professional

HIKI NŌ
Episode # 915: Girls Got Grit and other stories

 

TOP STORY

 

Students from Sacred Hearts Academy, an all-girl school in the Kaimuki district of O‘ahu, tell the story of their school’s professional mentoring program called Girls Got Grit. The program places Sacred Hearts students in professional work places where they are mentored by female staffers. The story follows Sacred Hearts junior Shelby Mattos, who is interning at Hawaii News Now through Girls Got Grit. “Being in Girls Got Grit allows students to enter a professional business environment, and doing that kind of sets a level of expectations for when we enter the workforce,” says Mattos. Other Girls Got Grit internships include Castle Medical Center and Alexander & Baldwin. The program’s director Shelly Kramer says, “I want these girls to come out strong, empowered and feeling that they have a network that they can touch.”

 

ALSO FEATURED

 

–Students from Hilo Intermediate School on Hawai‘i Island show us how to make a refreshing AND healthy snack: a yogurt parfait.

 

–Students from Mililani Middle School in Central O‘ahu feature Hawai‘i Women in Filmmaking, a nonprofit with a mission of addressing gender inequity in the film and media industry.

 

–Students from Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School on Kaua‘i tell the story of a young woman who designs and builds a wheelchair for her disabled dog.

 

–Students from Seabury Hall Middle School in upcountry Maui explore the integral role of mules at Haleakala National Park.

 

–Students from Kapa‘a Middle School on Kaua‘i feature a young woman in the traditionally male role of a Samoan fire knife dancer.

 

–Students from King Intermediate School in Windward O‘ahu tell the story of a female student who fell in love with DJ-ing.

 

This episode of HIKI NŌ is hosted by students at President William McKinley High School in Honolulu.

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Neva Rego

 

Original air date: Tues., Apr. 1, 2008

 

Hawai‘i’s Voice Coach to the Stars

 

Neva Rego is known by many as Hawai‘i’s Voice Coach to the Stars, the wind beneath their wings, with a list of vocal students that includes Robert Cazimero, Tony Conjugacion, Jimmy Borges, Jasmine Trias and Jordan Segundo, and a waiting list with more than a hundred names.

 

Leslie Wilcox sits down with Neva to discuss how she followed her musical dreams, and how she shares her training and experience with her vocal students.

 

Neva Rego Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

Aloha no and welcome to Long Story Short. I’m Leslie Wilcox with PBS Hawai‘i. We’re about to sit down with Neva Rego. Never heard of her? Neva is known by many as a Voice Coach to the Stars, the wind beneath their wings, with  a list of vocal students that includes Robert Cazimero, Tony Conjugacion, Jimmy Borges, Jasmine Trias and Jordan Segundo, and a waiting list with more than a hundred names. Neva Rego—next.

 

Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox – produced with Sony technology – is Hawai‘i’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in HD. High definition… it’s in Sony’s DNA.

 

Neva Rego is an extraordinary woman because she did an extraordinary thing. She followed her dream. Her wish was to be trained in a classical, Italian style of singing, the kind she’d been listening to on records since she was a child. So, at the tender age of 18, not long after World War II, she hopped on a freighter and shipped off to Italy to seek her destiny. She didn’t speak Italian and she didn’t even know the name of the technique she was seeking. It turned out to be bel canto.

 

It’s very hard to explain. It’s easy to listen to. What I think about it is, it’s so legato, meaning tied together; it’s all beautiful singing without pushing, without smashing those poor little notes. You know, it’s just gorgeous, beautiful singing; very legato. And free. I mean, if you’re singing bel canto, you’re not killing yourself when you hit a high note. It just—Pavarotti is an example of bel canto.

 

You know, my dad was a radio DJ and when I wanted to work in television I said, Dad, how do I use my voice? And he said, Do it the bel canto way. And of course, I had no idea what that meant. And he said, Take a candle and light it and put it in front of your mouth and speak, but make sure that you don’t blow that candle out.

 

Right.

 

No clue what he meant. And of course, when he spoke in front of it, he knew how to use his voice. But how does the candle relate to bel canto?

 

It doesn’t blow out. I’ve tried it so many times. It’s because your air is utilized with your voice, and no [BLOWS] comes out. No spurts of air or anything. It’s amazing.

 

And so that should help you as a performer to have a career over time, that you don’t destroy your vocal cords.

 

Oh, yeah. You don’t hurt yourself. And then it’s easier. Singing wise, you’re using your diaphragm and not your throat muscles to hold it up, you know, like some singers do.

 

So tell me a little about what life was like for you growing up. You were in Ka‘imuki.

 

Right; on 18th Avenue. And I’m still there. And I must say, we had a beautiful childhood, my brothers and myself. And at that time, there weren’t that many houses around us. You know, we had a lot of empty lots and little foresty-looking places that we built our clubhouse and all the kids would gather after school there. And I must say, it was a lovely time.

 

And you went to what school?

 

I went to Sacred Hearts Academy. And loved it. The nuns were wonderful, and I think they were a bit instrumental in my learning languages. Because all the nuns at that time were French, and I remember studying Latin and the teacher taught to us in French. How do you like that? And we had a lovely sister from Germany, Sister Polaneya, and she was a fabulous musician.

 

Now the girls at Sacred Hearts Academy are primed to go to college, and have professional careers. What was the goal in those days?

 

In those days, I do believe that a lot of the girls strived to be nurses or teachers. There weren’t that many kooky ones, like I was. [chuckle]

 

And how were you kooky?

 

Well, I wanted to something in music. I wanted singing; I loved it. And you know, here’s this little kid from Kaimuki, wanting singing. And you know, I don’t know why, but I felt it. As I recall, when I was seven years old, I heard this beautiful aria on the radio with this Italian singer. And I remember telling my mother that was the most beautiful thing I ever heard in my whole life. All of seven years, yes? And Mother said, You really loved it? I said, Oh, I love it, I just love it. Well, that did it. Mother went down to House of Music, at that time in Waikiki, and she kept buying all these records of Italian singers. And well, that whetted my appetite for opera.

 

What were the other kids on the block listening to? What kind of music were they listening to?

 

They were mostly in Hawaiian. And I loved Hawaiian; but there was something about opera that was for me, I felt. You know. And if nobody else liked it, that’s okay; but I did.

 

What appealed to you about it?

 

Oh, I loved the language, first of all. The Italian language is so beautiful to sing. You never have a bad sounding word in it.   You know, everything is so fluid and beautiful. And the drama, the music; I mean, it’s just glorious. Opera is complete, I feel. You have acting, singing, dancing, tragedies, happiness; everything all rolled up in one. You know? And that appealed to me.

 

So Italian opera was speaking to you from the time you were seven years old.

 

Seven.

 

And you’re singing at Sacred Hearts Academy.

 

M-hm.

 

And looking at graduation.

 

Yes. And then I said, I think I want to go and study more music. I was looking all over for it; I had seven teachers here, and they were wonderful; all seven of them. But it was not what I was looking for. I kept hearing this other thing in my head, and even though all my relatives told my mother that they were sorry for her, because they felt that she had only one daughter, and what a shame she was crazy.

 

[chuckle]

 

So I thought, never mind, they can’t hear what I’m hearing. So I convinced my mother and father that I had to go to Italy. So my mother said, Oh, my god. You don’t know Italian; what are you gonna do? But you know, when you’re 18 you think you have the world in your hand; you can do anything. So I said, I’ll learn it; no problems. So [chuckle] off I go on a on a freighter to Italy.

 

You know, some people follow their dreams to find fortune or fame or truth. Neva Rego heard a beautiful sound and followed it all the way to Milan, Italy simply to seek its beauty. Today, with air travel and cell phones and the internet, traveling halfway around the world, alone at that age, may not seem so remarkable. But to do it, at that time, seems so foreign.

 

Who did you go see? I mean, who did you know in Italy?

 

Well, before I left Honolulu, I was singing at the Hawaiian Village. And Rossano Brazzi, this Italian actor, he heard me singing, and he said, You know, senorina, you should be singing opera. And I said, Oh, I’m going to. And he said, Yes? I said, I’m going to Italy. And he said, Oh, wonderful. He said, I write to La Scala for you. And I thought, Well, that’s very kind, you know. But when I got to La Scala, I realized that [chuckle] it was so silly, because it was like shooting mosquitoes with a cannon; it was that ridiculous. I wasn’t ready for anything, except maybe to clean it.

 

[chuckle]

 

You know. And but the maestro was very nice, Vittorio di Sabato. He was very nice, and he understood my plight. And he told me, Oh, senorina, I will get you a teacher and this and that. So I got set up with this teacher.

 

How did you pay for this? Were your parents funding this uh, adventure?

 

Not really. I mean, they gave me a little in the beginning, ‘cause I didn’t come from a wealthy family. We were medium, you know. And so I had saved money when I was at the Hawaiian Village. And then just before I left, I was fortunate to get an Atherton scholarship, Atherton Foundation scholarship.

 

M-hm. They’re still giving –

 

–thanks to Bob Midkiff.

 

Still in business today, helping folks.

 

Still in business. So that really helped me. And I thought, Maybe I’ll stay a year and see how I do, you know. I think I’ll understand well after a year. Oh; after a year, I didn’t know beans yet. So I knew I had to stay on. And there was no more scholarships; my mother and father helped me a bit, without a doubt. But then I started to get jobs; little jobs. I’m not ashamed to say that I cleaned a few houses in the beginning, because I didn’t know the language. And then I started to teach English, which I think was horrible, because I didn’t really understand the grammar. [chuckle] And poor Italians would study with me, but they were mostly interested in speaking.

 

Conversation.

 

You know, conversation. And then later on, I got a job with the designer Pucci. And that started me working in haute couture. And I went on from him to Valentino and I was with him for seven years. And all the while, studying.

 

Now, were you dreaming of becoming a huge Italian opera star?

 

You know, I have to say no, I was not. Because I was so interested in this bel canto technique, that that’s what I kept looking for. I was trying to find it. And after two and a half years with this maestro from La Scala, I wasn’t finding it. And I was so embarrassed to tell my family that I didn’t find it yet, in Italy, two and a half years. So I didn’t tell them.

 

Did you think maybe you were chasing a phantom, that it really didn’t exist, it was something you heard, but you really couldn’t learn?

 

I knew it existed; I just couldn’t find it. You know, and I didn’t know where to go. And so I quit La Scala, the maestro from La Scala, and and then I must say, I passed about three months of sheer depression. [chuckle] I just said one fine day to the dear Lord, If you really want me to sing, you better show me the way, because I’ve exhausted everything. And so now, I leave it in your lap. If you want me to find this elusive little thing, you will let me find it. And so I stopped worrying. But that night, I had to get out of my little apartment, because I was getting stir crazy, you know. And so I went to La Scala to hear a concert. And I heard this girl singing. She was studying with me before at Scala, but she had left—she was gone about a year. And she was singing divinely; just what I was looking for. So I thought, How could that be; she must have found someone. So I was sitting in the opera house in the very top, which we call the chicken coops, yes?

 

M-hm.

 

And I rushed down, but somehow I was too late; and I missed her. So I was so upset and depressed, because I didn’t know how to get a hold of her. And I remember walking home; I couldn’t even take the tram, because I was crying. And so the next morning, I got up, still depressed. I said, I’ve gotta get out of here. So I went—in Milano, they have this big galleria in the middle of town, glassed in, and you have a coffee, you know. And it’s a nice diversion; people are walking to and from. And I was sitting down and all of a sudden, here comes this girl that sang the night before, walking down. Wow; I ran after her, and I said, Ciao; I said, I heard you sing last night; it was just beautiful. And she said, Oh, Neva; did I find a teacher. I said, I can hear it, I can hear it. And she said—I told her that I left that maestro, and she said, I wondered when you were gonna get smart. You know. I said, Yeah, but I didn’t know enough to know I didn’t know. You know? And so she said, What are you doing now? I said, Absolutely nothing. She said, Well, I’m going to a lesson; come with me. So I followed her to the lesson one-hour lesson, and I sat in a little corner, and I listened to lesson, and I cried for one hour. [chuckle] Cried. Because it was like there was so much emotion, because it was like something I was looking for, for so long and I found it. And so afterwards, the senora came over to me and she said, Senorina Neva, she says, are all Hawaiians so emotional? And I said, No, Senora, I said, you know, it’s just because I was looking for you since—I was trying to find you since I was seven years old. And she looked at me, and she started to cry. And we hugged, and it was love from then on; for 22 years, I was with her. Yeah.

 

What’s her name?

 

Her name is—was Magda Piccarolo. She was a lyrica leggiero soprano, and she sang all over. She sang at Scala and in America at the Met.

 

So you continued to have lessons with her for twenty-two years?

 

Yeah; twenty-two.

 

And you became a singer in Italian opera houses.

 

Italian opera. I first started off in concerts, because that’s what everybody does to get going; get your feet wet sort of thing. You know, and then you get a little role here and a little role there, and it just starts getting better and better.

 

What was your favorite role?

 

There’s so many. Gosh. Lucia is beautiful; Rigoletto is beautiful. I love La Sonnambula, but we never do it, because it’s very classical, it’s very bel canto, and maybe boring. But the singing is beautiful. And those are ones I love.

 

To sing in opera houses in Italy. To live and achieve a dream. Can you imagine? Neva Rego did what she loved and loved what she did. And that’s what I love about this story!

 

You know, I love the language. And I love the people; they’re so wonderful. You know. When I first went to Italy, it was not too long after the war, so people were still quite poor. And we didn’t have a refrigerator in the house. And there was no washing machine either. [chuckle] You’re looking at it. And you know, it’s difficult to wash sheets in the bathtub.

 

You did that for years?

 

I did all of that.

 

Ah.

 

Yeah, I really learned well. You know. And then I realized, silly Americans, when they complain; how beautiful our life is in America. And I think anybody who speaks against America should go abroad a while. Then you will how wonderful our country really is. You know. I know we are having problems now, but I mean, you know, the life is beautiful in America.

 

You stayed how many years; 26 years in all?

 

Twenty-six years. Really. It’s a lifetime, isn’t it?

 

Had you intended to come back? I mean, were you going to come back?

 

I think I might not have. The the thing that pushed me back was, in the late 70s, the man responsible for opera in Italy—he’s the one that subsidizes—that part of the government subsidizes opera. It was a Communist who got in. And when he got in, he decided no foreigners were gonna sing.

 

How high had you risen in the hierarchy of opera singers? Were you a big deal?

 

Well, I don’t think so. It was hard to get to be a big deal, because it was so political.

 

M-m.

 

You had to do so many things; you had to make sure an empresario liked you. [chuckle] And I didn’t wish to go further than that. So I just struggled along and sang and it worked well. But say that I got to the jet stream top; no.

 

And was that okay with you?

 

That was okay. Because I didn’t start off to be a big opera star. I started off looking for this technique. [chuckle]

 

And you found it—

 

I found it.

 

–and then you practiced it, and –

 

And now, I’m teaching it.

 

Neva Rego is a professional voice coach, teaching her beloved bel canto in her longtime family home in Ka‘imuki.

 

I never intended to teach. Never. But when I arrived home, after Italy, I thought, What am I gonna do? So I decided I was gonna go to Seattle. Because Seattle had good opera. And I was still young enough. So, then my father got ill.

 

M-m.

 

And had a stroke. And so that determined what I should do; I should stay home and take care of him. Because my brother was taking care of him all those other years, ‘cause Mother died so young. And so I stayed home, and this man came over and did an article on me in the paper. And the phone started ringing. And that’s the wonderful part of the story; it hasn’t stopped.

 

You have a waiting list this long. How many people are on your waiting list to take lessons?

 

Well, it used to be 200; right now, I think it’s down to about 100, 120. Which is nice; it’s security.

 

So the world started beating a path to your door; people wanted voice lessons from you.

 

Right. And one of the ones that came was Robert Cazimero.

 

How old was he then? Was he a young singer, just starting out?

 

This was in the 80s, early 80s.

 

In the 80s.

 

They were just from Manoa—

 

Sunday Manoa.

 

Sunday Manoa; and Robert came to me and said, You know, I’m having to lower my keys, and I don’t like that. He said, So I thought maybe if I studied a while, you’d help me. So 15 years later [chuckle]–

 

Now, why fifteen years?

 

Well, because he didn’t want to leave. He kept saying, No, I need it. I said, Robert, you don’t need lessons anymore; you know it so well. But we got on so well; he’s wonderful.

 

And this is not something that’s a quick fix, right?

 

No.

 

A student has to commit himself or herself.

 

Oh, yeah. With poppy music, I would say two years, two years and a half. Classical, forget it; six and seven. And you can’t learn it overnight; it’s not like you learn to play piano overnight. You know, you just need time. And anybody can learn to sing, if they wish it.

 

You are such a popular voice teacher. What kind of criteria do you have in accepting a student?

 

Just that they really want to learn, and that there’s a voice there.

 

So tell me some of the people you’ve trained over the years.

 

Well, as I said, Robert Cazimero. And I had Shari Lynn at that time too. She’s been great. And Jimmy Borges, and Tony Conjugacion. At one time, on Broadway, I had 17 people. Really. That was great for me, but it was kind of sad, because I wanted one at the Met.

 

[chuckle] Don’t ask for much.

 

And everybody was on Broadway. I said, Oh, my lord; what am I doing? You know. We even helped Richard Chamberlain study, Betty and I, and gosh; there’s so many.

 

Well, and just recently, American Idol came along and—

 

Oh.

 

Didn’t I hear your name with Jordan Segundo and—

 

Yes.

 

–Jasmine Trias? After the competition, though; not before.

 

After. And Anita Hall, Les Ceballos is one of mine too; a dear one. Jasmine, Danny Couch, and John Koko from Makaha Sons. You know. So there’s a long list, and they all are like children, like my kids that I never had.

 

How interesting that a lot of these people distinguish themselves in singing before they had lessons from you, but they were motivated to learn—

 

More. And you take Jordan, for example. He’s singing so well now. I’m so proud of him. And that he’s such a nice boy. And I really want him to get ahead. And he’s learned very well. He never misses lessons, he’s so enthusiastic. See, that’s—

 

Now, he didn’t win American Idol, obviously. Do you think he would have gotten farther if he’d had the lessons earlier?

 

Without a doubt.

 

How would his voice have changed?

 

Well, he would have—now, he has a complete range. He sings down the bottom, he goes all the way to a B-flat, and a high C. He never had those notes before.

 

How about Robert, because he had wonderful training at Kamehameha, I would think.

 

Yes. Robert can go to a B-flat like that too. You see, what you do with the technique is, you tie the voice together. Especially people like Jordan and Robert; you might sing with your chest voice here; but then the minute you get near what we call the break, the passagio, you have to have a different placement for those high notes. So you have to blend in the bottom to the top, and you learn to go over that transition very smoothly with study. And they do it; beautiful. Listen; listen to Robert. After all these years, he still sounds glorious.

 

And after all this time, it’s still bel canto for you.

 

Yeah, it’s still—

 

You’ve never heard another type of vocal technique that works as well for you?

 

No; I’m in love with bel canto.

 

And so your mother didn’t raise a crazy daughter after all?

 

No, I don’t think so. I hope not. I don’t know if others feel that way, but I’m in love with what I’m doing. I love it.

 

Mahalo to Neva Rego for sharing her stories with us today. And thank you for joining me for them. That’s all the time we have for this Long Story Short. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Ciao bella and aloha hui hou kakou!

 

Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is produced in HD by PBS Hawai‘i with Sony technology. High definition. It’s in Sony’s DNA.

 

My name is not really Neva; it’s Aggreneva. And everybody gets all twisted ‘cause they don’t know who she is. But my mother named me after a Russian opera singer, and her name was Agraneva Schlovanskaya. I’m kinda happy Mother stopped after Aggreneva. Mother never told me that I had this name. I knew it was a kooky name; at school, they called me Aggrevacious. You know how school kids are. Anyway, all of a sudden, I said to Mother that I was in love with music and I wanted to do music. So Mother said, Well, you know, I think I’ll tell you about your name. And she told me about Aggreneva Schlovanska, who had come here years ago with some Russian group. And they sang at Hawai‘i Theatre. Isn’t that interesting?

 

And your mother obviously had a love for opera.

 

Yeah. But I was the one that was gonna make it my life.

 

INSIGHTS ON PBS HAWAI‘I
What Do We Need to Know and Understand About Teen Suicide in Hawai‘i?

 

The leading cause of fatal injuries among 15-to-24-year-olds in Hawai‘i is suicide. On the next INSIGHTS, we’ll talk with local professionals who work with teens, their families and schools. We’ll also hear from Paul Gionfrido, CEO of Mental Health America, who calls suicide “a stage-four event in a mental illness.” He explains that it usually takes years for a person to decide to die by suicide. What do we need to know and understand about teen suicide in Hawai‘i?

 

Additional Information

 

Suicide Prevention Lifeline for Teens and Young Adults
1-800-273-TALK (8255)

 

Crisis Text Line
Text ALOHA To 741-741

 

Crisis Line of Hawai`I
Oahu 832-3100
Neighbor Islands Toll Free
1-800-753-6879

 

 

 


THE DAVID RUBENSTEIN SHOW: PEER TO PEER CONVERSATIONS
Jamie Dimon

 

This new series explores successful leadership through the personal and professional choices of some of the most influential people in business. Financier and philanthropist David Rubenstein travels the country talking to leaders to uncover their stories and their paths to success.

 

Jamie Dimon
Rubenstein interviews JPMorgan Chase CEO, Jamie Dimon, who talks about building the company only to be fired, how he views a leader’s role, his contributions to society and why he believes America is better off than many people think.

 

David Letterman
The Mark Twain Prize

 

Emmy award-winning comedian David Letterman receives the 2017 Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. This special features tributes from Letterman’s friends and colleagues including Jimmy Kimmel, Steve Martin, Bill Murray, Amy Schumer and Martin Short.

 

THE DAVID RUBENSTEIN SHOW: PEER TO PEER CONVERSATIONS
Mike Krzyzewski (Coach K)

THE DAVID RUBENSTEIN SHOW: PEER TO PEER CONVERSATIONS - Mike Krzyzewski

 

This new series explores successful leadership through the personal and professional choices of some of the most influential people in business. Financier and philanthropist David Rubenstein travels the country talking to leaders to uncover their stories and their paths to success.

 

Mike Krzyzewski (Coach K)
Rubenstein interviews Mike Krzyzewski, Duke University’s “Coach K,” who discusses lessons learned from his first-generation parents, keys to building a great team, what professional players taught him and the greatest honor of his coaching career.

 

Fact-Based Reporting, Without Fear or Favor

 

CEO Message

Fact-Based Reporting, Without Fear or Favor

 

Leslie Wilcox, PBS Hawai‘i President and CEOI first took note of war correspondent Christiane Amanpour back in the early 1990s when I saw her on cable channel CNN, running across a crowded street in Bosnia with sniper fire ringing out.

 

It wasn’t only her risk-taking that arrested me; it was her unflinching reports on a different kind of war. This wasn’t an army versus an army. It was a war against civilians.

 

More than two decades later, she would say: “I learned…when I was covering genocide and ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, never to equate victim and aggressor, never to create a false moral or factual equivalence.”

 

“When lies become mixed up with the truth, it’s a very dangerous world.” – Christiane Amanpour“Because then, if you do, particularly in situations like that,” she said, “you are party and accomplice to the most unspeakable crimes and consequences.”

 

“So,” she concluded, “I believe in being truthful, not neutral.”

 

Amanpour, who is now CNN’s Chief International Correspondent, interviews global leaders and decision-makers on PBS every weeknight at 11:00. Her program, Amanpour on PBS, joined the programming line-up after PBS stopped distributing programs with Charlie Rose, following multiple women’s allegations of sexual harassment.

 

Amanpour, who turns 59 this month, is a British citizen who spent her early years in Tehran. She is the product of a Muslim father from Iran and a Christian mother from England – and she’s married to a Jewish American, former U.S. diplomat Jamie Rubin. They live in London with their teenage son, Darius.

 

“I’ve lived in a completely multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-religious environment, in some of the most difficult places in the world,” Amanpour has said.

 

“I’ve seen firsthand that you can bridge differences, you can have tolerance between groups. The trick is to minimize the extremes, whether it’s in politics or in religion or in any kind of relationship, and to stick to the sensible center, which is where the vast majority, not only of this country but the world, lies,” she says.

 

Amanpour also has a knack for bridging between television networks and countries. She will remain with CNN in Britain while sharing her interviews with PBS in America.

 

She urges all journalists to re-commit to robust, fact-based reporting on the issues – without fear and without favor.

 

“When lies become mixed up with the truth,” she said, “it’s a very dangerous world.”

 

Almost three decades after Christiane dodged bullets in the Balkans, she’s sitting down in the studio with world power players. I still find her coverage arresting. And the truth is worth staying up for. See you at 11:00 weeknights, “Amanpour on PBS.”

 

Aloha nui,

 

Leslie signature

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Ralph Aviles

 

Before his current career as a bus operator with O‘ahu Transit Services, where he’s been for more than 30 years, Ralph Aviles was a professional featherweight boxer. At one point, he ranked third in the world in his division. Aviles says boxing helped him develop confidence, discipline, humility and respect – traits that he now strives to nurture in local at-risk youth.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, Jan. 2, at 11:00 pm and Sunday, Jan. 7, at 4:00 pm.

 

Ralph Aviles Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

Do you miss the connection when you knock somebody out? Do you miss that?

 

No, I don’t miss it. I just miss being in the ring and, you know, raising the hand that you win, you know. You know when your hand go up. I miss all of that.

 

And the crowd goes wild.

 

Oh, yeah. You know, it all pays off; yeah? Because hard work.

 

For you, what is it to be a tough guy?

 

Humble, quiet; but yet inside, you know what you can do. That’s the most important. I don’t need to prove to anybody what I used to be, or what I was before, and stuff, you know.

 

He was once one of the top professional boxers in the world, in the junior lightweight class. Today, he teaches what he’s learned in and out of the boxing ring to at-risk youth in public housing. Ralph Aviles, next, on Long Story Short.

 

Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawai‘i’s first weekly television program

produced and broadcast in high definition.

 

Aloha mai kākou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Ralph Aviles of Ewa Beach, Oahu is a former professional boxer who reached the rating of Number 3 in the world in the junior lightweight division during the mid-1980s. However, he received only modest press coverage. As a boxer, Aviles overcame obstacles and learned how to deal with adversity. But his challenges in the ring paled in comparison to the struggles he faced as a child growing up on the West side of Oahu.

 

First that I can recall was living in Nānākuli when I was very, very young, at the age of probably two or three; Nānākuli. I was born down Mākaha side. Then we moved to … Māili, and then we moved to Mākaha.

 

And what was your family like?

 

My family was like … we was pretty much close at the time, because we had very, very hard time. My mom wasn’t working.

 

What about your dad?

 

We never had a dad at that time. Yeah.

 

Never met your dad at that time?

 

No.

 

So, just your mom. Your mom wasn’t working, but she was having babies?

 

Yes. We was on low income at the time; yeah?

 

Did your mom tell you why you didn’t see your dad?

 

No; she didn’t explain. My mom was a lot more to herself. We had to live more on our own. You know, survive on our own.

 

She kept to herself.

 

Yeah; she kept more to herself.

 

So, how many of you lived together at the same time with your mom?

 

About seven of us.

 

What do you recall?

 

I recall we didn’t have a table to sit on to eat. So, we would sit on the floor and eat. Yeah, we would go out and play. And you know, we never have so much toys, but then, we would make our own toys one way or another. Play under the house, and you know, just entertain our own self. You know. We had a … hard time.

 

Living conditions for Ralph Aviles and his family improved when Able Aran entered his life and became his stepdad. Aran was the first father figure in Ralph’s life, and began to coach him in boxing when he was five years old. The large family would eventually move to an even more rural place, the sleepy village of Pahoa on Hawai‘i Island.

 

My stepdad, he started to move in with us in Nānākuli. And then, he moved us out of Nānākuli, into Māili, in a regular home. Whereas, Nānākuli was a low income place; yeah?

 

And then, when did you go to Pahoa?

 

After living in Mākaha for a few years.

 

What was Pāhoa like?

 

Very, very slow. You know, everything just went stop. When we got there, everything was like, okay …

 

You know. It’s like, in the beginning, when we first moved there, for a few years, you know, we never like there. We never like it. We didn’t enjoy being there. You know, everything was just different; was just … nothing was surrounded, everything was just spread apart.

 

But you had each other, still.

 

Yes.

 

And then, your stepdad took an interest in the boys’ boxing.

 

Yes. He created a boxing club up in Pāhoa. Then we used to come down, fight for the Golden Gloves, and you know, amateur boxing. And we used to compete a lot, ‘cause we had our own club.

 

So, was it always disciplined fighting like boxing, or did you guys get in trouble too?

 

No, not very much, we was in. We was always disciplined, you know. We was never in trouble; yeah?

 

That’s pretty good.

 

Yes. I mean, you know, now you brought that up, you know, I’m like, wow, you know, yeah, I never realized that. But you know, I guess because of the Police Athletic League, they was always, you know, emphasizing to all the clubs and the districts, you know, Stay out of trouble; yeah? That’s what it was. That’s what it was helping; yeah?

 

And they were helping you use your energy up in a disciplined way.

 

Yes; yes. They was really backing us up back then, the Police Athletic League. They used to supply us with all the equipment.

 

You probably had to learn a lot of … there’s a lot of mental attitude; right? I mean, you know, it’s not just the physical, it’s really about how to control your psyche as you fight.

 

Yes. People think when you get hit, you get mad; yeah? No; it’s not like that in the ring. Yeah. I’m talking about boxing; I’m not talking about you know, MMA, UFC. I’m talking about boxing. You know, boxing, you have to stay in control, you know.

 

It’s very strategic.

 

Yes; you have to be always thinking. Yeah? And you cannot get mad, ‘cause once you lose your temper, you know, the guy is gonna take care of you. He’s gonna do a good job on you. Because you’re not focused.

 

They say that some of the best boxers are those who come from very tough circumstances, and they have kind of a nothing-to-lose attitude. Like, I want to get out, and this is gonna get me out. Would you say that’s motivated you?

 

Well, what really motivated me was my stepdad. You know, he would always push me. Even when I was trying to play another sport in school, high school basketball, you know, football … when came time for events, big events in boxing, he would pull me out. And I would get very, very upset about it, but then, you know, today, that’s the right thing he did for me, you know, I think.

 

Under the strict guidance of Abel Aran, his stepfather and coach, Ralph Aviles became a professional boxer at age eighteen.

 

When I turned eighteen, my first fight was in Japan. I fought the world champ kickboxer.

 

Kickboxer?

 

Yes. But he became a professional boxer. But he was a world champ kickboxer. And we fought eight rounds.

 

And? You won?

 

Yes; I won. Was in Japan.

 

That was your very first professional bout?

 

Yes. And then, from there on, it just took off. You know, I was main event here, ten rounds.

 

Who did you fight?

 

Many different fighters from the Philippines, Mexico. They would always bring down a fighter; yeah?

 

And where did you fight? What was the venue? Was it at Blaisdell?

 

Blaisdell. Was HIC at the time, yeah?

 

HIC; right.

 

Yes.

 

Good crowd?

 

Three thousand, four thousand. You know. Five thousand; it all depends, yeah? It varies.

 

Any names we would know of the folks you fought?

 

No; they was all from, you know, different states, different countries. Yeah. Mexico, Philippines.

 

Your mom was involved too; right?

 

Yes.

 

What did she do?

She was the manager.

 

The momager?

 

She was my manager for a few years when I turned professional.

 

How many other women were involved at the time?

 

She was the first in Hawai‘i. And still the first, I believe.

 

And how did she manage you? What were her skills as a manager?

 

Well, she would do a lot of cooking for me, and wherever I would go, she would be next to me, you know. She like, was a mentor to me; yeah? We was close; me and my mom was very close. Yeah; no matter what. You know, whatever she did, I would never look at her in the wrong way. I was always—you know. I had a lot of respect for her. ‘Til this day.

 

So, all of your brothers wanted to do more with boxing? I mean, you went professional. Did they, too?

 

No; I was the only one that went professional.

 

Okay now; why is that?

 

Because my brothers … couple of them went to the military, you know. They went their own separate ways; yeah? The sport is very, very challenging; yeah? It’s very hard work. Not everybody can really maintain it, you know, for so many years; yeah?

 

Yeah.

 

It’s hard.

 

Yeah; you get beat up too, sometimes. Right?

 

Yes.

 

It’s not a one-way street.

 

Yes, yes; you do. You know, I gotta admit that; yes, yes. You know.

 

What were you known for?

 

I would love to throw a left hook to the body; yeah? Yeah. And movements; defense. Yeah; that was very important to me. If you don’t have defense, then you know, it’s hard to … move up in the game; yeah? I’m not one that … even though the hand is raised, I’m not one that likes the win if you’re all cut up. So, you know, that’s why I advertise a lot about defense. Yeah.

 

What did you learn from other fighters? You know, everybody has their style and their stance, and their approach. What did you learn from others that came up against you?

 

There’s a little respect for each other. When you’re in a ring, and you hit each other, you have a little respect, you know.

 

That you could get to each other.

 

Yes; for each other. And you can kinda sense it, you know.

 

What was the hardest time you had in the ring?

 

My hardest time was … wasn’t in the ring; was in the locker room.

 

What happened?

 

My real dad approached me.

 

Your real dad?

 

Yes.

 

Whom you’d never met before.

 

Yes. And … it was really devastating because … I was just getting ready for the fight. Was intermission, and I was putting on my robe, putting on my gloves. And my manager said, Ralph, I have a surprise for you.

 

Your manager said that?

 

Yes.

 

Oh …

 

Not my mom manager, but my other manager, who was Larry Ichinose. He said, Ralph, I have a surprise for you. And then, I looked by the door.

 

You knew what he looked like?

 

Yes; I kinda knew what he looked like, you know. Then when he stand by the door, I was like … I was in shock, because I wasn’t sure of myself. Should I go and hug him, or should I just stand here and stay here? Because my stepdad was standing right me. Should I show emotions? I never know what to do.

 

Yeah.

 

I was just confused. And I was getting ready to fight in fifteen minutes. Putting on my gloves, everything, you know.

 

Kinda wondering about Mr. Ichinose’s timing.

 

Yes; yes.

 

So, what did your father say?

 

He didn’t say anything.

 

And you didn’t say anything?

 

I didn’t say much. I just said, Oh, hi. And Larry Ichinose, you know, just all of a sudden said, You know what, Ralph, I was putting up posters Downtown, and he came and approached me and said, That’s my son. And Larry Ichinose said, What, that’s your son? So, Larry Ichinose asked him what was my mom’s name. And he mentioned all that to him, so he knew that this guy wasn’t joking. He knew that this guy was for real. That’s why he brought him to the fight, for the first time.

 

Did you have a conversation with him?

 

No, I did not.

 

So, he never said much, you never said much.

 

No.

 

And then, he just walked away?

 

I just gave him kinda like a hug. You know, not real big hug, but just a hug, and you know, it was time to get into the ring. But my mind was already just going. I lost my determination.

 

And you lost the fight?

 

I lost the fight.

 

Ralph Aviles says for years, he did not know that following that surprise appearance, his birth father suffered a beating by people protective of the newly-successful young boxer, and was warned to stay away. Ralph never saw his birth father again. In 1992, ten years after their brief meeting, Ralph found out more about Esperanzo Aviles, the father he never knew.

 

He was homeless. You know, he was alcoholic, homeless, pushing wagons. Living down Chinatown. I never know, until the coroner’s office called me.

 

And how did they know you were his son?

 

They found some paper clippings of my fights in his wagon.

 

He carried clippings of you … in his life.

 

Yes.

 

So, that sounds like love.

 

They found him in … found him in the ocean; Chinatown.

 

Mm.

 

Drowned.

 

Yeah; hard to get past things like that, right? I mean, it’s just something you never … could have known about, and you just have to accept. Couldn’t know the man, and … he died … probably wanting to get to know you.

 

M-hm.

 

Although Ralph Aviles never knew his biological father, he had several positive adult male influences besides his stepdad.

 

Remember any names of people who helped you out?

 

James Takushi.

 

James Takushi, the State labor negotiator?

 

Yes. Yes.

 

He was a boxing fan?

 

Very much. Yes. His son is also a boxing fan too, and the son is my age, too. So, you know, me and him, we get along real fine. We’re good friends, we’ve been friends for years, and years, and years. You know, back when I first started professional.

 

How did he help you?

 

He got me a job when I came down, when I was on the Big Island, then I moved here, back here. Moved back over here, he got me a job, part-time job so that way, I can work when I’m not fighting, and when I’m fighting, I can take off easily. I had no problem, you know. So, he did a lot for me, and you know, he was always checking up on me, and you know, make sure that I’m on track, that I’m not banging the guardrails; right? Once you start banging the guardrails, you know that you’re not on track, so you know you gotta re-track yourself again; yeah? And I had Ted Kimura. He was the owner of Island Termite at that time. Island Termite was a big termite company at that time. He was also helping the younger generation, the younger kids. He was doing a lot of donations, too. Yeah. And he helped me out a lot, too. You know, not financial, but mostly, you know, physically and just talking. And letting me know the rights and wrongs.

 

Of the game, or of the sport?

 

Of the sport, and what’s out there; yeah?

 

Or what not to get involved in.

 

Yes; yes. Yeah.

 

You were way up there in the world of boxing in your class. Right?

 

Yes. Yes; I was number three in the world. Rated number three in the world.

 

How long did it take you to become number three in the world?

 

Just about eight years.

 

In what division?

 

Junior lightweight. So, hundred thirty pounds. Yeah. Of course, now, I’m not hundred thirty pounds.

 

Who did you fight to get there?

 

Well, actually, I fought couple fighters that fought for the title, but they also lost the title. I mean, not the title, but that match; you know. So, I fought couple of them. One was from the Philippines, and one was from Mexico. And then, I beat them, so that’s how I moved up in ranking; yeah? And you know, back then, the WBC was very strict too, so you know, you really had to perform and earn your position.

 

So, from eighteen to age twenty-six; that’s how long you fought professionally?

 

Yes. I had thirty-three fights, professional. Twenty-eight wins and five losses, with eighteen knockouts. I retired in 1986.

 

And why did you retire?

 

My good friends offered me a good job.

 

Which was?

 

Driving the City bus. And to this day, I’m still driving the City bus, after thirty-one years.

 

So, how did they make their case for the City bus versus number three in the world boxing?

 

Because Sad Sam Ichinose wasn’t around to promote fights anymore. You know, I was just fighting here in Hawaii, and not moving up in rankings and stuff. I was looking for a title fight, but I never did have a title fight.

 

You have to be offered the opportunity; right?

 

Yes, yes. Well, you know, you had to become number one before you get a title fight; yeah?

 

Yeah. So, you could see it wasn’t going to a good place.

 

Yes.

 

It wasn’t going in the right direction.

 

Yeah, yeah. And you know, I was getting up in age, too. Well, you know, twenty-six years old, then I figure, you know. And I said, You know what, if I have a job, I might as well just take this, and just … ‘nough already.

 

So, after you finished boxing and you started bus driving, did you start a family?

 

Yes. Start a family, and you know, I got two kids right now, a boy and a girl. They’re twenty-five and twenty-three.

 

Since retiring from professional boxing in 1986, Ralph Aviles has lived a quiet life as a City bus driver and family man. Aviles volunteers with Matt Levi, a private investigator and journalist, to help him work with at-risk youth. Matt founded the nonprofit Lawakua Kajukenbo Club that operates at public housing complexes.

 

We work out. I teach them, you know, striking, self-defense, and how to keep your hands up. It’s just basically boxing, you know. And you know, they enjoy it. I hold the mitts for them, you know, I teach them combinations. They love it. They like that, you know. They can let out their anger, let out their frustrations.
Okay; one, two, three.

 

Good. Then come back again, with your left hand. One, two.
Three.

 

Back with your left hand.

 

One.

 

One, two.

 

Some people would say, Oh, my god, these kids are at risk, and you’re teaching them how to hit people. Why is it a good thing to teach them boxing?

 

We never bring up hitting people; yeah? We don’t bring that up. And you know, these kids as they’re going, they’re not thinking to themselves that they are hitting people, and going out there and hitting people. Because we’re teaching them self-respect, you know.

 

So, they think of it in terms of self-defense and self-respect.

 

Yes.

 

They can protect themselves.

 

Yeah.

 

They can be strong.

 

M-hm. And they get confidence, no matter where they go, you know.

 

Okay; because he’s throwing… throwing, and all you did is blocking, blocking, blocking, which is good. But what we need to do now is move side-to-side, too; yeah?

 

Getting him tired by just moving back and forth, and all over the place. Okay? So, use your hands; let your hands do all the work. Okay? …right there.

 

What’s a situation where this would help them?

 

This will help them. At least they can … instead of get into one major fight, instead of getting into trouble, they can try to avoid it. And why I say try to avoid it is because they know self-defense. You know. So, they can easily block and say, You know what, I don’t want to fight. You know, I told them that, you know, we need to grow and have some self-esteem, and some confidence before you can get out there and share whatever you want to share with others. Because if you don’t have confidence, you know, you tend to get off track and do the wrong things.

 

Do you see yourself in them?

 

I never thought about that, you know, if I see myself in them. But I always thought, even when I was young, that you know … I think respect was always first on my list.

 

How to get respect?

 

Yes. So, you know, I always carried that around; yeah? You gotta have respect for yourself before you can show respect; yeah?

 

So, how wonderful; it’s good for the young people you’re training, and it’s good for you.

 

Yes. No, it is. That’s why it’s good now that I’m doing this, because it’s like a wakeup call; yeah? Even my wife said, you know, It’s good that you’re doing this, you need to do this, you know.

 

Retired professional boxer Ralph Aviles says he was emotionally isolating himself, turning inward. It’s brought new light into his life to connect with young people, and pass along lessons he’s learned the hard way. He feels he’s benefiting just as much as those he helps. As of this conversation in June of 2017, you’ll still find Aviles humbling driving his City bus through the neighborhoods of Central Oahu. That’s another definition of being a tough guy; doing what it takes to support oneself and care for family day-after-day, year-after-year. As he said, thirty-one years so far. Mahalo to Ralph Aviles of Ewa Beach for sharing your story with us. And thank you, for joining us. For PBS Hawai‘i and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha, a hui hou.

 

For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie

Wilcox, visit PBSHawaii.org. To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with

Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes store, or visit PBSHawaii.org.

 

[END]

 

INSIGHTS ON PBS HAWAI‘I
Domestic Violence: Living in Fear

 

A national ranking of support services offered to domestic violence victims has Hawai‘i among the states at the bottom of the list. INSIGHTS examines the numbers and sheds light on domestic violence in the Islands with this live discussion.

 

Your questions and comments are welcome via phone, email and online via Facebook and Twitter during the Live Broadcast.

 

Phone Lines:
462-5000 on Oahu or 800-238-4847 on the Neighbor Islands.

 

Email:
insights@pbshawaii.org

 

Facebook:
Visit the PBS Hawai‘i Facebook page.

 

Twitter:
Join our live discussion using #pbsinsights

 


INSIGHTS ON PBS HAWAI‘I
The Education Leaders of Our State

 

Leadership from Hawai‘i’s major education systems convene around the Insights table for a high-level conversation about how to prepare students for the future employment landscape in the Islands, and how they can work together in doing so.

 

Scheduled for this conversation:

 

Phil Bossert

Acting Executive Director

Hawaii Association of Independent Schools

 

Holoua Stender

Executive Vice President of Education

Kamehameha Schools

 

Sione Thompson

Executive Director

State Public Charter School Commission

 

Phyllis Unebasami

Deputy Superintendent

Hawaii Department of Education

 

Your questions and comments are welcome via phone, email and online via Facebook and Twitter during the Live Broadcast.

 

Phone Lines:
462-5000 on Oahu or 800-238-4847 on the Neighbor Islands.

 

Email:
insights@pbshawaii.org

 

Facebook:
Visit the PBS Hawai‘i Facebook page.

 

Twitter:
Join our live discussion using #pbsinsights

 

1 2 3 6