Leslie Wilcox

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Mahealani Wendt

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: Mahealani Wendt

 

Growing up in the crowded, rundown tenements of downtown Honolulu, Mahealani Wendt witnessed the poverty of the Native Hawaiian people around her. That ignited a passion to help, and she spent more than three decades fighting for Hawaiian rights, with a long run as the Executive Director of the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation in Honolulu. Today she lives in Hāna, Maui, and is a poet and author.

 

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

 

Program

 

More from Mahealani Wendt:

 

“Righteous Cause”

 

Hawaiian Homeland

 

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

 

Mahealani Wendt Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

When I went to Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation, I’m not sure that the most effective thing I could do there was as an attorney.  I worked as a volunteer, I worked as a grants writer.  I knew nothing about writing grants.  You know, a lot of times, you’re fueled just by passion, and you have so much … I don’t know how else to put it.  You know, you just feel so, so intensely about something, and it drives you, and you do everything you have to do to make it happen.  And that’s how I became a grants writer.

 

Her success as a volunteer grant writer led to a thirty-two-year career fighting for Native Hawaiian rights.  Mahealani Wendt of Maui, next, on Long Story Short.

 

One-on-one engaging conversations with some of Hawai‘i’s most intriguing people: Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox.

 

Aloha mai kākou.  I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Mahealani Wendt is the retired executive director of the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation, a community activist, accomplished writer, and poet.  She’s the eldest of seven children, grew up on Kaua‘i and O‘ahu, and now lives on farmland on Maui in Wailua Nui along Hāna Highway.  She knew from the time she was nine years old, living in the rundown tenements of Downtown Honolulu, that she wanted to help others.  She was deeply affected by the poverty of Native Hawaiian people she saw around her, and despite being poor herself, she says she was raised in a loving, nurturing environment, and never went hungry.  In childhood, she developed a love of writing and reading.

 

My father is Spanish; he’s second generation.  My grandparents emigrated from Spain in 1906.  They were plantation workers, the first sugar plantation in Hawai‘i, Kōloa Sugar. And so, they settled on Kaua‘i. And eventually, he met my mother, who’s from Hilo; she’s Hawaiian.  And we grew up on Kaua‘i there.  It was very beautiful, very country.  We had horses, cows, pigs, chickens, raised every kind of, you know, fruit tree, we had a garden. We were cray fishing, climbing trees; all this stuff we did, it was beautiful.  My parents separated.  You know, we were pretty innocent; we never understood what happened.  We just knew that one day, my mother decided that we were going to move, and she brought us to Honolulu.  It was a really different lifestyle.  You know, it was kind of an idyllic life, country life, and we moved to the heart of Honolulu, to the tenements.  And I still remember our address; it was 1278 Fort Street.

 

Fort Street.

 

Yeah; Fort Street, and there were twenty-seven steps going up to the second floor where we lived.

 

This was an old, beat-up building.

 

Yeah; it was the heart of the slums, the tenements in Honolulu.  This was in the 50s, mid-50s, and these tenement buildings, the closest thing that would kind of resemble it would be the buildings in Chinatown.  Those are far more well-maintained than the ones we lived in.  The buildings we lived, I’m now understanding, they were at least fifty years old.  They were wooden, they were termite-eaten.  They were firetraps, basically, you know, not fit for people to live in, but we lived there.  My mother, when she left, you know, didn’t have really the means to support all of us, and so … that’s where we lived.  Some slept on the bed, some slept on the floor.  We had, I think, three showers, cold water.

 

On that floor?

 

In the building.

 

In the whole building?

 

Everybody shared.

 

And how many people were in the building?

 

There were fifty-two rooms. There were three areas where we could do our cooking.  There were kerosene stoves.

 

Was it dangerous?  I mean, I know from a fire standpoint, it was dangerous.  What about from a human standpoint in a rough part of town.

 

It was a rough part of town. From my standpoint, I never saw any danger, I never experienced any danger.  It was a new world; I thought it was really kind of cool and exciting. New kids to play with, new people to meet, new aunties and uncles.  All Hawaiians in that building.  You know, in the same way they do now, the aunties take care.  So, we felt very protected and free, and I never felt any danger.  If you were entering from the sidewalk, you know, there were these narrow steps that went to the second floor.  And the pool hall was downstairs, next to a Chinese restaurant, next to a grocery store, next to, you know, all these different kinds of—

 

So, it felt like a neighborhood to you.

 

It did; totally.

 

No creepy people hanging around.

 

I never remembered any creepy people.

 

You know.  And I mean, when I think back on it, I think: Wow, it would be like, you would think there would be creepy people, but in my child’s eyes, I never saw creepy people.  To me, they were really nice; nice people.

 

And you felt adults were looking out for you, too.

 

Yes, we did; we felt very protected.

 

I wonder how your mom felt with seven kids to take care of.

 

We owned our own home on Kaua‘i. My grandparents homesteaded twenty-five acres there, and you know, the lands are still there.  So, you know, what caused her to feel so compelled to move, we never understood.  I never even understood it as an adult.  But there we were.  It must have been very stressful; we were really poor.  I sold newspapers.  I thought that was really cool, ‘cause I could have spending money, you know, and stuff. I was selling newspapers.  My corner was Fort and Kukui, and I sold the Honolulu Advertiser.  I sold forty papers, made a dollar.  And then, that was my lunch money.  I made most of my money from tips, ‘cause I was so young.  You know, I was like, nine years old, standing on the corner with newspapers.  Oh, poor thing, you know.  So, they’d give me a dollar.  Wow, that’s a lot of money.  That’s what I would make for the whole, you know, selling forty papers.  So … I thought it was great.

 

M-hm.

Again, the perspective.  You know, as a child, I was innocent.  I saw all of it as a great excitement.  It was just a different thing, you know.  I mean, one thing, for example, when we lived in Kauai, the store was really far.  You know. When we moved to Honolulu, the store was downstairs.

 

It was amazing.  I was just like, enthralled, you know.  When I lived on Kaua‘i, we’d go to the movies once, you know, every six months or something.  When we went to Honolulu, we lived next to the theater.  You know.  So, that’s how I saw it from a child’s sort of sense of wonder.  It wasn’t until I was, you know, older, maybe intermediate school, I sort of kinda understood that we were really poor.  And then, as I got older, I realized that, you know, the auntie that, you know, was so sick, and da-da-da, this is why.  And then, I realized that, you know, so-and-so, that you know, we really thought was really a cool guy, he’s in jail because he did this.  You know, so I had a sense of perspective, but it was afterwards.

 

After the fact.

 

Yes.

 

Did you ever connect with your father again?

 

Yes.  We saw him as we could afford to.  I think he would send money and, you know, we’d go.  But it wasn’t very often.  And he came to visit us once.  You know, he was not a Honolulu man; he was a hunter, a fisherman.  He would come back from the mountains with, you know, these burlap bags full of ‘o‘opu to feed our family.  You know, very subsistence lifestyle.  When he worked, he worked as a heavy equipment operator, kind of a laborer.  I loved my dad.  Both of my parents read to us.  My father would put us on his lap and read.  You know, those experiences.  I came to really love literature and reading from both parents.  My parents were very good parents, in spite of the separation. And my mother was very strict; she taught us very fundamental values, and we were expected to, you know, adhere to them.  And if we did not, the punishment was swift and sure.  All of the kids turned out good.  I went to Royal School.

 

Royal School.

 

Yeah.

 

Okay; elementary.  And then?

 

I went to Royal Elementary, and then I went to Central Intermediate.

 

And then?

 

And then, I went to Kamehameha in my sophomore year.  I liked public school.  Public school was awesome; I learned a lot.  You know, again, the common theme of, you know, this love of literature, that was more than reinforced in the public school.  In fact, at Kalaheo Elementary, where I went to, you know, from first to third grade, my second grade teacher, Mrs. Robello, encouraged me when I wrote a little poem for my mother.  You know how teachers do.  It’s so important.  She took my little poem, she put it on the wall.  You know how teachers, you can encourage by telling everybody, you know. And when her students would make a little picture, she’d put that on the wall.  So, she had ways of encouraging and making you feel: Ho, this is something I can do.

 

How long were you in the tenements?

 

Well, we lived in Honolulu for three years.  There was a terrible fire in the tenement next door.

 

Another wooden building?

 

It was a wooden building; it was right next to ours on the next block, and it burned down.  And four people died in that fire.  One of the ones who passed was a three-year-old who was my brother’s playmate.  And so, it really affected everybody, the family.  It really had an impact on me.  And it was just … I don’t know; I’ll never forget it.  We stood out there and watched this whole thing happen.

 

And watched it burn down.

 

Yes.  We lived there until my mother could find someplace else she could afford.  So, we moved close to Queen’s Hospital; same sort of building, but not as big.  We lived there for another, like, three or four years, and then we moved, and we actually moved to a much nicer place. Things were getting better; you know, Mom could find work, and so, we moved to a much better place.

 

How formative was the experience of living in places like that, those two different buildings and the fire that took your acquaintances and friends?

 

I know that it has everything to do with my community advocacy work, especially on behalf of Hawaiians.  The people who made a difference in our lives when we were growing up were the social workers who reached out to us. They were so kind.  They were so kind to my mother.  And I grew up feeling that I wanted to be a social worker.  I changed my mind when I realized I didn’t have the fortitude.  I saw what they had to deal with.  And I’m a little bit emotional; I have a really hard time focusing, you know, when I see that.  I got older, I guess I gained a perspective.  As a child, I didn’t really understand what that environment was all about.

 

Yeah; you thought they were nice people.

 

I thought everybody was nice.

 

But they were carrying all this pain, I suppose—

 

Yes.

 

–that they saw.

 

M-hm.  And as I got much older, and we learned our history and, you know, the displacement, I started focusing on Hawaiians.  It happened kind of gradually.  I was, you know, someone who was intent on a social work profession, but I also had competing things that I was really interested in.  The literature thing was always an interest.

 

After graduating from Kamehameha Schools, Mahealani Wendt went to work for big corporations, first on the continent, and then back home in Hawai‘i.  She was good at what she did, but her heart was not in the corporate world.

 

Right out of high school, I lived in Texas.  And while I was in Texas, I worked for a very large insurance company, a national insurance company, and I learned a lot about corporate business.  And so, I worked there for five years, I worked my way up.  Then I came home to Hawaiʻi.  I worked for a local corporation called Crown Corporation.  They had a bunch of industrial loan banks, they had securities firm, they had insurance. You know, I mean, some of the companies are still around; a lot of them are no longer.  But you know, they were real estate developers; all of that.  I was into that.  And I was like an admin assistant to vice president.  So, I did that.  And then, I went to college.

 

That was good preparation.

 

Yeah, it was good preparation. But interestingly, I started doing the community activism, you know, the demonstrations and stuff when I was still working for this corporation.  And my boss, who was a vice president, said: Just don’t let me see you arrested, or on TV. You know, something like that.  I said: I’ll be fine.

 

You know, so I always like, had these two like, sort of identities there.  I would be this corporate thing at work, and then, you know, uh, the rest of the time, I’d be … and then, I decided I needed to go to school, because I needed skills to do the thing I wanted, which is [SIGH] effectuate social reform.  Working for business was really a survival thing for me.  I had good skills, I had good typing, accounting; those sort of things. I had skills that I could market very readily in the business environment, so that’s where I went.  But that’s not where my heart was.

 

So, you’re taking political science now at the UH.

 

M-hm.  I’m taking political science, and I have an opportunity to do an internship with Legal Aid Society, along with thirty other interns, students at UH Mānoa, political science majors.  And we’re placed at the Legal Aid Society of Hawai‘i at a time when, you know, we were coming into a growth of social programs, social economic programs in our community.  So, there was this quantum leap in legal services available to the community through Legal Aid.

 

Because there was more funding.

 

There was more funding.

 

More value placed on that.

 

Yes.  I chose to go with the so-called land unit at the time.  And in the course of my internship, I was assigned to work with community organizations in the Hawaiian community. And that sort of was a catalyst for my future work.  I attended law school, I left law school.  I was very active in the community.  I mean, actually coming into this kind of work, the genesis of it was community activism.  So, the early so-called land struggles—Kalama Valley, Kokua Kalama, He‘eia Kea, Waiāhole-Waikāne, Niumalu-Nāwiliwili on Kaua‘i, Mokauea Island—all of those struggles, I was there.  I was there. I was not there as a leader; I was there as someone who felt compelled to be there.  I really related to what the people were suffering, and I felt I had to be there.  It’s a combination of that activism and my experience at the Legal Aid Society leading me to Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation.  You know, it’s kinda like all boiled into the picture.

 

Why did you leave law school after college?

 

Well, I had children.  At that time, I was a single parent.  That was part of it; it was the economics of it. You know, when I went to Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation, I’m not sure that the most effective thing I could do there was as an attorney.  I found my niche was really talking to the staff about community; how community felt, you know, what was important.  Because sometimes the rigor of legal linear thinking separates you from community. And I think you need both.  So, I think it would have been fine to go through law school, but at that point in my life, I felt I would be more useful in bringing that perspective to the firm.  And I think that it worked really well.

 

And you worked your way up to heading the office; you ran the office.

 

Yeah.  So, the first position was an interim attorney who agreed to come over from private practice to sort of get us started.  The second was Melody MacKenzie.  Then after, I think, a year or two, the first gentleman moved on back to private practice after kinda mentoring us.  I became the third staff person.  And Melody MacKinzie was my boss for, I don’t know, maybe six, seven years. And she taught me so much.  I just owe her a great debt of gratitude.  She’s the kindest, the most brilliant mentor a person could have.  I mean, I just love her; I love her to this day.  She was the executive director, but I guess she was kind of, you know, having to do a lot of this admin stuff.  And it just seemed more efficient to have me do the administrative part, you know, deal with personnel hiring, firing, that sort of thing.  ‘Cause I had a background in it.  Melody has those skills, but she’s also brilliant; a brilliant jurist, a brilliant scholar.  You know, I mean, talking story as a staff, and it just seemed like, you know, a more sensible way to go.  And so, I guess in name, you know, I became the head of the organization, and then she could focus on cases and clients, you know, and I could just deal with the other stuff.

 

You did that for a long time.

 

M-hm.  Well, I retired after thirty-two years.  So, yes, I did it a long time.  It was fun.  I loved it.

 

What kinds of cases did your firm handle?

 

Well, our cases were all Native rights cases.  So, you know, they’re kind of characterized as the things that we require in order to be Hawaiian.  Hawaiians were being affected with respect to land tenure, their ability to hold onto their lands, ability to hold onto their natural resources, have access to it, ability to engage in traditional and customary practices that they require to be Hawaiian.  If their access to the ocean is cut off, then they can’t go fish, they cannot gather limu; these kinds of things.  The ability to exercise practices relating to their traditional religion, things that would impede it, ability to access their trusts, the Hawaiian Homelands trusts or the public lands trusts.  All of those things became our areas of focus.  We had genealogists on staff, we had title people on staff.  We had Hawaiian translators on staff, because we’re dealing a lot with archival documents, many of which are only in Hawaiian. So, we had people on staff who specialized in translating legal documents.  So, the shop is a specialty shop, you know, asserting the rights of native people.  And we did well.  There were many cases that we did, that I’m very proud of.

 

That was a very … just vibrant time, and also, it was a time of people coming into age and being very proud, and also running into a lot of walls, too.

 

Yes; yes.  And I think with knowledge comes power.  You know, and the more we’re able to understand our history—and of course, language is a window into culture, the more we understand our language the more we understand better who we are.  Part of that is having, you know, connection to land, connection to water, connection to ocean, continuing to keep traditional practice vibrant and alive. All of those things are important. And you know, ultimately, it’s about values.  And as many other peoples, including indigenous peoples, those values are really important, not only for us here as a people in Hawaii, and not only for all of Hawai‘i, but even globally.  You know, you join with other peoples.  There are certain values that are universally exalted as being life-affirming and necessary in order for, you know, humankind to thrive.  We can make a contribution, and it’s really, really important that we be allowed to be a people.

 

Why do we do this?  We do this because we love Hawai‘i.

 

A&B doesn’t own the water, the taro farmers do not own the water.  Our people own the water.  Ke Akua owns the water.

 

Ae!

 

Ae!

 

Ke Akua owns the water.

 

Ae!

 

For all of us.

 

So, let our people live, and let the ‘aina live, forever. [INDISTINCT]  Stand up so that we can make that happen.

 

Mahealani Wendt met her husband, Ed Wendt, through her work in native water rights.  He’s a taro farmer with kuleana land.  Where they live in Wailua Nui, in Maui’s Hana District, is beautiful, but as always, farming kalo is hard work.  Besides her passion for justice, Mahealani Wendt has always had a love for poetry and writing.  Even as head of the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation, she found time to write, and has received numerous literary awards, both nationally and internationally. We’re going to close now with a reading from one of her poems that reflects back on her childhood.  Mahalo to Mahealani Wendt of Wailua Nui, Maui, for sharing her life story with us, and mahalo to you for joining us.  For PBS Hawai‘i and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Aloha nui.

 

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

 

At statehood, we trundled kerosene tankards over rutted Honolulu sidewalks, past beer halls, pool halls, taxi dancehalls, past honky-tonk dives, juke joints, and shoeshine stands, to rooming house kitchens where we lit our communal fires and kept vigil for the one day our nation would be restored.  The torches burned bright as we stood watch.  Our children, listless on tenement floors, their coverings prickling with insect filth, and the grit of ambient sounds, incessant scuttlings and winged scurryings inside squalid floors and walls, we sensed a slow collapse under the terrific weight of a people whose gods kept watch with them there. The minions of forest, river, and ocean gods, companions in these root places whispering their encouragements as generations of children turn to hear, like flowers brightening to sun.

 

[END]

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Tom Vendetti

 

Meet Tom Vendetti, a Maui-based psychologist and filmmaker who has turned a series of unexpected life twists into two intertwined careers. He shares how his unlikely journey has unfolded, all driven by his quest for happiness.

 

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

 

Tom Vendetti Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

People often say to me: When you go to Tibet or Nepal, do you have culture shock? I say: No, the shock is coming back here.  And I truly mean that.

 

Meet a man from Maryland who became a mental health professional and advocate on Maui, and also produced about thirty films, so far.  We’ll show you how his unlikely journey unfolded, and what he’s learned along the way about the search for happiness, 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.  I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing individuals over a period of decades, and I’m still struck by how often the element of chance plays a role in remarkable life stories.  The man you’re about to meet is no exception.  In fact, serendipity is a recurring theme in the story of Dr. Tom Vendetti, of Wailuku, Maui.  This psychologist and Emmy-winning filmmaker turned a series of unexpected twists into two intertwined careers that have enabled him to do good in the world, while pursuing his personal quest for happiness.  On this edition of Long Story Short, we learn how Tom Vendetti’s lifetime of journeys add up to the journey of a lifetime.

 

You were adventurous.  You were hitchhiking far away at age, what, seventeen.  You were heading out with your thumb and friends, and going to rock concerts, and spring break and other experiences.

 

Yeah; I always had this drive to see the world.  And surprisingly, my parents were okay with that.  But it was nothing for me to hitchhike to New York and see the play Hair, or go to a rock concert in Indiana, or even New Orleans to the Mardi Gras.

 

Did you start working early?

 

I started working right out of high school.  Primarily, it was during the Vietnam War days, and I was going to be drafted.  So, I applied for a conscientious objector status, and I only had a couple weeks before I was going to be shipped off, so the clock was ticking; right?  So, anyway, I went in front of this panel, and it was community members, some clergy, and military, and they just interrogated me, this kid, eighteen years old.  You dong love your country?  You don’t want to fight for your country?  And I tried to explain to them that it’s not that I wouldn’t want to fight for my country.  I would; it’s just this particular war that I didn’t believe in.  And within a couple weeks, the letter came, and it said that I was still 1A active, going to be, you know, drafted.  My mother said: I can’t believe that this is happening.  I said: Well, Mom, it’s happening.  She goes: I think it’s a mistake.  I said: Come on, Mom, they don’t make mistakes like that.  She said: Well, I’m gonna call them tomorrow and see.  And I was working construction with my father at the time, so we went to work.  And then when I came home, she took this sheet and put it out in the front of the house, and must have taken a spray can or something, put one, zero on it, which meant conscientious objector.  And I walk in the house and said: Mom, what’s going on? And she said: Well, it was a mistake; they made a typographical error.

 

Wow.  That’s a huge error.

 

That’s a huge error.  And again, I was just elated.  And because of that, though, I still had to serve my country for two years.  So, I had to find a job in the helping field either, you know, doing community service or something.  And that’s where I got a job working at Sheppard Pratt Hospital as a psychiatric aide.  And at the time, I had no interest in psychology.  Which again, it just opened this door up that I’ve been, you know, doing my whole adult life.

 

And you ended up getting a PhD.

 

PhD, and I also got a master’s degree in clinical social work from the University of Maryland.  After that, I decided to move from Maryland to Flagstaff, Arizona.  Back then, there were very few services for the mentally ill, so we created a program for them that got a lot of attention.  And a lot of that attention came from a program called Adventure Discovery, where we would take the mentally ill people hiking and on river trips, and things like that.

 

Why?

 

Well, again, there was some research coming out at the time that it was very therapeutic.  And we actually did some testing to verify it, which started my film career, by the way. We took ten mentally ill people on the San Juan River, and prior to doing that we did some pre and post tests for anxiety and depression.  The filming part came where I asked a friend of mine who bought a new camera back then. We did our testing, and made this documentary film, and the research that we did showed that not only the clients benefited, that the depression dropped and anxiety, but also the staff.

 

That is interesting, because what you’re telling me is that by seeking not to fight in Vietnam, it led you to your career and to your vocational passion.

 

Right; exactly.  So, I came back, and I put this film together.  And then, I became hooked.  So, I was the kid that was very shy in school.  You know.  I would know answers to questions, and wouldn’t raise my hand.  And when I realized through film that I could actually communicate, because I had a lot to say, you know, that this was my ticket for achieving that.

 

At the same time he was building his psychology career and developing his passion for filmmaking, Tom Vendetti yearned to see the world.  And that’s what first brought him to Hawaii, initially drawn to the Big Island of Hawaii because of his fascination with mountains.

 

It gets back to my early hitchhiking days.  I always wanted to see the world.  I had a girlfriend at the time, and we decided that we were going to travel around the world.  The first stop was Hawai‘i. So, we arrived in Hilo, because of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa.  We ended up spending two years there, because, you know, we needed to make some money. So we started one of the first halfway houses for the mentally ill over there, which is part of the Mental Health Kokua system right now.  And then after we got the money, we ended up in New Zealand.  And someone at that point said: Where are you going next?  I said: Well, I really love mountains.  They said: Well, you need to go see Mount Everest.  I said: Where is Mount Everest?

 

You didn’t know where Mount Everest was.

 

No; I was so naïve.

 

And look at where much of your life has been focused now.

 

That’s right.  I had clue. And they said: Well, you have to go to Katmandu, and Nepal.  And I said: All right.  And it was May.  The monsoons came in a little early that year, so people were saying: You shouldn’t go up to Mount Everest; you’re not going to see anything.  You know, there’ll be too many clouds, and be socked in. I said: Well, I came all this way; I’m gonna go anyway.  On the plane, there was this man sitting in front of me, and he was in English, kinda broken English, pointing out all of the mountains.  And I noticed a lot of other people were paying attention to him, like he was somewhat knowledgeable.  But I didn’t pay much attention to it.  And then, when we got off the plane, he and his daughter walked up to me and said: Where are you going?  I said: I’m going to Mount Everest.  He said: Well, would you mind if walk with you?  And I thought he just wanted to practice his English, or something. As I look back at it, I am sure he was, you know, trying to protect me and take care of me.  But as we were walking on the trail, people were just going: Namaste!  Almost in reverence to this individual.  And then finally, I heard someone say: That’s Tenzing Norgay.  I went: Tenzing Norgay?

 

He was a Mount Everest rockstar.

 

He was. And in that part of the world, he was a hero, you know.

 

Because he was the Sherpa who went up Everest with Sir Edmund Hillary.

 

Tenzing Norgay and Hillary were the first two people to summit Mount Everest. So, when I heard that, I said: What are you doing here?  He said: Well, I’m on my way to meet Hillary; National Geographic is doing a thirty-year special about us summiting the mountain.  Would you like to be my guest?  And I said: Of course.  For a week, you know, we hung out together.  And then, when we were getting up to Kunjan, where Hillary was, first they walked up and embraced; the cameras were going, and so forth.  And then, he introduced Peter—that’s Hillary’s son, was there and then, Deki, Norgay’s daughter.  And then he said: I want you to meet my friend Tom.  And here I am, shaking hands with Hillary, going: What is this all about? Right?  And then, from that day on, it just changed my whole life, and I’ve been going back now for thirty years.

 

So, you were living on the Big Island, went away to see the world.  And then, what?  How’d you get back?

 

Then, I ended up back in Flagstaff.  And when I returned, I got a job at the Guidance Center again.  My girlfriend and I split up at the time, and my wife Nancy was also getting a divorce from her husband.  She was working there, so, it all seemed to kinda click at the same time.  And then, we fell in love.  And we decided to get married on Maui.  When we got back to Flagstaff, we started contemplating the idea of moving to Hawai‘i.  Before we knew it, we applied for jobs, landed them, and we’ve been living on Maui now for twenty-six years.

 

And did you say she’s in the same …

 

Yeah; she’s a clinical social worker.  We’re very happily married, and it’s been a good thing for me.

 

Among Tom Vendetti’s talents is a background in music.  This expertise serves him well in filmmaking, helping him to craft just the right mood for each project, as well as build bonds with exceptional composers and musicians.

 

In high school, I understand, you were not just a jock; you were a band geek, I think is the expression people use.  You did both.

 

Yeah; I played the trumpet from third grade all the way into college, and was on the Baltimore Colt marching band.  So, I got to see my heroes Johnny Unitas and Raymond Berry back in those days, which was quite thrilling for me.

 

And that’s another of the things you discovered early in life, that you continued on.  Music has just been a continuing theme, and you use it in all of your productions.

 

Yes.

 

Original music, too.

 

And in terms of editing, that’s my favorite part; putting the music to the scenery, especially beautiful scenery like, you know, the Himalayas and so forth. And I was so thrilled to have Keola Beamer, you know, work on this latest film.  We went to Katmandu, and he had the opportunity to record original music with seven local Nepalese, you know, musicians.  And it was just fascinating to watch, and also beautiful to listen to.  And it literally brought the film to life, as far as I’m concerned.

 

I wasn’t surprised to find out that they had partnered with you, because when Keola was a guest on this program years ago, he told me that he had become a Buddhist.

 

Right.

 

And that his mother, you know, Auntie Nona Beamer, had become a Buddhist, and they both said it was very Hawaiian in its values.

 

Right. Yeah.  Being around Keola Beamer and Moana as friends, again, that’s such a treasure, something that I, you know, love both of them dearly.

 

[MUSIC]

 

And who’s Paul Horn?

 

Paul Horn is a very famous flautist, flutist.  He’s known as the father of New Age music.  He’s a Grammy Award winner and has probably forty-six albums out. And he passed away not too long ago, but he literally said: Tom, if you ever want to use any of my music, it’s yours. We became that close over the years.

 

You traveled with him quite a bit.

 

Yeah. We traveled to Tibet.  I think it was 1992, I asked Paul, because he had played in the Taj Mahal and the Great Pyramids, if he would like to play in the Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet.  He said: Man, if you can make that happen, we’re there.  And I said: Okay.  And believe it or not, we pulled it off.  And that was my first documentary film, Journey Inside Tibet, that was picked up by PBS Plus.

 

Which is one of the programming streams on PBS.

 

Yes.

 

[MUSIC]

 

So, I needed to find someone to narrate that; right?  And I always really liked Kris Kristofferson.  He was a person that I looked up to.  And I knew that he lived on Maui.  So, I had a VHS tape of what I shot, and the music, but I didn’t know Kris’ address.  But I, again, knew that he was on Maui.  Put it all in a package, and I wrote: To Kris Kristofferson, Hana, Hawai‘i, without a zip code.   ‘Cause I was fairly new to Maui at the time.  Put it in the mail, and several weeks later, I get this call from this man, Vernon White.  He happened to be Kris’ manager, and he was calling from L.A.  He said: Kris said he’ll do it.  I thought it was a friend joking, or something.

 

 

I said: Do what?  You know. He said: He’ll narrate your your film.  And I said: Really?  And I said: Well, how much will it cost?  ‘Cause Kris Kristofferson.  He says: How much money do you have?  I said: I don’t have anything.

 

He said: That’s what it will cost you.

 

Oh …

 

Yeah. And Kris came over to Kīhei, sat in the recording studio and did that, and was so gracious, and it was humbling for me to be in his presence, that again, it just kept me wanting to make more films, especially after it got on PBS.

 

I think you’re the first filmmaker I’ve ever met who doesn’t raise funds, but who earns the money in another job and pays for it himself.

 

Right.

 

That’s a lot of money, that’s a lot of travel bucks.

 

It is. But I would be doing it anyway. Traveling, doing it my whole life.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

With psychology, of course, I had to go to college and get degrees, and so forth. But I’m self-taught when it comes to filmmaking.  So, put a lot of energy into it, and again, it’s just a passion that I love doing, and it’s become a voice for me.  So, it fills that need, too.  The editing part became more like therapy for me.  It was extremely therapeutic.  Because of the content and the people, you know, that I interviewed and so forth, hearing their words, and then getting to relive it again through the images, you know, that I shot, I never considered it, even to this day, being work.  The bottom line with making the film was, like I said, I would get a bunch of friends and we would make it slash, vacation shoot.  My wife has been very supportive in that too; Nancy.  In fact, she’s gone on all of these journeys with me.  She loves the outdoors, she loves hiking and trekking, and so forth.  So, we invite friends.  And hopefully, you know, I have a plan, an idea in mind in terms of what I was trying to tell, in terms of the story.  In places like Nepal and Tibet, if you go in with a fixed plan, you’re really setting yourself up for disappointment.  You need to be open and just kinda let it all unfold.  And if you do that, it’s amazing; it often turns out better than the original plan.

 

Is that right?

 

At least, that’s been my experience.  Yeah.

 

So, you don’t create at least a Plan B first?

 

In that part of the world, it’s better not to be that attached to anything.

Oh, that’s interesting.  That sounds very Buddhist of you.

 

It’s very Buddhist.  Buddhism and even today’s world of psychology just go hand-in-hand.  If you get into a lot of what the Dalai Lama says about negative thoughts and, you know, and so forth, that’s cognitive behavioral therapy, that’s what therapists do.

 

Training yourself not to have negative thoughts.

 

Exactly.  And reframing things in a positive light, along with the buzzword in psychology now is mindfulness.  It’s a Buddhist term; right?  I could relate to that on both levels.  This last trip that we took with the Beamers in Nepal to film Tibetan Illusion Destroyer was about exactly what I’m talking about.  They have a festival up there every year called the Mani Rimdu Festival with the purpose of destroying illusions, thoughts, or you know, the way you perceive things, that lead to human suffering.

 

Tom Vendetti of Maui has seen plenty of that suffering through several decades practicing psychology, as well as fighting to improve Hawaii’s mental health services. And then, came a time when his own mental and physical health was challenged with a diagnosis of prostate cancer.

 

Basically, when I found out that ninety-nine percent of my prostate had cancer in it, it was like being hit in the head with a two-by-four, a wakeup call.

 

How old were you?

 

Fifty-five.

 

You were fifty-five.

 

So, I went and had the radioactive seeds, a hundred and twenty-two of them, put in my prostate.  And at that time, I got pretty depressed, to be honest with you.  I was lying in bed, and I said: I need to go Nepal—I was talking to my wife, even though I felt kinda weak and so forth.  But I just said I needed to go to there.  When I got up into the mountains, it was that quiet time again, and being able to hike and be into nature that just brought me back to life. In fact, that’s when I made When the Mountain Calls, on that journey, and reflecting on all of these … you know, the thirty years of my travels in Nepal.  I’ll never forget; when I got back from basecamp, I made it all the way there and back.  I was in Lukla again at that airport.  And I called my wife, and she said: I’ve never heard you sound so happy.

 

I felt a true sense of inner peace, true happiness.  I contemplated the meaning behind all the wonderful experiences I’ve had, and of how the mountains kept calling me.  They have taught me that life’s magic is always right here in front of us.

 

Well, there, they base it on four pillars.  One is an honest, transparent government.  Another one is respecting nature.  And they basically say if you get up in an environment where all the trees are cut down, and the rivers are polluted, you’re not going to be happy. The other one is preserving culture. That’s something that they cherish in Bhutan, and they don’t want to lose it with Western influence.  And the other one is economic stability.

 

Stability; not growth, but stability.

 

Yeah. There have been many, many studies saying that above your basic needs being met, happiness improves a little bit above that with income, but beyond that, there’s no correlation at all.

 

Income doesn’t bring you more happiness.

 

Exactly right.  And when I went over to the Bhutan initially, I was very skeptical.  I thought: Is this for real?  But I came back a believer, and I think it could be a model for the world. In different places, like Norway and that part of the world, they’ve embraced it.  But in terms of Western capitalistic types of societies, we have a long way to go if we want to take that on.  But that film won an Emmy too, which was kinda cool, you know.

 

You came home as an Emmy-winning filmmaker.

 

Yeah, yeah.  That was surreal.  You know, when you’re sitting in the audience and you’re thinking: Well, I didn’t have anything really prepared.  But when the spotlight hit me, I thought: Oh, my god.  I walked up, and there were these two big, giant television screens; right? And I looked up and saw myself up there.

 

I just kind of focused on one person in front of me and started talking.

 

Because you’re the filmmaker who wants to be on the other side of the camera.

 

Exactly right.  Here’s the kid who didn’t want to put his hand up in school, you know.

 

You know, I know that that airport that you went to at Everest is very small.  But what are the chances, you know, that you’d get together with the Sherpa who summited Everest with Sir Hillary?

 

See, that’s really an interesting question.  I wasn’t one of those people that just thought things happened by chance. But I’ve come to the conclusion, and it took me a long time to get here, that things do happen.  Again, it can be on a spiritual level, or it can be on a different plane than this objective level.  And that was a real awakening for me.  And that’s the only way I can explain meeting, you know, Norgay up there, and Hillary.  You know, when I walked away from that experience, I was thinking again, you can’t explain these things.  You know, you just gotta be open to ‘em.

 

What do you make of it?  Because you know, we hear stories that appear to be accidents and random chance all the time.  But these happenings take people to places they otherwise never would have gone.

 

Part of what I learned is that, number one, you need to show up.  Just simply put yourself in a situation to allow things to happen.  And if you do that, they often do.  It’s something that, you know, you can’t necessarily measure.  It’s got to be probably more on a spiritual level that I’m trying to get in tune with.

 

Have you found a spiritual path?  Are you still deciding?

 

I’m always going to be on that path.  I’d be the first to say that I really don’t know what’s going on.  I’m still working towards that so-called enlightenment or nirvana, or whatever, however, whatever term you want to put it in.

 

Have you stopped going back there now?

 

To uh …

 

To the Himalayas.

 

No; in fact, I just got back.

 

Oh; okay, then. 

 

When I had the opportunity to film His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, a few years back, I asked him what the significance of Mount Kailash was.  So, I’m making a film right now that’s focusing on three areas—preserving the Tibetan culture in China was the first question, the second one was the significance of Mount Kailash, and the third one was happiness. In fact, I’m almost finished that one.

 

Well, what does he say about happiness?

 

Well, he said he has no way in the world to know how to fix happiness on a global level, but on an individual level, it’s possible.  And it gets back to what we were talking about; calming you mind, again, ridding yourself of negative emotions or thoughts that create negative emotions, and back to that kind of basic Buddhist teachings.

 

Did you see your Sherpa friend again?

 

I asked him; I said: Is there any place in the world that you would like to see or to hike or trek?  And he said: The Grand Canyon.  I said: Well, that’s where I’m from; when I get back, I will write to you and we’ll hike the Grand Canyon together.  And by the time I got back, he had passed away.

 

Oh …

 

Yeah.

 

Too bad.

 

Yeah. But I was thinking, you know, here I am, traveling all the way to Nepal to find happiness, and he’s saying the Grand Canyon.  Is it right in my backyard?  You know.

 

Do you think that both your career—your dual careers, really; do you think those were all about finding happiness?  Or defining it?

 

Well, it certainly ended up that way.  Initially, like I said, I had no desire at all in psychology.  And I always wanted to see the world, but I really didn’t even know about Buddhism or, you know, the teaching of Buddhism or the philosophy behind it.  But that’s really what has impacted my life in terms of the way I see the world now.

 

At the time of this conversation in 2019, Tom Vendetti has retired from fulltime psychology practice, and devotes most of his time to filmmaking.  He’s working on new projects, and we’re proud to give some of his films a home here on PBS Hawaii.  Tom Vendetti has learned from prominent people in different parts of the world.  He says he’s also gained insight from the years with his Maui patients, whom he admires and respects for their strength and intelligence.  We want to thank Tom Vendetti of Wailuku, Maui for sharing his search for happiness.  Perhaps he’s inspired you to focus on what’s truly important in your own life, and to show up in life, because that’s where chance, serendipity, can take you on an unexpected, life-changing journey.  For Long Story Short and PBS Hawaii, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha nui.

 

I’ve been asked by Keola to make a film about Auntie Nona Beamer.  And it’s something that I’m really looking forward to. That’ll be my next film.  So, I feel honored to make the film.  She’s had other films made about her, but it’s been primarily, you know, talking heads, people talking about her.  The goal of this film would be to capture her spirit, and to capture it through her words, through her, you know, hula and chants, and the songs that she’s written, and the beauty of the islands.

 

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]

 

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Ciara Lacy

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: Ciara Lacy

 

Documentary filmmaker Ciara Lacy was valedictorian of her graduating class at Kamehameha Schools and Yale University alumna is the daughter of a Native Hawaiian activist. Lacy’s love of storytelling and social justice causes began in Central Oʻahu with an electric typewriter, and led her to New York and Los Angeles and work on a succession of films and other media projects. A painful medical condition forced Lacy to reevaluate her life and return to Hawaiʻi. She underwent treatment and found a new source of inspiration in a story about Hawaiian men trying to reconnect with their native culture as inmates who’d been shipped to an Arizona prison. This drove Ciara (pronounced Kee-ah-rah) to create the documentary film Out of State, with colleague Beau Bassett, chronicling the journey of two released prisoners returning to Hawaiʻi to make a new start. This May, Lacy’s documentary will premiere nationally on PBS stations, including PBS Hawaiʻi, on the film series Independent Lens.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, July 21, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Program

 

Ciara Lacy Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

Your gender in doing this prison story …

 

Yeah.

 

How did that affect the dynamics?

 

I will say that the prison setting had more yin-yang, feminine and male energy than I would have expected.  So, it wasn’t an all alpha male situation.  There was a lot of spectrum of gender that presented at the prison setting.  So, as much as like, going into it I had thought of like, you know, whatever X, Y, Z bad movie I’d seen about a prison, that wasn’t the truth.  You know, when you make a movie, you want to show up and own the space, and say: This is how everything has to work.  Right?  This is my crew, this is my schedule, this is what it has to be.

 

Because producers are …

 

Because producers …

 

The synonym is, bossy people.

 

I’m so bossy.  I’m so bossy.  And you know, when it came to working in the prison, I call it Daoist filmmaking.  You know, you don’t have control, and you just give it all up.  And you say thank you for whatever you’re able to do.

 

She’s a filmmaker who went into an Arizona prison to document the stories of Native Hawaiian men who were incarcerated thousands of miles from home. Ciara Lacy, 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.  Ciara Lacy is a Native Hawaiian producer and director of the documentary, Out of State. The film follows two Native Hawaiian men from their confinement in a for-profit Arizona prison to their struggles reintegrating into society on Oahu.  While still locked up in Arizona, the men began to reconnect with their native culture, even though they were isolated thousands of miles away.

 

I never knew one ounce of Hawaiian before I even came jail.  I learned everything in jail.

 

[CHANTING]

 

I always took from people.  That’s how I knew how to get what I wanted in life.

 

Why couldn’t I have learned my culture while I was outside?

 

Ciara’s path to making this film was also filled with her own personal struggles. She spent her early years growing up in Central O‘ahu, where she loved to draw and write stories on her electric typewriter.

 

I was born early.  So, I was born like, six weeks early, and my mom and dad didn’t have a name.  My mother studied opera at UH, and she was singing an aria at the time, and Ciara was one of the words in the aria.  And they needed to give the baby a name, and she pulled that out.

 

What does it mean?

 

It means light, or clarity.  So, it’s like, kinda like chiaroscuro, like light and dark, the painting technique.

 

Oh, that sounds like you’re well-named.

 

What’s your earliest memory?  What was your home life like?

 

I had a great family.  You know, my father worked at Pearl Harbor for like, thirty-five, thirty-seven years.  And you know, I was lucky; I didn’t realize it at the time.  My mother was a housewife in the 80s and 90s.  And it was the four of us; you know, my mom, my dad, and my sister.

 

Did you have adversity along the way?

 

I mean, I was weird.  I didn’t necessarily fit in, but I was okay with that.  When I was very young, I don’t know, maybe five or six, my dad went to a garage sale.  My parents love garage sales.  And he went to a garage sale, and he bought an electric typewriter.  And I fell in love with the thing immediately, because I thought it was the coolest thing in the world.  And so, I would sit there, and I would just type at it.  And I’m sure some of my teachers from elementary school, like, they must have thought my mom was typing my homework.

 

Because I would turn in all my homework typed.

 

In elementary school?

 

Because I liked to type.  And I remember in fourth grade, I wrote a really weird story about like, a drug addict in Vegas.  And I’m like … what fourth-grader does that?  And I’m sure my teacher thought this was weird.  But it made sense, because that was the kind of thing I would do.

 

Future filmmaker Ciara Lacy went on to high school at the Kamehameha Schools Kapālama Campus.  She applied herself, and became valedictorian of her graduating class.  That opened up many possibilities for her future, although she wasn’t quite sure what that future was going to be.

 

When I was little, I knew we didn’t have money for me to go to college.  Which is not uncommon.  Right? I mean, college is super-expensive. So, I needed to make sure I could go. And that was what drove it.  So, it’s like, I mean, whatever college is, you know, like, I didn’t know; I just knew it was something that I needed to do.

 

And did you know what you wanted to do with this life-changing experience of college once you’d attained it?

 

No.  And I think that was the problem.  Like, I knew I needed to get there.  And then, when I showed up, I was like: Well, now what?

 

And when you showed up, you showed up at Yale.  You got a very good …

 

I was very lucky.

 

You got good scholarships, and you got a top college.

 

Yes; I was very lucky.

 

Did you find it intimidating at all, this idea that everyone at Yale could be the smartest one in your?

 

Oh, my gosh.  Everyone at Yale is super-smart.  Are you kidding me?  It’s like, two hundred percent imposter syndrome.  Like, okay, what am I doing here?  And it takes a second, and you realize everyone’s thinking the same thing. And you know, everyone’s coming from vastly different spaces.

 

And what did you end up majoring in?

 

I ended up majoring in psychology.  And I did crisis counseling in college.  And that, I really connected with.  But I wasn’t sure if that was gonna be my career.  And I thought that counseling and the crisis counseling would be good for business.  And that was about it.  But I didn’t think I wanted to go into therapy as my career.

 

But unlike many people, you didn’t stay on the mainland; you came back.

 

I came back.

 

And then, how was the job hunting when you came back?

 

Job hunting was hard.  I had a really hard time getting a job.  And I wanted to work in production.  I like, had a secret love of music videos.  I still have a love of music videos.  And that’s what I wanted to make.  But I didn’t have a degree in that, because who gets a film degree. It’s way too lofty.  And that’s not a real job.  These are things I’m telling myself.

 

M-hm.

 

Right?

 

A year after graduating from Yale University and returning home to Hawai‘i, Ciara Lacy decided to pursue her secret passion: to produce music videos. So, she packed up again and left for New York City to enter the world of video production.

 

And I went back, and I showed up in New York. And I had two thousand dollars in cash, and a credit card.  And I sold hotdogs at the Sheep’s Meadow in Central Park, and I taught the SATUs for Princeton Review.  And I temped, and I interned for free, and I did whatever I could to kinda just figure my way.

 

So, you’re out there selling hotdogs.

 

And somehow, you get hired in media production.

 

So, I had no idea where to get started.  And at the time, I was like: Okay, I don’t have any contacts, I don’t know anybody, I’ll just go on Craigslist.  You know, you can get a couch, and maybe I’ll a job.

 

And so, I was like, putting my resume out there, and sending it off into the ethos.  And I sent off for a music video, to work on a music video as a production assistant.  And with no credits, no experience whatever.  And I got an email back from this guy; his name is Terry Leonard.  And he said: Meet me tomorrow at the McDonald’s at Union Square.

 

And you didn’t say: Uh-oh, this guy could be a total crank or serial killer.

 

I was just like, well, It said the McDonald’s at Union Square, so I’m not gonna die.  And I said, okay.  So, I went and I met him, and we talked.  And he said: Okay, show up to work tomorrow; we’re working on this music video.  And I showed up the very next day, I had no idea what I was doing, and whatever he said, I was like: Okay, I’m down.  Like, he sent me to go pick up gear with a five-thousand-dollar deposit.  I’d never held that much money before in my life.  I had five thousand dollars on me, I’d just shown up in New York City.  And I was like: Well, you know what, nobody’s gonna rip you off because—

 

And he trusted you with five dollars.

 

He trusted me with five thousand dollars. ‘Cause he was like: Well, you went to Yale, you’re not gonna steal my five thousand dollars.  So, I guess that helped.  And I was like: Well, nobody’s gonna steal it from me, because nobody’s gonna look at me thinking I have five thousand dollars.  I went and I did that, and then he sent me off to the mayor’s office of film and television, and I went in and got the permits for the next day. Did I know how to get a permit for a shoot in New York?  Absolutely not.  And I think that sort of like, I don’t know anything, has been a big part of just like, how I’ve done my career.  Like, I don’t have to know everything; I just have to be able to ask somebody else who does, and be okay with—

 

Yeah; as long as you’re learning.

 

Yes.  I ask the question.  And I’m not afraid to ask the question.

 

Ciara Lacy spent about ten years between New York and Los Angeles, working in television production.  She climbed the ranks, moving up from an intern to a producer, and she was finally able to work on music videos and rock documentaries for artists, including the members of the Dave Matthews Band and Cindy Lauper.  However, in 2011, a medical condition sidelined Ciara.

 

Yeah; it was a mystery.  Like, when I first started getting sick, I thought it was carpal tunnel.  I had all this pain in my arms, and in my hands.  And it was absolutely frightening.

 

And then, it turned out to be worse than carpal tunnel.

 

Yeah.  And then, I was like, okay.  So then, I was like: Okay, this is carpal tunnel, I’ll go get like, acupuncture, and I’m starting to do yoga, and I’m doing all these things.  And like, that wasn’t actually what it was.  And I couldn’t lie down, and then I couldn’t stand up.  So then, I was like, constantly in pain.  I was living in New York at the time.  I couldn’t carry my laundry to go do my laundry at the laundromat down the road. Like, I just couldn’t do things. And I was young and super-functional; you can’t like, ooh, what are you doing?  Like this is not Ciara.  Ciara can do stuff.  It took a while for them to kind of figured out what was wrong.  And I was diagnosed with this neuromuscular disease called thoracic outlet syndrome.  And you know, it’s probably repetitive stress.  It’s bilateral; it’s probably from all of this that I’d been doing, and I’d been doing a lot of it.  And it was the world saying I needed to slow down.  I moved back home, and I was thirty-one, and I was told I might have to get a new career.  And it really affects your ability to think when you’re in a lot of pain.  It’s just like, super-foggy.  And like, you know, I was the kid that used to wake up before the alarm clock.  Right? And now, I was just sleeping all the time, because that was the only thing I could figure out, outside of taking the medication to take the pain away.  So, it’s just like a very different person.  And I gained a lot of weight, and you know, it was a pretty dark moment for me.  But again, like, when I look back at it now, right, I don’t begrudge any of it, because it’s helped what got me into the place where I think I really wanted to be. And it got me back home.  I never left home thinking I didn’t want to come back. I just didn’t know how. Right?  And you know, I found myself back at my parents’ place.  And you know, I left very young, and I’d always been independent.  And to have to return and not know what I was gonna do about work and money, you know, I didn’t want to be a burden.  I’d never thought of myself as that before.  And so, it was a lot of, like: Okay, what can you do?  And just rethinking a lot of things.

 

But you say this is all gonna turn out for better.  I know one thing that happened.  That’s when you came back here, and you were ill, you met your husband, your future husband.

 

I did.  I met Chris Kwock.  And like the night I met Chris, I hadn’t gone out in a very long time.  And you know, I went out with my very good friend, Kristen. And she’d been kind; she’d taken me out for my birthday the night before, and she was like: Will you come out with me the next night?  You know, I wasn’t going out, and my first response in my head was no.  And I was like: That’s not what you should say; you should go.  And I went with her, it was the end of the night, and we were about to go home because Kristen’s teaching Sunday school the next day.  And we bump into this party, and oh, it’s my birthday, and I was like: No, it’s my birthday.  And then, we have the same birthday, and it turns out I meet this guy’s friend.  And I had lost my grandfather.  I had lost him the year before, and he always had these like incredible shiny eyes.  And I met Chris, and … I saw those eyes again.  And I’d been so—I’m sorry.

 

I’d been so sick for so long.  And I was just so sad.  And … when I met him, I thought: You could be happy.  And I’d forgotten … I’d forgotten.  And like, I don’t do good if I’m not happy.  You know.  It’s just sort of how I am.  And so, it was so random.  In this moment, where like, I shouldn’t be here, and I don’t want to be at a bar, and I’m super-sick.  And like, this guy I’m talking to, this like idea clicked in my head.  It’s such a small thing.  You could be happy.  Like …

 

And it’s nothing he said.  It’s just who he was.

 

I was like, this guy with the shiny eyes.

 

And like, it was something I’d forgotten. And in the haze of everything, my friend turns to me and she goes: We have to go.  And I was like: Okay, we’ll go.  And I’m not thinking straight, and we walk out the door.  And I gave my number to his friend, and I said: Tell Chris to call me.  And we walked across the street for some reason, and I got a text message.  And it said: That’s not your real name.  And I was like, because whose name is Ciara, I guess. And I wrote back; I’m like: That’s my name, and where are you?  And I turned my head, and he came running to where we were.  And we ended up just hanging out with him, and dropping him off at his house.

 

And you’ve said something about him; that he taught you something you actually really didn’t know, that there was more to life than work.

 

Oh, yeah.  I didn’t know that.  My whole identity was like, my performance.  Right?  My whole identity was, okay, what are the outcomes I provide.  Right?  Like, how did I do in school, how am I doing at work, you know, those are the things that I knew I had control over.  Right? You don’t have control over people. I have control over the things that I can do.

 

Achievement.

 

Yeah.

 

M-hm.

 

Totally.  And you know, I never thought of my life as having somebody else in it.  I never did.  And I think that was just partially just because in was always off doing my own thing, I just never assumed anyone would be there to do that.  And you know, and my identity was so wrapped up in my work. And that’s why it was so crushing when I got sick, because it was like, if you take away my work, you’ve taken me away. What’s left?

 

Yeah.

 

And that’s a very sad thing to think.  It’s a very sad thing to think.  And yet, at the time for me, it was true.  And you know, as I spent more time with Chris, you know, he would say things that I think most people would be like: That’s terrible. He would say things like: You’re not that special.  And when he says that, it wasn’t that I’m not special, it’s that your work doesn’t prevent you from having the other obligations.  The work doesn’t come first.  Right?  The work is part of it.

 

Ciara Lacy and Dr. Chris Kwock got married two years after they met.  As Ciara was still adjusting to life with her medical condition in Honolulu, she found the inspiration to create her first original documentary film.  She would pack her bags again, heading this time to a prison in Arizona.

 

So, I was in physical therapy, and one of my mother’s friends who’s a physical therapist would throw out all these ideas. Oh, you should do a film about this.

 

Or you should do a film about that.

 

I’m sure that happened to you all the time; right?

 

No, it didn’t, actually.

 

No?

 

It didn’t.  And like, at first, it caught me off guard.  But in my mind, I was in such a dark space where it’s like, I can’t do anything.  Like, I could barely ride in a car at this point.  One day when I was in physical therapy with my aunt, she was like: You know, there are these guys dancing hula in Arizona.  And I took pause, because I was like, this doesn’t make any sense. You know, dancing hula at a prison in Arizona; why are they in Arizona?  And like, how does that feel to you, Ciara, knowing they’re dancing hula behind prison.  You know, behind prison bars.  And I packed it away in the back of my head, and I went off to go wallow in my own sadness. And two weeks later, I was at home … on a Friday night.

 

Doing nothing, ‘cause was lame and sick, and I Googled what she had said, and I saw a video online.  And I cried.  Because I was seeing people who, in the moment that I saw, were so far from our community, and were trying to find a point of reconnection, and were coming back from what was probably, you know, without having specific details, really tough stuff, man.  I mean, probably some of like, the toughest stuff one could think of to come back from. And yet, they were still trying. And I saw that, and I was like: You have no excuse; you have absolutely no excuse.

 

You related to them.

 

Yeah.  And in that moment, again, this like crazy click in the head.  I was like, maybe we can heal each other.  And I didn’t know what that really meant.  But I tucked it away, and I thought about it.  And I saw my cousin Beau.

 

Beau Bassett.

 

Beau Bassett.

 

Your co-producer or part of the producing team.

 

Yeah; my producer on Out of State.  And at the time, he was a public defender.  And I mentioned to him this idea, and he was like: You know, this is a big issue for Hawaiians right now.  And he’s like: We should do this.

 

Filmmaker Ciara Lacy, along with her cousin Beau Bassett, and her mentor Terry Leonard, set out to produce Out of State.  The documentary is Ciara’s directorial debut.  It chronicles the lives of two Native Hawaiian men leaving the Arizona prison where they’d been serving time, and returning to Oahu to make a fresh start.

 

You know, the goal was to be as honest about what we were seeing.  So, I almost even intentionally didn’t look up statistics and facts, because I didn’t want my mind, as we were making the film, to be clouded with, oh, this is how things are supposed to go, because this is where the numbers are at.

 

Mm …

 

So, let’s just stay true to what actually happens. Right?  And as small, and as like, humble as we can appear is more important, because the process was never about us.  Right?  This film is not about me.  This film is not about Beau.  This film is about the men who were willing to share their lives, and hopefully, we can do something positive with this.

 

And they were reconnecting with Hawaiian culture.

 

M-hm.

 

In an effort to be whole, and to go back and make a life for themselves.

 

Yeah.  And I mean, you know, that effort, I can get behind.  If you’re gonna try, like if you’re gonna try and nobody else is helping you—this is a very organic program that they have.  This is something that the men developed themselves.

 

There are many interesting themes in your film.  And one of them, I think David Kahalewai, one of the prisoners, talked about how it’s really hard to forgive yourself.  It’s hard to start on that journey where you can change.  And then, for the others too, how can somebody be ready for change when they have known nothing like what they really want to be.

 

Yeah.  No; and I think, you know, first thing to that is, what a humble and like, vulnerable position for someone to put themself in.  Right?  For someone like David to be willing to recognize that, and to share that with other people.  You know, we were very fortunate because the men that participated in the film wanted to make sure our community understood what they were trying to do.  Right?  Wanted them to understand how hard it could be, and wanted do this film to help each other. Like, maybe if I tell my story, or share my story, maybe if somebody knew how hard it was for me, that’s gonna help one of the other brothers who are in prison to figure it out and do better.

 

You forgive yourself for a lot of stuff that you did.  Yeah. I think I had to go to the ends of the Earth and hit bottom to really find out who I was.

 

I’ve been locked up fifteen years.  I’ve been waiting all this time; I want to come home. But where is home?

 

I don’t want to go back to jail, ‘cause I have too much to lose.

 

We don’t live in isolation.  No man is an island.  Right?  And so, it’s about knowing that it’s all about interactions.  Doing better, for them, is important for them to do the work and put it out there.  But it’s also gonna be hard, because the other people around them are gonna have to do the work too.  And as a Hawaiian, it’s like, we talk about hewa; right?

 

M-hm.

 

We talk about hewa, what is wrongdoing.  And how does hewa work?  It doesn’t go in one direction.  If I do something bad to you, I have to apologize, but I also need your forgiveness, and I also need you to be ready for that.  The solution is both of us.

 

Right.

 

So, the solution isn’t just me coming out, trying to do better.  The solution is, I need your forgiveness.

 

That reminds me of what you said about your own life as a filmmaker, which was, life tends to be incremental, one foot in front of the other.

 

I just show up, man.

 

I just show up.

 

And you keep going, and you hope to be in a forward step.

 

Yeah.  You hope everything you do is a little bit better.  Do you always get it right?  No. But do you hope to put yourself out there and try?  Yes. And for me, it’s like, I make a million mistakes every day.  Like a lot.

 

M-hm.

 

But I know that I’m at least putting myself out there, and I show up.  And if I do something wrong, I will apologize, and we’ll figure out a way to fix it.  And I’m not afraid of that.

 

In 2017, the documentary Out of State was released, and went on to win several awards on the film festival circuit, including Best Documentary at the Cayman International Film Festival and the San Diego Asian Film Festival.  Ciara Lacy’s health has improved, but her medical condition still requires management.  She continues to produce and direct with a slate of new film and television projects. Mahalo to Ciara Lacy of Honolulu. 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.

 

Yeah; I think for me, the provocation is important. It’s like, it’s about instigating that ripple.  Right? I push the ripple, and then we start asking more questions.  It’s not necessarily about always finding the solution.  Right?  Maybe the questions help us get to the solution, but part of it is, we need to start asking more questions.
 

 

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Jim Dator

 

As a futurist, Jim Dator of Waikīkī has spent the last 50 years pondering and researching what the future might hold. He’s a pioneer in this academic field and is an internationally respected voice in futures studies. Learn how a series of family tragedies in his early life propelled him to always look forward, not back.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, July 14, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Jim Dator Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

There is a little monument in Kapiolani Park that was placed there at the 100thanniversary, 1976, I think, that’s supposed to be opened a hundred years later.  I have something written in there which assumes it will be under water.  Now, this is 1976, I’m saying that the park’s gonna be under water.  I did television programs uh, that were used in the schools that talked about Waikīkī being under water.  I live in Waikīkī; I’m concerned about that.  We’re still debating it.

 

He offers educated forecasts of what the future may hold for the coming decades.  Jim Dator, 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.  What does the future hold?  It’s a question that we ask ourselves from time to time.  Jim Dator of Waikīkī has spent the last fifty years pondering and researching this very question.  Dr. Dator is professor emeritus and the director of the Hawaii Research Center for Future Studies at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa. As a futurist, he studies a multitude of trends, ranging from social and environmental conditions to technology, and then develops forecasts, or alternative futures, for the next few decades and beyond.  He’s a pioneer in this academic field, and is an internationally respected voice in future studies.  While there are misconceptions about what futurists do, the field of future studies continues to grow, and has gained traction worldwide.

 

I think some people confuse futurists with psychics.  You get some jokes about: Why didn’t you predict this, Dr. Dator?

 

Yes. That’s right.  I used to have a statement: When all else fails, call a futurist.  But they call a futurist, and they want that futurist to predict the future, or to tell them what to do.  And there are futurists that do that; there are people that call themselves futurists that do that.  And they give a bad name to those of us that understand you can’t allow people to think that you know what the future is.  So, we have a code of ethics to make sure that we can’t predict what the future will be; we will engage you in a process of considering alternative futures, and you then decide to move in a certain direction.  It is more of a social science than it is of a natural science, but it is theoretically based.  That is to say, there are understandings the way the world works that allows you to make statements about forecast.  So, I distinguish between predicting the future, and forecasting alternative futures. And we still want to be able to be precise in the old scientific reductionist way.

 

When you’re familiarizing people with your alternative futures or future alternatives, it must sound pretty bizarre sometimes.

 

Well, yes.  Again, Dator’s second law of the future is, in a situation, in an environment of rapid social and environmental change.  In that environment, any useful idea about the future should appear to be ridiculous.  Because the things are changing, and things that are going to be important in the future are not things you’ve experienced before.  So, to be a futurist, you have to not only understand the trends from the past, but continue into the future of what are called emerging issues, new ideas, new technologies, new lifestyles, and you look for them just as they’re just popping out underground.  So, you don’t make it up, you see what could be a mighty oak if it grows in a certain way, or a cactus if it grows in a different way.  And therefore, you have to identify emerging issues, things that are not part of the past or the present, but which might be part of the future, and build scenarios around both the past and the emerging issues.

 

That’s right; you can’t rely on the same assumptions. You don’t even know if there are any assumptions you can make in some areas.

 

That’s true.  But we don’t throw it all away.  We do have categories; assume the categories will continue, at least for our foreseeable future.  But the content of those categories—so transportation, for example, has changed and might change.  Communication has changed tremendously over time.

 

As a futurist, Jim Dator studies the past and present to make forecasts about the future.  As he was growing up, he liked the idea of looking forward, rather than backward, because he and his family experienced many difficulties, starting with the death of his father even before Jim got to know him.

 

My mother did not intend to get pregnant.   She was anticipating a life as a musician or at least somehow related to music.  She was a student at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York.  She got pregnant, they got married, and I was born. That was all fine, except my father drowned.

 

While you were still a baby?

 

I’m just about sixteen or eighteen months old.  Anyway, she had to come back to Florida, which is where she was originally from.  And we’re talking about 1933, 1934, which is the very depth of the Depression.  And so, my grandfather was the town undertaker.

 

This is her father?

 

Yes; that’s her father.  And was the town undertaker in a little town called DeLand, Florida.  His father had been one of the pioneers that had come and settled that part of Florida.  They were sort of fixtures in the town, having a furniture store and a funeral parlor, making coffins from the furniture store.

 

Well, that seems to bode well for the child who now has additional family.

 

Well, people die, but they don’t have money to pay for it.  So, he had the job of burying people, but not necessarily being paid, or not necessarily being paid in cash, but in kind.  So, we would get pieces of furniture or silverware, or other things like that.  Times were very, very tough.  And for me to show up, unwanted, and for his daughter, oldest daughter to return instead of going off to seek her fortune as he imagined.

 

It’s two more mouths to feed.

 

Yeah. That’s right, two more mouths to feed. And one of them a squalling brat, you know.

 

More tragedy struck Jim Dator’s family in DeLand, Florida during his youth.  Within a period of two years, all of the adult males in the family, including his great-grandfather, grandfather, and uncle, passed away suddenly.

 

Dying was not only the family profession in terms of the undertaker, but all the males in the family died all at once, leaving me as the only male with three females.  My grandmother, my mother, her sister—my aunt, were my family during the time I was young.

 

And what was your life like?  Was it a happy childhood?

 

No; it was not unhappy in the sense that I was well taken care of.  But no one felt really happy, and they didn’t show. So, I don’t ever recall being hugged and kissed, and being told I was a good boy, or anything like that.

 

Even when you were a young child?

 

No.

 

No?

 

I might have been, but that’s not the memory I have.  And I don’t recall feeling depressed.  That’s just the way it was.

 

Well, you don’t know what’s normal, I suppose.

 

No.

 

But you must have been a good student.

 

Well, but that was expected.  I was expected to succeed.  So, the things I did were never praised.  That was just what Jimmy did.  I had to overcome that, and to learn to love other people, and to love people who could love me back.  And so, I was sort of a driven kid.  I was extremely popular in terms of elections to things at various stages, but I never was a person that hung out with a lot of people.  I was friends with everybody, but not close friends with anyone.

 

Because you hadn’t had that intimate connection in your nuclear family.

 

No, I never had.  That’s right; exactly right.  I hated Christmas, let me put it that way, because all my friends got all these wonderful presents, which I never did.  I would get literally, an orange, or a walnut, or my uncle’s refurbished scooter. Something like that.  And also, the men died around Christmastime.  So, Christmas, which is supposed to be the big family joyous time, was always sort of the saddest time.  My aunt, she joined the military also during the war—SPAR, that’s the Coast Guard, which then gave her military preference, veteran’s preference for a really good job with the post office.  She never married, never had children.  She taught me how to be a man, and discovered at age eighty that she was lesbian.  But in between that, she’d never made the connection.  And so, I learned to be a man from this, again, not loving, but matter-of-fact, hardworking woman.  And my mother was off being a university professor, and didn’t pay much attention.  My grandmother had all this personal sorrow and hardship, because she had lived a fairly good middleclass life, and suddenly no money, no income, she had to do a lot of working on her own.  And so, we were just all expected to do our duty.

 

Did you ever go on a walkabout to find your father’s family?

 

Well, yes and no.  We were brought back, and I never wondered, I never felt the loss of a father.  In fact, if I may say before I get directly to that, in looking back, I was always glad I didn’t have a father, when I looked at other fathers and other families with fathers.  I was glad that I didn’t have somebody say: That’s not the way we do it in this family.  No one said that to me.  There was no one telling me that we have to behave a certain way, because this is the way the family does things.  I also like my name, Dator, because it’s a simple-sounding name, but there’s no ethnicity attached to it whatsoever.  And it turns out now in this day of the internet that there are Dators, Dator in the Philippines.  But I don’t think there’s any connection to that.  I suspect it was something like Dieter or Datorovich, or something that got shortened to it.  But at least I never had ethnicity, I never had a father, I never had a family history. And that’s one of the reasons I became a futurist, I think.

 

Because?

 

Because I didn’t have a past that was telling me how to behave.  I needed to find my own identity.

 

As a young adult, Jim Dator continued to look forward, while studying the past.  He graduated with a degree in ancient and medieval history and philosophy at Stetson University in DeLand, Florida, where his mother was a professor. He then earned a PhD in political science at the American University in Washington, D.C., and briefly considered becoming a priest, before deciding to center his career on teaching.

 

My very first job as a teacher with a PhD was to go to Japan, where I taught in a Japanese university in a college of law and politics in Japanese for six years. I encountered a group of people from an established university in Japan called Rikkyo Daigaku in the Ikebukuro section of Tokyo, if you’re familiar with it.  And they had created a new college of law and politics in this old established university, one of the so-called Big Six Universities.  And they wanted a new political scientist, a young political scientist to come and bring the American style of politics to that university.  And they said: We’ll send you to Yale to learn intensive Japanese.  And so, for nine months, from eight in the morning ‘til five at night, every day for nine months, I studied oral Japanese.  I didn’t know how to read and write, I didn’t know how to read and write anything; I just knew how to speak.

 

Futurist Jim Dator says that his six years working and teaching in Japan was a profound experience, and sparked his interest in future studies.

 

And while I was there, I met a person who said: Jim, I want you to read this article I’ve written; it’s called The Senior Partner, and it analyzes Japan as a civilization.  And he concluded that Japan went through the same stages, in the same order that the West did, each one about the same length of time, and that Japan was two hundred years ahead of the West.  And I said: What?  This is 1963, 64.  Didn’t we just beat them in a war?  Aren’t they underdeveloped?  Aren’t we the crown of creation?  Well, I never argued or cared whether he was right about Japan.  It just said: Well, wait, we have these theories of moving from underdeveloped, to developing, to developed, but what’s next? Development—didn’t say it then, and it doesn’t say it now.  It makes it act as though we’re the end of history.  Well, that is what made me a futurist.  That episode in 1963, it happened to be on the day that John Kennedy was assassinated, which is another part of the story.  But I said: Okay, I’m now gonna ask what’s next.  And so, all of the work I subsequently did in future studies came from that day, and I oriented all my teaching towards the future from that.

 

After a half-dozen years in Japan, Jim Dator returned to the United Stated and started the first accredited future studies program in the country at Virginia Tech.  In 1969, Dr. Dator came to the University of Hawaii at Mānoa to teach future studies. When he arrived, he found that Hawaii was interested in futurism and had recently launched statewide activities called Hawaii 2000 that would examine the possible futures of Hawaii.

 

When I arrived, Governor Burns and Tadao Beppu, and David McClung, and the people in the business community, and the labor unions, and the University, had already started something called Hawaii 2000, which was an activity to look thirty years ahead.  I had nothing to do with it; it had already been created.  But Glenn Paige, remember, of the political science department, was sort of the secretary of that.  And he said: Well, you know, we got this futurist at the University; why don’t you join the group.  And that is what really, really, beyond anything else, turned me into a futurist. Because that activity, which has never been equaled anywhere in the world, never been equaled here in Hawaii—we’ve tried several times, but the powers that be don’t really want to have people thinking about alternative futures.  But at that point in 1970, statehood was good, the future was looking good, tourism was just beginning to blossom, they wanted to look ahead optimistically, and it was no holds barred.  We had incredible variety of people, all islands had their own—Maui 2000, Kauai 2000, and so forth.  There were student groups, youth groups, university groups, elderly groups, women’s groups, all sorts of different groups.  If you look at the number of lectures, the numerous talks I gave to groups during that time, thousands of them.  Honolulu Magazine in ’73 or so said I could have been elected governor, ‘cause I knew so many people.  It was an incredible opportunity, a deep dive into Hawaii culture and thinking about the future.  I’m obviously still excited about it.

 

Interesting that you say that people were excited about the future, and therefore, they wanted to peer into it.  Do you find they don’t really want to look too far if they suspect the worst?

 

Not anymore.  I mean, even at that time—if you read the book, Hawaii 2000, the book exists, and there is a list of people who attended, the who’s who of the future, as well as of the present.  But if you look at it, all of the married women are Mrs. John Doe.  None of them have their own first name there.

 

Ah …

 

Can you imagine how un-futuristic that was?  It’s embarrassing to look at that.  But in any event, the groups of people who participated in it made me very optimistic about being able to change things, and all sorts of ideas. There were a number of task forces, and if you read each one of the recommendations of the task forces in their area, there was a desire to have open land, and high-rises, and mass transit. So, the idea is, we would not do what actually happened, divide up the large estates and give everybody a little piece of land.  We would in fact have as few landholders as possible holding things in trust, and we would keep land open as much as possible, and use high-rises spread throughout each one of the islands, linked by mass transit.  That was one example.  The things that we got most right was, we basically predicted the cell phone, and the network, internet.  If you read it, that’s almost totally predicted.  And we basically understood the changes in genetic engineering, and so forth; all the things that are now very controversial.  We understood that those would be emerging issues. So, in the area of technology, we did a pretty good job.  Completely missed the entire Hawaiian renaissance.  The Hawaiians that we had on the committee, and we had a lot, were of that generation that assumed they would be lost, that there would instead be what Governor Burns called The Golden People of the Pacific.

 

Yeah.  So, they were probably older, because that was the Western generation.

 

And they didn’t speak Hawaiian, and they were forbidden to speak Hawaiian.

 

And yet, the Hawaiian Renaissance was knocking on the door at that time.

 

If was already existing.  So, on the one hand, we missed women’s liberation, if you will, and we missed the Hawaiian Renaissance, even though they were there.  So, the moral to that story, and it’s still true, it’s a lot easier to predict, if you will, technology than it is social changes. And that’s still a problem for futurists.

 

In 1971, the State Legislature established the Hawaii Research Center for Future Studies at UH Mānoa, and appointed Jim Dator as its director.  Dr. Dator has developed the program into a world-renowned institution for futures research, and helped to educate four decades of futurists.

 

In general, during your just very long and successful career in academics, have people taken what you’ve said to heart and made changes?

 

Well, everyone said at the end of Hawaii 2000 or other things, people will come up and tell me that such-and-such an event changed their life.  So, I think that individuals have acted on it, but in fact, there was a point in the late 70s, after the so-called Arab oil crisis, when suddenly we realized that Hawaii is not really independent, that it’s highly vulnerable, that if the oil stops coming, things don’t go well, in which it became forbidden to think about alternative futures.  Even though Governor Ariyoshi used that term, and he did a better job than almost anyone else in doing futures work, it was still relatively select.  And the thing that worked, tourism, he didn’t want anything to upset that.  And so, you couldn’t really begin to think about other alternatives.  And so, I’d say from that point on, this heavily citizen-based free expression of ideas about alternative futures has been pretty much discouraged.  But there are certain other things that I have harped on over, and over, and over, and over again, like climate change, sea level rise, and so forth, that we still are debating and figuring out what we ought to do about.  We say we’re gonna do something, but in fact, we’re not yet really doing anything.

 

How do you gauge your success as a futurist?

 

Well, when I deal with a client, the success is not whether they enjoyed the activity.  Often, they do, and will say what I said earlier; it really changed my thinking. If the organization then institutionalizes future studies as part of their planning and policymaking, if they hire a futurist or engage in a process of getting information from the future of building their strategic plan around a prior futures activity—most don’t; most just go back.

 

Even after recruiting you and getting the getting you to study something?

 

Yeah, and enjoying it.  They go back, but some don’t.  The State of Virginia, for example, did incorporate futures into their judicial planning.  And there are other examples here and there, but basically, that’s my definition.  Other futurists might have other criteria.  Did it make a difference in the way they did business?  Do they now routinely begin to try to look ahead or not?  And we haven’t learned to do that as people, yet.  And who can blame us.  We have millions of years of responding only to immediate pressures. It’s in our genes, it’s in our psychology, it’s in our stories.  Look backwards in order to understand what lies ahead.

 

In addition to leading future studies at the University of Hawaii, Jim Dator served as secretary general, and then president, of the World Future Studies Federation.  Even though he’s retired, he continues to travel, teach, and consult.  At the time of our conversation in late 2018, he was teaching Space Humanity courses at the International Space University in France and the Korea Institute for Future Studies.  Mahalo to Dr. Jim Dator of Waikīkī, Hawaii. And thank you for joining us for this edition of Long Story Short on PBS Hawaii.  I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Aloha nui.

 

Futurists who are being minted now at the PhD level; how do they differ from you?

 

Well, they’re a lot smarter.

 

No, really.

 

No, that’s really.  I have some fantastic students.  In fact, on Saturday, I will hood my last PhD student, since I’ve retired from the University of Hawaii.  And he’s an absolutely fantastic guy who is already doing so many wonderful things all around the world.

 

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]

 

 

 

 

The Mission of Reaching Far and Deep

 

CEO Message

 

Leslie Wilcox, PBS Hawai‘i President and CEOThe theme of human connection ran alongside the subject of digital media strategies at the PBS Annual Meeting last month in Nashville, Tennessee. Which felt just right. What we strive to do in public media is combine the power of touch and the reach of tech to serve our home states.

 

Why meet in Nashville? Because PBS representatives from around the country need to meet somewhere – and Music City was a great setting for renowned filmmaker Ken Burns to share his newest epic, Country Music.

 

He spoke in a hotel ballroom two blocks from a boulevard of windows-thrown-open, live-music honky tonks. The eight-part, 16-hour film premieres on PBS stations nationally on Sunday, September 15.

 

At the conference, Burns said the film isn’t only for country music fans. At the heart of this American art form are honesty, vulnerability and real life. It’s about the joy of love and family, the hurt of betrayal, loneliness, regret, resilience, toil, faith, independence and the lure of the open road.

 

The Mission of Reaching Far and Deep

Leslie at Nashville conference with national PBS figures (right to left)
news anchor Judy Woodruff, commentator David Brooks and
(far left) arts adviser Jane Chu

 

I had the privilege of taking part in a discussion on stage with heavy hitters: (right to left) PBS NewsHour anchor and managing editor Judy Woodruff; NY Times Op-Ed columnist/PBS NewsHour commentator/author David Brooks and (far left) PBS Arts Adviser Jane Chu. We looked at how the arts reach deep within people and we considered Brooks’ proposition that the neighborhood, not the individual, is the essential unit of social change. And we talked about using local knowledge to determine the best ways to convene and authentically engage communities of diverse voices.

 

Just as there’s no quick fix for the broken heart in a country song, there’s no manual for success in the rapidly changing media industry. The spinning evolution of tech choices, viewer options and fragmented audiences requires media makers to be agile and relentlessly purposeful – and that still doesn’t assure success.

 

Here’s an industry expectation that’s a safe bet: In three years or less there will be as many digital screens as live TV screens being used to view programming.

 

PBS KIDS viewing is already there. Digital screens dominate in front of young children, who also use them to play PBS educational video games.

 

Back from Nashville, our local team knows that we need more than quality programming going for PBS Hawaiʻi; we need to offer easy availability. You as a viewer want to be able to watch what you want – when and where you want it. Our Passport streaming service and our website on-demand programs are a start.

 

If PBS Hawaiʻi’s digital strategy goals were a country music song, the title would be “I’ll Go Anywhere With You.”

 

Aloha Nui,

Leslie signature


 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Nani Lim Yap

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: Nani Lim Yap

 

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

 

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

 

Program

 

 

Nani Lim Yap Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

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

 

Nani Lim Yap, descended from the ali‘i of Kohala, keeps the traditions and stories of her ancestors alive through mele, chant, and hula.  A member of the remarkable Lim musical family, Nani Lim Yap says she’ll always call Kohala home, no matter how far her travels take her. Nani Lim Yap, next, on Long Story Short.

 

One-on-one engaging conversations with some of Hawai‘i’s most intriguing people: Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox.

 

Aloha mai kākou.  I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Nanette Lim Yap, better known as Nani, was one of six children growing up in Pu‘u Hue in Kohala, on the Big Island of Hawai‘i, where her father was a cowboy at Parker Ranch.  In their isolated mountain community, playing Hawaiian music was the family’s primary source of entertainment.  The musically gifted family was discovered by the rest of the world when Nani’s mother, the late Maryann Lim, was asked to play at the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel when it opened in 1965.  Performances soon became a family affair, and the music group known as The Lim Family became a well-known, much-respected, and popular Hawaiian music group. Learning the songs at a young age came easily to Nani, she says, because it was not only through her parents that she learned Hawaiian language.

 

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

 

So, very remote.

 

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

 

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

 

I mean Kohala town.

 

Because it was so far.

 

And the streetlights bothered you?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

No.

 

Not for many years. 

 

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

 

This was as you’re driving along.

 

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

 

So, very competitive kids.

 

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

 

Who?

 

Me.

 

Always?

 

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

 

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

 

Nope.  Nope. Not in music.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

And do you read music?

 

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

 

Really?

 

Yeah.

 

And Elmer is Sonny?

 

Yeah.

 

Was music always a part of your life?

 

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

 

Were they singing in Hawaiian?

 

In Hawaiian.

 

And did you understand Hawaiian?

 

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

 

That’s manaleo style, isn’t it?

 

Exactly.

 

It’s the real thing.

 

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

 

You were supposed to go Western.

 

Yeah.

 

And succeed in that world.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

That’s what it says.

 

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

 

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

 

Definitely, definitely; story behind the music.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

After high school, you moved to O‘ahu.

 

Yeah.

 

To beauty school.

 

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

 

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

 

No.  No.

 

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

 

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

 

But you’d performed before.

 

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

 

I see; I see.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Same mindset, but different visions?

 

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

 

What is Kohala style?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

See?  I think you have to honor them.

 

Ah …

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

But Japan and who else?  Japan loves hula.

 

China, now.

 

China.

 

Yeah.  Sweden, Taiwan.

 

And you’ve been to all these places?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Because he did that so well.

 

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

 

It is.

 

How does that work as a business?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

And they’re doing renovations; right?

 

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

 

Which means you can all travel more.

 

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

 

And what do you do instead?

 

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

 

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

 

You’ve been with them a long time?

 

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

 

Why do you think Japan has embraced hula so closely?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

They have so much hunger for it.

 

Yeah; it’s amazing.

 

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

 

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

 

And yet you love the place, too.

 

And—yeah.

 

Yeah.

 

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

 

That’s right.  So much travel.

 

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

 

Wow.

 

Yeah.  They have some of the biggest hālau.

 

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

 

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

 

Who are they?  Who are your dancers and musicians?

 

Well, of course, Asia.

 

Your daughter.

 

Yeah.

 

Your son.

 

And Manaola, of course.

 

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

 

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

 

Mahalo to Nani Lim Yap of Hawai‘i Island, for sharing her Kohala style. And mahalo to you, for joining us. For PBS Hawai‘i and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Aloha nui.

 

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

 

No Kohala Ka Makani ʻĀpaʻapaʻa

 

by Sarah Pule

No Kohala ka makani ʻĀpaʻapaʻa

Ua kaulana ʻoe a haʻaheo

Ka nuku aʻo nākānaka

Ua piha hoʻi me ke aloha

 

No Kohala ka makani ʻĀpaʻapaʻa

Ua kaulana ʻoe a haʻaheo

Ka nuku aʻo nākānaka

Ua piha hoʻi me ke aloha

 

Ke aloha ʻāina ua ʻike ʻia

Ke aloha poina ʻole a kākou

Hoʻomanaʻo aʻe e lāe nākūpuna

ʻO ke aloha ʻo ia mau lā

 

Huli aku nānāi ka ulu hala

E kau mai ana lāi luna

Me Kona nani uluwehiwehi …

 

 

 

Board Chair Jason Fujimoto Steps Down, But Not Away

 

CEO Message

 

Board Chair Jason Fujimoto Steps Down, But Not Away

Leslie Wilcox, PBS Hawai‘i President and CEOBecause of time constraints in assuming a new business role, PBS Hawai‘i’s Board Chair Jason Fujimoto of Hawai‘i Island has elected to step down from our nonprofit’s chairmanship, while continuing to serve on our Board.

 

At age 38, Jason is the new President and CEO of Hilo-based HPM Building Supply, supporting residential building statewide. He’s the fifth-generation President of the family-founded, employee-owned business.

 

Jason will be succeeded as Board Chair July 1 by current Vice Chair Joanne Lo Grimes, an attorney and Co-Chair of the law firm Carlsmith Ball.

 

Before Jason turns over the reins, I want to honor him for his integrity, skills and steadfastness in supporting and governing this nonprofit through rapid evolution.

 

Board Chair Jason Fujimoto with Leslie WilcoxHe’s had two tours of duty, amounting to a decade of unpaid service, most of them on the Board Executive Committee, including three years as Chair. He joined the first time in 2008, just before the state felt the impact of the Great Recession. In succession came the big switch from analog to digital broadcast transmission; the television equivalent of a heart transplant – high-definition TV; expanded local programming; the birth of HIKI NŌ: The Nation’s First Statewide Student News Network; the rise of social media as a new platform for engagement and video programming; and the successful capital campaign to buy land and build a replacement multimedia home in Kalihi Kai.

 

Jason returned to the Board just after we moved into our new facility. He led the organization in adopting a new three-year strategic plan. In cloudy times for media enterprises and nonprofits, the plan is clear.

 

There’s a feeling we’re all on the same path and same page, in part because different perspectives and ideas can be argued and adopted safely and productively.

 

“As Chair, my style is to create the conditions that foster the greatest amount of collaboration and discussion, and support the CEO,” Jason said.

 

A former Wall Street analyst, Jason is a member of the Omidyar Forum of Fellows and the leadership group Hawai‘i Asia Pacific Association (HAPA).

 

“I really enjoy being with everyone on the PBS Hawai‘i Board. We have a lot to learn from each other,” he said.

 

For me personally, I’ve internalized much of the guidance Jason gave me, and I’m grateful for this lifelong gift.

 

Overall, Jason, thank you from the heart for continuing to strengthen and polish this community treasure that is PBS Hawai‘i.

 

Aloha Nui,

Leslie signature


 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Allen Hoe

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: Allen Hoe

 

As one of more than two million draftees called upon to fight in the Vietnam War, 19-year-old Allen Hoe thought he would serve his time and then his life would return to normal. He couldn’t have imagined that his 10-month combat tour would make him what others describe as a soldier’s soldier. The longtime Hawai‘i attorney reflects on the wartime experiences that forever shaped his civilian life.

 

Read the November program guide cover story on Allen Hoe

 

Program

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, June 2, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

More from Allen Hoe:

 

The Flag

 

Why Polo?

 

Allen Hoe Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

When U.S. Army General Robert Brown spoke of the 2018 recipient of the Mana O Ke Koa, Spirit of Warrior Award, he said: Awardees demonstrate unparalleled patronage for and civilian leadership toward our Army.  Allen Hoe embodies those qualities.  While each nominee for the award is deserving, we feel Allen’s dedication to the Army is truly outstanding.

 

Fifty years prior to General Brown’s statement, the Army sent a special invitation—a draft notice, to the same Allen Hoe, who admits he was a typical local boy of the late 60s, focused only on surfing, hotrods, and girls.  But a ten-month combat tour in a small country in Southeast Asia turned this local boy into a soldier’s soldier.  Vietnam veteran Allen Hoe, 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.  Allen Hoe’s father was from Kalihi on O‘ahu, and his mother was raised in Moloa‘a on Kaua‘i.  He points out his ancestors were all subjects of monarchies—on his father’s side, Chinese and Japanese; his mother, Hawaiian, English, Scottish, German, and Spanish. His father was a World War II veteran, and there’s evidence of warriors serving their country throughout Hoe’s family tree from the Queen’s royal guard in India, to a war lieutenant for King Kamehameha.

 

Now, you were raised a regular local kid?

 

Typical local boy; right.  You know, in the 60s, focused on surfing, rock ‘n roll, and girls.  The 60s, I think, for me, our history in the 60s was probably the most traumatic decade that our country has experienced in the last century.

 

And were you part of that resist, oppose? You know, resist authority was the call of the day for young people.

 

Yeah. Me?  No; I was more interested in hotrods and surfing.

 

So, that kind of passed you by.

 

Yeah, yeah; that kinda passed us by.

 

Were you in ROTC as a student?

 

So, did the war in Vietnam touch your life as it started out in the 60s?

 

You know, not really.  I think in my junior, senior year, it was just really kinda like an extra subject for history lessons, history courses.  And it wasn’t until the summer after we graduated that it kinda came home very personally, because the older brother of one my dearest friends was one of the first casualties in Vietnam.  He was killed in Cu Chi.

 

Oh …

 

And then, later on that year, I had a cousin who was killed in Vietnam as well. And then, it’s like, wow, this is for real, what’s happening here.

 

What happened next?

 

And then, I was still pretty much living life like a local boy.

 

Hotrods.

 

Hotrods—

 

Girls and surfing.

 

Yeah, yeah, surfing.  And then, I got a special call.  I love to tell this story, because the young soldiers today, I said: You know what, we are so proud of the decisions you made to serve your country, but you know, my legacy is a little bit different.  I was very special; Uncle Sam came looking for me.

 

He said: Mr. Hoe, we need you.

 

Had you been dreading a draft call?

 

No; no. You know, in my generation, that was part of growing up.  At some point, you know, you would either volunteer to become part of the then, what was very fascinating all-Hawai‘i company, which on 4thof July every year, you know, a hundred or so young high school grads would become part of the all-Hawai‘i company.  So, for me, you know, service was just gonna be part of my growing up.

 

So, that service didn’t, in your mind, include combat.

 

No. But it included, you know, doing some time in the military.

 

Right.  And so, even when you got that call, you didn’t say: Oh, my god, I could get sent to Vietnam, I could get put in really difficult circumstances.

 

Yeah; reality … I was nineteen, and that was not, I think, part of my reality. You know, I was young, still making perhaps unwise decisions regarding activities in life, et cetera.  So, for me, yeah, I didn’t feel threatened by it, neither did I feel any kind of overwhelming sense of obligation, other than to serve your country.

 

I understand after being drafted, you could have stayed here, I think.  But you volunteered to go to Vietnam?

 

Yes. Having grown up and hearing the stories from my aunts and uncles, and cousins, regarding our, quote, warrior culture, after training to become a combat medic—

 

Why did you train to be a combat medic?

 

Well, Uncle Sam said that’s—

 

You were designated.

 

Designated.

 

Okay.

 

Yeah; for training.  And you know, they give you a battery of tests, et cetera, and you know, who knows, but you know, fortunately, and I feel I was very blessed to have been selected to become a combat medic.  And after I trained long and hard to do that, when we graduated, all of the new combat medic qualified soldiers would go to the bulletin board to see where their next duty station was.  And the bulk of my class went straight to Vietnam.  I was assigned to San Francisco.  And you know, I didn’t question it.  And then, when I got to San Francisco, I was assigned to Travis Air Force Base.  The unit I was assigned to had a lot of soldiers who had come back from Vietnam, and they maybe had three to six months left on their assignment before they got out of the Army.  And stories that they shared with me in terms of what it was like presented a challenge to me, and I said: You know, given my background and my family history, I don’t ever want to … look back and say, I wonder how I would have done in combat.

 

But it was a different kind of combat.  I mean, it was like no other war we’ve had.

 

Yeah, but you know, for a nineteen-year-old, there’s only one kind of combat.

 

Wasn’t there some Geneva Convention ruling that it’s a war crime to shoot a combat medic who’s clearly identified in combat. But in Vietnam …

 

There were no rules.

 

Forget it.

 

Forget it; right.  And life expectancies for combat medics were worse than first lieutenants.

 

So, you wore weapons.

 

I carried, I carried both sidearm and a rifle.  And you wore nothing that indicated that you were a medic, other than your bag was bigger than the rest.

 

And then, you went out right after people got hurt in combat.

 

My mission, I was with a long-range reconnaissance team.  And so, when someone got wounded, they were generally standing right next to you, so you knew what was going on.  Yeah.

 

So, you could have been hit too.

 

Yeah.

 

Did you fire your weapon?

 

Yes. You know, for me, part of that experience, being twenty by the time I got there, and being young and adventurous, part of my responsibility being on that team was, I had to learn all the duties or all the functions of everyone else.  And as the medic, I trained the members of my team to the best of my ability in terms of, you know, first responder life-saving methods.  So, while with the team, not only did I fire my weapons, but you know, I helped set ambushes, I learned how to call artillery, and learned how to set demolitions and blow charges.  And yeah, you gotta understand, for a twenty-year-old, this is like fun stuff.

 

You don’t feel that it’ll actually hurt you? Do you feel untouchable?

 

You feel immortal.

 

Immortal.

 

Yeah.

 

Yeah.

 

The most foolish kinds of things that one accepts in combat is that if it happens, it happens.  You know. And then, for me, it was, you know, as long as I can get through three of these life-threatening experiences, then I’ll be okay.  I very clearly distinctly remember the three times that I was supposed to have received something fatal, and survived.  And after the third time, it was like, oh, big relief.  I said: Nothing’s gonna happen.

 

I’ve got a force field around me.

 

I’ve got a force field around me.  And then, you just kinda learn how to operate just naturally and freely.  And yeah, you were still concerned, you were still frightened on occasion, but you knew that at the end of the day, nothing’s gonna happen. And you know … nothing happened.

 

But you can’t do that by skill alone; right?

 

It’s luck.

 

It is a matter of chance.

 

No, no, no.  Yeah; you survive combat purely on luck.

 

And meanwhile, you were seeing some scenes you can’t un-see.

 

Yeah.

 

Mutilated limbs and gory stuff.

 

Yeah.

 

Very sad, just grievous injuries.  How did you deal with that?

 

For me, it was just reactionary.  I trained; everyone trained.

 

You compartmentalized?

 

You compartmentalize.  When stuff happened, instinct kicks in.  And you know, I think one of the saving graces of our current force is that our young shooters, as I call them, the young infantry soldiers or the young combat soldiers that have to go to war for us, they are required to train twenty-four/seven.  And it becomes instinctive, it becomes reactionary.  So, when they’re on a patrol, they experience enemy action, they immediately shift into their combat mode.

 

Did you hear the talk that we understand was common at the time, where people were saying: What are we here for, why are here, this war doesn’t make sense.

 

Yeah. We would hear about that or read about that in letters or the newspapers that would occasionally come to us.  But you know, the reality is, at the end of the day in combat, you’re not thinking about fighting for your country, you’re not thinking about fighting to preserve, you know, family values or the constitution, et cetera.  You are simply thinking about saving the life of your buddy on your right and on your left. And you know, the reality is, at the end of the day, if you’ve done your job right and everybody survives, our country will be blessed by that.

 

Did you get really close to the guys you served with?

 

Oh; you know, to this day.  Fifty years ago, I met incredible bunch of young men, and probably spent twenty-four/seven with these men, maybe not more than four or five months with them, but to this day, when I hear their voice, I immediately know who I’m talking to. It’s that special bond that even kind of um, surpasses a familial bond.  You know, I have a relationship and memories of guys that I served with perhaps that run deeper than with my own two siblings.

 

Wow.  And you know, when you’re with somebody who’s terribly hurt, and possibly or inevitably dying, it’s a really intimate time you share.  How was that?

 

Yeah. For me, and the guys most closest to me, if one of our buddies was hit, we were—this is fascinating–we were doing our best to stabilize his condition, but it becomes not quiet and soft, but it becomes a loud, raucous kind of conversation to get their attention, to get them to focus, to get them to hang on and not to give up.  You know, so it’s yelling and screaming.  This is like—you know, I remember the first time that happened, my platoon sergeant, who obviously had been there longer than me, as I was treating one of my wounded buddies, he was shaking him to get him to respond, to wake up, and to fight on before we put him on the helicopter.  And I learned something that day, in terms of first, you know, you’re gonna … do your job to stop the bleeding, prevent the shock, but at the end of the day, you’ve got to get that young soldier’s attention, to get him to focus on things he needs to do.

 

Because that helps him—

 

Him, yeah.

 

–help himself.

 

Help himself.

 

You know, you have seen some things that most people never see, never have to know what it’s like.

 

Yeah.

 

How has that affected you?

 

You know … at times, it causes me to kinda go into a slump, but I’ve always been able to deal with that in terms of, that’s war.  And I kinda kick into this mode where long time ago, I read this passage where, you know, in war there’s only two rules; the first rule is that people die, and then the second rule is that you cannot change rule one.  So, you know, we were at war, people are gonna die, you know, and thank God if you survive, that you survive.

 

That 1968, when you were there, that was a particularly …

 

Yeah.

 

–fatal—

 

Yeah.

 

–grisly year.

 

Yeah.

 

I mean, lots of fatalities.

 

Yeah. I guess the high water mark was 1968; in May, 1968.  And yeah, May 1968 was a particularly bad month for me.

 

What happened?

 

I lost eighteen of my guys.  And but for the grace of God, I would not be here, because ten of ‘em are still missing in action.  The grace of God was that my unit was transitioning from Point A to Point B, and I was not with them that day.  I was back in the rear, getting ready to rejoin them.  Before I could rejoin them at the new location, they were overrun.

 

And some of them were never found, but were you treating your own men?

 

Yeah.

 

In the field.

 

Yeah.

 

May; was that Mother’s Day?

 

May, Mother’s Day.

 

Mother’s Day.

 

Mother’s Day, 1968.  Yeah. I mean … if you can imagine, I mean, you’re a mother, you know how important Mother’s Day is.  That day by itself, you know, to get the message or the knock on your door that your son was killed on Mother’s Day.  I mean …

 

And so now, when Mother’s Day comes around at your home, you think of another meaning for it.

 

Yeah. I am reflective on the mothers of my men who didn’t make it.  And you know, over the past fifty years … that bond I had with their sons, I’ve developed with them.  So, for me, it’s very special.  For me, it’s always been an obligation to assure their mothers whose sons never came home that their sons are superb young men.

 

You made an effort to go do that?

 

Absolutely.  The majority of the men who I lost on Mother’s Day 1968, their mothers and their fathers had absolutely no clue what happened to them.  And to live without any knowledge of what happened, I just couldn’t.  And that’s even worse, you know, to have your son taken from you in combat, and that’s all you know.  He’s not here.  Why? We can’t share that with you, we can’t tell you the circumstances, or what happened on that day.

 

Do you think you had PTSD after the war?

 

I had issues.  I don’t necessarily think it is or was PTSD.  Everybody who experiences combat has issues.  I remember when I first came back from Vietnam, the first month that I was home, it was just party time; right?  You know, I was riding motorcycles back then, and every night we’d go out and … go and enjoy life, tip a few Primos.  And I remember like after a month, one day, my dad came home.  We were passing, I think in the driveway; I was getting ready to go out, and he was coming home from work.  And said: Al.  He said: You have a moment?  I go: Yeah, absolutely.  He told me, he said: You know, son, I won’t even begin to understand what you experienced in Vietnam, and what you’re doing now, you know, I’m not supportive of your behavior and what your conduct is now.  So, you know, how much longer are you going to do this, ‘cause don’t you think you need to start thinking about your future?  I hope you’re not planning to do this the rest of your life.  And I said: No, Dad, I’m just having fun.  But you know, that kinda came home to roost really strong for me, my father saying: Okay, all right, it’s time to kinda like get on with your life.  And, you know, I did.

 

He did it in such a nice way, too.

 

Yeah; he was just an incredible guy.

 

Allen Hoe’s parents had always insisted he would attend college, so when he returned home, he took advantage of two new State institutions for learning.  He enrolled in the new Leeward Community College, later graduating from UH Mānoa, and he was among the first class of law students admitted to the William S. Richardson School of Law.

 

Okay; the style of the day was long hair.

 

Yeah.

 

So, did you go back from the war with your short haircut, to—

 

Long hair.

 

–long hair.

 

Yeah.

 

And did you see anti-war protests?

 

Oh, yeah; yeah.  You know …

 

How did you feel about them?

 

You know, this may sound strange, but to me, that was just part of our great democracy.  You know, I tell people: Yeah, I have no problems with the protests, the marchers, and the anti-war people, even when I was in Vietnam.  I said: Hey, that’s what we’re here for, to give them the right to exercise, you know, their freedom.  And it truly did not bother me.  One of the things, though, that did bother me was, a couple of the young Leeward students were egged on by this group to pull down the American flag. And four of us Vietnam veterans stood ‘em off, and we said: You touch that flag, and you’re gonna go down.  And … they left the flag alone.  I said: You can protest the war all you want, but you’re not gonna come and touch this flag.

 

And that was a spontaneous act by the four of you?

 

Yeah.

 

Did you ever get pegged the wrong way when you walked around campus with the long hair?  I mean, did people assume anything about you that wasn’t true?

 

The wife of a soldier who was in one of my classes, her husband was a career soldier, had not been in combat.  And she made this kind of strange comment to me.  She said: Why are you so angry?  And I said: What do you mean?  She said: There’s this hate that comes from your eyes.  And I said: Your husband’s a soldier, has he been in combat?  No.  I said: Well, you send him to combat, and this is the look that he will come home with. And she just couldn’t understand that.

 

That it’s not anger.

 

It’s not anger.  People these days, or even for many years, they call it the Thousand-Yard Stare.

 

Allen Hoe’s adjustment to civilian life was bolstered when he met his future wife, Adele.

 

We met actually, I think maybe the second month after I got out of the Army. And you know, when I first saw her, I said: Oh, my god, that is the girl of my dreams.

 

At first look?

 

That first day we spent together.  She was actually a coworker of the sister of one of my dear friends.  So, we just kinda like wound up on not a blind date, but time together.  And she was, or is just a special person.  Yeah; yeah.  Swept me off my feet, so to speak.

 

Adele and Allen Hoe married and shared in the joy of raising two sons: Nainoa and Nakoa.  Both young men chose to be warriors and serve their country.  The elder son, Army First Lieutenant Nainoa Hoe, was killed by a sniper’s bullet while he led a foot patrol in Northern Iraq in 2005.  He was just twenty-seven years old, and had been married for less than a year.

 

My wife and I, Adele, we still hear from the soldiers who served with Nainoa. And that is very comforting to us. He absolutely loved being a soldier. And the fortunate part, if there is anything fortunate about that horrible tragedy, was that his last day on this earth was documented by a writer who wrote an incredible story of how my son spent his last day with his men in combat.  Now, for me, as a father who had experienced combat, that was just an absolutely incredible story.  For me, it was very gratifying to hear how he performed in combat, and how his men just dearly loved him.

 

Yeah; I was so impressed by your son Nakoa.

 

Ah …

 

Seeing him at an event where Nainoa was being spoken of and honored, and all the attention was on the fallen son.  And Nakoa is a very honorable and brave, Army leader in his own right.  Right?

 

Correct.

 

But it was not about him; he was just happy to see Nainoa being celebrated.  I thought, he’s grown up in that shadow of his—

 

Big brother.

 

–his big brother being venerated as a hero.

 

Yeah.

 

And not feeling like: What about me?

 

Yeah. You know, in retrospect, my Hawaiian culture, that’s what led me to name him Nakoa; brave, courageous, strong, army, a soldier.

 

It does take courage to kinda—

 

Yeah; to stand in the shadow.

 

To stand in the shadow; right.

 

Yeah. And he has become just an incredible young man.

 

So much grace.

 

So much grace.

 

Did you teach him that grace?

 

His mother taught him that grace.

How our family and how this community responded when our son was killed, for me, it was very eye-opening.  You know, having survived combat, having witnessed death, it was totally different when that knock came on our door.

 

2005.

 

  1. And then, it’s like our whole world just came screeching to a halt. And then, you know, over the years, I’ve become very close to the Vietnam veterans’ efforts, the memorials, et cetera.  Jan Scruggs is a very dear friend.  And you know, Memorial Day 2005, I was invited to come and be a speaker at the Memorial Day ceremony at The Wall.  It was not the first time I had been there, but that was my first experience when I got there and I looked at the fifty-eight thousand plus names in the wall, including like a whole panel of my guys.  And I just kinda like … stopped, caught my breath, and I said: Oh, my god.  Looking at all these names, you would think that the world would have come to a complete stop.  Because I know my family—

 

For some, it did.

 

Yeah.

 

Many, it did.

 

For some, it did.  And for, you know, my—my experience and my family’s experience, the world did come to a stop.  You know, but there it is, fifty-eight thousand plus names, and we’re still at war.

 

Shortly before our conversation with Allen Hoe in the summer of 2018, he and nine other local Vietnam veterans were honored at what the Army referred to as a long overdue ceremony.  While only ten veterans were selected, the Pentagon report said they represented a large number of soldiers who served in the Southeast Asia conflict, but were never given a proper military ceremony to present awards and medals.  Allen Hoe received a Bronze Star and Purple Heart at the ceremony, and told news reporters it was well worth the wait to have the brigade you went to war with recognized years and years after that war was over.

 

We thank Vietnam Combat Medic Allen Hoe for his time with us, and the work he continues doing in the civilian and military communities.  And we thank you, for joining us.  For more of Allen Hoe’s conversation, including how a flag originally purchased as a souvenir in Vietnam has earned a military record of its own, and why it’s in Hoe’s DNA to be passionate about horses and the sport of polo, please go to PBSHawaii.org and our Long Story Short archives.  I’m Leslie Wilcox for Long Story Short and PBS Hawai‘i.  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.

 

People say: You do so much for the Army.  And I said: You know what, when I have a quiet moment, sitting in my backyard at Maunawili, looking up at Mount Olomana, which was one of Nainoa’s favorite places, I just kinda look up there and I says: All right, son, you didn’t think Dad had enough to do?  So, my mission has been to try and make the lives, and the comfort, and the memory of soldiers who put on the uniform every day for us a little bit better.

 

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Lanai Tabura

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: Lanai Tabura

 

Named for the island where he was born, Lanai Tabura is well-known for his talents as a DJ, comedian, television host, actor and entrepreneur. Now he dedicates himself to one of his earliest passions – cooking – to share aloha across the globe through food.

 

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

 
Program

 

Lanai Tabura Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

I know so much about food, which is interesting. And it never came out of me until I started doing these pop-up dinners and these speaking engagements.  I did a Poke 101 class for Pinterest.  All these kids—you know, I say kids because these tech companies are all kids.  And all they know about poke is, it comes from a store.  So, I got to teach what poke really is, where it came from, how it became, and all this stuff.  And when I was done, my friends goes: How’d you know all this stuff?  I go: I don’t know.

 

So, you didn’t go look it up.

 

No.

 

You had it in your head.

 

Yeah.

 

And your heart.

 

Yes.  And your heart is the thing.  The intent; right?

 

M-hm.

 

So, I am realizing as I’m getting older, I can do anything I want, as long as there’s good intent.

 

Lanai Tabura has been doing just about anything and everything in broadcasting since his first television audition when he was six years old.  DJ, comedian, television host, actor, entrepreneur; his passion has turned to cooking, and he has dedicated himself to sharing aloha across the globe through food.  Lanai Tabura, 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.  Lanai Tabura, who was named for the island where he was born, knew from a young age that he wanted to be in front of the camera.  He became a familiar name early on in his life for being a disc jockey at a popular radio station, and then for his comedy.  It wasn’t until later that he became known for his cooking, and rose to national attention when his team won the Great Food Truck Race.  Yet, cooking was one of his earliest life lessons. Lanai had to grow up quickly when his father left, and his mother went back to work.  As the oldest child, home responsibilities fell to him.

 

I grew up on a plantation.  My father left when I was young.  Three brothers.  And my mother said one day: I gotta go to work, I can’t stay at home with you guys anymore; you’re gonna have to step up.  What does that mean, you know, at twelve years old.  Step up; what do you mean?  I’m not gonna be home ‘til nine, you gotta cook dinner.  Cook dinner?  I’m twelve years old.  For three kids.

 

And how old were your brothers?

 

Makani, who’s right under me, is two years younger than me.  And then, you had Adam, which was five years under him.  And then, Stevie, which is a year under him.  So, you know, the youngest were four, five years old.  And then, Makani was ten.  You know.   So, that’s tough, you know.  And you grow up on an island where there’s not a lot of … which I think was good.  There was no fast food.  The stores closed at six.  I think the life-saver about our grocery store; you could charge.  Remember those days where you go: Oh, put it on the Tabura’s tab.

 

Exactly.

 

My mom’s tab.  And at the end of the month, you get the bill; right?  And then, you can divvy up.  But my father left with every penny in the bank and the clothes on his back.  Left us in a two-bedroom house, plantation style.  And we had nothing.  Zero, you know.  I remember when we applied for welfare, I was so embarrassed.  ‘Cause it’s Lāna‘i; everybody knows your business.  I was like: Mom, I can’t take this book to the store; people are gonna know we’re on welfare.  Today, they have a credit card.  Back day, they were pages of books.

 

But they also knew your dad had left.

 

Yes.

 

They knew everything.

 

Everybody did; everybody did.  He went to the airport and left the car.  For two days, we didn’t know where he went.  Two days, you didn’t know where he went, and then we found the car at the airport.

 

Did you ever reconnect with him?

 

Never.

 

You ever want to?

 

No, but I forgave him.  There was a point in my life where I was so angry about it. There was a point where I would go in the bathroom in high school, and cry.  ‘Cause like: Why, why?  What’s wrong this guy?  You know. And all that anger, of course, built up to bitterness.

 

And bitterness really poisons you, too.

 

That’s the word; very bitter.  And then, I was on a cover of a magazine.

 

Why?

 

I think it was for a TV show I did.  I was in my early twenties.

 

Okay; early twenties.

 

Yeah.

 

Got it.

 

It was a TV show I did, and I was on this cover. And he saw the cover, and he was in the mainland, and he wrote to the editor and said: I think that’s my son, I need to get ahold of him.  The editor wrote me like five times before I finally wrote back and I said: Yeah, that is my dad, you can send me his info.  So, the only contact I’ve had with him was through two emails.  One was him apologizing to me for what he did, and mine was forgiving him for what he did.  And I said: That’s it; you’ve finished this chapter for me, ‘cause now I feel this pressure is off, and I feel that I can move on now, the bitterness is gone.  I said: If you want to contact my brothers, it’s up to you and it’s up to them, ‘cause we’re all adults now.  So, that was my last contact with him.

 

Did he try to reach your mother?

 

No; and you know, my mother is not the type to talk bad about anybody.  So, she always made it open.  You guys want to talk to him, you can call him; you want to see him, you can see him. ‘Cause he will always be your father. But to me, a father has a different meaning.  He’ll always be my dad.

 

Right; that’s a verb.  Right? It’s what you do.

 

Yeah.

 

So, really, these are really formative things that happened to you.  I mean, things that change you.

 

Big time.

 

So, you were twelve years old thinking … Where’s the food that I’m supposed to cook for dinner?

 

Yeah; yeah.  So, if it wasn’t for my grandparents, who taught us how to grow vegetables, I don’t think we would have survived.  And my grandfather really became the father figure, even though he was a very harsh man.  He was Mr. Miyagi; everybody called him Mr. Miyagi.  He would teach you through lessons; he wouldn’t tell you.  He wouldn’t tell you that the fire is hot. He’s gonna give you a lesson, you know, or he’s gonna somehow drum up something so you go through the experience, so you get the lesson.  And then, he’ll ask you after.  That kinda guy; very old school.

 

Did you learn well that way?

 

Lots.

 

Was that a good way for you?

 

Yeah; I think so.  Now that I think about it, yeah.  But at the time, I’m like: God, you—

 

Why doesn’t he just say what he means?

 

Yeah; yeah.  Why don’t you say, you know.  I remember when I was a junior in high school, I wanted to go to junior prom. And my mom said: You can’t; we don’t have any money.  Expensive, you know, a tuxedo and everything.  And my grandfather was listening to the conversation.  And he goes: Hey, come outside.  So, I go outside.  He goes: You see this cabbage; not growing good.  Help me.  I said: What do you need me to do?  We need to till the ground.  Start tilling the ground.  Next thing you know, it’s an hour in, I’m sweating.  I’m like: How did I end up tilling cabbage?

 

What’s going on here?  Next day he goes: Tomorrow, I going come back here one o’clock. You help me; we’re gonna plant new cabbage.  So, he shows me how to plant cabbage.  This goes on for, you know, three, four months.  Comes time for junior prom.  Boy, come outside.  He goes: I need you to help me pick the cabbage; too heavy, my back sore.  I get a big bag, fill up the bag with cabbage. Let’s go to the store.  We go to the store, we sell the cabbage.  Look at all the money; I go: Grandpa, look at all this money.  What are we gonna do with it?  He goes: You go to the prom.  Three-month lesson.

 

Yeah; that is a great formative lesson.

 

Yeah.  But he did a lot of stuff like that.

 

And then, how did you learn to cook it?

 

Trial and error; trial and error.  Salt and pepper, you know.  That’s all you had.  It’s not salty enough, put more salt.  You know.  Too much pepper, put less pepper.  And then, of course, you watch your grandparents cook, you watch your mom cook when there were those days.  You really paid attention, ‘cause you didn’t want to just eat Spam and rice every day. You got tired of Spam and rice every day.

 

Did you think it was drudgery, or did you enjoy this?

 

You know what?  I enjoyed it; I enjoyed it.  It became a competition amongst the brothers.  You know, my third brother Adam became an amazing chef.  He cooked for Steve Jobs.  He’s cooked for all these different celebrities.  You know, we won the Food Truck Race because of him.

 

So, this life event that could have really unnerved you and really put you on a bad trajectory, it actually turned out to be something that became embedded in your life and a springboard.

 

The biggest blessing in disguise.  Everything happens for a reason.  And I think things would be much different if my dad was in my life.  And it could be way better, it could have been worse.  It would have been a different path, for sure.

 

Lanai Tabura wanted to be on television from the time he was a little boy.  After graduating from high school on Lāna‘i, he headed to O‘ahu to attend Hawai‘i Pacific University.  He didn’t stay long, though, because he found a new passion.

 

I went to a floor wax audition.  And it was a thousand kids, and my cousin ended up getting it.  But I was so fascinated by the concept of it.  Like: Wait, do it again?  What do you mean do it again?  You know. I was like six or seven years old. And I was so fascinated about the concept of you can be in front of this thing, and then people can watch it later. And I was fascinated about television, and I was fascinated how people can act like somebody else.  And then, you started watching television, I started watching Checkers and Pogo, and I started watching Andy Bumatai, High School Daze, and I started watching Booga Booga.  And it fascinated me how they can make people laugh, and how they can act like somebody else and make people laugh.  That was the fascination, I think.  I never thought I’d do standup comedy.  I started doing standup comedy ‘cause of James Grant Benton, Augie, and Andy. That was just a hobby.  I wanted to do standup comedy because of the timing; the timing part of it.

 

Which is the hardest part.

 

Yes.  And I found out that if you can master the timing, you can say anything you want. You can act, you can host, you can do interviews.  You know, radio really helped me with the timing part on interviews as well.

 

How did you get to O‘ahu to do all of this?

 

I had a scholarship, believe it or not, for volleyball. Hawai‘i Pacific University, Nahaku Brown did a clinic on Lana‘i, and I was a pretty good volleyball player.

 

You were all-state.

 

Yeah.  Oh, thank you.  Nobody knows that.  But anyway, she was offering a management scholarship, ‘cause they were gonna start an NCAA team.  Turned into a club team.  I got into radio at the same time, and then kind of moved out of it.

 

What’s a management scholarship?

 

They offer a couple scholarships for people to help with volleyball teams, like the women’s volleyball team.

 

Oh, I see.

 

So, you know, the guy that sets up the court, and you know, gets the water, and you know, gets ready for game day, gets the uniforms ready.

 

She saw your business side.

 

Yeah.  Yeah. Thank you, Nahaku.  But yeah, she really is the one that got me to Oahu.  ‘Cause we couldn’t afford college at all.  My mom was pissed when I dropped out.

 

Why did you drop out?

 

Radio.  When I started, my first day of college was my first day of my radio gig.

 

Oh …

 

Yeah.

 

There was competition between the two.

 

And it took over.  It took over not a little bit; it took over a hundred percent.  I was so fascinated by radio.  Again, I can tell people what to do, and they don’t even see me.  This was pre-Facebook, My Space, social media.  So, you know that everyone’s listening to you.  We had a twenty-one share at night, which was like three out of every five teens listening to us at night.

 

That’s phenomenal, because there were so many radio stations.

 

Yes.

 

I think we have the highest per capita in the nation.

 

Yes.  We did; there was like thirty radio stations for a million people.  You know.  But I was so fascinated by radio, and that was it.  I was indulged in it, you know.

 

And it paid you, too.

 

It did.  And that was the other thing; it paid me.  Right?  College wasn’t gonna pay me.  Working part-time at San Francisco Rag Shop was paying me pennies.  And being in radio, my first year was minimum wage, but after I proved that I could do what I could do, ho, I was living it up.  You know.  I had a car, I had a house, a condo.  I had a tab everywhere I went, because everybody wanted you to talk about their bar or their restaurant.  You know.

 

And yet, did you foresee what would happen to radio?  I mean, it hasn’t died like many people predicted.

 

No.

 

But it’s not the same; it’s a lot of consolidation and recorded voices.

 

Yeah.  There was one thing that I really … I really saw clearly, that it was gonna come to an end for me.  I saw it ten years before.  I’m still in radio, by the way.  I do shows in Japan.  But the actual twenty-four/seven, nine-to-five, working in radio every day, I saw it ten years before it even came.

 

You knew you would be recording your voice, and it would be played on different channels.

 

Yes; yeah.  I seen it.  ‘Cause now, I can eliminate that person, I can eliminate this person.  So, unless you were at the top of the food chain, you weren’t gonna get paid, ‘cause you were gonna be one of the people eliminated. Right?  So, I started my TV career, ‘cause I knew that I needed to get out of something else. And then, I started my entrepreneurship.  Try everything, what do I like, what don’t I like.

 

I wonder if one of the reasons you did the entrepreneur—I don’t know if it was innately inside you, or did you see fewer opportunities that were already created for somebody like you?

 

It was my mom.  Such a great question.  It was my mom that told me: What do you want to be?  I don’t know; I want to be on TV.  How do you know; you never try ‘em.  Right? Well, what you want to do; you want to be a realtor?  How you know; you never tried it.  You gotta try it first.  You gotta go see what it is first.  What if you don’t like the format?  What if you don’t like how it works?  What if you don’t like the politics of it?  You know.  What you going do?  That’s why until today, I was like, if I get opportunity—I look at everything as opportunity, by the way.  If I see opportunity, I’m gonna go dig into it.  I’m gonna go dig, and hey, how does this work?  I want to try.

 

And you’re willing to give your time to try it out?

 

Yeah.  I could die tomorrow.  I could die tomorrow; and then what?  My best friend died when he was thirty-five, and it was another huge lesson to me to try things.  Don’t be afraid.  I’m always gonna pay taxes, I’m always gonna work, so why not try it.  You know.  I commend people who can do something for thirty years, forty years, you know.  But it’s kinda not for me.

 

So, if you had a choice between a good, steady job and this tantalizing opportunity that you didn’t know if it would pay off, what would you do?

 

Tantalizing, one hundred percent.

 

Yeah.

 

A good, steady job is boring to me.  And it’s for other people.  You know, I commend you again.  That’s good, if you could.  I wish I could, because it’s security; yeah?  But it’s so boring to me.  It’s so boring.  I have so many wealthy friends that have been doing the same job for a long time, and they’re miserable.  They ask: What are you doing now, how come you’re doing this?  It’s like they tell me: I live vicariously through your social media, or your Instagram or, you know.  And it’s not that I’m trying to brag about what I do or anything.  I just do stuff that I love to do.  I want it to be fun.  Everything has to be fun.

 

And you’ve made it pay off for you.

 

It’s going to pay off.

 

It’s going to pay off.  Six years ago, I went bankrupt.  I lost three houses.  I think I had four cars.  For what? It was nothing, cars were nothing, the houses were nothing.  But it was a huge lesson, and I’m still going through that lesson, you know.  So, now, I have a new guard.  How do I not go through the same mistake; right?

 

Well, maybe you were trying to control circumstances before, and now you try to control yourself. 

 

Yeah; that’s what it is.  It really is.  I never had money before, and when you hear these stories about people who won the lottery or have done good.  You know, Larry Price always used to tell me: You’re not going get rich yet.  And I go: Why you always tell me that?  He goes: ‘Cause you need to learn, still.

 

Oh …

 

It’s not your turn; it’s not your turn.

 

So, did you just go crazy because you had available money that you didn’t before?

 

Oh, yeah.  And I went crazy in a sense of not just for me; taking care of other people. Which I should have … you know, I didn’t have kids.  I wasn’t prepared for that.  Nobody teaches you that.  You know, no one teaches you about taxes.  In school, they don’t teach you that.  No one teaches you that it can run out.  No one teaches you that this job can end.  You know, that kinda stuff.  So, I’m going through it every day still, today.  I think I’m gonna be that guy that doesn’t retire; for sure.  I love to work.  So, I’m gonna be working.

 

But you are gonna save money; right?

 

I’m gonna; yeah.  I started.

 

Because that’s the thing, is when you’re always living hand-to-mouth, regular savings is not a …

 

Yeah.

 

It’s not something on your list, because you don’t have it to save.

 

Yeah.  And it’s not part of your ritual, it’s not part of your everyday thing.  Because you never had it.  You know, I never had it.

 

And then, you assume if you have it, life will be easy.

 

It’s not easier.  It doesn’t get easier.  I think it gets harder.  You know, more money, more problems.  You know. It’s funny, ‘cause when you get more money, you think: Okay, now I can get the things that I need.  You know.  Or I need to get that, or I’ve always wanted to get that, I need it. You really don’t need it.  You know.  You need toothpaste and you need toilet paper.  Okay, I’m paying my bills, my kids are okay, I’m paying their bills, I have enough to pay for them to go to college.  Do I want to be wealthy-wealthy?  That’s starting to turn.  Before, if you asked me ten years ago.  I want to be wealthy, I want to be one of the wealthiest guys in Hawai‘i. Now it’s, I want to be one of the most happiest guys, and I want to be doing what I love to do guys in Hawai‘i.

 

In 2013, Lanai Tabura and his team entered Food Network’s The Great Food Truck Race.  They traveled more than four thousand miles across the country in their Aloha Plate Food Truck in a competition to see who could make the most money.  Well, their team won, thanks to the support of thousands of former Hawai‘i residents who came out to support them.

 

You know what’s so interesting about that whole race was the word aloha.  I’m gonna keep coming back to it, but the word aloha.  This is what happened.  I’m not gonna tell you the whole story, but what really happened was, what clicked it, and what sparked it, that Coconut Wireless, was one text.  I text Brook Lee, Miss Universe, good friend of mine: I am going to Idaho, I don’t know anybody in Idaho; do you know anybody in Idaho? That one text created this phenomena of thousands of people showing up to a food truck to support people they don’t know.  Why?  Nobody knew what was going on, nobody knew.

 

That’s right; the show wasn’t on at that point, right?

 

No; it wasn’t on.  Those thousands of people that you didn’t see on the television, because they thought we were cheating, showed up because they wanted to eat. They wanted to eat Hawaiian food, in the middle of Idaho, that they haven’t had for a long time.  People from twenty years transplants that lived in Idaho, fifteen years or what have you, people going to school showed up.  And I’ll never forget; I was in Minnesota, it was twenty degrees, raining sideways.  We went to an ice cream shop, and there was a guy who comes out with a University of Hawai‘i hat.  And he looks up at me, and he goes: Lanai, what are you doing here?  And I go: We’re doing this food thing, and I’m looking for a place to park.  I couldn’t say anything.  He said: What do you mean, this food thing?  Oh, we have this food truck, and bla-bla-bla.  He goes: Come here tomorrow, this is Grand Avenue, everyone will be here shopping.  I said: Really?  I said: You from Hawai‘i?  He goes: No, the girl who owns this ice cream place is from Hawai‘i, my ex-girlfriend. What?  Yeah.  He goes: I love Hawai‘i, I going tell all my friends come tomorrow; park over here. We show up; about two hundred people waiting in line, tents, raining sideways, it’s twenty degrees.  Who are these people?  We take about forty-five minutes to prep.  I walk out.  And I did this in every city; I would go down the line and I would thank people for coming and let them know we’re gonna open soon.  There was a lady, she’s gotta be in her seventies, and I said: I want to thank you for coming.  She goes: No, no, no; I want to thank you.  And I said: Thank me for what?  She goes: I’ve been living here for twenty years, and I never knew this many people from Hawai‘i live in Minnesota.  You guys know what you did?  I go: What do you mean, know what we did?  She said: You brought all of us together, through food.  And I was like: Holy moly, I never thought of it like that; right?  Where were we?  We were in the capitol of Spam.  Spam is made in Minnesota.  Right?

 

Then it’s a genetic connection.

 

Yeah.  There was another connection; Spam is made in Minnesota.  I meet this guy Matt, who helps us with the parking and everything, and I said: What are you doing here?  He said: I came to school here and ended up working here; I created a group called The Frozen Ohana.  And I go: What’s The Frozen Ohana?  He goes: Twenty-five hundred of us that get together every three months and have a barbecue, because we homesick.  And I go: Homesick from where?  He goes: From Hawai‘i.  I go: There’s that many people here?  He goes: Yeah.  And that’s what happened in every city.  I have a story for every little city, but that one was halfway into the race, and that one when it clicked in.  This is why people came together, ‘cause of the food and the Aloha that they wanted to share with their friends and their neighbors.

 

Plus, they wanted to support somebody who was on a quest.

 

Yes.

 

A Hawaiian on a quest.

 

Yes; totally.

 

So, are you using what you learned from that to do your pop-ups now in different cities all over the place?

 

I’ve been on this new journey because of it, of teaching aloha.  I have this passion for aloha.  I have this passion for teaching people that if you have aloha and good intent with anything that you do, you can do anything that you want.  You know what I mean?  You can be the best at anything you want, because you enjoy it.  You know, find what your passion is, and do it with good intent and aloha.  And that’s what I’ve been on this journey through with the food.  I’ve been teaching it through food subliminally.

 

I can see how you do it.

 

Yeah.

 

So, what’s an example recently of aloha through food?

 

I’ve been doing these pop-up dinners with different chefs.  And I sit with them, and we create the menu.  And the menu is always gonna be the plantation days and the migration of immigrants that came to Hawai‘i.  From Hawaiian food is the first dish, to Chinese, to Japanese, to Korean, Portuguese, Filipino.  You know. So, I walk through the timeline of it, and I figure out, will this dish represent that community or immigrant that came to the plantation.  Yes, it does. All right; now we’re gonna create a story behind it.  So, when you come to my dinner, you’re not gonna just have dinner; you’re gonna get an experience.  And the experience is gonna be the story of when the Chinese came in the late 1700s to trade sandalwood with Kamehameha, and then they introduced us to noodles and rice.  And when the Japanese came and introduced us to teriyaki sauce, and the musubi, and that’s how the Spam musubi came about.  And the Portuguese gave us oil and batter.  And the oil and the batter, they saw the Japanese guy eating raw shrimp and they said: You cannot eat that raw.  And they grabbed the shrimp and dipped it in the batter and in the oil. That’s why when you look at an okazuya, it’s flat, our tempura.  The Japanese took it one step further and put panko.  These stories is the way that I’m gonna get to you and share what aloha means. At the end of the day, all these plantation workers got a kau kau tin.  They sat in a circle, hot rice in one hand, hot food and vegetables in the middle.  And the Japanese said: Yeah, try my musubi.  And the Chinese said: Yeah, that’s noodles, try my noodles.  What did it do?  It brought us together.  And the Hawaiians taught us how to share, which is aloha.

 

Since he and his team won The Great Food Truck Race, Lanai Tabura has developed a passion for teaching aloha through food.  Whether it’s through his cooking shows or his pop-up dinners, he says he’s on a mission to share aloha.  Mahalo to Lanai Tabura for sharing his life story with us.  And mahalo to you, for joining us.  For PBS Hawai‘i and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Aloha nui.

 

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

 

I have kids.  I want my kids to live in a better world.  It’s a tough world right now, you know.  So, my whole thing is, how am I gonna use what I have built to help people.  My mom has done it her whole life; she still does it today.  My grandparents did it.  You know, my grandmother would make a big pot of chili and feed everybody. You know.   And then for years I’d go: Grandma, how come there’s all this Tupperware on the table?  How come you feeling everybody?  She goes: Never mind, you just bring this to Uncle’s house next door, you bring this to Auntie’s house.  That was how we lived on the ahupua‘a.  That’s how we shared, that was aloha.  Right? We have to bring that back.  We’ve made life too difficult.  So, I don’t want it to be difficult; I want it to be simple.  Ah, maybe I’m dreaming.  But I think I’ve made a pretty good start.

 

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Showbiz Masterminds

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: Showbiz Masterminds

 

The glamour of the entertainment industry can be alluring, but with its heavy business risks, there are no guarantees of success. Polynesian entertainment company co-owner Cha Thompson; the late radio DJ and concert promoter Tom Moffatt; and former nightclub owner Jack Cione are three “showbiz masterminds” who excelled at entertaining local audiences. Revisit these conversations about their journeys, lessons learned and passion for showbiz.

 

Program

 

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

 

More from Showbiz Masterminds:

 

Cha Thompson – Authenticity in Entertaining

 

Tom Moffatt – Elvis’s Hat

 

Tom Moffatt – Elvis at Honolulu Stadium

 

Jack Cione – How to Hire a Naked Waiter

 

Showbiz Masterminds Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

And if you said you were from Hawaiʻi, that sold.  You almost didn’t have to do anything.  And so, we started traveling around the world.  And when we came home, people wanted shows.  We actually had to decide: We gotta get off the stage, you cannot be producer, director, business manager, choreographer, which is what we did. And oh, god; try do the books. Hello.

 

I just had them open their kimonos to add a little more to the show.

 

And what were the skaters wearing?

 

The skaters wore clothes, but the three girls that stood there on the ice—

 

Oh; I see.

 

They were the nudes on ice.  [CHUCKLE]  That was my hook.  Every show needs a hook, you know.

 

Yeah; because you’re a marketer, too.

 

Yes.  [CHUCKLE]

 

Was there a time you considered getting out, because maybe the risk was too high, or the cost was too high in some way?

 

No; I’ve never felt that way.  I always have been very optimistic about this business, that people want to be entertained, they want to see live concerts, they want to go out and be there, and experience that music firsthand.

 

The world of bright lights and big stages holds a certain allure.  But only a few carve out a successful business in the grueling entertainment world.  Meet three of Hawaiʻi’s showbiz masterminds, next, on Long Story Short.

 

One-on-one engaging conversations with some of Hawaiʻi’s most intriguing people: Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox.

 

Aloha mai kākou.  I’m Leslie Wicox.  Show business can be fun, exciting, and profitable.  But there are no guarantees.  Yet, Polynesian entertainment company co-owner Cha Thompson, nightclub owner Jack Cione, and the late radio deejay turned concert promoter Tom Moffatt excelled in this risky industry.   These three people are very different from each other.  In common, they all trusted their artistic tastes and business instincts to entertain Hawaiʻi for decades.

 

First, we turn to our 2008 conversation with Cha Thompson.  In the early 70s, she was a nineteen-year-old hula dancer traveling the world for performances, when she was suddenly put in charge of a popular Polynesian dance group.  Cha Thompson and her husband Jack soon founded Tihati Productions, now one of the largest and longest-running entertainment companies in Hawaiʻi.

 

I was with the original Puka Puka Otea group that Elaine Frisbie from Rarotonga ran.  And we were the only one in the State to do Polynesian everything.  And then, when she was leaving, I was her lead dancer, and she simply said: Here, take it and run.  And at nineteen, excuse me, I knew nothing about business.  And so, you know, when I married my husband, I was working in medical records at Queen’s Medical Center, and he was working in reservations at Hawaiian Airlines.  And people started calling us.  And I’m telling you, it was so successful, because tourism at the time was the thing, and everybody wanted a show.

 

What year was that?  What general decade?

 

1969, ’70.  And if you said you were from Hawaiʻi, that sold.  You almost didn’t have to do anything.  And so, we started traveling around the world.  And when we came home, people wanted shows.  We actually had to decide: We gotta get off the stage, you cannot be producer, director, business manager, choreographer, which is what we did. And oh, god; try do the books. Hello.

 

You danced.  What did your husband do?

 

He was the emcee.  And his very first thing to do was, he came to Canada when I was with the World’s Fair, and I was a dancer.  And he was one of the few Polynesians who could speak English.  So, when our emcee got sick, he said: Give it to Thompson.  And he said: I’m not an entertainer.  You know. And in fact, just before we left, he said: I’m part-Samoan, surely I can learn the knife dance.  I always thought he was too handsome to be a knife dancer. He didn’t look as wild and savage. But he learned it, and became a knife dancer.  Terrible knife dancer in the beginning; can’t hold a candle next to my son, who’s a world title holder.  But that’s how we started.  We had to get off stage, and get a good attorney, get a great CPA, and we gave up our careers to run the business.

 

You were singled out to be the one to take over the dancing troupe.

 

Yes.

 

Why?

 

You know, I wonder if because shucks, I was always vocal. I always had an opinion.  I wonder.  And many of the Polynesian girls were more reserved.  I always had the plan, I always had the plan.

 

And it was a good plan?

 

It was a good plan.  I think survival mode; always in a survival mode, you know.  And I think that’s what my children detect. Like: Mom, oh.  You know, always plan for tomorrow, save, you know, the rainy day is coming, and always dress well if you get into an accident and make sure you have clean underwear.  [CHUCKLE] And you know, the house must be clean. Visitors will come, they’ll judge us. I always felt like I was being judged; always.  People started taking us seriously when we would sit on business boards, or when we contributed in a business fashion.  But yeah, I mean, you’re Polynesian; surely you can’t be too smart. And entertainment; heavens, you must fool around you must do drugs.  Well, we did neither, and it paid off.  It paid off for us.

 

I sense you’re a good negotiator.  I’m trying to figure out what your style is.

 

[CHUCKLE]  It’s the Pake blood, Leslie; it’s the Chinese blood.  And the funny thing about it is, in entertainment, they will say: Oh, come and put on a show, or come and dance for us, and you can eat all you want, and you can drink.  I don’t drink.  I’m really thin; I don’t eat that much.  I need something else.  And money was the thing I needed.  But we had to earn it, we had to earn it.  They didn’t take us seriously, you know.

 

I know you brought in some major acts.

 

Yes.

 

And you developed major talent.

 

I think we’re known as a Polynesian revue.  And I don’t know that many people know that Tihati Productions has a vast department that brings in contemporary acts.  Like, we brought in Lionel Richie, and Cyndi Lauper. And we also do thematic parties. You know, we’ll prepare a whole Raiders of The Lost Ark, or Aloha in a volcano.  So, we do many things.  But I think they still think of me as the hula girl.  I mean, maybe, because then they’ll say: Oh, you know, you run that halau. And I say: No, I’m not a kumu, I don’t have a halau.  But Tihati Productions, they think of as a Polynesian revue.

 

You’ve had to really strike a balance between Polynesian authenticity and entertainment.  How have you worked that out?

 

I decided early on not to educate them, rather to entertain them, but to not sell myself and not give them what is real.  Any Tihati revue that you see will have real flowers, we’ll use real ti leaf skirts, we do authentic numbers and sing it in the native tongues.  You know, Tahitian, Samoan, Fijian, and all of my instructors are from those islands, Hawaiian.  So, I never felt that tourism was a threat to me.  In fact, when some people might have thought, Oh, that’s a sell-out, she’s worked in Waikīkīfor thirty-five years, you know, why isn’t she with us?, I would say, Well, tourism dollars sent all my kids to college, and I never felt that I wasn’t doing exactly what is me.  You know, I believe God gave me a gift in my roots and my heritage, and I share it. And lucky for me, tourism is Hawaiʻi’s number-one industry, and they’ll always need the hula girl, and the steel guitar, and the fire knife dancer.  And so, I think I’m here to stay.

 

With clear vision, quick reflexes, and a tenacious attitude, Cha Thompson and her husband Jack built a respected, long-running entertainment business.

 

Our next showbiz mastermind is also a longtime entrepreneur.  Jack Cione first gained notoriety in the 60s with live shows that were new to Honolulu at the time—nude entertainers and bottomless wait staff.  He was fired up to put on his own dance productions after seeing what he called a lousy show at the old Forbidden City Nightclub in Kakaʻako.  Here, from our conversation in 2014, Jack Cione remembers talking to the Forbidden City’s manager about organizing his first shows there.

 

I just told him how bad his show was, and he said: You want to do a show for me?  I said: Yeah, I’ll do a show for you, I have nothing to do.  He said,: How much is it gonna cost?  I said: I’ll do a show for you for nothing.  I just need something to do.  So, I did a show at the Forbidden City.  And I did two shows that made a lot of money.  And then, I did an ice show.  First time we had an ice show at the Forbidden City.  I called it Nudes on Ice.

 

So, you put in an ice skating rink?

 

Yeah; it was about twice the size of this table. Portable.  And two skater friends of mine from the mainland, I brought them over and said: Come and skate; a paid vacation, two weeks.  So, they came over.  And I had the Japanese girls, and I used them as showgirls.  And I talked three of the Japanese girls into going topless. I just had them open their kimonos to add a little more to the show.

 

And what were the skaters wearing?

 

The skaters wore clothes, but the three girls that stood there on the ice—

 

Oh; I see.

 

They were the nudes on ice.  [CHUCKLE]  That was my hook.  Every show needs a hook, you know.

 

Yeah; because you’re a marketer, too.

 

Yes.  [CHUCKLE]

 

So, now you’re really kinda dealing in a different kind of venue.

 

Right.  And there were no nightclubs having any nudity.  It was against the law.

 

Now, you already lied about your age, but now you’re talking about breaking the law.

 

Well, there were no laws.  Hawaiian dancers were topless.

 

Throughout history.  [CHUCKLE]

 

Right.  And so, what was the law?  What was the big deal?  So, the next show I did was complete nude show.  I brought burlesque in.  It wasn’t nude; it was just topless.  The girls then had to wear pasties and silk bras.  But it eventually evolved.  And every time we would do that, they would come and arrest me.

 

You’re saying this like this is, you know, just part of doing business.  And what was the charge?  Was it lewdness, open lewdness?

 

Lewd and lascivious conduct.

 

How did you feel about that?

 

Well, they’d arrest me, and I’d say: Excuse me, can I go to the restroom?  And I’d run in my office and I’d call the TV and the newspaper, and I’d stay there until they all got to the club.

 

So, you’re actually enjoying this.

 

Oh, loving it.  And the next morning, it was in the papers and it was on TV.

 

Was that part of being a showman?

 

Yes.  And business increased.  People would see that.  Oh, look, arrested, nude.  We gotta go see that [CHUCKLE] at Forbidden City.

 

And how did your new wife think about this?

 

Well, [CHUCKLE] she didn’t particularly like it. But it was making lots of money. And so, we opened that club, then we opened another one.  I ended up with twelve bars here.

 

And how many arrests?

 

Oh, gosh; I was arrested so many times, but not once conviction.

 

Because as you said, the laws hadn’t caught up with this business activity.

 

Right.  We went topless, then we went bottomless, and then we went totally nude.  We used to have a businessman’s lunch at The Dunes.

 

Back when three martinis were tax deductible; right?

 

Right.  And it was all businessmen.  And the show was a striptease show.  And these secretaries said: We’re so tired of coming with our boss; why don’t you put a naked man on stage for us?  And I just happened to say: Well, why don’t you get me a reservation for fifty ladies, and I’ll have a naked man for you.  That’s how it started.

 

And did you get a reservation for fifty?

 

Oh, gosh; they called about two weeks later.  They said: We have your fifty; you’re gonna have a naked man?  And I said: Yes.  Well, by the time the two weeks came, they had two hundred reservations.  That filled up my room.  [CHUCKLE]  They kept out my men customers.  The ladies took all the seats.

 

And did you have your naked waiter in line?

 

No.

 

No?

 

I didn’t have any.

 

How do you hire a naked waiter?

 

In those days, this was now 1973, and there were no such a thing as Chippendales and men strippers.  But I had a beach house in Haleiwa that I was renting to five surfers. And they were behind on their rent. So, I called them and said: You guys gotta pay the rent, or you’ve gotta come in and do me a favor.  They said: What is it?  I said: Well, you gotta come to The Dunes, Friday, and you’ve got to drop your pants on stage.  Oh, hell, yeah; we’ll do that.  Those women stayed all day.  We had the biggest bar business I ever did that afternoon.  They all drank, drank, and the surfers were enter—

 

Paraded.

 

Paraded, without their pants.  So, when I saw that, I thought: Oh, this is a goldmine. So, in a week’s time, I told the gals; I said: We’re gonna have waiters every day.

 

Instead of waitresses?

 

Instead of waitresses.

 

Because the women were the ones who were paying more money.

 

Yes.

 

As clients.

 

That’s how it happened.

 

And people keep coming back?

 

Oh; unreal.  Four hundred lunches, Monday through Friday.

 

I just sense that your guiding force is money and showbiz.  But you weren’t really into the flesh stuff of it all?

 

No.  Nightclub business is not an easy business.  But I stayed the straight line, and did it as a business.  I don’t drink; I never did drink.  [CHUCKLE]  And so, people would want to buy me a drink.  I said: You know, I’m in the business to sell this; I don’t drink it.

 

Jack Cione is a showbiz mastermind who went with his gut.  He knew what he liked, saw what worked, and gave people what they wanted.

 

So did our next guest.  Much has been said about the late Tom Moffatt’s career, first as a pioneering rock and roll radio deejay who introduced Hawaiʻi to Elvis Presley, then as a promoter of big name concerts, bringing everyone from The Eagles to Bruno Mars to the islands.  But let’s not forget Tom Moffatt’s work with local acts, especially during the Hawaiian music renaissance in the 1970s.  In our 2011 conversation, he recounts his work with Keola and Kapono Beamer on a recording that still strikes a chord here at home, and beyond.

 

I had just left radio.  I’d gone through a couple of owners at KPOI, and a third one was coming in, and I decided it was time to take a hiatus from radio.  So, I started my own record company.  And in the door walked Kapono Beamer one day, and said that they weren’t happy with wherever they were in recording.  And so, I got the two of them in, and talked to them about it.  And I said: Why don’t you guys go out and write, and let’s do a record together, an album.  So, I gave them some seed money to go out and write.  And Keola called me and said: I think I’ve got a song.  He was living up at Alewa Heights; I’ll never forget.  And I went up to Alewa Heights to hear the song. It was just when it was getting dusk, and that time of the evening when it was getting dark and the lights were coming on.  And he played for me Honolulu City Lights.  And I knew we had something.  So, that was my first recording endeavor, really on my own, and we came out with Honolulu City Lights.  Got Teddy Randazzo to help with the arrangements.

 

And for decades, I believe that was the highest-selling local album of all time. Is it still?

 

I don’t know, with Iz around.  [CHUCKLE]

 

And I think Kealii Reichel might have had a really big seller.

 

Oh, yes; yes.  But not that long ago, few years back, I think it was the Star Bulletin or the Advertiser, and Honolulu Magazine came out with a list of the best albums. Not best-selling, just the best albums, Hawaiʻi albums of all time.  And number one was Honolulu City Lights.  That was a thrill.  It’s still my favorite.  [CHUCKLE] I still love that song.

 

Me, too.  Actually, that came out when I was seeing a lot of friends off to college at the airport.

 

Yeah.

 

And it was always playing the airport then, and they were always crying. Those were the days where there was no security.

 

Yes.

 

You went to the gate to see people off.

 

You could go the gate with leis; yeah?

 

And local style, you didn’t bring just leis; you brought bentos, and food.

 

Yes; uh-huh.

 

And everybody had luaus, and that song was just playing—

 

Oh, yeah.

 

–almost continuously.  And if it wasn’t somebody was asking for it to be played.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

Yeah.  So, that’s such a cultural memory in Hawaiʻi.  That was your first, ever, recorded song.

 

Yes.  I’d done some singles and so forth.  Once, I put out an album, a trumpet album, but that was with other people involved. But this was the first one I did on my own, was Honolulu City Lights.  At the same time, I had a girl that worked for me just as I was leaving KPOI, and she said: You gotta go out and see this group in Aina Haina.

 

Randy Borden?

 

No.

 

No? Okay; who?

 

Country Comfort.

 

Country Comfort.

 

Yeah.

 

Playing at the old—

 

At The Sty.

 

–M’s Ranch House?

 

No, this was at The Sty.  It wasn’t Aina Haina; it was beyond Aina Haina at The Sty.

 

Niu; that’s right.

 

Yeah.  And I heard these guys.  I went out and saw what was happening with the audience, and what they had going for them. And so, I finished off an album that—this was just before Honolulu City Lights, that my partner Irv Peninsky had started.  And I finished off the album, and we put it out together.  Then after that, I left out on my own.  But Country Comfort was one of my favorite albums.  I also did an album by The Surfers at that time called Shells, which I still think is one of the best Hawaiian albums ever produced.

 

Who were the local artists that you most enjoyed working with, and had the most success with?

 

Well, The Royal Drifters were one of the first local groups.  Dick Jensen, Robin Luke, Ronnie Diamond; they were all big singers in the 50s and early 60s. And we used them as often as possible on The Show of Stars at the Civic Auditorium, and whenever we could at the new arena.  Remember the first time that the Rolling Stones came to town, I put Dick Jensen on as the opening—Lance Curtis as the opening group, opening performer.

 

Lance Curtis.

 

And he danced like Michael Jackson.  This was before Michael Jackson.  He could dance.

 

You know, all of these enterprises, these artistic enterprises, and creative enterprises, to really be stable and to make a go of them, you have to be good at money.  You have to be good at restraint, and you have to be good at planning.

 

Uh-huh.

 

Did you have that all along, or did you have to learn that the hard way?

 

I’m still learning.  [CHUCKLE]  Still learning.  But I got good accountants around me.  Yeah.

 

And you’re not by nature prone to take unreasonable risk.

 

No.  We put quite a bit of money into some of the recording projects, but I believed in them, and they turned out okay.  Opening the Outrigger main showroom was kind of gamble.  It was a room that was sitting there was a convention room that they never used.  And Tommy Sands had come to Hawaiʻi, and was looking for a place to work.  And so, we opened that showroom.  And it’s been going ever since, after Tommy and I kinda drifted off.  And another time when the Beamers got going with Honolulu City Lights, there was another room that was sitting empty which we opened as the Reef Showroom at the Reef Hotel.  The Ocean Showroom at the Reef Hotel; that’s what we called it.  I put the Beamers in there.  That was kind of a gamble at the time, but I felt, you know, this record was happening.  So, we opened the showroom with Keola and Kapono Beamer, and Andy Bumatai as the opening comedian.  It was very successful.

 

Was there a time you considered getting out, because maybe the risk was too high, or the cost was too high in some way?

 

No; I’ve never felt that way.  I always have been very optimistic about this business, that people want to be entertained, they want to see live concerts, they want to go out and be there, and experience that music firsthand.

 

The concert promoter, the nightclub entrepreneur, and the Polynesian entertainment company co-owner; three masterminds in showbiz who trusted their tastes and instincts to entertain the islands.  After months of declining health, Tom Moffatt left us in 2016. What an honor to revisit his tremendous career.  And we thank Jack Cione and Cha Thompson for their savvy business stories.  Mahalo to you for joining is.  For PBS Hawaiʻi and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha nui.

 

You learn that from Kalihi.  Somebody puts you down and, ah, you know, I could do something better than they could.  I knew I could.  I don’t know how this is gonna sound, but what was important is, you gotta know how to beef, quite frankly.

 

You can beef?

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

You can beef?

 

Yeah, man.

 

You’re so elegant.

 

Yeah, man.  [CHUCKLE]  Or at least, I used to a lot.  And you know, when you come from a large family, nobody wants to beef with you. ‘Cause in the housing, families fight families.  I mean, I know it sounds imbecilical, but we did.

 

Did you beef boys, too?

 

Yeah.  Yeah, yeah. Most of the boys didn’t want to take me on, though.  I had brother, big brothers.

 

I mean, you were just a kid.

 

Yeah.

 

Playing at nightclubs.

 

I did.

 

What time did you go to sleep?

 

Well, I changed my age.  I was twenty then.  ‘Cause I had a mustache at fourteen, I didn’t look like a high school student.  And I was making seventy-five dollars a week. That was good money.

 

And how did you keep up with school, when you were actually working in the city?

 

Yeah.  Well, I didn’t keep up with school.  That was the sad part.  I remember one day, a teacher said to me: Jackie Cioni, you’re gonna be a bum; you’re gonna be a bum if you don’t learn Algebra and English.  And I said: Get out of my face, honey; I make seventy-five bucks a week; what are you making?  Schoolteachers made thirty-five dollars a week.

 

Ouch!

 

I introduced Elvis Presley.  The place went crazy.  It was so exciting.

 

Really high decibels?

 

Yeah; yeah.

 

Shrieky.

 

Yeah.  And there he was, just a microphone, and a simple sound system.  But he held that audience.

 

And when had you met him before that?

 

Well, the day before, Ron Jacobs and I … Ron figured this one out.  Do something different.  And we’d me the Colonel, and we’d kinda hinted there might be something like this in the works.  And Don Tyler was one of our guys at KPOI, and we dressed him up to look like Elvis. Ron had his convertible, a Ford convertible, hardtop convertible, top went down.  And got a fellow who looked like Colonel Parker, and Ron driving. And we had it all planned.  I’m on the radio.  From the moment Elvis arrived, I’m on the radio playing nothing but Elvis records.  And I did this all morning, into the afternoon.  So, I kinda planted it; well, we understand that Elvis is heading for Kailua, for people to be out in the streets looking for Elvis, and drive down the streets, and people are screaming.  And we did this in different neighborhoods.

 

Did you get any fallout from it?

 

Well, we got back to the studio.  By then, I’d played Elvis for six straight hours, at least. It was mid-afternoon, and we were patting ourselves on the back.  And we get the message from our news guy that Colonel Parker wants to see you guys downstairs, immediately.

 

Dun-da-dun-da.

 

And we looked at each other.  We wanted to escape.  So, we went downstairs and there’s guards at the elevator.  We went down one floor.  And they took us into Colonel Parker’s suite.  We didn’t know what to expect.  Colonel said: Boys, that was a pretty good promotion you did.  Oh, my gosh!  Oh, and here’s Elvis.  In walked Elvis.  And that’s the first time I’d met Elvis.  [CHUCKLE]

 

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.

 

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