life

POV
306 Hollywood

POV: 306 Hollywood

 

306 Hollywood is a magical realist documentary of two siblings who undertake an archaeological excavation of their late grandmother’s house. They embark on a journey from her home in New Jersey to ancient Rome, from fashion to physics, in search of what life remains in the objects we leave behind.

 

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LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Stephanie Han

 

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

 

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

 

Stephanie Han Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

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

 

As a child, she found refuge in books, which she called her friends because her family moved so frequently. She says reading and writing are linked and somehow writing chose her and she became a writer. Stephanie Han, next, on Long Story Short. 

 

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

 

Aloha mai kākou, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Stephanie Han was born Stephanie Mi Suk Yoo but goes by her maternal family’s name. A resident of Kaimukī, O‘ahu, she’s a teacher with a doctorate at Punahou School at Honolulu, and she’s a writer of poetry, fiction, and non-fiction, much of it about one’s identity in multicultural settings. Dr. Han is the author of “Swimming in Hong Kong”, a collection of short stories. Her father was one of Korea’s top scholars before he came to the United States to attend university, becoming a medical doctor and research scientist. Her mother was raised in Kunia Camp in central O‘ahu, a descendant of the first wave of Korean immigrants to Hawai‘i.  Stephanie Han’s parents met in the San Francisco Bay area, and after they were married, lived all over the United States, fueled in part by their wanderlust.

 

Where do you call home?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Yes.

 

Ok, so what happened?

 

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

 

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

 

And boy-girl, exactly, and then…

 

So this is a bad bully…

 

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

 

Why did you move so much?

 

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

 

That meant you switched schools a lot.

 

I switched schools every year until I was nine.

 

That’s a lot.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Don’t you have two Masters?

 

Yeah, I have two Masters degrees.

 

And a PhD, the first PhD in English Literature…

 

Literature, from City University of Hong Kong.

 

And you do a lot of professional teaching as well?

 

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

 

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

 

You said your friends were books?

 

Yeah.

 

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

 

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

 

Because that’s the real mother…

 

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

 

Did you watch the TV show, too?

 

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

 

Who’s [INDISTINCT] anyway?

 

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

 

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

 

Yes.

 

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

 

Yes.

 

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

 

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

 

And heart.

 

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

 

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

 

Well, I would say…

 

Besides Laura.

 

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

 

Momotaro?

 

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

 

I grew up with that story.

 

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

 

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

 

Poetry…

 

Is that true?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Well, why have you moved as an adult?

 

Um…

 

Repeatedly?

 

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

 

And you always find people like yourself…

 

Mm hm, and it becomes a community.

 

It is a community.

 

So that is a community.

 

So how do you find people in that community?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Where did you graduate from…

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

[END]

 

 

HIKI NŌ
HIKI NŌ Class of 2019 & 2020

 

This is the final episode in a series of four specials in which outstanding HIKI NŌ graduates from the Class of 2019 (and one student from the Class of 2020) gathered at PBS Hawaiʻi to discuss their HIKI NŌ experiences and how they feel the skills they learned from HIKI NŌ will help them in college, the workplace and life.

 

This episode features Christine Alonzo, who is now a HIKI NŌ student in her senior year at Maui High School; Julia Forrest, who graduated from Waiʻanae High School on Oʻahu and is now a Public Policy major at the University of Michigan; and Tiffany Sagucio, who graduated from Kauaʻi High School and is now majoring in Communications at UH Mānoa.

 

Each student also shows a HIKI NŌ story that they worked on and discusses what they learned from the experience of working on that particular story. Christine shares her story, “Kuleana,” about the making of the independent feature film Kuleana by a Maui resident and a tight-knit local film community. Julia shows her story “Naked Cow Dairy,” about the last dairy farm on Oʻahu. Tiffany presents her story, “A Special Piece,” — a personal video essay about appreciating home on the threshold of going away to college.

 

 

 

HIKI NŌ
HIKI NŌ Class of 2019, Part Two

 

This is the second of four specials in which outstanding HIKI NŌ graduates from the Class of 2019 (and one student from the Class of 2020) gathered at PBS Hawaiʻi to discuss their HIKI NŌ experiences and how they feel the skills they learned from HIKI NŌ will help them in college, the workplace and life.

 

This episode features Kera Rasavanh, who graduated from McKinley High School in Honolulu and is now a Business Marketing and Digital Cinema major at UH Mānoa; Drake Dela Cruz, who graduated from Farrington High School in Honolulu and is now a Film and TV Production major at Leeward Community College on Oʻahu; and Serene Morales, who graduated from H.P. Baldwin High School on Maui and is now majoring in Digital Cinema at UH Mānoa.

 

Each graduate also shows a HIKI NŌ story that they worked on and discusses what they learned from the experience of working on that particular story. Kera shares her story “Hawaii Nature Center,” about an ʻāina-based education center in Makiki, Oʻahu that teaches elementary and middle school children how to care for the environment. Drake shows “Betty Santoki,” about a 1962 Farrington graduate who has dedicated her life to keeping Japanese culture alive in her community. Serene presents her story “Justin Yanagida,” about a Maui-based fitness coach who uses struggles from his own past to motivate others to turn their lives around.

 

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Puna Dawson

 

Puna Dawson has often found herself in the right place at the right time. Guided by her Hawaiian values and a desire to serve others, she has met extraordinary individuals and lived through significant events. Meet this Kaua‘i-based Hawaiian cultural practitioner and learn about the remarkable people and events that have touched and shaped her life.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, Sept. 22, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

More from Puna Dawson:

 

Hawaiʻi Is All People

 

Whatever You Need, You Have

 

A Simple Smile

 

Puna Dawson Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

Did you have that sense that you were—because your life has been one of service, and you’ve done an astounding number of things, was that an intention?

 

I think it kind of happened.  I’ve been very fortunate to be at places that have opened doors and given me experiences, I mean, from one end of the Earth to the other. I thank my kūpuna, because they planned it, you know, and I’m just walking that path.

 

Puna Dawson often happened to be in the right place, at the right time, meeting remarkable people.  Was it chance, or part of a greater design?  Puna Dawson, 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.  Cecelia Ann Camille Keikilaniwahinealiiopuna Kalama Dawson, better known as Puna, is a Hawai‘i cultural practitioner on Kaua‘i.  She’s the second-oldest and first daughter born into a family of eleven children on O‘ahu. Descended from Hawaiian ali‘i, her parents taught her as she was growing up that like her ancestors, her life purpose must be to serve the people.  While she did not seek to meet prominent and extraordinary individuals, they certainly crossed her path in surprising ways, in surprising places.  Who else can say they were called to give a man a ride on Kaua‘i, and it turned out to be the Dalai Lama?  More on that later.  She lives in Anahola and Līhu‘e, Kaua‘i, but grew up in Kailua on the Windward side of O‘ahu.

 

Kailua was a big place close to the ocean.  I that was what our life was all about. And my family, you know, when I look back at all of my siblings, my parents had playmates for us.  Because they had so many.  And we were poor, but we just didn’t know that we were poor.  Being there in Kailua, it was a rich community of people that really knew one another, that saw each other at church, walking to and from, you know, school.  The people of that time are names that you read about in today’s time, but they were aunties and uncles, and everybody knew everyone.

 

And now, it seems so odd that anyone who describes themselves as poor would live right … you lived behind what is now Buzz’ Steakhouse, and right across from the beach park.   And now, it’s a whole different upscale neighborhood.

 

Oh, it sure is.  But back then, you know, in one of the homes that we lived, my dad grew everything.  And he was a cook.  My mom was a princess.  But he grew everything, and he taught us to respect and appreciate the ocean, because that was our icebox.  Our house was a one-bedroom house.

 

With eleven children.

 

With eleven children.

 

Up to eleven at a time.

 

Eleven children.  My dad was a man of many trades.  And he was able to build us steel bunkbeds.  So, we had three bunkbeds, a daybed for one of the children, and then a crib.  And we all lived in this one bedroom.  I mean, all the children did.  My parents slept in the living room.  He made that bed, too.  And we had a closet that was about this big, and a bathroom, and a hallway kitchen.  I call it a hallway kitchen because that’s exactly what it was; it was a hallway.  Small house, but lot of love.

 

And did you want to go home, or did you feel cramped at home?

 

Oh, no.  I thought everybody lived like that.  And we always had extra people.  My dad, you know, all the people that kinda grew up—Whitey Hawkins, all these uncles and aunties that he knew from the ocean came home; brought ‘em home.  And children.

 

So, when you were a child, your home was full of people who had a range of backgrounds, and came to eat, came to socialize.

 

My dad; yes.

 

Your dad would …

 

My dad and my mom.  You know, because my mother was a hula person, we always had hula people there.  Back then, the Lucky Luck show, you know, we’d go and perform, Auntie Genoa would play music, the Bee Sisters would play music.  My dad, between his fishermen and friends, we lived down the road from Don Ho, we lived, you know, in Waimānalo it’s Uncle Gabby.  But it wasn’t unusual for them to show up at our house and kanikapila in the front yard. And my dad was a boat builder, so he built so many boats.  And last count, he built sixteen boats, and he gave them all away.  And these were big sampan style, you know.  The people who would come to our house would not just play music, but you know, talk story, and talk story.  And so, our life was full and rich.

 

Auntie ‘Iolani Luahine came to your house.  I mean, you’ve seen her dance in person.  You know, she’s no longer with us, and not a lot of pictures even remain of her, especially moving pictures.  But they say it seemed like she was possessed by another presence when she danced.  Did you see that?

 

She was dedicated to hula, and of that time.  You know, when you look and read about the history of that time, I had no idea we were living in that time because she was part of it.  Iolani came on my mother’s birthday and asked if my mother would go and chant for her at the beach.  And so, we went.  And she danced right there at the water’s edge, right at the mouth of Kawai Nui, the river in Kailua.  And she danced there.  And you know, when you say that she’s possessed, it’s like she’s from another time. It was as though she was on top of the water, at the water’s edge, just floating.  Because of her dedication, when she became this other person, it was a real gift to me in my memory, because it helped me understand the histories of past.

 

So, here you are, I mean, treated to this amazing dancer, while also, you’re off to St. Anthony’s Catholic School in Kailua with your long hair down to your ankles.

 

Big bush.

 

Bound up behind your head.

 

A bush.  My dad didn’t want us cutting our hair, so our hair was big.  Anyway, at St. Anthony’s, again, at the right place at the right time.  You know, Hedwig von Trapp was—

 

Okay; stop right there.  Hedwig von Trapp was your teacher.

 

Yes.

 

And who was she?

 

Hedwig von Trapp of the von Trapp family.  She came to school in her dirndl and her kerchief.

 

The Sound of Music family.

 

The Sound of Music.

 

The actual one of the kids.

 

Actual; yeah.

 

Grown up.

 

The actual.  And you know, she was a gift to the school.  My auntie, Melia Meyer’s mother, found this woman, brought her to our school.  They were so involved with education.  And she became our music teacher.  So, you know, Mihana Aluli and all of us going to school there, we learnt from this woman.  Besides, of course, Auntie Irmgard.  But we learnt from this woman about harmony and voice projection.  We didn’t know we were having voice lessons; it was what she demanded of us at the time.  But, you know, I attribute my ability to hear harmony to that woman.  And what a gift.

 

Puna Dawson’s family life revolved around the ocean, whether it was boat building, fishing, or especially canoe paddling.  As much as her mother expected her to follow in her hula footsteps, paddling always came first for her.  Yet, her life experiences, guided by her relationship with her mother and other Hawaiian cultural practitioners, pushed her in another direction.

 

I loved sandboarding at the mouth of the river. That was my favorite sport; and canoeing.  And you know, all our family were canoe paddlers, canoe builders, makers.  And my passion was canoeing.  And I’d show up for hula with my hair wet, and show up there, and I never thought I was going to be a kumu hula of any kind.  In fact, I’m really lazy.  But I never thought, because I believed that my mother was going to live forever.  But not too long after that, my Aunt Maiki Aiu passed away.  She and my mother were two peas in a pod, and were both graduates of Auntie Lokalia Montgomery, and so, they did everything together.  But it was such a shock when Auntie passed away, because it made me realize that that could happen to my mom, too.  And I will say that helped me be more responsible.

 

Because you were the next in line to be kumu hula once your mom passed?

 

No; it was, you know, never appreciating what is right around you.  Never appreciating them.  And that was a real wakeup call.  Because my aunt was surrounded by beautiful people, and you know, and my mom too, and my aunts, my other aunts, that when she passed, it shook us, all of us.  But it shook me enough to say to my mom: I’m ready. I’m ready.

 

You had been the daughter who wasn’t showing interest in hula.

 

Oh, no.  I would say to my mom every time: Oh, there’s a new race, mom; right after this race, I will show up.

 

I see.

 

I promise you, I promise you.

 

It’s not easy; as everyone who ever goes to Kamehameha Schools knows, not easy to make Concert Glee.  You did so. What was that like?  Because it did take you many places.

 

It did.  You know, I’m gonna say this on record; I had the best friends in school, and Robert Cazimero was one of them, Kaohu Mookini.  I mean, you know, all the names that you hear.  Wayne Chang, all of these people were the who’s-who were all part of this group.  And Auntie Nona Beamer was our Hawaiian teacher.

 

You must have thought that was really normal to have all these amazing people around you.

 

Really.  And what happened was, at the right place at the right time.  Kalani Cockett came and he saw the Hawaiian ensemble, our group, and picked the whole group up and, you know, the rest is history.  We became The Hawaiian Expression.  And so, we traveled, but we traveled with our teachers. Mr. Mookini, who taught science, was our musicians, the Bee Sisters.  You know, all of these people that were known musicians of the time were a part.  Barry Yap from Kauai, you know, Beverly Noa, Ed Kenney.

 

Wow.

 

These people were—

 

They traveled with you and worked with you.

 

They traveled.  You know, we’d show up in Belgium, we’d show up in Paris; every place that Pan American flew, we had a show there.  And we were housed in Zurich.  And a group of us, you know, it was like a pod.  And it was wonderful, because we were at places that you only read about, you know.

 

Was Hawaiʻi small enough now that many other people had these experiences, or were they coming to you because your family was so involved in the community?

 

I think it was just timing.  And I say it all the time; it’s just timing.  All the places that I’ve been and continue to go to, in the name of aloha is an expression that my mom used.  What happened was, she saw so many things being written about Hawai‘i, and she totally disagreed with it.  And she became part of the Aloha Council with Auntie Pilahi Paki.  They wanted to push to make sure that that idea and the flavor of Hawaiʻi didn’t disappear.  And so, my mom started to travel.  And she chose the places that we still had agreements of peace—Germany. You know, if you look at Kalākaua and the things that he had made peace agreements—Japan, all of these places, that’s where she wanted to go.

 

What were the original things that your mom heard that were being said incorrectly about Hawaiʻi, that made her want to go on her mission?

 

Oh; hula.  Things about hula that just drove her crazy.  All knowledge is not in one school.  That’s correct.  But what was happening was, things about huna, about lua, and especially about hula was being printed, and printed in all these different languages—Japanese, you know, German, a lot of Swedish and things.  And talking story with Auntie Pilahi, you know, they were: We gotta do something about this.

 

Well, what exactly bothered them?  What was being said?

 

Well, the practice of huna especially.  Huna is in every culture; every culture.  And the expression of unihipili, coming to your center. It’s when you translate something that has no foundation, and you create it.  And that’s what they saw.  You know, in the expression how the word aloha was turned around or expressed without thought, without foundation.  I mean, the words itself in that word aloha, it is so pronounced, because it is characteristics of who we are as a people.  And in reference to hula, hula is not something that you can really learn.  It is there in you.  And different people are able to help to bring it forth.  I believe that that was really what bothered them the most. And my mother said: My grandchildren, great-grandchildren are gonna be reading this and believing it if we don’t speak out against it, if we don’t show the other side of the picture—

 

Correct the record.

 

Right.   Then, you know, we’re at fault.  So, it became a mission of hers in her later years to try to, you know, create that huliau.

 

After high school, Puna Dawson assisted her mother teaching hula in Kailua, while remaining an avid paddler and hoping to build the sport.  She followed her husband, Kalani Dawson, to Kaua‘i when he was assigned a short-term job on the island.  And she was there when Hurricane Iwa hit, which extended her husband’s stay. Commuting back and forth between O‘ahu and Kaua‘i after that, she became part of the Kaua‘i community until moving there permanently.  Then, a second hurricane hit.

 

My husband worked for the telephone company, and he went to install of the PBX in Poipu.  The very following week, Iwa hit.  And then, we were on loan to the island.  And getting ready to come home, and then Iniki hit.

 

’92; that’s a long time.

 

That’s a long time.

 

So, you were there …

 

I was there from ’89, continuously.  But in that time, my friends and family on the island would say: Oh, teach hula; why don’t you teach hula.  I go: Oh, no; too much work.  Plus—

 

I’m leaving anyway.

 

Yeah.

 

Plus, my husband and I were very involved with the canoe club on Kaua‘i.  And he bought me a microwave.  I know. He says: I’m gonna buy you this microwave because I want you to come and be the coach for the women’s crew on Kaua‘i. And so, I said: Oh.  Well, when I went there, when I went there to be the coach, what happened was, you know, coming from O‘ahu, where everything was more systematic, we go to Kaua‘i, and I have people who don’t run, they paddle when they want to paddle.  I mean, they were wonderful, but you know, it was a different lifestyle.  Anyway, he said: We need to help them to become long-distance paddlers.

 

Okay; now, what does this have to do with the microwave?

 

He bought me the microwave because I said: I’m too busy, I can’t do this, you know.  He bought me the microwave, got me the classes, and I became the microwave queen. Anyway, come back to the canoeing. Why I even went on that tangent is, my mom came to visit me a couple of times, and you know, we have friends on island. Everybody knows everybody.  And in the years that I was there, I met different kumu.  And so, when my neighbor said: Oh, can you teach us a song, we’re gonna have this convention.  And I said: Oh, let me send you to my friend.  So, I sent them to Kapu Kinimaka.  Love that girl.  Anyway, sent her.  Well, these were older women.  They were schoolteachers at Kapa‘a School, and just wanted to learn a hula so that they could share.  Well, after about three days, my neighbor comes back; she goes: We can’t dance over there, we cannot do the duck walks.  Kapu was progressive and young.  So, I said: Oh, I have another friend.  So, I called Auntie Beverly Muraoka.  I sent them to Beverly, and Beverly was teaching down at the boats.  The Lurline would come in, and so, her classes were right there in front of the Lurline coming in.  So, here are these schoolteachers who like everything to be exactly right; right?  All learning hula with all these tourists around them.  And so, they come back again three days later: We can’t be down there, we don’t even know the songs, you know.  Well, my mom happened to be home at my house, and she heard me talking to my neighbor again.  And she says: How many times did you send them away?  And I said: Twice.  She goes: This is the third time?  I said: Yes. She goes: No; you’re not sending them away.  She walked out; she said: Come tomorrow, you folks will have hula over here.  And that’s really how I started to teach, is because my mom was there.  You know. Otherwise, I would have probably passed it on forward.

 

Wow; that’s interesting.  Yeah; do you think that was meant to be?

 

I believe so.  Going to Kaua‘i, my husband encouraged me.  So, anything that I wanted to do, he encouraged me to do it. But he loved the fact that I was not only doing the culture, but you know, seeing where it was going, and utilizing the things that I was taught as a young girl.

 

You mentioned that two hurricanes kept you on Kaua‘i, even though you had planned to move back to O‘ahu.  What was your life like?  Iniki really hit Kaua‘i—well, both hit Kaua‘i hard.  What was life like after that on Kaua‘i for you?

 

Oh, my goodness.  You know, I was working at um, Smith’s Flower Shop right at Wailua.  And we had this big funeral.  So, I go to work that morning, and I’m doing all of this stuff for funerals.  And what I noticed is the peacocks in the garden are walking out of the garden in a line. And I’m saying: That is so unusual. And the Iwa birds that you usually see in the mountains were now in the lower areas, where I could see them outside of our flower shop.  And my husband calls and he says: You’ve gotta go home; you know, this hurricane is really gonna come.  Anyway, I’m driving home, and I see on the open plains cows and horses sitting on the ground.  And they only do that when they’re gonna give birth or something; right?  So, I mean, all of these signs were showing that things were different, something was happening.  My husband opens up all the windows and all the doors, and everyone’s saying: Go up to the mountain, go to the school because that’s gonna be the safest place to be.  But he looked at the house, he says: There’s concrete around everything around right here, we have a coconut tree right in front of the house.  Anyway, when Iniki hit, um, it came like a locomotive, the sound. And the wind went right through our house.  And our house was fine; we were perfectly fine.  Then, we hear the noise again.  So, here is Iniki coming, the other half, ‘cause I didn’t realize we were in the eye; other half.  I saw a house that I was at the open house just the week before, falling off the mountain. You know, like the piano just falling off the mountain.

 

Wow.

 

It was at that time that I met my neighbors.  So busy coming and going, I didn’t know my neighbors.  And my neighbors next door, the three girls had really bad asthma.  My brother Kamohai, he sent a generator; I had the first generator in Anahola.

 

Oh, that was so precious.

 

And so, we hooked up these girls, because they needed it for their machines.  I met the neighbor across the street, all the neighbors, and pretty soon we had all the kids at our house.  And you know, we would walk down to the beach to go and swim in the ocean, because we didn’t have running water.  I mean, there were so many things we didn’t have.  In that time, getting to know the neighbors, getting to know the people, I think that Anahola community really came together, and people not only knew one another, but took care of each other.

 

Wow. So, you’ve just described a powerful, destructive hurricane in terms of what good things it did for you.

 

It did.  And it did for the island.  It made everybody appreciate.  Lucky we live Hawai‘i.  But lucky we live Kaua‘i.  It made everybody appreciate what they have.  And we have a lot.  You know, simple is best.

 

Puna Dawson’s experiences of meeting remarkable people in history and living through significant events have all been part of her journey.  Mahalo to Puna Dawson of Anahola and Lihue, Kaua‘i for sharing her stories with us.  And mahalo to you for joining us.  For PBS Hawai‘i and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Aloha nui.

 

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

 

Along that theme of you coming in contact with leaders and just really remarkable people, you had an interesting guest in the backseat of your broken down Subaru one day.

 

Yes; I did.  I called him Toptim, ‘cause that’s what my brother said; his name was Toptim.

 

And in fact, he was …

 

He was the Dalai Lama.

 

Dalai Lama.

 

Yeah.

 

And he was sitting in the back of your Subaru.

 

Yes.

 

Holding your pikake plants.

 

Yeah; yes.  He came to the island.  My brother just said: My friend wants to come, and his name is Toptim.  When he came—because I didn’t know who he was, I had no idea, and so, I had all my buckets with the plants and stuff in the backseat.

 

Because you worked in a flower shop.

 

Yeah.  And so, I had to pick up all the flowers.  And so, when he said where he wanted to go, I said: Oh, I’m gonna go there, but we’ve gotta pick the flowers up on the way.

 

What was the Dalai Lama’s reaction to that?

 

Oh, he was game.  He’s a fun-loving guy.  We arrive at the airport, and here he’s sitting with my packages of pīkake, smelling wonderful.  And the girls come out to help me, and they tell me: Auntie, Auntie, that’s The Chosen One.  And I’m going like: Yeah, I guess so.  And so, we proceed going inside.  And the girl comes up and she has a newspaper, and she shows it me like this. And I turned to my brother and I say … he goes: Yeah, Toptim.  Because he couldn’t say the long version of the Dalai Lama’s name.  From that moment, it was like: Oh, my goodness, I just took this gentleman from one end of Kaua‘i to the other end of Kaua‘i picking up flowers.

 

And covered him with plants.

 

And covered him with plants.  I mean, literally, you could only see him here, and everything else was around him.

 

Did he make a comment about it?

 

He said: Oh, this is joyful.  You know, he used that word joyful quite a few times. And he found humor in everything that we were doing.

 

It is pretty funny.

 

Yeah, it is.  All I can say is, I’ve been blessed.  I’ve been really blessed.

 

 

 



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