career

ROADTRIP NATION
Setting Course in Hawai‘i: Don’t Forget Where You Came From

 

Take an excursion through the Hawaiian Islands with Traven, Tehani, and Keakealani, three college students from Hawaii who share a common goal: to harness their enthusiasm for the fields of science, technology, engineering, the arts, and math (STEAM), and direct it towards positively shaping their state’s future. As they explore the global impact being made in their own backyards, they gradually realize that as long as they remain steered by their interests and driven by their love for Hawai‘i, they will never be led astray—no matter which career path they choose to take.

 

 

AMERICAN MASTERS
Eva Hesse

 

In May 1970, Eva Hesse, a 34 year old German-born American artist cresting the wave of a swiftly rising career had her life cut short by a brain tumor. Interviews, high quality footage of Hesse’s artwork and archival imagery trace Hesse’s life and artistic path.

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Augie T

 

Augie Tulba, known to the world as comedian Augie T, understood the value of hard work from a young age growing up in Kalihi Valley Housing. He started working long before his comedy career, and today still juggles his weekday morning radio program, a day job and comedy gigs. After 26 years performing comedy, he has found it to be a source of healing that has helped him make sense of his childhood, his family and his adult life.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, Aug. 5, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Augie T Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

When people meet a professional comedian I think they might expect you to be on all the time. Is that a pressure? You know, do they say: Well, that wasn’t funny.

 

Yeah. You know, I get that a lot.

 

And you’re just being a normal guy at that point.

 

Yeah. No; I try to separate the two, because I like performing, but I don’t like performing twenty-four/seven. You know, I used to get that a lot. Like, you know, they see me in the grocery store, you know. Tell me something funny or, How come you look so mad? Because I’m like you. I have a day job, and I gotta go shop, with my wife.

 

Augie Tulba, better known as Augie T, has always had a day job, starting from the time he was old enough to sell newspapers. He’s a funny guy, but he also has a very serious side to him. Augie T 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. Born Augusto Emery Tulba, the world has come to know him as Augie T, of ‘Ewa Beach, O‘ahu. He’s been voted Hawai‘i’s Comedian of the Year, he’s won two Na Hoku Hanohano Awards, and he’s sold out the Blaisdell Arena with his shows. He’s also been recognized as one of Hawai‘i’s Top 100 Influential Filipinos. Growing up in Kalihi Valley Housing, Augie T could have taken a very different path. He credits his hardworking parents and the many mentors he’s had throughout his life for opening the right doors for him.

 

I have five brothers, you know, and it was tough, you know. Dad wasn’t the most lovable guy; it was hard for get his attention. You know, Mom was very super, super-caring. But I saw them work; I saw Mom and Dad leave to work every day. And even when they worked, wasn’t making enough. You know. So, you know, my brothers and I, we understood the value of hard work. But was tough; was tough growing up. You know, we never have the things most kids had. You know, my mom and dad did a lot to make sure that we were nicely groomed, you know. But was tough.

 

What do you remember wanting when you were a kid that you couldn’t have?

 

I used to get mad, because I used to see kids’ parents abuse the welfare system. So, you know, like, at some point, I would tell my dad: How come all those guys get nice cars, and we get one ugly car? And my dad was like: Never mind; they cheat, they lie, that’s why, they lie. You know, lying no get you nowhere, cheating no get you nowhere.

 

Well, that was a good lesson.

 

Yeah; it was. But like, at the same time, like, how come they get nice cars, and we no more nice cars. You know, or how come we don’t have, like you know, especially like the latest trends, growing up.

 

When you watch TV and you see all the products being sold to kids; right?

 

You know, and people laugh at the jokes now, but like, I remember, you know, Christmastime. You know, nothing under the Christmas tree, like, weeks before. And you go to friends’ house and get plenty Christmas presents. And you wake up Christmas morning, and there’s a lot of presents under the Christmas tree. But then, you look around your house; no more nothing. Because your mom would take stuff, wrap ‘em.

 

Oh …

 

So get plenty. But like, you know, after a while, we’re like: That’s Dads boots. That was Dad’s boots, Ma. Like, you know, we wanted G.I. Joes and we would open up our gift, and my brother would have the arm, I would have the leg. I was like: What is this? That’s G.I. Joe puzzle. Put ‘em together, you guys share. You know, we was so poor, we only could afford one walkie-talkie, Leslie.

 

We used to share, you know. Ernie?

 

Yeah, Augie?

 

So, you know, it’s fun now, we look back, and you know, I’m thankful for those years. I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now if I never went through that period; yeah? And so, you know, it was tough, but like, I’m very thankful for those times. You know, there’s a handful of people that I really appreciate what they did for my life. Mrs. Murakami, my eighth grade guidance teacher, who knew that I was talkative, knew that I loved the spotlight. And I was flunking English, and she said: You know, you going flunk English, two things going happen. You know, Augie, two things going happen. Either you going pay attention and listen to what I’m gonna tell you, and you going do it, or you can get lickin’s from your dad. Pick. I said: Uh, I pick yours. So, she said: I want you to enter the speech contest. And I went: Speech contest? Only the nerds enter speech contest. I’m a tough guy from Kam IV Housing; I ain’t doing speech contest. But she’s like: You know, you love talking, you love telling jokes. You know, and she spent time with me after school, which I thought was like: Wow, who does that? You know, and she helped me with my speech, and I did Rap Reiplinger, Room Service. My eighth grade speech contest. And it was so awesome, because she taught me how to prepare, how to get focused. You know, and I remember coming in that morning—and I share this story with a lot of kids in the middle schools. I come in, curtains close, I walk backstage, and all the nerdy kids looking at me like: What you doing here? And in my mind, I’m going: You like me punch your face now?

 

 

But because I prepared, I was focused, you know, and there was a confidence that I never felt before. Because yeah, I like talking, and I used that to get out of situations, but I never knew that using that was going, like, take me to the next level and help me see what I always wanted to become. Because in the fourth grade, I saw Andy Bumatai do comedy at the Maui War Memorial. He was opening for Yvonne Elliman. And I went: Wow, who’s this guy? So, I always wanted to be a comic. So, when I did the speech contest, I kinda …

 

Was this at Dole Middle School?

 

Yeah; was at Dole Middle School. You know, when I saw him make three thousand people laugh, I knew that’s what I wanted to become. So, doing the speech contest helped pave the way to what I really ultimately wanted to become: a standup comic.

 

So, kudos to …

 

Mrs. Murakami.

 

–Mrs. Murakami. And what about somebody else?

 

And at Farrington, Mr. Gary Kau. You know, you have electives, and of course, growing up in public housing, my dad wanted me to do automotive. Couldn’t do automotive because I forget which screw goes where, being dyslexic. Just flunk me; just flunk me. Or I never show up. I said: That’s okay, I flunk. And then they sent me to ROTC. I have ADHD; I cannot even stand at attention. And then, finally, like, I asked Mr. Kau; he was walking down the hallway. I said: Eh, can I come to your drama class? And he was like: Yeah, love you in drama. And I was like one of two boys.

 

And what did your dad say? ‘Cause you know, who can make money from drama class.

 

Oh, my gosh. Really? You really like hear what my dad said? I told: Dad, my elective is drama. He looked at me; he goes: You māhū? I go: No, Dad! I was like: No, drama. He’s like: Drama? Ah!

 

Little did he know it would be a career.

 

Yeah. And you know, my dad and my mom are like my biggest fans. So, you know, if you watch any of my DVDs, they’re in the front row. You know, and it’s so awesome to do the things that I did, and watching Mom and Dad in the front row.

 

The stuff they used to scold you for.

 

Yeah; yeah. So, you know, Gary Kau was a big influence in my life. And you know, my boxing coach, Donald Tsark.

 

Now, how did you get into boxing?

 

I always loved fighting. And we had to. I mean, I grew up in public housing. My mom is White, Leslie. My mom has blond hair, blue eyes, Irish, Portuguese, my dad is Filipino, and we lived in Kam IV Housing. So, we got picked on every day. Either people was teasing my parents, or they was teasing us. So, my dad made me and my brothers go outside and box, so that all the neighborhood kids see that that we could defend ourselves; right?

 

Yeah; ‘cause there must have been some much bigger kids living there.

 

Yeah; yeah.

 

Yeah.

 

So, we did good at boxing. I went to the gym, and you know, I loved the whole aspects of boxing. I love boxing; I love the discipline and how it helped me see the world, really. You know. My coach told me: If you train hard, Augie, you going be the first person in your family to go to the mainland. I went: Oh, yeah. And I worked hard, trained hard, I went to Los Angeles, saw Disneyland. And that was it. Another, you know, awakening for Augie. You know, like, ho, if you work hard and you train, you can see the world.

 

Your world got bigger.

 

Yeah; yeah. So, you know, I’m very thankful for those people.

 

Hawai‘i comedian Augie T started working long before his comedy career began. He learned at an early age that if he wanted money, he would have to work for it.

 

I started working very young. You know, I grew up in public housing, so there was a side of me that, you know, knew that I had to get money; I had to have money in my pocket to get stuff, because we never have anything. So, I sold papers, and I worked at Jack In the Box when I was fifteen years old. And I saw: Kapi‘olani Medical, part-time, with benefits, seven twenty-five. And I went: That’s the same amount of money my dad makes. So, I went, I applied, sixteen years old. And Mrs. Kawamoto at that time, who was the director at Kapi‘olani Medical, was like: How old you? I was like: Sixteen. And I was just like: I need this job, I like this job. And we made a deal. I said: If I sick, I call in sick or I’m late once, you can fire me. And she thought: Oh, that’s a easy bet. And I ended up being there for sixteen years.

 

And how did you get there?

 

I caught the bus.

 

What gave you the confidence to go as a teenager and apply at Kapi‘olani Medical Center?

 

Well, you know, I boxed all my life, and so, boxing gave me a discipline. Like, I know like, in order to make it in life, you have to work hard, you know, and to achieve your dreams, you gotta be dedicated and focused. And you know, I understood all that from boxing. And then, in high school, you know, I made my girlfriend pregnant. That kinda threw a wrench in the machine, and it forced me to work. But I always knew how to work; I always knew that, you know, you needed to do something to get money. And, you know, I was just driven to just work hard, and provide for my family, even at one young age. So, you know, that helped. For most kids, and I tell ‘em, you know: You might not be as lucky as I was. You know, I was just kinda motivated to get on the bus.

 

But you were paying child support as a teenager?

 

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

 

So, did you marry after you had the baby?

 

Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. And then, you know, we divorced later on in life, and you know, that was tough, challenging. You know. You’re not expecting that kind stuff to happen, but it does. You know, I worked hard, and I still never stop myself from achieving what I wanted to become ultimately.

 

Augie T embarked on his dream of becoming a standup comic in 1991, after he won an open mic contest at the old Honolulu Comedy Club. It didn’t mean he could leave his day job, but new doors started opening for him.

 

Two weeks into doing comedy, I bumped into Andy Bumatai at Kapi‘olani Medical. You know, the guy that I saw.

 

Where you worked; right?

 

Yeah; the guy that I saw in the fourth grade do comedy. So, I’m pulling my machine out of the elevator, and I go: It’s Andy Bumatai. And I probably passed him like, four or five times, then he went: You like talk to me? Just talk to me. And then, we ended up talking like, the whole night. Guys come up to him always saying: Oh, I like be one comic, how do I become a comic? But I wanted to be a comic. He was my idol; right? And we spent hours talking.

 

He told you: You don’t have to swear.

 

Yeah.

 

You don’t have be profane in your act.

 

M-hm. Yeah; he invited me to do comedy in Waikiki. And I wanted to be the Eddie Murphy of Hawai‘i. I wanted to be that guy. I wanted to be different from all the comics. And he said: You not going make money doing that; you gotta work clean. And that’s the best advice someone gave me, because I’m still working. Twenty-five years later, I’m still working. You know, and so, I’m always going be thankful to Andy. You know, and honestly, soon after that, two weeks later, I bump into Booga Booga.

 

Okay; now, younger people won’t know who Booga Booga is. But fabulous, fabulous comedian troupe.

 

Yeah. Rap Reiplinger, James Grant Benton, and Ed Ka‘ahea. And of course, you know, Rap passed away, but my dad took me to a food product show; Rap was performing. He signed my arm; I never wash my arm for a week. You know, because I loved what he did. And of course, I did Rap Reiplinger at my speech contest in the eighth grade. So, I did comedy. Meet Andy Bumatai; two weeks later, I bump into James Grant Benton and Ed Ka‘ahea. I’m like: Oh, my god; can I be your light boy? So, I was the light boy; they took me on the road, and they realized like: Eh, this kid knows all of Rap’s lines. So, I became the last unknown member of Booga Booga. Did several, you know, performances with James and Ed, and man, they became my mentors. Later on, you know, Frank Delima, we toured together. And Mel Cabang; Mel Cabang gave me an advice. We were on Kauai, and he was like: You’re performing too much; be yourself, be yourself. ‘Cause he saw talent, he said: Just be yourself on stage.

 

Which is not easy to do.

 

Yeah; because I thought I had to be, you know, really you know, um …

 

Amped up.

 

Yeah. I had to draw these huge pictures. Like: Ah, just be yourself.

 

I just wonder how many people who intend to be comedians have any idea of how much hard work it is.

 

Yeah; it’s tough. You know, at the end of the day, you can be funny, but if nobody’s listening to you talk. You know, and like I said, twenty-six years, this year, and people still coming down to the shows, sitting down, they like hear.

 

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

 

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

 

You do more social observations.

 

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

 

You can get in trouble talking about your family.

 

You can. You can, by your mom. That’s it. You know, you shouldn’t say that, Augie; so stupid, you. You know, but they love it. You know, I have a overachieving daughter that created B.R.A.V.E. Hawai‘i. It’s a anti-bullying foundation. My stepdaughter does my bookings. Bo and Taj, you know, they help Dad look good; they do my hair. They both are hairstylists, and I talk about them. They’re both, you know, openly gay men. You know, twelve, thirteen years ago, talking about your kids being gay was like, almost like, whoa. But now, I get stories on how people say: Aug, because was so easy for watch you accept who your kids are, made it easy for me. So now, I get guys, construction workers, cops: Augie, I like tell you something. What’s that, brah? Eh, my boy māhū too. All right. Yeah!

 

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

 

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

 

So, you didn’t have to go ask for advice, or agonize about it.

 

No; I already knew. I always tell people: I knew from the beginning. Leslie, I’ve become the gay expert. Honestly. People ask me: You know, how you know your kids gay? I go: Watch how they run. I was like: My son was—

 

That’s a stereotype.

 

Yeah. I know, but he was flapping his wings when he was running. I was like: Why you gotta flap your wings? Do this. So, you know. But it’s comedy, and it’s healing. You know, and that was my way of dealing with that, you know. And my son tells everybody: You know, my dad, he over-exaggerates. At the end of the day …

 

That’s comedy.

 

Yeah. He loves me, and I’m okay with it, calm down. You know, so …

 

But it takes a while before people feel secure enough to be able to laugh at something or with something.

 

Yeah. You know, after my dad got sick, Mom and Dad moved into the home, and you know, every day, I get to pick on my mom. Just watch my YouTube page, Leslie. You’ll be like: I cannot believe he said that to his mom. You no like use stereotypes, but my mom is Portagee. My mom is—oh! She says the most funniest things. We were up in Makawao at a silent auction, and my mom was like …

 

Trying not bid?

 

I’m like: Ma, how come you get your hand covering your mouth? This one silent auction. No, you can talk, Ma; you can talk. How come they call ‘em one silent auction, if you can talk, Augie? Stupid, yeah, this kind auction. Why don’t just start talking auction; why gotta be silent auction?

 

Comedian Augie T can find humor in almost any situation and make people laugh. But that doesn’t mean he thinks everything is funny, or that he hasn’t wrestled with his own demons.

 

You have a life coach.

 

Yeah.

 

How did that happen and what does that mean?

 

Ooh, man. It was a really dark time in my adult life. You know, I was helping a company. I help him build his company, did really well, and then out of nowhere, he just kinda left.

 

Mm.

 

Left me. You know, like how I going support my family now? Because I have bad memories of growing up poor, that’s like my biggest fear; like, not being able to provide for my family. So, I was talking to somebody, and they referred me to my life coach now. And we talked, and a lot of those fears is because of growing up.

 

It goes way back, doesn’t it?

 

Yeah. And you know, there’s so much good in us, and there’s so much bad. And when we learn how to manage all of that, you know, and I think we don’t ever stop learning. We should be coachable all the time, you know. So, yeah, I have a life coach, but I have other coaches—my wife.

 

And you listen.

 

Yes.

 

You always have, actually.

 

I try, with my wife.

 

So, with the life coach, did you find out anything that was kinda one of those aha moments?

 

Yeah. Oh; you know, you don’t want to ever look back. You know, and I think I learned that you develop a lot of your thinking from age zero eight. And was hard going back, looking at, you know …

 

You developed ideas that you still held many years later.

 

Oh, yeah. And you cannot blame your parents for that. You blame yourself. You know, you drew that pictures.

 

For example? What do you mean?

 

Well, you know, my dad loved to drink, like every local dad. You know, City and County worker. And I remember coming home on Friday, and I would see the blue tarp in the back yard. And I went: Oh, no! They going drink, going get loud, going get fighting. You know, and I used to have nightmares. You know. Not so much the drinking, but the arguments after, you know. And I really blocked it out I think because of that, you know. And a lot of the insecurities of like, why I wasn’t, you know, cuddled by my dad. You know. So, it’s kinda weird how you block that off, but you made this really bad picture of life. You know. Because you know, you saw bad examples, and … you know.

 

Did you consciously change that with your sons?

 

I did. You know, luckily, I have a very understanding wife that goes: Augie … ‘cause was tough. I’m not gonna lie to you, and I talk about that in the act. Because you know, it is. You know, I say in my act: Parents don’t go to bed at night; please let my son be a ballerina. You know, and that’s funny, but you know, we want the best for our children. And was tough, and you know, yeah, of course, you going block ‘em out, because you heard all the negative, you heard the bad things, you know. And it’s so weird, because as my dad got older, he became more accepting. ‘Cause you know, we had five brothers. If we, you know, ate one certain way; Eh, how come you eating that way? What, you māhū? Everything was like that; really harsh. You know, so of course, you drew pictures of that, and you never like be that. But you saw a lot of that in you. So, was tough, you know. But you know, like I said, at the end of the day, because my dad never love the way I wanted him to love, of course, you going love your children differently.

 

And adversity really provides some of the best stories.

 

Yeah.

 

They’re probably some of the best humor you could have.

 

Yeah. Yeah; that’s why it’s getting harder, because you know, my kids successful. They’re overachievers.

 

If you were sitting now in Kalihi Valley Housing with the young Augie …

 

M-hm.

 

If you could talk to your young self, what would you say, and how would you say it?

 

Get ready for a ride. It’s going be an amazing ride. It’s gonna take you through ups and downs, but you going be okay.

 

Comedian Augie T continues to work as hard as he has since he was a multitasking teenager, starting with his radio program every weekday morning before going on to his day job. And on top of that, he has television spots, and weekend performance gigs. Yet, I don’t think he’d have it any other way. Mahalo to Augie T Augie Tulba, of ‘Ewa Beach, O‘ahu, for taking time out of your busy schedule to share 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.

 

Have you evolved very much as a comedian, do you think?

 

No, I think I’m still that innocent local guy.

 

You’re not that innocent, but you …

 

Well, I play that on stage, only because I do see life like that. When I say innocent, you know, I like the stereotype, I like talking to a lot of my cousins. Really don’t take things, you know, serious, they don’t see the world the way we see it. They don’t watch news, so when you ask them a question, you know, you always get that local guy. Eh … You friends with Guy Hagi, you guys do the Cheap Eats. You know. That’s the guy I love doing, because you know, I’m so familiar with that guy. And when I play that guy on stage, people love it, because everybody has an uncle like that. So like, I like looking at the world that way. That very innocent local guy, you know, that when you guys did the news—remember doing the news, and you guys interviewed that one local guy, and you know going be funny, because he’s like: Yeah, uh … He don’t know how look at the camera. That’s the funniest for me, you know. Yeah, it’s a stereotype, yes, but it’s innocent, and it’s fun. You know, so I like playing that role.

 

 

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]

 

 


HIKI NŌ
Episode # 917: Farmer Larry Yonashiro and other stories

 

TOP STORY

 

Students from Maui Waena Intermediate School in Kahului, Maui, profile urban farmer Larry Yonashiro. After a thirty-year career as an I.T. professional, Yonashiro wanted to return to his family’s farming roots (his father worked on a pineapple plantation), but in a modern way. “Agriculture’s been a part of my family for a long time,” says Yonashiro. “I just had it in my blood. I wanted to go back to farming.” So he took up aquaponics, not as a hobby (which is how most aquaponics farmers start) but as an actual commercial farm. With the help of his wife, Patty, and their daughter (who has a background in food science), Yonashiro has joined the thriving sustainable farming movement on Maui.

 

ALSO FEATURED

 

–Students from Punahou School on O‘ahu profile the islands’ youngest beekeeper.

 

–Students from Roosevelt High School on O‘ahu explore a sanctuary for plants native to Hawai‘i.

 

–Students from H.P. Baldwin High School on Maui tell the story of a young woman who mends her relationship with her recovered meth-addict father.

 

–Students from Wheeler Middle School on O‘ahu show us how to make a fun and gooey substance known as…SLIME!

 

–Students from Waiākea High School on Hawai‘i Island delve into the fantasy world of cosplay.

 

–Students from Maui High School in Kahului, Maui, tell the story of a marching band saxophone player who struggles with a degenerative spinal condition.

 

This episode of HIKI NŌ is hosted by students at Kealakehe Intermediate School in the Kona district of Hawai‘i Island.

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Kanoe and John Miller

 

Kanoe Miller felt drawn to the spotlight at an early age, fantasizing about becoming a Broadway chorus girl or a ballerina. The young Kanoe began taking hula lessons, and her goal shifted to performing hula in Waikīkī. For more than 40 years, Kanoe has been living that dream. You’ll often find her biggest cheerleader in the audience: her husband John Miller, a former Aloha Airlines pilot. Just in time for Valentine’s Day, Kanoe and John tell the story of their love and reflect on the life they’ve built together.

 

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

 

Kanoe and John Miller Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

JOHN: Even my friends would say: Oh, that’s not a good idea. You know, if you come from the mainland and you steal away one of the local girls, they usually kill you. You know. You’ll end up in the Kunia cane fields someday, you know. Well, I mean, that was a joke, but I mean—

 

KANOE: They were joking.

 

JOHN: –people would say that.

 

KANOE: Yeah.

 

JOHN: You know, to me.

 

KANOE: Even his mother said to him: John, now this girl is a performer, and she works on the stage in front of strangers every night; there will be lots of people in the audience wanting her. John, are you sure? You know, so there was a lot of … people.

 

JOHN: So, it was the two of us out there, just on our own, trying to make sure that the feelings we had for each other were real, you know.

 

When Kanoe and John Miller fell in love during the 1970s, they faced persistent doubt and opposition from family and friends. All these years later, they say challenges and adversity have only strengthened their marriage. Kanoe and John Miller, 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. Our guests today are a husband and wife who say that naysayers made them stronger. Kanoe Miller, born Kanoe Lehua Kaumeheiwa, was crowned Miss Hawai‘i in 1973. For twenty years, she would be one of Hawai‘i’s top fashion models, and at the same time, and up to the time of our conversation in early 2018, she’s been performing hula the iconic Halekulani Hotel in Waikīkī, Oahu, with only a few breaks over forty-one years. Today, Kanoe and her husband, John Miller, own a digital entertainment company, creating videos and live shows of beloved Hawaiian Golden Era music and hula, with Kanoe as the featured dancer.

 

John Miller grew up in Denver, Colorado and became a military pilot, and served in the Wyoming Air National Guard. In 1976, John says he left the freezing cold of Wyoming to head to the warm shores of Hawaii as a pilot for Aloha Airlines. One fateful night in 1977, as he was walking through Waikīkī, Oahu, he stopped in at the luxury hotel, Halekulani. It was a moment that would change his life.

 

JOHN: When I first came out here, the second year I was working for Aloha Airlines, I lived on a boat in the Ala Wai. And I used to go for a walk in the evening if I had the evening off. And I walked by the Halekulani, and I saw Kanoe dancing. And I thought: That’s probably the reason I’m here. You know.

 

What made you say that? Because there are other hula dancers along the beach at Waikīkī.

 

JOHN: You know, well, there was a lot of entertainment. But Kanoe just has something special. You know? And so, I went in and sat down. And the way she dances, she relates to everybody. But I thought she was just relating to me. And so, I thought: Oh, my god, this is heaven. You know.

 

A lot of other guys in the audience kind of had the same expression on their face?

 

JOHN: Probably. I didn’t look at them, though. I was just looking at her, you know. So, yeah, I was probably Number 16 in line.

 

And it was about the Lovely Hula Hands; it was all about that.

 

JOHN: You know, if you’ve seen her dance, you know it’s about the whole everything. And I just thought: Oh, my god, she’s dancing right to me. And so then, I tried to talk to her, and I realized she’d never even seen me. You know? It was like, I was just another tourist. And she said something like: Are you having a nice vacation? You know. And I thought: Oh—

 

And where are you from?

 

JOHN: Yeah; where are you from? I thought: Oh. But I still was smitten. I just thought: This gal has something different than anybody else. So, I just kept coming back, and coming back. And after I came back enough times, I realized that she had a ring on her finger. She was engaged, or married. I thought she was married. And I thought: Oh, man, I’m too late. You know. But I still kept going. Like everybody else, they go the Halekulani for the music and to watch her dance.

 

Was that a ring to ward off suitors?

 

KANOE: No; I was engaged to someone else. And normally, you know, when you dance hula, you’re not supposed to wear any nail polish, no jewelry except your Hawaiian bracelet. But he insisted that I wear this ring. So, I wore it.

 

So, you’re engaged.

 

KANOE: I’m engaged.

 

JOHN: And then, actually, after a couple years of me being smitten by her, a friend of mine who knew that I really was infatuated with her called me up one night, and she said: John, Kanoe is not married; there’s an article about her in this magazine, and it’s all about The Fox of the Month. And it’s like all these questions about what she hopes to meet in her perfect guy.

 

KANOE: You know, this magazine; it was called …

 

JOHN: O‘ahu.

 

KANOE: O‘ahu. And every month, they had wonderful articles, and it was more tailored for the single young set of Hawai‘i, of O‘ahu. And every month, they had a Fox of the Month. And I was Miss November. And they had asked me: Describe your ideal man. And I did. Describe your ideal life. I did. When my fiancé read the answers, the first thing he said was: You’re not describing me. And that was my reaction: Sure, I am. Of course, I am. Yes, I’m describing you. He says: No, you’re not; everything you say in here is not me.

 

JOHN: Well, I read this article, and every question they asked about, what’s your perfect guy like … it was me. And I thought: Well, she’s talking about me, and obviously, she hasn’t gotten married yet, so he’s not the right one. Must be me.

 

KANOE: By the way, you have to tell the story of how you got that magazine.

 

JOHN: Oh. Well … one of the pilots that I got hired with, his wife was along for the whole time that I used to go and watch her dance, and take people there. I would take them there. I took everybody there. And of course, she would see me going: Oh, gosh, she’s so beautiful. You know. And of course, everybody feels that way about Kanoe when they watch her dance. But she was the one that called me up and told me: I read this article about Kanoe in the magazine. And so, she called me kinda late at night, you know. So, I said: Well, what’s the name of the magazine? She said: Oh, I don’t know, but her picture’s on the front. You know. So, I walked to all the bookstores looking for this magazine. And the magazine wasn’t there; it wasn’t for sale in newsstands. So then the next morning, I called her back up and I said: Where did you see that magazine? And she said: Oh, at my hairdresser’s; it’s a little place called Shear Power over in Kailua. I said: Okay. So, I drove over there. And I went in, and I went upstairs, and I walked in, and of course, the dryers were going and ladies were cutting, and you know, it’s a real female place.

 

Boy, you had it bad.

 

JOHN: I know. And I walk in, and there’s this table, and there’s the magazine with her picture on it. So, I walked in, and this one lady looks up and she says: Can I help you? And I said: Well, yes, you know, a friend of mine got her hair cut yesterday, and she told me about this magazine that has an article about someone I’m interested in; could I have that magazine? And she says: No; those magazines are for my customers. And I tried to think really quick, you know. I go: Could I get a haircut? And I took her aback. I said: If I get a haircut, does that make me a customer? Then, could I have the magazine? And she says: Okay, sit down and I’ll get with you in a few minutes. So, I sat down and waited for my haircut. At the end of my haircut, I got the magazine. And as an aside, I had my hair cut from her for like, twenty-five years after that.

 

KANOE: Faithfully.

 

JOHN: I was very loyal.

 

KANOE: You paid for that magazine.

 

JOHN: I paid for it; right. But then I took the magazine and read it, and that’s when I realized: This girl is talking about me. You know?

 

Okay, now; what did she say? What did you say was your perfect guy?

 

KANOE: What did I say? The most important question was: Describe your ideal man. And I said: Well, my ideal man is a global thinker. He thinks three hundred sixty degrees, all the way around, his vision goes out. You know, it’s infinite, and it goes three hundred sixty degrees; he can see both sides of the story no matter what the issue is. He has to be a global thinker, he has to be a big thinker with big ideas. He needs to have a big heart, and he needs to have big hands. In other words, generous. I want somebody who is generous in their thinking, generous here, and generous here. And that’s what I ask for. I said: I want a life that … watch out what you ask for. I want a life that goes up, that does down, that goes sideways, that whirls around like a Mad Mouse ride. I don’t want flat-line; I want highs. I want highs, I want desperate lows. I want to turn to the side, I want to go on two wheels, screaming. You know. I got that.

 

JOHN: So, I renewed my efforts. I was down there that night, you know, a trying to ask her if she would go out on a date with me. You know. And I told her that I had read this article, and that I thought that she was describing me.

 

KANOE: And I was like: Stalker.

 

JOHN: Yeah. And she was thinking: Oh, my god, how do I get rid of this stalker?

 

Did you feel any attraction to him?

 

KANOE: Oh, yeah; immediately, soon as he came up to me. I was like: Wow, this guy is really cute. Wow, he’s really attractive, but I am engaged to someone else. And I really like him, but no. I’m engaged to someone else; no, no, no, no, no.

 

JOHN: So, I asked her if she would go on a date. And she said: No.

 

KANOE: Yeah.

 

JOHN: So, I just thought: Okay, how can I bridge this gap? So, I asked her: Well, how about if I come here and just walk you to your car? Now, this is the old Halekulani, where you drive in, and you parked on the grass, right in front of the old building. So, all the cars were parked right there on the grass; everybody parked there. And where she danced was just out at the House Without A Key. So, I knew that the walk would only be like, thirty steps or so, you know. But I asked her: How about if I come and walk you to your car; would that be okay? ‘Cause that way, maybe you could get to know me.

 

KANOE: Yeah; actually, what you said was: I read that article, and I think that if you got to know me, you would see that I’m the guy you’re talking about. So, I said: Okay, you can walk me to my car. Okay.

 

JOHN: So, I guess she felt safe. You know, there was lots of people around. I didn’t look too creepy, I guess. Had my hair cut like a pilot, you know. So, I would go every night, and wait until she got off, on the nights that I could go. Sometimes, I had to fly. But she would let me walk her to the car, and we would just talk about a little something.

 

KANOE: Oh, but the walk would only take, you know, thirty seconds.

 

JOHN: Yeah; the first week, the walk was like, just thirty steps. But after the first month, I think it was probably taking about an hour to get to the car.

 

KANOE: Yeah.

 

JOHN: And we could talk about anything. You know, we weren’t in a rush. She wasn’t in a rush, and of course, I wasn’t in a rush.

 

KANOE: And I really enjoyed talking to him. And we had a lot of things in common. You know, lot of interests that were the same. Lot of almost kinda the same dreams. You know, which every time after I’d leave him, I’d go: Gosh, he and I have the same dreams, same ideas, same visions, but I don’t have that with my fiancé, as much as I love him. You know, we don’t have the same ideals, I think. So, anyway, I looked forward to him coming and walking me to the car.

 

JOHN: I think I had been coming for about two months, and she was letting me walk her to the car. And one night, I just told her: You know, I think I’m in love with you.

 

KANOE: Of course, I was really afraid. Terrified; terrified. Because I knew he was right, and I knew he was the right person for me. But now, I had to break off this six-year engagement to someone that I thought I loved, away from his family that I love so much. So, it was like, you know, seeing this giant maw open up in front of you, like a giant crevasse that you know you’re just gonna go plummeting down into. It’s very frightening to break off from people you know and you love, a lifestyle that is comfortable to you, to go off with somebody you’ve only known for maybe two months. And he’s from the mainland, he hasn’t lived in Hawaii very long, he doesn’t know us as a people yet, he’s totally from Colorado. These are things that are frightening to me.

 

Kanoe Kaumeheiwa had feelings for John Miller, but was conflicted because of her six-year engagement to another man. In turn, her fiancé did not appreciate John’s sudden appearance in her life. John asked to meet with Kanoe’s fiancé at a church in Kailua, Windward Oahu, to sort out the difficult situation. John sought the advice of the church’s brand new priest, and after several hours of counseling, the priest had some advice for the three of them.

 

JOHN: He came up with the solution and he said: Okay; I want you to not see either one of these guys for a month, and I want you to go and date. I want you to go out there and date as many people, and as many dates as you can, and all different kinds of people.

 

KANOE: And I want you know, that’s hard for me, ‘cause I’m not a dater. You know, I’m really a one guy kinda woman. And I don’t like to date, and I feel very uncomfortable. But I did it. And he also told me: I want you to go on Kailua Beach, and I want you to take these long walks, and I want you to spend a lot of time by yourself, and I want you to think about things. So, I followed his advice. And one of the things I realized is—oh, and the priest also said: I’ve asked both your suitors to stay away from you, and give you space and give you time. And I said: Okay. So, I did; I spent one month totally by myself. Ooh; I lost a lot of weight, ‘cause I was very stressed. Oh, I looked great. One of the things I noticed is that he was honorable, and he stayed away. And my fiancé did not. And I did date for a month, other people. And when that month was over, ring-ring-ring-ring-ring; called him up.

 

And said?

 

KANOE: And said: Let’s get together.

 

So, you were clear.

 

KANOE: I was clear.

 

You were clear at that point.

 

KANOE: And I had to say to my fiancé, it’s finished, and I had to break it off.

 

A year later, in 1979, still facing skepticism and opposition from family and friends about their relationship, John Miller married Kanoe Lehua Kaumeheiwa. Kanoe said that in the early days of their relationship, only one friend and one coworker supported their decision. Without wavering, the couple set out on their dream honeymoon across the U.S. continent, visiting more than thirty states.

 

JOHN: We were both gonna take three months off, and drive around the United States. And I had an old Corvette, and so we decided, let’s do this Route 66 thing.

 

KANOE: Well, we grew up watching Route 66; yeah? In the 60s. And for the two of us, we found out that was like our dream life, to be vagabonds, to be in this open convertible, to travel untraveled roads, or highways or paths that had never been taken. If you look on the map of the United States, it’s all these main highways and other main roads. But then, there’s these blue highways. The blue highways are the path that nobody takes; it’s the ones that go through the back areas. We were quite interested in taking those roads. And that’s what we did for three months.

 

JOHN: So, we planned that. And the wedding came, we took care of all that. And then I shipped my car over to the mainland, and then we headed out.

 

KANOE: Yeah.

 

Life was good, and the marriage seemed ideal. So much so, that friends would often call them Miss Hawai‘i and Captain Aloha. But life has a way of not going according to plan, and the couple confronted a series of major financial and personal challenges, including the 2008 collapse of John’s employer, Aloha Airlines. However, Kanoe and John say the obstacles they faced made their relationship stronger.

 

KANOE: I thought: I’m marrying an airline pilot, life is grand, I’m going to have children. Someday, he’ll retire at age sixty. We’ll take up golf, we’ll go on cruises. Oh, this is lovely. Right? And lots of things happened along the way that didn’t happen, and we didn’t have children. Lots of things fell apart. But not us. I think one of the turning points in our life was … well, the main thing is when Aloha Airlines went down. Basically, everyone was out of a job, including him. And we had losses. We lost pensions, healthcare. Let’s just say we were living here; everything dropped. The level of our revenue stream went from here to … there. And we didn’t know what we were gonna do. All he knew was to fly; he was an airline pilot. All I was, was a hula dancer. He was about fifty-five years old; he was not at an age where airlines might want to pick him up. Mandatory retirement age at the time was sixty; he was fifty-five. I highly doubt an airline would pick him up. We were faced with who are we, and what do we want to do? And we decided that we were gonna stick together, and we were gonna put our talents together, and we were going to do a business together. And that’s what it is. And the business is that we became a digital entertainment company. And that was hard because, you know, I don’t know anything about business; he doesn’t either. We really had to teach ourselves.

 

JOHN: It’s storytelling. It’s what you do. What she does is with the compositions, the musicians, and through the art of hula. And there is such a wonderful history in Hawai‘i ever since David Kalakaua got interested in the ukulele, up until, you know, Kui Lee wrote I’ll Remember You. There’s just a huge repertoire of storytelling. And it shouldn’t be lost; it should be perpetuated and continued.

 

Lovely hula hands, telling of the rains in the valley, and the swirling winds over the pali. Lovely hula hands.

 

There’s a feeling deep in my heart, stabbing at me just like a dart. It’s a feeling heavenly.

 

KANOE: We created the DVD to preserve that kind of storytelling through hula. So, I had to choose ten of my favorite hulas to dance to from that Golden Era. I have many, but I had to focus it down to ten. So, we created the DVD. And then, the next thing we noticed is that DVD sales several years later started to drop off, and people now wanted downloadable things. Okay?

 

So you have to learn that.

 

KANOE: So, we have to learn that. And that’s where he taught himself, and he also went to all the outreach classes, the Pacific New Media classes at the University of Hawai‘i. He taught himself websites, and he taught himself how to write an app.

 

So, you had to learn about yourselves individually, and then what you could deal with as a couple.

 

KANOE: Yes. We both wear different hats. Sometimes, he wears the creative hat, where he’s doing layouts and editing. And sometimes, I wear the bean-counter hat. You know, I do all the accounting and the bookkeeping. And then, sometimes, we switch; he becomes the CFO, where he thinks about the large picture of our finances and which way we’re going, and I do the creative, which is choreographing dances or writing articles for our magazine. So, we switch all the time. You’re asking: What are the challenges there? To communicate. Constantly. And to share roles, and to, I think, respect what each person brings to the table. That, I think. We don’t do anything, unless we pass it by each other. Emails where we must answer somebody, a business question; we both discuss it first at length, and then he usually composes the email, and then I have to approve it. So, everything we do is done with complete communication.

 

Any tips for people who are about to set off into the unknown land of marriage?

 

KANOE: You’ve gotta really count to ten before you speak.

 

JOHN: If you’re mad at each other.

 

KANOE: If you’re mad at each other. I didn’t do that so much when we first got married. I’ve learned to do that. You know, just take a deep breath and count to ten, leave the room. You want to say something, but you don’t. You just don’t say it. Wait. And it’ll calm down, and then it’ll go away. Respect the person. Very important.

 

JOHN: That’s the most important thing.

 

KANOE: Yeah.

 

JOHN: Even if you’re mad, and the person is doing something you don’t like, you still need to back off and remember who it is that you fell in love with.

 

KANOE: Yeah.

 

JOHN: And that that’s still there, that person is still there. And that’s more important than you winning your argument.

 

KANOE: Uh-huh.

 

Do you still think of each other the way you used to when you were courting?

 

JOHN: I like more things about her now than I did when I fell in love with her. When you find out that someone also has determination and courage, and stick-to-itiveness, and a bunch of other characteristics that you really weren’t thinking about when you’re like, going on your first couple dates, it’s just a bonus.

 

KANOE: When we have gone through the hard times, which we certainly have, to see his gumption, his positive thinking, his optimism, his drive, is something I really like. Which I didn’t know he had that.

 

As I speak in early 2018, you can still see Kanoe Miller grace the outdoor stage twice a week at Halekulani’s House Without A Key. And Kanoe and John Miller, who have always defied the naysayers, have expanded the reach of their live hula productions with performances in Japan. With digital storytelling, they continue to share the charm and beauty of old Waikiki and Hawai‘i with the world. Mahalo to this dynamic and committed couple, Kanoe and John Miller of Kāne‘ohe, Oahu. And thank you, for joining us for this edition of Long Story Short on PBS Hawai‘i. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha nui.

 

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

 

JOHN: When you are confronted with the naysayers or the negative personalities, or people who say you can’t do that, I think that gives us the strength to show them.

 

It’s inspiration.

 

KANOE: It’s inspiration.

 

JOHN: It’s inspiration, you know. You can get beaten down by naysayers, or you can become more strong. And I think that’s all the way through our lives together.

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Community Stewards

 

This special features three previous “Long Story Short” guests whose personal values and passion for community have informed their career paths: Dr. Elliot Kalauawa, Chief Medical Officer at Waikiki Health; Dr. Kent Keith, President of the Pacific Rim Christian University; and Connie Mitchell, Executive Director of the Institute for Human Services.

 

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

 

Community Stewards Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

Maybe because I’ve been given so much, and I feel so blessed, that for one, I think everyone … it’s a basic need, a basic right, you know, to have healthcare. And I really want to make sure that people are afforded that opportunity.

 

It’s real sad, because we’ve got this population of patients that cannot get the things they need, and yet, we’re surrounded by wealth in this land. But we never give up, we never turn our back, we never say we can’t do it. We still do what we can.

 

I like to say servant leadership is about identifying and meeting the needs of others, rather than acquiring power, wealth, and fame for yourself.

 

All three speakers are in professions that uplift members of our community. And it isn’t just a job for any of them. Rather, it’s an extension of the deeply-held values that guide their lives. Community stewards, 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. A steward is someone who looks after other people or things, like finances. A community steward looks after the members of a community, especially when it comes to basic wellbeing: healthcare, food, housing, safety, and evening meaning in life. In this edition of Long Story Short, we’ll revisit three previous guests, all of whom can be called community stewards. We’ll learn more about how their personal values and passion for caring led them into career choices in which they’re helping those in need. We begin with Connie Mitchell. She’s the executive director of Hawai‘i’s oldest and largest nonprofit agency dedicated to homelessness. It’s the Institute for Human Services; no small task in an expensive state that has one of the highest homeless rates in the nation.

 

My parents, being really open, said: Why don’t you go to church? You know, and they actually encouraged me to go. And I went to a church on Judd Street for many years. And, you know, that helped shaped my own faith.

 

Was it the same faith church that they believed in?

 

No. You know, they weren’t Christian. And I think there was a woman that went into the neighborhood and was just, you know, looking for children that might want to go to church. And so, I started going to Sunday School, and then ended up really just learning so much about God’s love, you know. And that was like, a little foreign in some ways, you know, from the culture that I was coming from. But I’m thankful for that, and I think that my faith has actually inspired a lot of the choices that I’ve made, you know, throughout my life and work, particularly. So, I kind of like, you know, was embracing the Christian faith, and then at the same time, you know, my parents practiced their own cultural practices and faith. So … I think it’s in some ways typical, you know, of people who grow up in Hawai‘i. You know, you’re exposed to a different way of thinking. And I’m thankful for the way that Hawai‘i is, you know, that we are able to … no matter how we think or how we believe, that we’re able to get along most of the time. I think as a child, you just know if you’re playing with other people, you’re playing with them, you’re getting along with them, and you don’t think about those other things. But that kind of childhood, growing up in a diverse community very much shapes how you feel when you grow up in a lot of ways. And so, yeah, you know, I think when I think back to the people that I did know and … in the work that you’re doing, or the things that you’re trying to do, you know, it’s just really great to know that you have friends of different kinds. We are, despite the diversity, very much a connected community. You know, people have relationships, strong relationships that go on for a long time.

 

What do you see in the homeless community in that sense?

 

I think one of the things that I’ve struggled with is that, you know, sometimes I see people that I have known from before also. And it makes me particularly … wanting to find a way to help people. And at the same time, we have a lot of people who are not from Hawai‘i, and I have often thought about how I really would want to impart knowledge about the values that we have here in Hawai‘i. Because so many people come, and I feel like they, not knowing some of the practices and the values, seem to not be so respectful, and really have a lot of expectation of the people here. And while we should be helping them, you know, when in actuality, if you come and you have an understanding of the values, you know that you want to be a part of the community, and to give back to the community too. You know, so I’m not saying that everyone like that who comes just wants to take, but there are some people who, you know, don’t have a sense of responsibility or kuleana. And I think that that is something that is very strong and, you know, just really wanting to encourage people to understand that if you come here, can you be a part of our community in a constructive way. What I envision is being able to try to convince people that they can be a part of the community again. You know, they don’t feel a part of the community; that’s why they’re out there. You know, they don’t have a place to go, and we have to, as a community, figure out how to do that. I believe that every one of those people who is capable of working could work if they weren’t using drugs, or you know, their mental health was stabilized.

 

Those are big ifs.

 

Yeah; but we could do it. I believe that it can be done, if we have the will to provide the services, you know, and to walk alongside some of these people so that they can believe also. Because I don’t think they believe it right now; they don’t think that there is a way out. And I’ve seen it happen, that when they start to believe and they actually take a chance on us, they’re able to get out of that situation.

 

You’ve got to talk to lawmakers.

 

Absolutely.

 

You’ve got to talk to funders. You’ve got to talk to homeless people, and supervisors, and community leaders, and business owners.

 

So, there’s no usual day at IHS. Everything is urgent. And you’re right; you know, we really look at the community as a major stakeholder. You know, we serve not only the people who are homeless, but we serve our community. You know, and as a part of that community, we have people who are policymakers, we have people who are funders. People who are just the public. You know, we really want to help people understand better what homelessness is about in Hawai‘i, and we want them to understand how we all can help them better.

 

What keeps you going?

 

That’s a good question. I think it’s really seeing people turn their lives around when we are able to help them. And it happens quite often, I have to tell you. ‘Cause, you know, we’re always sharing among the staff. We basically do a little blast, you know, to let everyone know when someone’s getting housed or exiting into housing, or they got a job, or they’re really on their way. Some of it is getting them back home to the mainland. You know, we started a relocation program, and that has been really successful. You know, I believe it’s a win-win-win for the person who’s going back to the family, the family, and for the State of Hawai‘i. So, I think just, you know, being able to do some new things, find some new solutions, partner with new people who have similar passion and just really want to make a difference, you know, that’s really exciting to me, to see so many people like that.

 

Dr. Elliot Kalauawa is the chief medical officer at Waikiki Health, a nonprofit community clinic that provides medical and social services to all comers, regardless of their ability to pay. Dr. Kalauawa started his life on Hotel Street in Downtown Honolulu, where his single mother spent much of her time drinking and gambling. Yet, he grew up with strong, positive values.

 

Even though my mom lived that lifestyle, I always felt loved by her. I never felt like she was neglecting me. I felt like that was just normal, to grow up there. And then, because of my other family, my godmother, my aunts, my uncles, they all showed me love. And so, I always felt like I was loved. And that’s why I never felt like I had to join a gang to get love there. You know how some of the young ones go to, or to belong. You know, I felt real love. And that, to me, was the key.

 

Did your entire childhood go this way?

 

I would say it started to change some when I went to ‘Iolani from ninth grade. Because the thing was, when I was growing up, part of me felt like I didn’t know where I really belonged. ‘Cause I was growing up in the housing, and all my friends in the housing were people that, when we’d go to school at Palolo Elementary, they were in the special education class. And I look back, and I think I could have got into trouble with them. But I give my mom a lot of credit. My mom was very strict, even though she was doing that type of lifestyle. Her feeling was, she never wanted me to have the kinda lifestyle she had. So, she would always tell me that. She would tell me: You study. And even though she wasn’t home when I’d come home from school, I guess because I knew she could be so firm, and because I knew she really wanted me to do that, when I came home, I would study. I got all my homework done, then I would go out and play with the housing kids. Her influence was so strong, even though she wasn’t physically there, I sort of always felt the need to obey. You know, she’s the kind of person who really didn’t care what others thought. This is what she told me, and she would tell me this several times. She said: Don’t care what people think if they’re not feeding you. And so, that’s why I grew up having that kind of a … you know, that tough thing, where it’s hard to offend me, because I have a tough skin. And I tell people, you know: Just tell me what you think. Because I like it to be constructive, and to me, in order for it to be constructive, the person has to tell you what they feel.

 

And that probably helps you as a doctor; people can tell you things.

 

Yeah.

 

Right?

 

Yeah.

 

Do you ever judge people?

 

Oh, not at all. No. Especially when I look at, you know, my lifestyle, what I grew up in. There’s no point judging anybody. Because on the surface, we might be different, but below the surface, we’re all the same. One of the things like to tell students and residents at our clinic, ‘cause we see homeless patients, I tell them; I say: If you take a homeless person, put him in one exam room, tell him to undress, and you’ll be back in to examine him, you take another person, say, a doctor or lawyer, tell him to undress, you’ll come back in and examine them. And this is where people who have a stereotype about the homeless won’t really understand. So, if you did that, and then you go back into either room, sometimes you can’t tell who the doctor or who the homeless person is. Because the homeless person has the same desires. And some of them are very clean, they’re not like what the stereotype you always see. I mean, there’s some that are dirty and, you know, don’t shower. But some are very clean, some are very educated; they just had bad things happen to them, you know, are very intelligent. So, that’s why I was raised never judging people.

 

You really can’t cure everything that’s wrong with them.

 

No. One of the things in medicine, especially in my field, you know, internal medicine, because we’re a primary care field is, if the patients can come in and just talk to someone about their problems, it’s amazing how much good it does. Because I have patients who will come in, and I just let them talk. They talk the whole visit. At the end of the visit, I haven’t given any recommendations, and they’ll tell me: I feel so much better. And that, to me, is the joy. But I just enjoy the interaction so much, even though I know that medicine today is limited on how we can help them. The point is, I just enjoy that interaction so much, I don’t get frustrated. The patients that I see, in general, a lot of them are from the same background that I’m from. So, that’s more so. In fact, two homeless patients I saw over the years were kids I grew up with. One of them, I saw his name in the chart, and I went in, and he didn’t know who he was gonna see, and he had his back towards the door. I went in, I called his name, he turned around, and he didn’t recognize me, ‘cause it was years. When I told him my name, he said—and he was homeless. And I told him my name. He said: You know, I remember as a kid, you always talked about being a doctor, and I wondered if you made it; and I guess you did. You know. And then, another one of my patients, I played Little League Baseball with him. And then, couple weeks later, after I saw him, I’m coming into the clinic, I’m walking through the waiting room. He’s with another homeless patient, and he stops me, and he says: Hey, tell my friend here that you and I used to play baseball together. And I said: Yeah, we used to play baseball together. I guess his friend couldn’t see that his homeless friend grew with a doctor. You know. And so, yeah, when I see these patients, you know, I see patients that are like my mom, I see patients that grew up the way I grew up. And I really enjoy that. I remember some years ago, one of the Waikiki small newspapers was doing a report, and they asked me: What is it like treating at Waikiki? And I said: Treating at Waikiki Health is like being in a third world country. And said: It’s real sad, because we’ve got this population of patients that cannot get the things they need, and yet, we’re surrounded by wealth in this land. But we never give up, we never turn our back, we never say we can’t do it; we still do what we can. And I’ll give you an example. If somebody comes in, doesn’t have insurance, and I suspect he has pneumonia, instead of getting a chest x-ray, ‘cause I know he can’t afford it, I might treat him, then have him come back the next day or few days later to see how he’s doing clinically. You know, see if he’s making progress. Because I can’t do the chest x-ray, so I’ll have to rely on what he’s told me and my physical exam, and how he responds to treatment. Other patients, I tell them; I say: Okay, we need to get this test. And if it’s a test that’s not urgent, I say: This is the cost of the test, so why don’t you try to save your money, and I’ll give you two months to try to save your money, so that we can get the test. And some of them will do it; they’ll cut back on different expenses. Maybe they won’t eat out, you know, at fast foods as much. So, we have to kind of plan it. So, our whole approach to treating somebody without insurance is different. So, it’s not quick to do the test. And then, when it comes to medications, we rely on samples that the drug companies give us. Or again, sometimes, some of them will go and ask maybe a family member to buy their medication for them. I’ve been at Waikiki Health now thirty-one years. In fact, two days makes thirty-one years. And I look back, and I say, I feel real fortunate, ‘cause I’ve got a career that I truly enjoy. I mean, it’s not work for me. You know, you hear the cliché that, you know, when you enjoy, it’s not really work. Well, for me, it really is. I go to work, and I just enjoy every single day.

 

Dr. Kent Keith is president of the Pacific Rim Christian University in Honolulu, and former head of Chaminade University. Back when he was a sophomore at Harvard University, he read a motivational guide for high school student leaders. Thirty-four years later, he published these life lessons in a book called: Anyway, The Paradoxical Commandments. It’s been translated into seventeen languages and sold around the world, and guess who often gets credit online for these penetrating lessons? No less than Mother Teresa. But no; she never made such a claim. The book is based on what Dr. Keith gleaned growing up in a military family that relocated often. It reflects his passion of helping others to find personal meaning in their lives.

 

By the time I was fourteen, I arrived in Hawai‘i when I was fourteen, I’d already crossed the country nine times by car. And each time, we went a different way; national monuments, natural wonders, historic sites. So, it was very educational. It was also educational in learning that, you know, we are one country, and we have common beliefs and values, but we also have different subcultures. And so, you get a sense of, you know, within one nation, there are differences. It was hard, because I was almost always the new kid in school. So you know, you have start making new friends, and by the time you’ve really made friends, you’re moving again, and you’re leaving them. That sort of had an impact. But it had one benefit, which is that you didn’t bring any baggage. Nobody knew who you were before.

 

You could start again.

 

I got all these fresh starts when I was growing up. So, yeah, I think for us as a family, it just pulled us closer together, because we were our community. We were the people we relied on.

 

So, you didn’t complain every time your dad got transferred? Oh, no, not again; I gotta meet a whole bunch of new people.

 

No, actually, what happened was, after a while, I began building walls. I began saying: Why make friends if you’re gonna lose ‘em, you know, nine months later. And then, I figured out that didn’t make any sense; I still wanted to have friends, and I still wanted to connect with people. So, it’s all part of growing up is figuring out, you know, things like, what does friendship mean, what do relationships mean. And so I mean, on balance, I think it had quite a bit of impact, and for me, I think it was positive.

 

You made friends at Stevenson, and they went up to Roosevelt with you. But what was it like? You were in many different school environments. What was it like?

 

You know, the most interesting environments, really, was getting a sense of what it was like to be a minority. And my first experience that I remember was in eighth grade in Rhode Island, when the school was mostly African American. And then coming to Hawai‘i, and realizing, you know, we can work together. I was in lots of activities, and that really helped. Got into student government, I was in the band, I was in different clubs, and so on. And so, if you focus on doing things together, you focus on, you know, what do we want to achieve, a lot of the things don’t matter, and you can belong, everybody can belong no matter where they’re from. So, I think the extracurricular program is what really helped me the most. It wasn’t so much what happened in the classroom.

 

Did your father and mother give you advice about breaking into new schools and new communities?

 

You know, I don’t remember them doing that. What I remember was that my family wanted us to behave the way they wanted us to behave. And we were a little bit different. We had chores. And if the other kids were out playing, that’s fine. You’d have your time to play, but right now, you need to mow the lawn, or you need to pull weeds. You know. So, the idea was, it’s who we think we are, you know, what our values are and what we think a family means. I mean, we’re all gonna be home at dinner, we’re gonna talk about what’s happening. And so, the worst argument I could make as a kid about doing something was: Everybody else is doing it. That was not an acceptable argument. That didn’t mean anything in our family. The idea was, well, you know, what’s worth doing and what’s balanced, and are you helping out with the family, and you know, are you learning what you need to learn. You know, they were both wonderful. I was so blessed to have them as parents. And they were a great team together, and we never doubted that they loved us, we never doubted that they cared about us. And I was always proud of them.

 

When you were a nineteen-year-old at Harvard University, you wrote … some ten thoughts, and they’ve resonated around the world. They were found posted on a wall at Mother Teresa’s children’s home, and in fact, she was given credit for writing them. In fact, it’s you, a former nineteen-year-old, writing some very wise and clever sayings.

 

Well, it was the 60s, and I was in student government here, and then I went on to Harvard, and I continued to work with high school student leaders. But it was the 60s, so you know, a lot of conflict and confrontation, turmoil. And yet, a lot of idealism and a lot of hope that somehow, we could make the world a better place. So, what was disappointing to me was seeing so many young people go out in the world to bring about change, and then seeing them come back much too quickly because the change they wanted wasn’t achieved, and people didn’t seem to appreciate what they were trying to do. So, I had a couple of major messages for them. I was traveling around the country speaking, and working at high schools and student council conventions. I said: Well, first of all, you gotta love people, because that’s one of the only motivations strong enough to keep you with the people, and with the process, until change is achieved, ‘cause it usually takes time. It could take a lot of time. And secondly, I said: You know, if you go out there and do what you believe is right and good and true, you’re gonna get a lot of meaning. That should give you a lot of meaning and satisfaction. And if you have the meaning, you don’t have to have the glory. The meaning should be enough. People appreciate you, that’s fine. If they don’t, you’re okay, you still got the meaning, and that should keep you energized. So, I decided to write a booklet for them. Took me a long time to decide whether to write one at all, ‘cause I figured well, people know this, and you know, it’s already been said. But I started writing this booklet on how to bring about change by working together. And one chapter was about love, about brotherly love we called it then, about caring about people. And talked about this issue of meaning. In order to get across my point about meaning, I wrote The Paradoxical Commandments. So, each one starts with a statement of adversity, but it’s followed by the positive commandment to do it anyway. So, people are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered. Love them anyway. So, you start with a statement of adversity, you go into the positive commandment. And they’re meant to be examples of an attitude.

 

How did you learn all of that so early?

 

Yeah. Well, I’ve been very blessed. I mean, there were two major sources behind this. One was just my family. I mean, I grew up in a family that lived that way. And so, I wrote The Paradoxical Commandments. I showed the manuscript to my dad, for example, and I remember him looking at them and going: Uh-huh, yup, we know this, nice of you to write it down. I mean, my parents, my aunts, my uncles, they did it anyway. They were focused on loving people, and helping people, and doing what’s right, and they were not after power, wealth, and fame. They did what was meaningful.

 

You’ve had some very prominent positions, but you haven’t handled your career in the traditional ways.

 

Right.

 

You’ve come in, come out, gone here, gone there. And as you look back, what do you think about your progression?

 

You know, I just feel very fortunate. I feel very lucky, because each job was meaningful; it was about something I really cared about. I believe that each time, I was able to work with a team to produce results that helped people. You know, it’s interesting. Years ago, I read a book; the author suggested that traditionally, men’s careers were like the search for the Holy Grail, and women’s careers were like knights-errant. The search for the Holy Grail, the idea being that you start at a profession or an organization, and went as far as you could go in search of the highest position you could get. But because of the way our society was structured then, with couples, men and women and so on, careers, men tended to move around as their career developed, and so, they would be changing locations. So, that disrupted the wife’s career. And so, when they moved to a new location, the wife would look around and say: What needs doing, and can I do it, and can get a job doing that? So that, that was more like the knight-errant who went out each day to find someone who needed help, and then helped them. I like that, because I think I’ve been more on the knight-errant side. You know, find something that is worth doing, and if you have the opportunity to do it, go in there and do your best. But if we know what’s meaningful to us, then we look for things in that arena. What you have is, you have this dissonance or disconnect between here’s what our culture says, you know, are the symbols of success, we’re gonna measure you by those, but here are the sources of meaning that are really gonna energize you and make your life worthwhile. Can you bring those together, is the question. So, if you start with the meaning, and you end up being successful, that’s terrific.

 

Dr. Kent Keith, Dr. Elliot Kalauawa, and Connie Mitchell; each comes from a different background, but all grew up feeling loved, and now carry that love into their work as community stewards. Mahalo to our three guests, all of Honolulu, for sharing with us your passion for caring. 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.

 

Do you think you would be unhappy in a place that had well-heeled patients who could pay their bills with insurance, and cash?

 

Yeah. Because I would feel like I’m not doing all that I can do.

 

You’re gonna be more accurate and better connected, and more likely to do the right things if you’re focused on serving others, rather than just looking at your own power, wealth, or fame.

 

When you think back to the people that maybe were your mentors, I think back about the people that were mine. If there were not those people in my life, then I don’t think I would be doing what I’m doing.

 

 

PACIFIC HEARTBEAT
Pure Caz: The Music of The Brothers Cazimero

PACIFIC HEARTBEAT: Pure Caz. Robert and Roland Cazimero

 

Legendary musicians Robert and Roland Cazimero of the The Brothers Cazimero perform an enchanting array of original compositions and island standards. Also featured are reflections from the brothers and their friends on their childhood, their illustrious careers, and their perspectives on Hawaiian music from the past to the present.

 

 

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