travel more.

 

We can all travel more.  So, if Lorna goes away, then we have another emcee that we bring in from O‘ahu to do that.  And then, yeah.  And I’ve not gone back to that show for a while.  Yeah.  That is our show, though, but I’ve not gone there, ‘cause they’e good.

 

And what do you do instead?

 

I just hang out at home until somebody calls me to go to Japan.  No.

 

I just figure out when to go.  Like, at least every other month, I’m going to Japan. But if you met my students, they’re like Hawaiians.  They have so much aloha.  You know. And a lot of aloha for the culture. Yeah.

 

You’ve been with them a long time?

 

Long time.  Long time, they’ve been my students.

 

Why do you think Japan has embraced hula so closely?

 

Ooh; I think at first, it was, what they saw is what they liked.  Yeah? And then … gosh, I’m not sure.  I just think they just love everything about our hula.  The costumes, the flowers, the leis, the movements, you know, and some really want to graduate knowing, you know, hula as part of their lineage, you know.  So, I think they’re just moved by it.

 

And you know, Japan is very proud of its own lineage.  They’re very much into the past, as well.  So, to be so interested in another culture’s past, and to practice it.

 

Yeah.  And then, when we go over there, they want us to go to their temples.  Go to our temple, and could you do a blessing? What are you saying?  What is a blessing?  Maybe oli?  I said: Ooh, okay.  And then maybe do a dance.  Now, when you come to that kind of thought like in their temples, yeah, they’re wanting us to do their kind of culture, I had to stop and sit back, and think about. What is my purpose?  What am I going to leave or change in that space, that is going to make a difference?  Why are you wanting me to do this; yeah?  So, everything would have purpose and intention.

 

Have you ever thought of staying there for an extended period?

 

I thought about it.  I thought about living there.  And then, I thought: No, I wouldn’t like it.  And here’s the thing, is that if you live there, people will get your place, they’ll rent it, they’ll make sure it’s there, they’ll get you places to go and make a studio.  It’s amazing how much kōkua you can get from Japanese who want to …

 

They’ll take care of you because of what you do.

 

Who want to be able to learn hula.  Like, it’s almost amazing.  Then I said: No, I don’t think so.

 

They have so much hunger for it.

 

Yeah; it’s amazing.

 

I see in your career, you know, you’ve done very natural things.  I mean, you know, you’ve learned to research.  I mean, everything seems like, okay, that’s a good opportunity, I’ll take it, I’ll move into that.  But going to Japan doesn’t seem like a natural … you know. But it is, in terms of how the world has become.  Because Hawaii doesn’t put that kind of premium on the hula.

 

That’s true.  I was thirty-five years old, I think, was my first time to Japan.  And oh, my god, we loved it.  My mother went, too.  Was the first time in snow; fell on the ground.  My mother ran outside and she said: Oh, my god, it’s snow.  And we were like, so cold.  My mother was still out there, taking pictures of her in the snow. Well, we’re just not used to, to those kinds of things; yeah?  But that was our first time we ever went, was way up in Fukushima.  And we went for three weeks, four weeks.  That was hard.  Was hard, ‘cause we wanted to go back home so bad.

 

And yet you love the place, too.

 

And—yeah.

 

Yeah.

 

But that’s how long we’ve been going.  A long time.

 

That’s right.  So much travel.

 

Yeah; a long time.  And from that one event, our very first event, we had several people who wanted to be sensei who came to see us.  And now, they’re great sensei of hula in Japan.

 

Wow.

 

Yeah.  They have some of the biggest hālau.

 

What are your predictions for the future for hālau, and for The Lim Family?

 

Lim Family, we have another generation of musicians and dancers.

 

Who are they?  Who are your dancers and musicians?

 

Well, of course, Asia.

 

Your daughter.

 

Yeah.

 

Your son.

 

And Manaola, of course.

 

Nani Lim Yap’s son, Manaola Yap, is a widely known fashion designer.  He learned costuming from his mother, researching and designing fabrics to tell the stories of the dances and chants.

 

You know, he sings as well, he writes as well too. And of course, Asia plays the bass, she can sing as well, she sings with all of us.  Anuhea, my brother’s daughter, she plays slack key.  So, that’s another.  And then, of course, Lorna’s children are the two.  This past weekend was Keiki Merrie Monarch, and her youngest daughter won third place, and her hālau won third place.  And so, lots of hula.  The future is really wide open.

 

Mahalo to Nani Lim Yap of Hawai‘i Island, for sharing her Kohala style. 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.

 

No Kohala Ka Makani ʻĀpaʻapaʻa

 

by Sarah Pule

No Kohala ka makani ʻĀpaʻapaʻa

Ua kaulana ʻoe a haʻaheo

Ka nuku aʻo nākānaka

Ua piha hoʻi me ke aloha

 

No Kohala ka makani ʻĀpaʻapaʻa

Ua kaulana ʻoe a haʻaheo

Ka nuku aʻo nākānaka

Ua piha hoʻi me ke aloha

 

Ke aloha ʻāina ua ʻike ʻia

Ke aloha poina ʻole a kākou

Hoʻomanaʻo aʻe e lāe nākūpuna

ʻO ke aloha ʻo ia mau lā

 

Huli aku nānāi ka ulu hala

E kau mai ana lāi luna

Me Kona nani uluwehiwehi …

 

 

 

FINDING YOUR ROOTS
Roots in Politics

FINDING YOUR ROOTS: Roots in Politics. Tulsi Gabbard

 

Host Henry Louis Gates, Jr. explores the diverse family histories of politicians Paul Ryan, Tulsi Gabbard and Marco Rubio. They each see a shared vision of the great American melting pot reflected in their ancestors’ stories.

 

Preview

 

 

 

GENEALOGY ROADSHOW
Houston

 

Follow a diverse cast of participants on an emotional journey who use history and science to uncover their fascinating family stories. Each individual’s past is a link to a larger community history, revealing the rich cultural tapestry of America.

 

Houston
Investigate a re-enactor’s Texas roots; learn about Andersonville prison; find out if a black man’s ancestors fought for the Confederacy; and uncover one woman’s link to a prominent Texas figure and another’s connection to the Cherokee Freedman.

 

FINDING YOUR ROOTS
Ancient Roots

 

From AFRICAN AMERICAN LIVES (2006) through the first season of FINDING YOUR ROOTS (2012), Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. has been helping people identify relatives hidden for generations. Professor Gates employs a team of genealogists and the world’s leading geneticists to uncover the origins of a diverse group of 30 guests. Each of the 10 episodes will feature three guests bound together by an intimate, sometimes hidden, link, as Gates treks through layers of ancestral history, uncovers secrets and surprises, and shares life-altering discoveries.

 

Ancient Roots
This episode traces the family histories of three Americans who descend from ancestors who were part of the wave of Greek immigrants in the early decades of the 20th century. But along the way, the stories of their Greek ancestors were lost. Tina Fey’s fifth great-grandfather survived a terrible massacre and became a hero in the Greek War of Independence. David Sedaris’ ancestors were also touched by the Greek War of Independence. Their home village was raided by the Ottoman military and David’s great-grand-aunt was taken captive – never to see her family again. George Stephanopoulos’ family was willing to sacrifice themselves in the struggle against the Nazi occupation of Greece during World War I.

 

 

FINDING YOUR ROOTS
We Come From People

 

From AFRICAN AMERICAN LIVES (2006) through the first season of FINDING YOUR ROOTS (2012), Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. has been helping people identify relatives hidden for generations. Professor Gates employs a team of genealogists and the world’s leading geneticists to uncover the origins of a diverse group of 30 guests. Each of the 10 episodes will feature three guests bound together by an intimate, sometimes hidden, link, as Gates treks through layers of ancestral history, uncovers secrets and surprises, and shares life-altering discoveries.

 

We Come From People
Trace three guests’ roots into the heart of slavery, revealing that there is no singular narrative and challenging preconceptions of an era that profoundly shaped our nation’s sense of itself. Hip-hop artist Nas discovers a web of his slave ancestors and their intimate relationship with their slave master; award-winning actress Angela Bassett comes to know ancestors whose slave family tragedy is rivaled only by a triumphant emancipation story; and presidential advisor Valerie Jarrett goes back in time more than 200 years to meet a formidable line-up of free people of color – all of them of trailblazers.

 

 

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