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KĀKOU – Hawai‘i’s Town Hall



KĀKOU – Hawai‘i’s Town Hall

“KĀKOU” means “all of us.” But it doesn’t mean we all agree.

 

When we can speak to each other honestly and listen earnestly… When we recognize that we are all in this together… When we are engaged in working toward a common goal, that is “kākou.”

 

PBS Hawai‘i hosts a periodic series of live town hall events called KĀKOU – Hawai‘i’s Town Hall. You can email us with your thoughts in advance or during the live conversation at kakou@pbshawaii.org, or post on Twitter using the #pbskakou hashtag. The town hall will also be live streamed on pbshawaii.org and on Facebook Live, where you can also join the conversation.

 

 

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KĀKOU: HAWAI‘I'S TOWN HALL – Join the Conversation

 

Join the online conversation about KĀKOU by using the #PBSKakou hashtag on Twitter. See what your community has said so far!

 




LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
David Kuraoka

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: David Kuraoka

 

Growing up barefoot and carefree in the wild outdoors of Kaua‘i, no one predicted David Kuraoka would find his calling in the confines of a ceramics studio.

 

 

Even after becoming a widely celebrated ceramics artist, he managed to straddle two very different worlds: his job as an art professor at San Francisco State University and summers spent in the vast wilderness of Kalalau Valley on Kaua‘i’s Nā Pali Coast.

 

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

 

David Kuraoka Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

What’s the biggest piece?

 

You know, I have large pieces, but they’re made in sections.  I worked in a ceramic factory that made industrial ceramic; bricks, sewer pipes.  One of my student’s family owned the factory, so he gave me the privilege.  He gave me a studio in the back, and I could work on these large two-ton sewer pipes.  You know, machines pick ‘em all up.  But I couldn’t cross the bridges in Hā‘ena and Hanalei, so …

 

Two-ton?

 

I couldn’t pick ‘em up; right?

 

That’s the weight of a car; right?

 

Yes.

 

Two tons.

 

Yeah; these are big pieces.  So, they’re big, like that.

 

He’s known for creating larger-than-like sculptures. But what shaped the life of this Kauai-born artist?  David Kuraoka, 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.  David Kuraoka grew up in Hanamā‘ulu and Līhu‘e, Kaua‘i, far from the art scene in San Francisco, where he found his calling. He is a celebrated artist, known for both his large-scale abstract sculptures cast out of bronze that sometimes weigh more than a ton, handmade ceramic clay slabs, and glazed porcelain works created on a potter’s wheel.  For more than forty years, he’s shaped works of art, and artists, as a professor and former head of the San Francisco State University Ceramics Department.  You can find Kuraoka’s sculptures in places like the Hawaii Convention Center, the Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum, and the White House art collection.  David Kuraoka knows his way around posh city buildings and art galleries, and he has remained comfortable in an environment without walls: the outdoors in his native Kaua‘i.

 

My dad worked for the plantation.  I think my grandparents worked for the plantation.  This was my grandmother’s house, and she had raised six daughters and my father in the camp.  And as they got married, my aunts moved away, but my dad stayed there with my mom.  And so, we were there until we bought our house in Līhu‘e, in the city.  It was primarily a Filipino labor camp.  And it was like a Filipino camp with three or four Japanese families.  They were primarily Filipino bachelors, so I was raised by all these bachelors who took care of me until I was about ten, maybe.

 

Never felt lonely, I bet.

 

No, no. They were really, really nice.  I got used to their food, and they taught me some language.  I was raised around cockfighting and chickens.  It was very plantation.  I was lucky; in Hanamā‘ulu there was a beach, nice beach, Hanamā‘ulu Beach.  And there was a mountain, Kalepa Heights, right behind the camp.  So, I got to run in the mountains a lot, and I got to swim a lot.  So, it was kind of a great place for a young guy to grow up.

 

Your dad seems like he might have been kind of a larger-than-life personality.  What was his column about?

 

Sidelines Kuraoka; it was a social column, three-dot journalism kinda.  And him and my mom would type out.  On Sundays, they would work in the yard, because that was kinda the thing they did.  They had a really nice yard.  But they would come in Sundays and type out the column with this old manual typewriter; whack out the column.  Because it was published only every Wednesday, once a week.

 

When you’re the three-dot columnist, the only three-dot columnist in the area, you’re kind of a celeb yourself.

 

Kinda; yeah.

 

So, that was your dad; right?

 

Yeah; that was my dad.  Yeah.

 

Very connected.

 

Connected; yeah.  He met a lot of celebrities; right?  Because he was like the reporter on Kauai.  So, if Frank Sinatra, Mitzi Gaynor, you know, like they made movies there and stuff, so he was right there with the stars and celebrities.  The princess from Japan, you know.

 

M-hm.

 

So, he had an interesting life.

 

He was active politically.  What did exactly did he do?

 

Yes, he was active politically.  And he would support Republicans and Democrats.  But he was at one point, Kauai’s Republican chairman or representative, I believe.  He was Hiram Fong’s campaign manager and Hiram Fong’s representative.  I know that, because I was kinda high school by then. In fact, he had stacks of Hiram Fong tee-shirts that said: Fong, Man of the Pacific.  And I ended up with ten of ‘em, and that’s all I wore at the community college, and people used to call me Fong.

 

Because I had this Fong on.  And my dad was also campaign manager for Richard Nixon on Kauai.  And he had passed away, my dad passed away right before Watergate, so he never experienced Watergate.  So, lucky for him, because his hero, you know.

 

Now, to be a Republican on Kaua‘i, that was swimming against the tide, wasn’t it?

 

Yes; yes and no.  Like he explained to me later, as I questioned him about, because I was kinda on the opposite side, he said that, you know, he worked in the plantation office, and all his bosses were Republicans.  And he said: I don’t want to work in the fields, you know.

 

I see.

 

It makes more sense for me to be Republican and work in the office.  Which made sense, you know.  And I’m like: Mm, okay.

 

Did you have to switch schools when you went to Lihue?

 

No; no, they were close enough.  My mom taught school, so I would go to school with her.  And fortunately, when I moved to Līhue, we lived on the edge of a valley, a very big valley, Kapaia Valley.  And I had a whole valley to play with there, too.  And there was a big river in the bottom of the valley.  So, I ran around carefree, barefooted.  Until I went to the ninth grade, I never wore shoes.  I rebelled; I didn’t want to wear shoes. And in the ninth grade, they sent me home for not wearing shoes.  So then, I had to get shoes.

 

What kind of shoes did you get?

 

Oh really ugly, big bulldog shoes.

 

Not very fashion conscious.

 

With your mom a teacher, did that compel you to be a good student?

 

Actually, I was never a very good student.

 

Did you have art classes in school, in public school?

 

No; no. Actually, I wanted to take some classes, but it wasn’t really emphasized much.  They really forced me into chemistry, into physics, and you know, I really kinda wasn’t interested.  You know, I’m more interested now, because I understand it now, but while I was a local kid, I wasn’t that interested.  I was more interested in surfing and running around the jungles.  I was more a outdoor kid, and I almost resented having to be forced to take chemistry and stuff.  Because it didn’t make sense to me, or it didn’t make sense to my life or how it was gonna help my life, you know.

 

David Kuraoka says he did not apply himself in high school, nor did he have the grades to go to a four-year university. So, at the urging of his parents, he enrolled in San Jose City College to study architecture.  His first few semesters in a strange new place did not go so well.

 

Okay; so you arrive in San Jose at your new college. What are you wearing?

 

Um, pretty much Hawai‘i cl—uh, Kauai clothes.  I graduated in 1964 from Kauai High School, and uh,

There’s not much TV on Kauai in 1964.  Uh, and what’s there is very blurry.  An—and our—our house didn’t have TV.  So, I go to San Jose, and I don’t have a car, I don’t have many friends. But who I—whoever I speak to in the cafeteria or any friends I make, they’re cracking jokes or they’re talking about things that I don’t understand.  And they’re picking it up from television culture; I Love Lucy, um … uh, you know, I don’t know, Hogan Heroes, or The Fugitive, or—you know, an—and I—I don’t know these things, because I don’t have a TV.  And it’s common to everyone except me.  So, I—I but a twenty-five-dollar TV, and I sit there for almost six weeks, day and night.  And still watch TV, but six—day and night, to try to catch up on culture,

 

Oh, like the worst time in my life.  You know, there was that adjustment.  I used to wear slippers and bright shirts.  I still wear bright shirts.  But I used to wear bright shirts, and tee-shirts.  Just culturally, I was not in tune to the rest of the world, I felt. I mean, I tried to be, because I didn’t want to be lonesome.  I had no car, and so I would look for other Hawaii kids, you know.  So, us Hawai‘i kids would all just hang together, so it would make it more comfortable or make it more, you know, okay.  But every time there was a summer break and kids went home, only half the kids would come back.  And so, the next summer, then the other half.  So pretty soon, I was pretty much alone again.  And then, until I found art, I didn’t really have much friends, or much social contact.

 

So, how did you find art?  How did you find ceramics?  I mean, did you pass by the room, or …

 

Yeah, really by accident.  I had to take a couple basic art classes to fulfill my architect degree, and so, took drawing.  And in my drawing class, my friends were taking ceramics.  So, I would go over during the break and watch them.  And I thought: Gee, I want to make some cups for my friends, my classmates back in Hawai‘i; I could do that, you know.  And once I did it, it felt so …something was very compelling and drew me to it.  And the things were very ugly, the stuff I made in the beginning.

 

You know, it wasn’t accomplished at all.  And by the time I got good enough, or good enough to give away, I was kinda hooked.  Somehow, ceramics made sense to me, and it was something I could do.  You know, I wonder sometimes when I watch television and stuff about people with dyslexia and stuff.  And I think: Oh, I think that looks like me.  You know, like just one part of my brain or something, and another part wasn’t working as well as another part.  You know.  I’m much more visual.

 

Now, when you started taking ceramics classes, and then all your art classes for your major, I mean, you were with a different subculture of students.

 

Yes.

 

Was that different, to be with all the art students?

 

Yes and no.  Because I tried really hard.  When they went out drinking beer, I wouldn’t go out drinking beer; I was still working. When they went to lunch, I was still working.  And I wanted it so badly that whenever the professor was gone—because I didn’t take classes in the beginning, I didn’t know about it—I would sneak in at lunchtime. Then I would wait for him to leave, and when he would leave for the evening, I would sneak in at night.  I lived right next to the college, so I could stay there as late as possible.  And any time he wasn’t there, I would sneak in and work.  And then one day, he called my name, so then I knew … oh. I mean, I sweated, because like, oh, no, I’m busted.  You know. But then, he accepted me, so then I was so glad.  And you know, the next semester, I enrolled, so I was okay.  It changed me a lot in the first couple years.  I think eighteen to twenty, I really grew up there.  I had one set of mind, one kind of cultured mind when I was in Hawaii, which I’m really, really happy I grew up here.  And then, suddenly out of loneliness, out lack of focus or focus, I’m not sure, but I went through a metamorphosis kind of the first two years, for two or three years.   And then I started a metamorphosis realizing that the rest of my life, I had to seek and look.  And I was quite comfortable on Kauai; I wasn’t really looking, because I was happy. You know.  And then, it almost takes an unhappy to then try to find the rest of your way.

 

At San Jose City College, and later at San Jose State University, David Kuraoka reveled in his newfound passion for art. Although he was discouraged by family and college counselors from going into fine arts, he pursued ceramics and quickly became a rising star in the art world.  In 1976, he became a professor at San Francisco State University, where he could practice his ceramic arts while helping to shape aspiring artists.

 

Yes; I was fortunate enough to be paid for what I like doing.  And I learned a lot from my students.  I mean, everybody’s so different; right?  They bring so much life into it.  I mean, I was just fortunate to be in that position.

 

So, is it more than forty years as a professor at San Francisco State University?

 

Yes; just a little bit more than forty years.  I started when I was young.  I got my MA about twenty-four, twenty-five, and I won a number of awards, and I got recognized, so they hired me right away, which I was fortunate.  And then, I was there until I retired.  One thing I realized when I was teaching, that many students came from many small towns across America, like Lihue.  You know, once realized that, I thought: Oh, I’m just like everybody else.  You know, it’s not like: Oh, I’m just this small town kid that forever, my whole life, I’m always gonna be small town, and everybody else knows everything, and I’m not going know.  You know. Then I found out that they’re not from San Francisco, they’re from Missouri, and Oklahoma, and you know, Nebraska, and all these small towns.  And you ask them, their towns are smaller than Līhu‘e.  And you’re here, you know, and there’s one or two of ‘em that would leave the town. Most of them would stay in the small town, but these are the brave ones, and then they would come to college, and seeking their fortune, you know.  Lot of the times, my life revolved around my work, and I would teach Tuesday, Thursday, Friday.  But I had the other four days to do my own work.  So, that was rather fortunate.  Also, when I became head of the department, I could buy all the equipment I wanted, I could set up the whole studio, and do my work along with the students.  That was very fortunate.

 

Did people on Kauai get surprised when they saw what happened to you?  Like what you did on the mainland.

 

My mom laughs sometimes, you know.

 

She laughs?

 

Yeah; she didn’t expect it, you know.  Because she taught her whole life, and she goes: Oh, yeah, that person was a good student.  She judges them, knowing them from teaching, you know.  And she was always a good student.  I could always tell she was gonna succeed, or he was gonna succeed. And I turned to her and go: You thought I would ever be a professor?  And she laughed.  She goes: No. So … you know.

 

So, the hallmarks of your work are abstract?

 

Abstract, pretty much.

 

And I’ve heard the word bulbous described.

 

Bulbous; yeah.

 

Like, is that the art term for …

 

No.  But yes, it has life.  I mean, I think it’s round.  I look at my more round full things as like feminine, more feminine.  And the more cylindrical stiffer things as male.  I mean, sometimes, when I look back, I’m not doing it on purpose, but I can see more female in some, and more male in—

 

That’s interesting.  And then very clean lines, too.

 

Yes. I called it California slick.

 

California slick.

 

I kinda made it up, but it’s kinda true.  When I went through my education at that particular time, it was minimalism, and abstract expressionism.  And so, I’m kinda some place in there.  And then, so my work is pretty slick.  It’s not rough.  I don’t do rough textures, I don’t do … it’s organically vital, but it’s clean.

 

You know, it sounds like when you sit down to throw, do you know what you’re gonna make?

 

Many times, yes.  Many times, I conceive it all the way to the end.

 

Oh, you do.

 

I do. When I’m sitting there to throw, I already know how I’m gonna finish it.

 

Okay.  ‘Cause I’m thinking of third grade, I’m making an ashtray.  You know, that kind.  So, you have an idea.  But sometimes, it sounds like the pieces go organic on you.

 

Yes. Yeah; there’s a range.  There’s a range in there that I have freedom to do. But I know I’m gonna finish it in a particular way.  Because the clay body or how I’m beginning dictates the end, so I already figured it out.

 

In 1987, at the young age of thirty-five, David Kuraoka was recognized by the Honpa Hongwanji of Hawaii as a living treasure of Hawai‘i for his art.  Kuraoka remained connected to Kauai, and would return during his summer breaks to embrace his childhood love of nature and a slower pace of life.  He would often spend months roughing it in the wilderness of Kalalau on Kauai’s NāPali Coast.

 

I always lived on Kauai four months out of the year, sometimes more.  You know, so I would do an academic year, then I’d move back to Kauai.  Sometimes I thought I was commuting from Kauai to California, because that was my base on Kauai.  But I would spend my summers on the NāPali Coast.  And sometimes one month and up to three months.  I would sometimes pack my bags in California, and then come in, say hello to my parents or my mom, and then off to Kalalau.  And I’d buy all my food, everything would be packed, and I would just go off to Kalalau.

 

And were you doing art in Kalalau?

 

Lot of it.  And some sketches, but also mostly to slow it all down, to understand humanity.  You know, you want fire, you get wood.  You want water, you go to the waterfall.  I mean, it was like very basic, and it kind of brought reality, a different reality, made me feel like I understood the person living in a grass shack in Africa, or or taking me back in time a hundred years or two hundred, you know, like how humanity lived, you know, most of humankind lived, the way I lived, I felt.

 

How did you get to Kalalau?  Did you paddle or get dropped off?

 

No, no. In the beginning, yes, I would take a helicopter, boat, walk.  I mean, I did everything.  I walked, I hiked a lot.  Sometimes, some summers, I’d hike.  I’d run out and go to the dentist, and he would take a mold, and run back in, run out, then next week put the false tooth in, and come back the next week put the permanent.  You know, like I’d go back and forth; run back and forth.

 

So, I’ve spent time in Kalalau too, and I mean, it’s just stupendously beautiful.  And isn’t it illegal to live in Kalalau?

 

You know, for a while it was in litigation between the State and the Robinsons. You know, so for about seven or eight years, nobody owned it.  So, it was pretty free for all.  So, that was a great time, was no law; right?  It’s kinda scary.  But then I wasn’t scared at all.  Was just open.  And so, at the end of that period, the State parks and the law came.  But I was the only local kid in there.  So, they were anxious to be friends, and they knew my dad, they knew my family.  And I knew all the trails, I knew all the fishing spots.

 

 

So, I can remember there used to be like young people living naked in the back, with a wood-burning pizza maker.  I mean, were you there for all that stuff?

 

Yeah, yeah, kind of; yeah.  They were all my friends; yeah.

 

During David Kuraoka’s return trips to Kaua‘i, he had a business relationship with a contemporary art dealer who made the Garden Isle her home.  As time went on, that relationship grew into a romantic one.

 

Carol had owned the Contemporary Gallery, really one of the better ones in Hawai‘i, and very successful.  And she had been my dealer for fifteen years.  But I never spent much time in Līhu‘e; I would uh, go to Kalalau.  So I knew her, and she helped me, and she had shows for me, but I wasn’t around town.  Then we met, and it was just right.  After so many years, we got together.  And just when we got together, Hurricane Iniki happened and destroyed all the buildings, pretty much destroyed all the buildings, destroyed the galleries.  And it was okay, because we then got married and moved to San Francisco.

 

Because we couldn’t rebuild the galleries, because there was no houses to put art in on Kauai anyway.

 

Oh, that’s right.  Yeah; it was just terrible.

 

Yeah, it was over; that area was over.

 

You sort of knew her and did business with her for many years.  What was the difference when you got together?

 

I think it was just timing.  I mean, on both of our parts.  I mean, I wonder too, sometimes.  But I’m just lucky I got together with her, because we’ve been together and happy ever since.  So …

 

That’s wonderful.  And that turned out to be the end of her art gallery era in Līhue.

 

Yes.

 

But off you went to San Francisco.

 

Yes; yes.  And then, I’m her art interest now, so lucky for me.  I mean, I was doing art, so she’s very interested in art.  So, she knows more artists than me.  She’s much more well-read than I am.  She would do things by reading.  I was trying to teach her ceramics, we were doing little craft projects together, and she would tell me what to do.  And I said: How do you know?  You know, I teach ceramics.  She goes: I read it in a book.  So, she would read all the books and had the answers, you know, and I do it through experience.  But that was kinda funny.

 

After more than forty years at San Francisco State University, David Kuraoka retired and now spends the majority of his time in Hā‘ena, Kauai, just down the road from the trailhead that leads to his beautiful beloved Kalalau. He’s still active in ceramics, and has also turned his attention to designing houses.

 

Every artist should build a house.  It’s so sculptural, so you’re conceiving so much, you know.  And so visual, and it makes sense, you know.  And then, you look at any building, you go: Hm.  You know, it helps you visualize the whole process, and appreciate it from the inside out more

 

Are the houses you design like the art you do? Is it … California Slick?

 

Kind of.  All dark green.  All the houses are the same color, including my mother’s.

 

All dark green.

 

All dark green, and white inside.  No white for the outside, because the mold.  You know, and black roof, because the mold will turn it black anyway.  Just all this practical stuff.

 

And then, what else besides white inside?

 

White inside; yeah.  Hardwood floors, high ceilings, and nice windows and doors.  I mean, I have little set things that I do.  Yeah.

 

Yeah.

 

Well, Carol and I too.  Carol likes building too, so we have those projects we could do together, you know.

 

Right.  You go back and forth between San Francisco and Kauai.  And I know Kauai is your home.  But do you have a preference down deep?

 

I always preferred Kaua‘i.  And now that I’m on Kaua‘i fulltime, I like go back San Francisco and eat and stuff. So, you know, I like both sides. But we’ll spend a month out of the year maybe, if we’re lucky, in San Francisco.  But that’s it, that’s about it.  Yeah.  Our life is pretty much on Kauai now.  It’s getting harder, you know.  I had a two and a quarter acre farm, flower farm, fruit trees, and so I used to like working in the yard.  But now, I’m just pretty much in the studio.  I’m not so physical anymore.  So, it’s just different.  As you get older, I just kinda adapt, you know.

 

You really did kinda make your own way.  You were able to do what you wanted to do for so much of your life.

 

M-hm; kind of.  You kinda gotta find the spot; right?  I mean, I think starting with education.  You gotta be educated.  Stay in school and find something that you want.

 

Acclaimed artist David Kuraoka says he has plans to create a ceramics art center for the Kauai community, so that he can continue to teach and inspire others on his home island.  And he continues to challenge himself by finding new ways to express himself through his art.  Mahalo to David Kuraoka of Hā‘ena, Kauai. 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.

 

The challenges for me is never ending.  If I master a particular part of ceramics, then I look for another part of ceramics. In other words, I keep searching within the field.  There’s so much to do.  My work chases my work.  In other words, whatever I do, then I see and I learn from it, and then I move on.

 

 

 

NHK NEWSLINE

NHK NEWSLINE

 

NHK NEWSLINE delivers the latest from Japan, Asia and the rest of the world. Their wide network of correspondents around the globe cover breaking news and developing stories, offering a unique Asian perspective. Together with a team of trusted anchors, NHK NEWSLINE presents a picture of what’s happening now, and what’s ahead. The series’ alternating anchors include: Ross Mihara, Raja Pradhan, Minori Takako, James Tengan, Ai Uchida and Miki Yamamoto. Photo courtesy of NHK.

 

Preview

 

 

 

THE DICTATOR’S PLAYBOOK
Idi Amin

THE DICTATOR’S PLAYBOOK: Idi Amin

 

See how Idi Amin used lessons learned in the colonial British army to build a powerful dictatorship in Uganda. Through a combination of populist charm and brutal violence, he ruled for eight years – until his strategic blunders brought him down.

 

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WASHINGTON WEEK

WASHINGTON WEEK

 

For more than 45 years, Washington Week has been the most intelligent and up to date conversation about the the most important news stories of the week. Washington Week is the longest-running primetime news & public affairs program on television and features a group of journalists participating in roundtable discussions of major news events. Online at pbs.org/washingtonweek or on Twitter @washingtonweek.

 

 

 

RICK STEVES’ EUROPE
Lisbon

RICK STEVES' EUROPE: Lisbon

 

Lisbon, built with the riches of Portugal’s New World discoveries, has a rustic charm. We’ll remember great navigators, eat lots of cod, enjoy pastries hot out of the oven, stroll the city’s back lanes and its reinvigorated waterfront, marvel at an exquisite church built with spice taxes, and enjoy some soulful fado music. Then we’ll side-trip to Sintra to explore the fanciful castles of Portuguese royalty and climb hilltop ramparts with grand views.

 

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LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Puanani Burgess

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: Puanani Burgess

 

Puanani Burgess is a Zen Buddhist priest, poet and community mediator from Wai‘anae, O‘ahu.

 

Burgess was once a committed protestor and resister. She developed her skills as a law student to become what she calls a “dragon feeder” – someone able to navigate the complex rules of a large system like government or the DOE the way one might negotiate with a stubborn dragon.

 

 

She discovered that the people who were on the other side of the issue were not monsters. So Burgess embraced a role as a mediator, creating a safe space for people to come together and speak earnestly. She asks them to “dig the lo‘i deep” with her to understand each other, as she says in her poem “He Alo Ā He Alo” (Face to Face).

 

Today, she likes to describe her work as the community’s aunty. “Aunty is such an important job,” she says.

 

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

 

Puanani Burgess Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

I remember you in the 1970s, ‘cause I was a news reporter, and you were, I would say … a protestor, a resistor, an activist, and an advocate.  And some would say, radical.

 

Yes.

 

Are all those things true?

 

Yeah.

 

She started as an activist, but now helps to bring opposing sides together to build what she calls Beloved Communities. Puanani Burgess, 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.  Puanani Burgess is a Zen Buddhist priest, a poet, mediator, and community builder.  In the 1980s, she was part of a group that helped bring about community-based economic development in Wai‘anae, and later other communities.  This started during the controversial development of West Beach, known today as Ko Olina Resort, which Burgess and her allies started out opposing.  She’s been married for more than fifty years to activist, attorney, and retired executive director of the Wai‘anae Community Mental Health Center, Hayden Burgess, also known as Poka Laenui.  Puanani Burgess spent the first twenty-five years of her life with a Western first name, but later embraced her Hawaiian identity and the name Puanani.

 

I was born in 1947.  And I think a little bit of time went by after World War II.  But during that time, parents were very cautious about what they named children.  And coming from both a Japanese and a Hawaiian background, they were doubly cautious. So, in those days, they were giving children English names; that’s what we called them.  And so, it was beautiful American kind of names so that when we went to school, we wouldn’t be … looked down upon if we had a Japanese or a Hawaiian name.  So, my parents named me Christabelle, and I was named after my father, who was Christopher, and it’s Yoshie after Yoshiyuki.  And Sonoda is my family name, and Burgess is my married name.

 

Where does Puanani come in?

 

My mother told me that she stuck in Puanani just in case when I grew up, if I wanted to be attached to where I come from, I would have something.

 

But those were the days when people wanted to be known as Westerners.

 

Yeah.

 

Americans.

 

And hid all of their children’s identities behind that American Western name.

 

Well, so you were called Christabelle or Christy?

 

I was called Chris.

 

Chris?

 

Yeah. Throughout all of my high school, up until college, I was known as Chris Sonoda.

 

Now, Hawaiian, Japanese is your ancestry.

 

Yeah.

 

With some …

 

Chinese, French, German.

 

Most of the blood is Hawaiian, Japanese.

 

And Japanese.

 

So, your dad Japanese, your mom was on the Hawaiian side.

 

Yeah.

 

Did that create any cultural crosscurrents?

 

Oh … those two races were always in conflict with each other, and I could not understand why.  I just knew that it was.  I wrote a poem called Choosing My Name.  And in it, I put a line in there that my father’s family would call my mother kuroi mame, which meant black bean.

To her face?

 

In back of her, but in front of me.  And so, I really didn’t know what that meant until I got older, and then I understood what they were saying about her, and that notion of color.  And it reminded me of how my mother would introduce me when we’d be going to somewhere, to a store, and she’s see her friend.  She’d introduce me: This is my daughter; look at her, she’s so fair, isn’t she beautiful. It was the color of my skin that really was important to her, that I was light.

 

So, that’s the Japanese side.  What did the Hawaiian side say?

 

Well, they didn’t much care for her being married to a Japanese man.  And I never understood the racial tensions; I just knew that they were there, and they were played out in different ways. It made it very uncomfortable to go to family gathering, ‘cause you never knew where you stood.  And so, you just sort of made your way.

 

What did your parents do, and what were your parents like?

 

You know, I remember my mother as being a civic leader.  So, she was someone who could organize people.  She also was pretty well educated for her day.  She went to Mid Pacific Institute when it was sort of the Punahou for the middleclass.  And she turned out to be a really good teacher for me.  She was the one who really pushed me toward education and reading.  So, she taught me how to read when I was very young.  And that that saved my life.

 

Where were you living then?

 

At that point, we lived in Kalihi, on Colburn Street.

 

Now, you moved around quite a bit in your youth; right?

 

Quite a bit.

 

Wai‘anae, Liliha?

 

Liliha, we lived at Damon Tract before going back to Wai‘anae.  I think, you know, it’s really hard to talk about poverty and being poor.

 

What was the reason for the poverty?  Was it employment?

 

I think it was employment, but it was also … I think, you know, my mother suffered a lot.  She had various degrees of mental illness.  And so, her life had never been happy, and she’d always been trying to figure things out.  And I think the marriage between my parents was not always the best and most comfortable. But I think they both tried the hardest that they could to make a good life.

 

And stayed together?

 

They divorced when I was eighteen.  And I continued to live with my dad, and my mother lived on her own.  So, it was a very chaotic childhood, and yet, I’m here. So, I went to the University, and my major was English, and I thought I wanted to be a writer.  And poetry was something that I didn’t know I could do, but I did.  And so, I started to develop that part of me.  And so, my poetry has been the way for me to really start to deal with some of the hard truths of growing up.

 

While Puanani Burgess—still going by the name of Chris Sonoda, was discovering her talent for poetry at the University of Hawai‘i, she met and fell in love with Hayden Burgess, the future attorney and community activist from Wai‘anae.

 

I think, you know, Leslie, the thing that changed most in my life was meeting the man I was going to marry.

 

Is that right?

 

Yeah.

 

In Waianae?

 

I met him at the University.  But he and I knew each other when we were children.  So, he lived around the corner from where I lived.  My family lived in a row of Quonset huts on Halona Road in Lualualei Valley, and his family lived on Puu O Hulu, which is right around the corner from us.  And then, we met when we were at the University.  I was a freshman, he was sophomore.  And it was very clear that we were made for each other from the very outset, I think within the first couple of months.

 

What made it clear?

 

I think his confidence.  He was sure that this was the relationship for him.

 

And you were young when you got married; right?

 

Yeah; I was twenty.

 

Twenty.

 

That’s fifty years; that’s a lot of time.

And?

 

And I still like him.And we still get along.

 

And you have children together.

 

We do; we have three incredibly interesting children.  And so, when we married in 1968 … I like to tell this story; I like to remember it.  He told me in the first month of our marriage: Your job is not my wife; I’m gonna do the work I’m put on this earth to do, so that means you have to do the work you were meant to do, and it’s not my wife, so you gotta figure that out.

 

Did you know what the answer to that was?

 

I had no idea.  And I was mad.  Because I had been brought up to be a good local girl, I’m gonna be a good wife and a good mother.  And here’s this guy that I just married telling me: That’s not your job; you gotta go find your job, ‘cause this is not it.  And I thought: Oh, what did I step into?

 

At the age of twenty-six, Chris Sonoda Burgess embraced the Hawaiian name given to her by her mother, and began calling herself Puanani Burgess.  But she was still figuring out what job she was meant to do.  While in her second year at the William S. Richardson School of Law at the University of Hawai‘i, she began to find her way.

 

The childhood that I had created where I wanted to go, but I didn’t know what that was called.  So, I tried law school.  And a really interesting moment was in my second year of law school, I clerked for Cynthia Thielen.

 

The Republican lawmaker.

 

Yes. She was Legal Aid attorney, and she was the attorney for the Protect Kaho‘olawe ‘Ohana.  And Cynthia was a great mentor.  So, she assigned me to the PKO.  So, I did research, and I helped negotiate things.  So, one of the things I helped negotiate with them was the building of the first hālau on Kaho‘olawe.  And the ‘Ohana thought: We cannot be there always, but this hālau will stand for us, and it will remind the Navy that we have returned, and we’re here to stay.

 

A lot of people disagreed, you know, with what they were doing and the style that they did it.  But if you ask those same people today—and there have been articles written by people who had been critical about that movement then, you ask them today, and they will tell you that the ‘Ohana and Kaho‘olawe has done more to spiritualize Hawai‘i and Hawaiians than anything that has come out in a long, long time.

 

You know, once I got bitten by the activism bug when I went to law school …

 

The Hawaiian Renaissance was in full swing at that time.

 

Yeah. Everything was happening.  And we were engaged in working with some of the people at Makua and Sand Island, who were pushing back against evictions.

 

All social justice projects.

 

Yeah; all of them.  And so, we entered the stream just at that time.  And we entered with education.  And we entered with being able to organize a cogent strategy.

 

What was life like at that time?

 

Wild.

 

Wild and heady?

 

It was wonderful.  I mean, because I was organizing with a group of people who were my age: Eric Enos, Gigi Cocquio, Hooipo DeCambra, Sister Anna McAnany; a whole group of leaders. We were all in our twenties and thirties together.

 

And that was the 1970s, wasn’t it?

 

Yeah.

 

And yet, you were in law school, and decided not to continue in, I think, your third year.

 

Yeah.

 

Why not?  That seems like a good thing to arm yourself with, if you’re an activist.

 

It was. And … I don’t know.  I didn’t want to be a lawyer.  Because I worked in my husband’s law firm in Waianae, I understood what the ordinary practice of law was like.  I didn’t want to do that.  I wanted to be more active.  So, the law school helped me develop infrastructure in my community.  So, we built organizations in which we were doing the work.

 

You were doing the incorporations.

 

Yup. And the 501c3’s and helping people establish themselves, and finding the funding, and talking.  I became a great dragon feeder.

 

What is a dragon feeder?

 

Dragons are systems, big systems, like government, like KSBE, DOE.  And dragons have lots of rules.  And they usually give you those rules in writing.  And your capacity to read and follow those instructions allow you to get into the dragon’s lair.  And so, law school prepared me so well to be a dragon feeder and a cultural translator.  So, I was working with community activists, and I was translating it into language that the dragon could understand.

 

I’m sure you helped get grants with byzantine rules too; right?

 

Yes. And I was giving them back the information that they wanted from us.  And so, the rule was, if you don’t want to obey or follow what the dragon wants you to give him or her, don’t apply.

 

During the 1970s, Puanani Burgess continued to involve herself in community struggles in Hawai‘i as an activist and advocate. In 1984, she and others from the Wai‘anae Coast community opposed the Ko Olina Resort development and what it meant for the land, other natural resources, and the way of life.  The mediation between residents and developers became a turning point in Puanani’s approach to community building.

 

So, it was at that time that we were doing the mediation with West Beach, was a really big deal.

 

West Beach is Ko Olina.

 

Yeah.

 

The future Ko Olina, now thriving Ko Olina.

 

Yup. And at that time, those of us in the community were pushing back against that.  And we were saying: You know, you folks going make money, but the only way we going make money is if we drive from here, and go over there and work. And then, maybe you going build houses, but the people who going occupy those houses will not be people from here. We need to have economic development that really is built from our value system.  And so, that conversation began to take place between us and the people who were the powerbrokers in the downtown business and political sector.

 

So, you mastered the cultural translation skills. Were you still a resistor, a protestor, an activist?

 

Yup.

 

So, you’re on the other side of the table, saying: This is what we want.

 

Yes; this is what we want, this is what we need, this is what we’re fighting for. And yet, I was beginning to listen to some of the things that they had to say.

 

Because it turns out, they weren’t monsters?

 

No; they weren’t.  And I think that’s the point about building Beloved Community, that you figure out a way that you can hear the other side of the story, and not necessarily fight against it, but create a space where I can show you who I am, and you can show me who you are, and collectively, we can figure out what parts of this work and we share.

 

And yet, at that time, I’m sure that was a brave stance, because in the parlance of the time, that was selling out.  Right?

 

Exactly.  And that was hard.  And that’s where that poem, He Alo ĀHe Alo, came from.  For me, it was a pushback against people who were criticizing us for doing the mediation with West Beach.  And I said: Come here; come stand in the lo‘i with me before you start yelling at us about what we should and should not be doing.  One of my best teachers was Tanouye Roshi, who was a Zen Buddhist priest at Daihonzan Chozen-ji in Kalihi Valley.  So, he was the mediator for the West Beach agreement. And it was interesting, because he could bring the Japanese side of the mediation.  Because they were Japanese developers that were doing the work at West Beach.  And so, culturally, he brought the owners of the development to the table, not just the highest administrative officer of the development company.  We were now dealing with the owners of the development. And Roshi Tanouye, the first thing that he said to me is: You have to always negotiate at the right level.  You folks are the owners of your community; you have to talk to the owners of that.

 

What was the result of that?  You know, were there compromises that had to be made, that you wish had not had to be made?

 

Well, the developer wanted to continue to build, and our effective stoppage of that really kept people from work.  And so, the compromise was, we resolved that they could continue, and that the funds that they contributed to the community were going to be used to build economic development from our point of view.  So, that was both the compromise and the promise.  My understanding is that they were soundly criticized for doing this. They didn’t have to; they could have held out.  But now, all the other developers are now having to think about and work with communities who are pushing against them.  So, there’s precedence.

 

Puanani Burgess continues to bring people and organizations together who at first see each other as opponents, or even enemies. She creates a space in which each can share with dignity what he or she believes is important.  She calls it Principles of Building a Beloved Community.

 

Well, I think, you know, I always long for calm, for a space free of tension. And … I’m always trying to figure out how I help other people enter that space.  I think a lot of my work is being a trickster.  And so, I use a lot of technique that looks like one thing, but it’s something else.  So, one of my tools is a ball, and I do a process called The Weather Ball.  And in it, I ask you to tell what the weather is like inside of you right at this moment.  And so, when people tell what their weather is like, they often tell you why it’s that way.

 

And do you think they’re really honest with you on that first go-around?

 

First go-around; yeah.

 

What do they tell you, for example?

 

They say: Oh, the weather is stormy, that you know, before I came here, I had a fight with my husband.  We do the story of your weather before I ask anybody even to tell their name, where they come from, or why they’re here.  ‘Cause in communities, certain names carry meaning.  So, in Waianae, if you say Burgess, have some people who like talk to you.  But if you say Burgess, have some people who never want to talk to you. So, no information in the first round. And so, when people do the Weather Ball, this is the first round, and you hear truth from somebody, as much as they can give it to you at that moment.  And because it’s a ball, the way people hold it is like this.  And if they’re scared, they squeeze it.  You know.  And that gives them comfort, so that they can release what it is.  And so, that as a first round really helps people to understand.  And for me, it’s a way of managing power in the circle.  So, most of my circles do not require anybody to raise their hand. Once you get to the point of asking people who’s ready, and somebody raise their hand, then you know the power going shift to that person, because they’re the ones who ready to talk.  And then, everybody else going follow, and then every other circle, they going wait ‘til that person raise their hand.  So, I don’t do anything like that.  It’s just, I start, and I’m not in the power grid; I’m facilitator.  And then, we just go around.  And so, it’s not anybody choosing to start.  A lot of, you know, what I’ve done in the past, I do things around vision mapping.  Helping people talk about what their vision is, and then having people show each other their vision maps.  And then, recognizing: Oh, we agree, I never knew that.  And because people don’t have a way of talking to each other deeply, they never get to see the depth of what they really mean, until someone like me facilitates a process in which they can both come in equally, and they can both show up as they are.  So, one isn’t mediating, and the other one is not the one who’s being victimized.

 

At what point could you tell your husband: You know, you told me go find out what my job is.  At what point could you come back and say: Hey, this is my job.

 

I still don’t know what my—I know what my work is.  My work is auntie.  That’s what I’ve become.  I’ve become auntie to so many people.

 

You know, there are a lot of women who don’t like to be called auntie, because they think it connotes age.

 

Yes.

 

Others say it’s respect, it’s a family spirit. You’re on that side of it.

 

Yeah; it’s all of that.  It is age, it is experience, hopefully wisdom.  But my job is auntie.  And I take it very seriously.  So, I get to work with all kinds of people and all kinds of different organizations, and I’m auntie to them.  And because I am auntie, the ways I’m able to teach them is not just modern ways; it’s also older ways.  I can teach them through poems, through stories, through experiences.  So, you know, auntie is such an important job.

 

Auntie Puanani also is an ordained Zen Buddhist priest.  She says the lessons learned from her mentor, Zen Priest Roshi Tanouye, have taught her how to breathe and remain calm during conflict, to help her see the multiple sides of situations and stories.  And she continues to share her thoughts through poetry.  Mahalo to one time fierce protestor and resistor, now calm community builder Puanani Burgess of Wai‘anae, O‘ahu.  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.

 

So, when I wrote that poem, Choosing My Name, and I spoke about that very difficult part in our lives, and the place it was printed was the Star Bulletin, so everybody saw it, including my Japanese family.  And so, they started to call my father and asking: Why is she revealing these things? My father, to his credit, said: That is her life; it’s what she experienced, she has a right to it, leave her alone.

 

 


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