Samoa

INSIGHTS ON PBS HAWAI‘I
A Tribute to One-Puka-Puka

 

The legacy of the 100th Infantry Battalion, nicknamed “One-Puka-Puka,” continues to this day. The battalion, formed during World War II, was initially made up largely of Nisei (second-generation) Japanese Americans from Hawai‘i. After WWII, the battalion was mobilized during the Korean, Vietnam and Iraq wars. Today, the Hawai‘i-based battalion is the only infantry unit in the U.S. Army Reserve, with additional units on American Samoa, Guam and Saipan. Historians, veterans and several past and present service members of the 100th Infantry Battalion join us on Insights for this live conversation, which will also be streamed on pbshawaii.org and PBS Hawai‘i’s Facebook page.

 

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LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Bob Apisa

 

When he first came to Hawaii from American Samoa at the age of seven, Bob Apisa could not understand a word of English. Despite that initial difficulty, he excelled in sports at Farrington High School and won a national championship as a member of the Michigan State Spartan football team. He was drafted by the Green Bay Packers and went on to a successful career in Hollywood as an actor and stuntman.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Wed., Aug. 19 at 11:00 pm and Sun., Aug. 23 at 4:00 pm.

 

Bob Apisa Audio

 

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Transcript

 

So, forty-nine years before Marcus Mariotta helped to win the Rose Bowl, you were playing the Rose Bowl.

 

That’s correct. That’s correct. I was probably the first Samoan that played in the Rose Bowl; I’m not sure of that. When you’re raised in Hawaii, I mean, ethnically, I am of Samoan mix. Culturally, I am of Hawaiiana. When I’m raised with people here, they would have an influence on the way you look at things in life. And I knew that go up there, don’t shame your surname, don’t shame yourself, and don’t shame the state that you’re from. And that was the driving force for all of us who were up there.

 

Before Marcus Mariota, there was Bob Apisa, a Samoan recruited from Hawaii, who also made history on the football field nearly half a century ago. Bob Apisa, next, on Long Story Short.

 

Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawaii’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in high definition.

 

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Bob Apisa was the first all-American college football player of Samoan ancestry whose achievements helped open the door for Polynesian players like Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariot. Apisa’s athleticism made him a college football star, and led him to a long career as a stuntman in Hollywood’s film industry. However, Apisa’s early years were a struggle. When he moved to Hawaii at the age of seven, he couldn’t understand a word of English.

 

Where were you born?

 

Leslie, I was born in Fagatogo, American Samoa. And that’s adjacent to Pago Pago, American Samoa. That’s the capital of American Samoa.

 

But you didn’t stay there, obviously.

 

Fortunately for me and my family—well, there were eleven siblings. I mean, I had ten siblings, rather. I was the eleventh. There eight boys, three girls. And my dad was in the military at the time; he knew that the only way to improve our lot in life was to bring us from Samoa to Hawaii, so that we can get into or be engrained with proper uh, education. I remember sixty-three years ago when I left American Samoa in 1952. And I remember pulling out of that port, and we never seen electricity; I’d never seen it. I lived in a house that was lit up by kerosene lanterns. And I never spoke English, could not understand a word of English. And as we left Samoa, two and a half weeks later, we were pulling in at Honolulu Harbor. And the landscape of the land was just lit up, and I was on deck, and I asked my brother, George—his name was Siosi. In Samoan, that’s George. And I said, Siosi, [SAMOAN LANGUAGE]. Meaning, there must be hundreds of, you know, kerosene lanterns out there lighting this place up. And he looked at me; he said, Papu. Papu is Bob in Samoan. He said, Papu, [SAMOAN LANGUAGE]. Meaning, Those are not kerosene lanterns; that’s electricity. I had never seen a switch. We never had an inside toilet; we had outhouses. So, the confirmation of just bringing this whole new world was there. And the reaffirmation of that was the effort that we had to go out and strike it on our own. My mom and my father went up to as high as eighth grade in Samoa. They didn’t have high schools. And that was one of the reasons why my dad brought us here.

 

What was the hardest thing for you? I can’t imagine. The culture, the language; what was the hardest thing?

 

Well, the hardest thing was cognitive skills, social etiquettes; things of that nature. I remember sitting in the classroom at Pearl Harbor Kai Elementary, and when the teacher would gather the kids around, and she would read us a book, like, See Tom run; run, run, run. See Jane hop; hop, hop. And kids would laugh. And they would laugh, and that was my clue to laugh along with them, so I would feel like I’m one of them.

 

But you didn’t know why.

 

But I didn’t know why I was laughing. I didn’t know why I was laughing.

 

No special language lessons, or tutoring; nothing like that?

 

No; this was strictly through osmosis or just by being around the vicinity of being around English-speaking military dependents. Because I was brought up with military dependents at Pearl Harbor Kai Elementary. But I had teachers that helped me. I remember arriving in November, and starting school late. Because it started in September, and arriving, and then I had to re-acclimate myself. Then I got hurt. We were playing cowboys and Indians; I got shot in my left eye with a slingshot, and bled for quite some time. So, I missed more school. And as a result, I was set back a grade to repeat that same grade in order for me to get on. But I took that as an onus that I had some making up to do, but it was incumbent on me to make the move and make the motivation to move ahead.

 

Where did your family live, and what was it like growing up with ten siblings?

 

It was a very disciplinarian upbringing. My dad, I think in my lifetime, because he was a man of few words, but he’ll give you that look, and you’ll know exactly what he meant. But he was very soft-spoken. My mom was the general foreman; she ran the shop. So, she was very dedicated as a mother. She attended and made sure that we went to school. She took us there, and picked us up. You know, she was all-giving and all-supportive.

 

So, at the time, what public school did you go to?

 

I came out of Pearl Harbor Kai. I entered Aliamanu Intermediate when it first opened up. This, I think, was 1960. And I remember going to Aliamanu the very first day it opened up, and the Salt Lake City was just nothing but a salt lake and marshland.

 

It really was a salt lake then.

 

There were no buildings. There were no buildings; just that school there. But from there, I had to go on to ninth grade. They did not have a ninth grade; it was just up to eighth grade. And I had left the eighth grade, so I was going to the ninth grade. And what my brother Bill and I did—I mean, Bill was the catalyst in bringing me to the old Interscholastic League of Honolulu.

 

ILH.

 

ILH. And that was the premier competition. And I think because he felt slighted—I didn’t know any better, but he felt slighted that all the friends that we were playing around with when we were little kids all went to private schools. And he felt slighted.

 

The immigrants got left behind.

 

But the immigrants were left behind. And so, we concocted a story based on Bill’s theory that if we had a district exception from someone, that we can play at Farrington. Because Farrington was in the ILH. So, we asked my uncle, Reverend McMoore—that’s the Scotch part of my family, to use his residence address over at Republican Street in Kalihi. And he said, Yeah, by all means. So, that’s how we ended up at Farrington.

 

Bob Apisa says he didn’t play organized football until he entered the ninth grade at Farrington High School. He was a natural at that, and other sports as well.

 

You did things like you were playing a doubleheader in baseball, and the coach ran you over to the Punahou relays, and you took two events there, and you came back and you played your second baseball game.

 

Yes; that’s very true. This is my senior year, and it was the spring of my senior year. And I had fiddled around with the track team so I can work out and do my sprints, and just starting out, because I knew as a running back, I needed speed. But he needed a shot-putter, and he knew that in my sophomore year, I tinkered around with shot-putting, and it was only about, you know, two feet or three feet and a lot of rolls after that. But I didn’t know how to acquire the skills. So, we were playing Roosevelt at Moiliili Field, and he went up to my coach, Dick Kitamura, and he said, Dick, may I borrow Bob uh, in between the games? He said, Fine. I went up there.

 

And are you still wearing your baseball shoes?

 

I was wearing my baseball gear.

 

 

I took off my baseball top and put on a FHS tee-shirt or shirt, tank top, and I wore my baseball pants and my baseball leggings, and I borrowed a pair of tennis shoes. And these were the best shot-putters from all over the State. And they were all kinda [SNICKERS], you know, laughing and giggling.

 

How did that make you feel? Did that make you feel like—

 

Well, you know, I was laughing, myself. [CHUCKLE] But anyway, I said, Well, you know, I’m gonna do the best I can. My first throw, I said to myself, All I want to do is get some height on it. And I pumped it back, and I let go, and all I heard was the crowd going, Wow! Because I had just broken the State record that was there for eight and a half years later. I mean, previous. And I’m walking around like I knew what I was doing, but I was looking for the first dog poop that I may have stood on before I came into the ring. But, you know, my second and third throws, I mean, ba-boom, little dribbles here and there.   But the damage was done. I had won the shotput, I had set the State record for the shotput of fifty-six, three and three-quarters, and I broke—the gentleman’s name, I think it was Souza that was from Waialua in 1956.   So, I told the coach, I’ve got a second game, so put on my uniform, and went back to play the second game of the doubleheader.

 

How’d you do in the doubleheader?

 

I hit a homerun.

 

It was a good night; a very good night.

 

It was a good night.

 

Bob Apisa’s athletic achievements at Farrington caught the attention of dozens of college football recruiters. He chose Michigan State University, where he became part of a national championship team known for pioneering racial integration, and for having four future Hall of Fame players, all African American. And he earned a spot in Rose Bowl lore.

 

I was. You know, when you’re raised in Hawaii, I mean, ethnically, I am of Samoan mix. Culturally, I am of Hawaiiana. When I’m raised with people here, they would have an influence on the way you look at things in life. And I knew that go up there, don’t shame your surname, don’t shame yourself, and don’t shame the state that you’re from. And that was the driving force for all of us who were up there. You know, Dick Kenney and Charley Wedemeyer, when we were playing, we were ranked number one in the country. We would go to Ann Arbor to play University of Michigan or go down to Columbus and play Ohio State, or go down to South Bend to play Notre Dame; the top schools in the country. And we would look at each other, kust before we’d go out on the field, we’d look at each other. We’d do this. Meaning, when we get together, we say, Don’t make … you know what.

 

A.

 

A; of yourself. Because that’s how local boys related; don’t make A. So, we look at each other, and we knew. We were in tune.

 

And at the same time, Michigan State had an unusual makeup of its starters. I read that there were eleven African American starters, which was really unusual at the time, and you had far more players on the team. And then, there was you, who became the first all-American player of Samoan ancestry.

 

Yeah; yeah.

 

What a team.

 

Oh, it was a great team. You know, at that time in 1964, we had just legislated civil rights. In 1965, there was the Civil Rights Voting Act.

 

And that’s when you were a sophomore.

 

When I was a sophomore. And I looked at Bubba Smith, and Bubba Smith would look at George Webster, and George Webster would look at Dick Kenney. And we would look at each other … people of color. We said, You mean, we can actually vote for the first time? And so, there was a lot of history in that, that we had to encumber along the way. But the fact is, you look at things, and you learn from those experiences, and having African Americans who were great athletes. Being from the islands, again, you know, we had this mantra that you’re there to represent your people, you go out there and kick okole.

 

Here we are at the granddaddy of all the bowl games, the Rose Bowl, in—

 

So, forty-nine years before Marcus Mariotta helped to win the Rose Bowl, you were playing the Rose Bowl.

 

That’s correct. That’s correct. I was probably the first Samoan that played in the Rose Bowl; I’m not sure of that.

 

Bob Apisa, the fullback …

 

In 1966, I was a sophomore. And we were ranked number one in the country, undefeated, and we played UCLA, who we had beaten in the first game of the year. We were behind by fourteen to twelve, and I had scored a touchdown, and we went for a two-point conversion instead of having Dick kick a field goal or a point after. So, that made a difference. So, when we scored the second touchdown, we had to make up two points. And I was given that opportunity, and it’s been in lore, the Rose Bowl lore throughout the years that I was stopped by the one-yard line by Bob Stiles.

 

Apisa the fullback, and Bob is caught a yard short …

 

And Bob … I think he was a hundred seventy-pounds or two twenty-five. But he just threw himself at you; right?

 

Well, he was knocked out in the process. But the fact of the matter is, he did the job. And that’s the important thing. You know, you only had about four major bowls back in those days. And the Rose Bowl was the granddaddy of them all. That was The Big One. And that’s what I wanted to aspire to play in when I left Farrington, to go to a conference that would give me a shot at playing in the granddaddy of them all.

 

Ten months after that close loss in the Rose Bowl, on November 19, 1966, Bob Apisa played a part in history, taking the field in a matchup dubbed The Game of the Century. It was the first ever live TV sports broadcast in Hawaii.

 

I played in that game. And what happened was, prior to that game, throughout that week, people were just so jazzed up about the Game of the Century. We were both undefeated.

 

Okay. This was Michigan State, and …

 

Notre Dame. And Notre Dame at that time had one minority on their team. Just one. They had maybe twenty-seven in the entire enrollment, in South Bend. And that made them change and incorporate more people. But the fact that we were playing … I had a scroll with about three thousand names sent to me from my high school wishing us luck from Farrington. You know, those are cherished moments. And I remember when Dick Kenney and Charley and I got together, I said, You know, this is big-time, guys. I mean, I’m a kid from Samoa, Palama Housing to Kalihi Valley, and we’re playing big-time. People are gonna be seeing us live and direct. And that game, I think it was Governor Burns at that time, I believe it was, along with the Legislature, and they petitioned the FCC, the Federal Communications Commission, to see if they can see it live and direct. So, they got permission from them, and on the morning of November 19, 1966, there was a little satellite revolving around Sydney, Australia. The satellite was called Lani Bird. And they had that satellite beam the signal from Sydney, Australia, ricochet that signal across to Honolulu. And for the first time, you know, six hours earlier, people from Hawaii turned on their TVs, whether it’s an RCA, whether it’s the Zenith or Motorola, one of those brands, with two rabbit ears.

 

Small screen.

 

And with tin foil at the end of it, and with a small screen.

 

No cable television back then.

 

No cable TV. And they turned it on, they saw the splotchy black and white figures, and they finally saw the game, the first live telecast in the history of Hawaii. That’s one of the proudest moments of my life. I know I speak on behalf of my departed brothers, Dick Kenney and Charley Wedemeyer. That made us so proud. If there’s anything that we’re proudest of is that we helped facilitate this state into the 20th Century, as far as telecommunications is concerned.

 

After all the hype, The Game of the Century ended in a tie. Injuries sidelined Bob Apisa for much of his senior year at Michigan State. Still, he was chosen in the ninth round of the NFL draft by the late legendary coach, Vince Lombardi, who was then general manager of the Green Bay Packers.

 

That was a great honor for me, Leslie, because when you’re drafted by the world champions—they were just coming out of their second Super Bowl championship. And I was hoping to get onto an expansion team like the Miami Dolphins at that time, or Cincinnati Bengals. But lo and behold, I could hear vividly well Pete Roselle, the commissioner, announcing my name over the PA, and I can hear them saying, you know, Drafted in the ninth round, from Michigan State, bla-bla-bla-bla. And I can hear there’s cheering. And my heart sank in a way, because I wanted to go to a lesser team in developing. And here I am, I’m drafted by Green Bay, by Vince Lombardi. So, you know, people would see that trophy named after him on every Super Bowl, and eighty percent of the country probably don’t know who this man is. I was honored to be drafted by him. I shook hands with him, I talked to him, I negotiated my contract with him. And that’s quite an honor. The fact of the matter is, you know, to have that opportunity, to have just the experience of someone who is so iconic in football folklore. And when I see that, and I’m tracing myself back to 1952 when that young man who stood on that boat, who could not speak a word of English, and to where I am today, those are some of the moments that I’m most proudest of
You know, your career with the Green Bay Packers was fairly short, because I think you had serious knee damage; didn’t you?

 

Yes, I did. I signed a two-year contract with them. I lasted a year; they paid my year off. And I knew I was, you know, damaged goods to pursue an NFL career, because I paid that price during my collegiate career. But since, I’ve had prosthesis; I had three hip replacements, two on my right and one on my left, and a left knee replaced, so I walk with a shuffle and a distinct gait, and a gimp and a limp.

 

And other than that, you feel good?

 

Other than that, everything else is working.

 

You’re okay.

 

Being a fullback, always working to move the ball forward, Bob Apisa didn’t look back after the end of his football career. He went on to a thirty-three-year career as a stuntman and sometime actor, following a chance encounter with a Hawaii Five-O casting director.

 

I sat there, and there was this silver-haired guy with a beard, and he kept looking at me. And I’m saying, Well, maybe I owe him money or something.

 

So, he finally came over. And he says, I’m Bob Busch, I’m the casting director for Hawaii Five-O. The original Five-O. And he says, You’re Bob Apisa? I says, Yes. And he says, Have you ever done pictures before? And I says, The only pictures I’ve ever dealt with are Kodak cameras and stuff like that. But he says, No. So he said, I’m giving you a card. Why don’t you give me a call tomorrow. And I had a few days before I went back to Flint. And so, I called him on a lark, and he said, Why don’t you come in, I’d like to see you. So, I went down to the studio over by Diamond Head.

 

Were you excited?

 

No, I wasn’t excited. I didn’t know what why he wanted me to come in. Because I wasn’t involved with filming, I did not know what filming was. Once again, this was a first-timer. And as I’m walking in through the door, I noticed that there were about three big guys like me. And as I’m walking through the door, Jack Lord exits his office, and he’s looking right at me. He says, Oh, you’re the guy I’m looking for. I turned behind, and I’m wondering if he’s talking to the guy behind me, but there was nobody there. And then, Bob Busch came out and made the introduction. And so, Jack Lord said, Can you come tomorrow and do a little scene with us? I said, Wow, this thing is happening so quick. I mean, twenty-four hours later, I’m asked to come in another twenty-four hours later to do a jail scene with some people, some guys. And so, I said, Yeah, fine. You know, I didn’t mind doing that just to kill time and get a day’s pay. And he said something; the dialog between him and James MacArthur, Danno at that time. So, Steve McGarrett was saying this to Danno, and then it didn’t make sense. So, Jack looks at me; he said, Bob, when I say this, just say, No, I didn’t do it, or something to that effect. I don’t quite remember. And so, when he said this, then I said, No, I didn’t do it. I was immediately Taft-Hartleyed into Screen Actors Guild.

 

 

 

Forty-eight hours later, no experience as an extra or anything, I went from Point A to Point Z.

 

Well, you were comfortable with yourself; right?

 

I was comfortable with myself, because, you know, I thought it was a new adventure, and I said, Ah, why not. You know. And a week later, just before I left, or a couple days later before I left the following week, they asked me if I could take jeep and squib it and drive it. I said, Hey, it’s no big thing. And had bullet holes. I mean, squibbed it and came right up to the camera, and that was no big thing. And that’s how my stunt career started. I’ve done train falls, I’ve done horse falls, I’ve done horse stampedes, motorcycles, car chases, falling off of four-story buildings into water. You know, it’s all timing. But if you’re an athlete and you have the innate skills to adjust, to make your adjustment. Before I go on a set and they ask me to do something, I’ll turn ‘em down too.

 

So, this is 2015, and you are how old? Seventy?

 

I just turned uh, the milestone of seven, zero.

 

So, it’s a new stage of your life. What’s it like? I mean, you’re now officially retired.

 

Yeah.

 

I mean, that’s another kind of career, because you have to figure out how to spend your time, what relationships to keep, and which to invest time in, and where to go.

 

Well, I have a great relationship with AARP. No, I’m just kidding you. I find time to do things. I can wake up and read the paper, and I go and work out, and I come back and have lunch with friends. Or the wife and I can just get up and go.

 

Bob Apisa lives in Southern California. At the time of our conversation in 2015, he was producing a project dear to his heart, a documentary about the Michigan Spartans’ two-year run as national champions, and the team’s groundbreaking impact on racial integration in college football. Thank you, Bob Apisa, for sharing your story with us. For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou.

 

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

 

People always point out that Bob Apisa came first. He was the first Samoan to really make a dent in the national scene. So, you were the Marcus Mariota of your time.

 

Marcus Mariota is a gentleman that when I looked at the way he carries himself, I’m proud of him. He represents America. He represents the cross-section of all ethnicity; all ethnicity. And he carries himself with humility, which is from here.

 

[END]

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
“Dr. Tusi” Avegalio

 

Original air date: Tues., June 25, 2013

 

Leslie Wilcox talks with Dr. Tusi Avegalio, Director of the Pacific Business Center Program at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. A twist of fate brought him from American Samoa to a Kansas teachers college. Dr. Tusi, as he’s known on campus at UH Manoa, went on to earn degrees in education and social science. At the Pacific Business Center, Dr. Tusi helps organizations bridge traditional Pacific Islander values and western thought.

 


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Transcript

 

What we bring to the table, to me, a very compelling cultural perspective. It acknowledges that substance is enduring, and that form is ephemeral, and knowing the difference.

 

Achieving a balance between the wisdom of the past and the knowledge of the future, with the director of a program at the University of Hawaii Shidler College of Business at Manoa, Dr. Failautusi Avegalio, next on Long Story Short.

 

Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawaii’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in high definition.

 

Aloha mai kakou, and welcome to Long Story Short. I’m Leslie Wilcox. With a foot in both Western and Pacific Island cultures, our guest has been recognized nationally in economic business development. He is Dr. Failautusi Avegalio, better known as Dr. Tusi, at the UH Shidler College of Business. He runs the Pacific Business Center program with the college. Descended from a long line of Samoan chiefs, Dr. Tusi was raised in the coastal village of Leone in American Samoa in a family that included six other siblings. His father served in the U.S. Navy, and ran a successful agricultural business. His mother was a cultural practitioner who devoted her time to serving family members and supervising the family plantation during his father’s military assignments. After graduating from high school, Dr. Tusi, following the family tradition of military service, was on his way to the Marine recruitment office to enlist, along with four friends. But a twist of fate intervened.

 

Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on how you look at it, it was the same day that the newspapers published the list of scholarship students. So, my name starting with an A, Avegalio, was the first on the list. So, my aunt brought it to my father’s attention, and the family was absolutely sure I must be the smartest kid on the island, because I was named first on the list. They actually caught me just before I entered the recruiting office.

 

How interesting, how a life can change on timing.

 

So, he grabbed my hand, and for the first time, I was almost disobedient. But, when you got a big father with a big hand, I gave it a second thought and was obedient.

 

And he wanted you to go into education?

 

Wanted me to go to school; college.

 

Which became your livelihood.

 

Yes.

 

Your profession.

 

And so, two weeks later, my dad went with me. Went to Hawaii to meet family there, and then he saw me off in San Francisco. So, I was on the same flight as the other four. They went on to Vietnam, and I went to Kansas. Kansas State Teachers College in Emporia, Kansas. Our Commissioner of Education of Department of Interior at that time felt that small Midwestern schools would best be for acculturation purposes for students from the islands, and I’m glad I went there.

 

So, strong family values, but still culture shock.

 

Extreme culture shock. Especially with winter. But family values were very much the same. In fact, I sort of developed a tongue – in – cheek book called Coming of Age in Kansas. And it’s just basically the cultural adjustments that coming from a tropical sea coastal village, going to the middle of Midwest, and interacting and working with people there. What amazed me was that many of the young Kansas boys had never been to Kansas City, or had never flown on an airplane. So, they had their own kind of insularity, their own kind of island, so we actually had a lot in common, and we certainly had a lot of fun.

 

So, they welcomed you, and you embraced them too?

 

Well, they didn’t welcome me at first. They didn’t know what …

 

What to make of you.

 

They didn’t know what I was. [CHUCKLE] It’s the usual, He’s too big to be a Mexican or an Indian, American Indian. He’s too light – skinned to be Black, so they figured that might be one of the light – skinned Negros, or something of that nature. So, it was fun trying to get to know them, and they get to know me. And it usually comes around by playing music, playing the guitar. [CHUCKLE] Little cultural things that eventually got their curiosity to the point that it laid the foundation to some very enduring relationships.

 

Enduring, as in marriage.

 

Yeah; marriage and friendships. I married a young gal from Emporia, Kansas. She had no idea where American Samoa was. But I think what really helped make the transition to Kansas were the Hawaiians, the Hawaiian students that were there. They, more than anything else, helped me to transition successfully. Because they already had networks, they had relationships, and they were extremely popular. And so, I was very fortunate that they sort of took me under their wing, and … rest is history.

 

And you never once considered leaving, saying, Oh, this is so different from what I’m used to?

 

No, because, again, being part of a collective culture, I think the shame would be unbearable.

 

You represented your community.

 

Yeah, because it wasn’t just me that left.

 

But didn’t your community want you to marry a local girl from your village?

 

Oh, yeah. Well, that came later. I was already gone, and it’s a lot easier to make a decision when you’re like, seven thousand miles away from the village. [CHUCKLE]

 

How did that go over in Leone?

 

It didn’t go over as well as I thought. My grandmother was very concerned that my wife was so skinny, and she was fearful that her health would not allow her to bear as many grandchildren as she would like to see. But I think in time, Linda became a very endearing part of the family, to the point where when we’d go anywhere, the first thing they asked for is, Well, where’s Linda? [CHUCKLE] And I said, Hello? Oh; where’s your wife? [CHUCKLE] So, yes. So, in many ways, going to Samoa enriched her life, and her life enriched my family’s life and my people’s, those that she had the occasion to interact with.

 

So, the people who decided about the match between a Samoan culture and the Midwestern Kansas setting were right.

 

Yes; in ways, yeah. And what also helped was that my dad, having served in the military, was able to keep the family and traditions at a distance to allow his son to make a decision. Dad knew me so well, and he was able to see without having to ask me where I wanted to go in this situation. And I think my mom attuned to me also, so they both, without having to sit down and draw it out, felt and sensed where my heart was. And knowing my heart better than most, they just supported it.

 

Failautusi Avegalio, or Tusi, returned to Leone in American Samoa to teach at a local high school while considering a career in law. With most of their teachers trained locally, the students were excited by the accomplishments of this native son who had returned home with a college degree. Finding his true calling, Tusi went on to pursue his education in Missouri and Utah, earning masters and doctorate degrees in educational administration. After earning his PhD, he proudly returned home. Sitting together under a breadfruit tree, his mother asked him to explain why he thought it was such a great achievement.

 

And I was thinking that this is too much, too complex, et cetera, for my mother to understand. And I sadly also included the fact that she only had two years of education in elementary school, thoroughly confusing the difference between knowledge and wisdom. I shared with her, because I love theory, so much of my emphasis was on looking at the theory of giants in the field. Mintzberg, Hertzberg, Adrius, Hertz and Blanshard, and political people like Montesquieu, Locke, and looking at organization, et cetera. She sort of just absorbed all that and listened quietly. And then, she told me to go feed the pigs. So, [CHUCKLE] I was thinking, Feed the pigs? I mean, that’s what I used to do when I was a kid. Meanwhile, thinking to myself, Wow, the great value of my doctorate degree is no higher than feeding pigs, and a little miffed as I left. But then, when I returned, my mom then asked me, questions that thoroughly put me in my place and forever endeared me to appreciating wisdom. She asked me if all the books that these men wrote were to be put in a large basket, how large the basket would be. And I said, It’d probably be as large as the village. [CHUCKLE] And I was thinking, Where is this going? And a towanga [PHONETIC] is a fibrous mesh that we pull from the Heliconia stem, and we use that to squeeze grated coconuts so we get the milk out of it. So, she said, If we got a towanga and you squeezed all of these books, what would you get? Privately, I was thinking, a lot of ink. But I really didn’t know where she was going, so I said, I don’t know. And she says, This what you’ll get. You’ll get respect, consideration, dignity, sensitivity and compassion, the very things that are needed to make men do the kinds of things that need to be done, especially if you’re a leader. And I was thinking, Damn, she just encapsulated it. Essentially all the theories said the same thing, is to treat a human being humanely, followership and leadership can become that much more effective. And then, if you take those words and you squeeze them in the towanga again, what do you get? Then she really got me there. I said, I don’t know. She said, You get alofa. And alofa means, in our language, love. And then, she said, How strange that you should go so far away to a place, at great expense to learn how to alofa. You could have learned that here at home in your family and among the village. She was just reminding me that, Don’t be so full of yourself. [CHUCKLE]

 

Throughout her life, the mother of Failautusi Avegalio gently imparted to her children the values of the elders, their alofa and hopes for the future. Dr. Tusi’s work honors his mother’s vision that he would one day play a role in enhancing the quality of life for those of the Pacific Region. As the director of the University of Hawaii’s Pacific Business Center program, he consults with and coordinates assistance to organizations that have business and economic development projects in the area. The Center’s staff provides the technical assistance; Dr. Tusi’s key role is bridging traditional values and Western thought.

 

What we bring to the table, to me, a very compelling cultural perspective. It acknowledges that substance is enduring, and that form is ephemeral, and knowing the difference. That by preserving the substance of the past, and then clothing it with the forms of the future, we would be able to achieve an enduring balance between the wisdom of the past and the knowledge of the future. My technical staff are very good in the areas of fiscal management, accounting, marketing, financing. What I bring to the table are the social, cultural, and the historical and the spiritual ones. It’s weaving these two things together. My approach in the Pacific is very different from the person that might be approaching from a corporate business or a business from the mainland or from Europe. I think Bank of Hawaii might be the best example, just recently when American Samoa was hoping to get at least twelve months transition period versus Bank of Hawaii wanting to withdraw within thirty days or ninety days. When a meeting was held at the last minute, the discussions initiated from the Samoa delegation dealt with issues of commonalities, common history, family, ancestors, wisdoms, things of that nature, and reminders that even though we may be separate on the surface, that we all connected in the deep. Now, I can imagine the Bank of Hawaii strategic consultant freaking out and says, What does this have to do with assets and projected profits, et cetera, things that are more business associated? But fortunately, the leader, CEO Peter Ho, as a boy grew up here, was born here. And it resonated. It resonated at that depth. They had reached an agreement that twelve months might be something that the Bank of Hawaii can certainly accommodate and would reconsider its original position. All the lawyers in the world could not have done what occurred there. And again, it’s bringing the social, cultural, spiritual side, and then weaving it with the technical and the knowledge side to arrive at a place where there can be some mutual understanding, basic human decency and consideration. And I think it has worked out then, and I think it will continue to work for the future.

 

So, in a sense, you find partners and ways to get people moving together to enhance mutual lives. It’s so tough to pick personal partners, business partners. How do you do that? How do you identify?

 

We have a term called iike. In Hawaiian, it’s called ike. It means attunement, sensing. And that can only come about from experience, from maturity, and learning, and living wisdoms over a period of time. So, I lead with my senses, which is really peculiar, because my more quantitatively oriented colleagues are wondering, What are you talking about? But we always get there. And I need to be able to sit down with the various leaders, whoever they are, and sense them. Our ancestors used iike to navigate. So, they can sense not only the wind, the wave, the winds and the stars, but they can also feel. And I think that is what enabled them to achieve their destinations, and in a very small humble way, that I was able to tap into that to help me to achieve what goals that we were able to for our purposes.

 

Tapping into the wisdom of the ages did not come easily to Dr. Failautusi Avegalio. With the distractions of youth and exposure to many philosophies and models, he says it’s taken a long time. Today, his life perspectives are well developed, and they begin with the belief that his ancestors have always held, that people and the universe are family.

 

We have two mothers. There’s the birth mother, and there’s your Earth mother. And in Samoa, it’s called Papa. Papa is the name of the Earth mother. The burying of the afterbirth in a ti leaf – and ti leaf is a very spiritual plant, metaphorically symbolizes the connection of your umbilical cord to the Earth. So, my birth mother, and there’s my Earth mother. And there’s also your father, your human father, which is my dad, and Tangaloa Langi, which is the universe, the stars in the heavens. When you have this sense of awareness of who your parents are, that gives you a sense of wholeness that you wouldn’t have without it. What it also means is that the offspring, both your mothers and your fathers, are your siblings. They’re your kin. If the Earth and the heavens are the parents of all living things, and they’re also my parents, that means all living things and inanimates, stones, rocks, et cetera, are my relatives. So, that really didn’t bear fruit in terms of its meaning until I was in college. One of my student friend’s family owned a large ranch. They were clearing some land with huge trees, and they had this tractor knocking down the trees. And in fact, I couldn’t even stay, I couldn’t watch. But I’d been having those kind of feelings every time I see these kinds of things, and then it sort of all came together. It’s like watching your kin being slaughtered or abused. The basis of nature is God; they’re one and the same thing. You can’t separate the two, and it’s this separation thing that I had a real difficult time trying to reconcile. But what made a big difference for me is when I sat in on a lecture about Howard Gardner. Howard Gardner did these studies on human intelligence. What he pointed out is that there’s more than one intelligence. Before, it just used to be either your IQ, and that had to do with problem – solving and quantitative thinking through mathematics. That there are other intelligences, and the one that just jumped out at me was attunement. It was an intelligence, people had an ability to sense and feel what is not readily apparent to others. And then this quantum mechanics things comes out with physics, that all things emanate rhythms or energies, and that there are animals and humans; they can sense these. And I said, Ah, that’s what my grandfather meant was, we talk to the trees. He didn’t talk, literally talk to the trees. If you’re a healthy tree, you would emanate a different energy than if you’re a sick tree, or if you’re young or inappropriate. So, many of these kinds of attributes can actually now be validated or at least reaffirmed with modern science.

 

How do you develop attunement?

 

We develop it only if we focus on it. But we don’t focus on it, because we have technology that does it for us. Let me give you an example. A mother has a child. The child is a block away, and falls off the stairs. Mama knows something happened to Baby. She said, Oh! And there are many incidences where people say, How did you know? Well, I just knew something was wrong. Another more common example. You’ve ever visited a place where it just felt really foreboding? And then, you go to another place, and nobody’s there, but it felt so warm and inviting. An example for that for me is the church in Leone. When I go into that church, I have an incredible feeling of embrace. I now know why, but at the time, I didn’t know. In the late 1800s, churches were built by crushing coral into lime, and then making sort of a cement, but there were no rebar, they used stones. But they ran out of stones when the walls were sort of halfway up. Gathered them from the river and the streams. And so, the only stones left were on what we call kia [PHONETIC]. Kia’s are like the heiau’s where alii are buried. So, Leone, if you go to that village, is noteworthy in the sense that it has no kia’s. So, a very agonizing decision and a testimony to their faith had to be made. So, all the chiefs of the clans gathered, and the proposition was suggested that we have no stones, and the only stones remaining are the stones on the kia of each of our families. And these are our ancestors, these are the giants of our history and the past. So, each clan, I think very emotionally, made a decision that they’re going to build, finish the church. And so, each one brought their stones, and completed the walls that now hold up the church. That explained to me why I felt the way I did, because the kia’s of my alii ancestors are in the walls of this building.

 

Do your cultural values get in the way of your job at all?

 

If you only have a foot in one world, reconciling dilemmas may be an impossible thing. But having a foot in both worlds, I can move back and forth very comfortably in both of these worlds. I’m a firm believer that trust begins with looking in another person’s eyes, and feeling them, sensing them, observing their behavior. It has been a traditional practice of our traditional leaders. We sit and we look at each other, and we share food and drink. Sharing food and drink is so essential to sharing oneself. And you take it even further when you can invite them to your home. It’s important for me to have them feel that I’m comfortable, that they are welcome to meet my grandchildren, my children, and my wife, and others in the family. But see how disarming it could be. When I can move then into my world, then I think I’m in a position where I can enhance a trusting relationship. In our traditional settings, before we engage or receive visiting dignitaries or chiefs from other villages, they do their homework. They check your genealogy and your history so that when the engagement actually occurs, there is a context in which pathways can then be extended out. And multiple pathways enables the guest to find which is the most comfortable to walk on. Once that one is identified, the others all collapse into that one. And then, we receive them that way.

 

Dr. Tusi says he’s thankful for the collective guidance, wisdom, and sacrifices of his parents and extended family in his voyage through life. It’s now his turn, an obligation to impart those Pacific lessons and his Western educational experience to be there for his four children and seven grandchildren, as they navigate toward the future. Thank you. Dr. Failautusi Avegalio – Dr. Tusi, director of the University of Hawaii’s Pacific Business Center, for sharing your long story short. And thank you for watching and supporting PBS Hawaii. I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou, ‘til next time. Aloha.

 

For audio and written transcripts of this program, and all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit PBSHawaii.org.

 

Our people, we think in metaphors and we learn through stories. And because we’re a navigator people, most of our wisdoms derive from the ocean. When the winds don’t shift, adjust your sails. My favorite metaphor is the one that deals with challenges. And it’s about being bold, being courageous, being entrepreneurial. Only you can sense when it’s time to turn into the wind and reach for shores yet untouched. When is your time? When do you turn into the wind? When do you adjust your sail? Like my mom said, anybody can hoist an anchor and unfurl a sail. You know how to do that, but it’s knowing when to do it, and more important, why do you do it.

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Al Harrington

 

Original air date: Tues., Nov. 20, 2012

 

A Cup Half Full

 

From humble beginnings in American Samoa to a hardscrabble life in Hawaii, Al Harrington has always been able to find the positives in life: a loving, supportive family; teachers who taught the value of a good education; and friends who helped him survive when the going got tough.

 

Download: Al Harrington, A Cup Half Full Transcript

 

 

Original air date: Tues., Nov. 27, 2012

 

A Life of Gratitude

 

From humble beginnings in American Samoa to a hardscrabble life in Hawaii, Al Harrington has always been able to find the positives in life: a loving, supportive family; teachers who taught the value of a good education; and friends who helped him survive when the going got tough.

 

Download: Al Harrington, A Life of Gratitude Transcript

 

Transcript

 

Part 1: A Cup Half Full

 

I think you see things as blessings, when other people would say, you know, My life just got torn up.

 

Yeah, for me, I like the cup being half full, rather than being half empty. And I’m not sure where that came from, but it’s always been a kind of a natural thing for me.

 

And you’ve needed that cup as you’ve gone along, haven’t you?

 

Right. [CHUCKLE]

 

A cup half full; we’ve all heard the expression, but how many of us really live on that side of life, the positive side, making the best of everything that’s thrown at us? That is the life of Al Harrington.

 

Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawaii’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in high definition.

 

Aloha; I’m Leslie Wilcox. Have you ever taken stock of the people who have influenced your life? Your teachers, friends, loved ones, all those who have helped make you who you are, and in some instances, maybe even saved your life. Al Harrington, star athlete, teacher, actor, entertainer, started his life as Al Taa. He counts his blessings every day, and he never forgets the people who have filled his cup of life.

 

Where were you born?

 

I was actually born in American Samoa, in a little town called Malaeimi, which was next to the Mormon town called Mapusaga, which is about fifteen from Pago Pago, the major harbor.

 

And your family, at some point, established the Mormon Church in American Samoa.

 

Yes. My great-grandfather was amongst the first big chiefs, a chief called Suapaia. That was the title name. And he was amongst the first to be converted into the Mormon Church. But the conversion was interesting, because what happened is, one of his sons, Uncle Salu, had fallen off a horse and had wounded his leg rather seriously. And so, like us Polynesians do, we had the spiritual people come and bless him, and do the herbs, and all of these things. But he still never healed. So, on a Sunday afternoon, the family gathered together at my grandfather’s house. And just a week before, they had brought the Catholic priest in, ‘cause we were all Catholics at that particular time. And he was supposed to have blessed my uncle, but the wound did not heal. He still walked with a limp. And on that particular Sunday that I just mentioned, two Mormon missionaries—[CHUCKLE] and this is interesting. Because in the old days, the Mormon missionaries were called kaupoi. Cowboys.

 

Why?

 

Because they all came with jeans and boots, and a lot of them wore these cowboy clothes. So, one of my uncles said to my grandfather, he says, Let’s call the local kaupoi, let’s call the kaupois come in. [CHUCKLE]   And I’m saying it just like the Samoan accent, kaupoi. It’s not cowboy. [CHUCKLE] So, they bring the two missionaries in, and they asked them, Okay, we want you to bless our uncle … my son, my grandfather. [CHUCKLE] And so, they do that. And a week later, he’s walking normally. So, being the kind of spiritual, simple faith people we are, we says, Well, maybe this more right than the other one. [CHUCKLE] So, we convert.

 

So, the transformation.

 

So much of Hawaii’s culture comes from people who emigrated here from other lands. Chinese, Japanese, Filipinos, and Samoans; even Hawaiians came from elsewhere. Many moved to Hawaii to find work, to follow family, to reap the rewards of a mid-Pacific paradise. And some, like the family of young Al Taa, later Al Harrington, were compelled to move because of their faith and a hunger for higher education.

 

So, we become converted in Western Samoa. And then the Mormon leadership was preaching to us as we get converted. We should leave Samoa and go get educated. Get education either in America, or Hawaii, and come back and build Samoa. So that’s how we get oriented towards coming to Hawaii. So that’s why in about 1950, in the 50s, late 40s and late 50s, there’s a grand migration of Samoans coming from Samoa to Hawaii. Part of it is the Mormon conversion.

 

And your mother was part of that.

 

And my mother was part of that. What happened was, my—[CHUCKLE] this is a great social drama that takes place. ‘Cause my father at that time was supposed to have been one of the great athletes of American Samoa.

Well, knowing you, I believe that.

 

Right. Well, there’s a line, there’s a line there. And, amongst the first to graduate from the Marist Brothers School, which is a Catholic high school. It was supposed to be one of the finest high schools in the Pacific. So he graduates, and he courts my mother, marries her, and then has me and my sister, and another brother that dies. So it’s me and my sister. So, after the marriage and settlement and so on, he’s supposed to come to Hawaii, and then work here, and then send for us. So, that’s what happens. That’s how we get to Hawaii. He comes here, and he works. But the human drama is such that when he gets here, he falls in love with this wonderful Hawaiian woman.

 

Oh …

 

The Kalama clan. See, part of the Kalama’s, Leimomi, and she was gorgeous, beautiful Hawaiian lady. And then, he ends up marrying her, and then my mom [CHUCKLE] comes here and finds out that, you know, this has happened. This is the human drama. And my mom, being the warrior woman that she is, goes to work as a nurse’s aide. Because in Samoa, she worked as a nurse’s aide on the Island of Tutuila. And she earns enough money to send for me and my aunt, Auntie Tino. But she and I come on the Mariposa to Hawaii.

 

And your sister is with your grandmother?

 

And my sister is with Grandma. Mele is with Grandma. So we come here, and then we begin our life here. And Mom is working as a nurse, and Auntie Tino goes to high school, evolves as a person, and then I go to Liholiho School in Kaimuki. ‘Cause we lived on 10th Avenue.

 

And you actually lived in lots of different places as you grew up.

 

Right.

 

Why is that? All over the island, it seems.

 

[CHUCKLE] I don’t know, but I’m not sure for all of the sociological reasons, but I only knew that, okay, Mom would say, You go stay with Dad for a while, and then I would go and stay with my dad and my stepmother, Leimomi. I was very blessed. I was very blessed with people like my stepmother Leimomi, ‘cause she was very educated. Kam School graduate, had scholarships, potential scholarships to go to University of Michigan and other places. But she met my dad, and she settled down. But she was very education-conscious, conscious of speaking proper English, and et cetera, et cetera.

 

Your life sure changed a lot quickly.

 

Yeah.

 

I mean, lots of movement. I think you see things as blessings, when other people would say, My life just got torn up.

 

Yeah, for me, I like the cup being half full, rather than being half empty. And I’m not sure where that came from, but it’s always been kind of a natural thing for me.

 

And you’ve needed that cup as you’ve gone along, haven’t you?

 

Right. [CHUCKLE]

 

To go through those transitions.

 

Right. So, this is what happens. I’m going between the two families, and I’m acquiring great knowledge in the Hawaiian community with Leimomi and my dad. And then, my mom now marries Harrington, who was here as a soldier. And Mom meets him on the beach, which I remember clearly, ‘cause we were all on the beach having family picnic.

 

And what happened?

 

And then, this Haole guy was out Ala Moana Beach by the reef, and he couldn’t get on his surfboard. So, I was about three years old and I’m watching this guy, we’re all watching this guy. So my mom swims out there, and helps the guy get on the board, and then invites him to come have dinner with us. So he never leaves. [CHUCKLES] So, they end up getting married, and then he becomes my stepfather. Milburn R. Harrington, who came from Iron Mountain, Michigan, up there in the upper peninsula. And through him, I acquired even greater insight in the use of the English language.

 

Yeah; at what point did you learn to speak English?

 

This is happening. This is happening as I’m going—

 

You’re a toddler.

 

Yeah.

 

You’re young.

 

Yeah, I’m moving back and forth. And part of it was just the fact that my dad was there, and he spoke very properly. I don’t really remember exactly when this took place, but he said to me at one time, he says, If you go Downtown, you see all the guys who work in the office, they all speak English. All the guys that work on the street, they speak Pidgin. So if you like work on the street or you like work in the office, you better learn how to speak English. So that kinda stuck. You know, that kinda stuck. So I tried, you know, I tried.

 

Did you speak Standard English in the home?

 

Yeah. Except with my mother, when she got mad at me, she swore at me in Samoan.

 

So, Al Harrington’s life in Hawaii as Al Taa had a tumultuous beginning—a broken family, constantly being shuffled from one home to another. And yet, he always saw the positive side of what other people would have seen as an upheaval. But Al Taa’s real journey had not yet begun. That journey started with Mrs. Abreu.

 

In first grade, I had Mrs. Abreu, this great Portuguese-Hawaiian woman. Big buggah. [CHUCKLE] She sit down on the chair, hang over, some stuff. But all of us small kids, we were afraid of her, ‘cause she was huge. And if you don’t get things right, man, she slap you, Mrs. Abreu. So, I figured out that if I could read well, she going like me. So, Dick and Jane books, yeah? So, I would take the Dick and Jane books, and I learned how to read before the reading lesson took place. You know, either night before, I would look at the books.

 

And did your parents tell you, you gotta study, you gotta work hard?

 

No.

 

No?

 

No, no. They didn’t. That doesn’t come in. It comes in more in the relationship with the teachers. Because I wanted the teachers to like me, you know.

 

So that you would have a pleasant time in class.

 

Right.

 

Or, so that they would respect you?

 

Well, part of it was respect, part of it was just needing some affection, needing some care, somebody to like you. Mrs. Abreu probably was the first affection that I’m getting outside of the family. You know, biological parents and non-biological parents. I mean, mother and father. So, she’s this big Hawaiian lady, great big smile. When she looked at you and smiled, you know, her whole face smiled. Made you feel, you know, like, Hoo, I’m good. [CHUCKLE]

 

So, you wanted to please Mrs. Abreu.

 

So, I wanted to please Mrs. Abreu. And so, that’s the beginning of my move towards academic excellence. It wasn’t just because I was interested, but I wanted to please her.

 

All Al Taa, later Al Harrington, was trying to do was to make Mrs. Abreu happy. But, Mrs. Abreu’s class was the beginning of Al’s journey into educational excellence. And he did so well, other teachers and school principals took notice.

 

So, I go to Laie, I’m living with my father and Leimomi. My mother. I feel such great affection for that lady. [CHUCKLE] So, we moved to Laie. And then, I go to Laie School, and the teacher there, Mrs. Enos, is another one. I remember teachers, ‘cause they were all good to me. So, Mrs. Enos says to the principal, I think his name was Kanahele. He was a Kanahele. And she says to him, Maybe we better move him up to the next, because we might hold him back at this grade. So, I go to the fifth grade. And that’s how I skipped the fifth grade, because again how important teachers are to kids. Because when I think about the teachers that were good to me, that’s what gave me a leg up. Gave me a leg up in dealing with the social challenges and economic challenges to come later. And then later on, we move from Manoa Housing to Halawa Housing, and then I go to Aiea School. At Aiea School, there’s the principal, Griswold, Charles Griswold. These names stick in my head. And, Charles Griswold sees four of us that are going to Aiea School, Aiea Intermediate, and he says, Four of you should go and take the test to go to Kamehameha. Because, he sees some potential in us. Again, a teacher’s vision, right? A teacher looking at a student and saying, Okay, there’s potential here, let’s see what we can do with it. So, the four of us go to take the test at Kamehameha, we all pass the test, and we’re all getting ready to go to Kamehameha School. Except, Kent was the president, Colonel Kent of Kamehameha, and they write me a letter saying that, you know, Sorry, the other three can come, but you cannot come because you’re not Hawaiian. Now, living in Halawa Housing, you’re running around with all these bla-la’s, all these bruddahs. We’re doing all kind crazy kind stuff together, and you don’t know if you’re Samoan, Portagee, Filipino, or whatever. We’re just running together.

 

So, all of a sudden, you became aware of this distinction between you.

 

Yeah; exactly.

 

How did that feel?

 

Sore. [CHUCKLE] Sore; yeah.

 

So, they started going to Kamehameha.

 

Right.

 

And there you were.

 

Of the three guys, Danny Fuller was one of the great football players who eventually goes to Purdue, University of Purdue. But Griswold says to my dad, since I didn’t get into Kam School, You should go take the test to go to Punahou. And I said to him, I no like go to that Haole school. And my dad says, Well, maybe you gotta go over there and learn how the Haoles do stuff.

 

Now, which dad is this? Your stepdad?

 

This is my adopted father; my stepdad.

 

So your Haole stepdad is saying, You should check out the Haole school?

 

Yeah. Because he’s a policeman at Wahiawa precinct, but we live in Halawa Housing.

 

Because he had so many kids?

 

[CHUCKLE] Yeah. Because now, there’s nine kids, you see? Now, there’s nine kids and I’m the oldest of the ten. So he says to me, Maybe you ought to go. And I told him, I no like go that school. It happened then, that the captain of his precinct in Wahiawa was Curtis Iaukea’s father.

 

Oh, Curtis Iaukea was a Punahou grad.

 

Yeah, Punahou grad.

 

The wrestler.

 

Yeah. My dad goes to Curtis Iaukea and tells him about what happened.

 

Did your dad take offense that you said you didn’t want to go to a Haole school?

 

No.

 

No?

 

My dad didn’t, because he had a sense of what Hawaii’s … that’s one thing about my dad, my stepfather, or adopted father was, he had big picture vision of things. And so, he understood what the situation was. So, he goes to Curtis Iaukea, his captain, and he tells the captain about that I want him to go to Punahou. So the captain comes to my house in Halawa Housing. And Curtis Iaukea’s father was big. I mean, when he walked in the door, he closed the light. No more light come through the door, ‘cause he’s big. As a matter of fact, the Iaukeas were consultants to Kamehameha. I mean, that family goes back to Kamehameha the Great. So, Mr. Iaukea walks in the door, and I look. I’m sitting at the table. [CHUCKLE] I said, I hope this buggah no give me lickin’. [CHUCKLE] So he walks in the door, he says, Eh, your father said you no like take the test to go Punahou. I says, No, I no like go the Haole school. And he looked at me; he says, I went Punahou. And then he looked at me and he says, So you better go take the test. So then, I said, Okay. [CHUCKLE]

 

So, Al was fulfilling his family’s calling to go to Hawaii to get educated. Who could ever have dreamed that this young man, the future overachiever, Al Harrington, would have the opportunity to enter one of the most prestigious learning institutes in the Pacific. As it turns out, there were many who believed in the young Al Taa.

 

So, there; I go to take the test at Punahou, I pass the test, and then I become influenced by some other people that eventually makes us see a bigger picture again. Amongst them, one was Dr. Fox. Dr. Fox, who was president of Punahou School. There were us Hawaiian boys that went, people from Hawaii that went to Punahou, and he kinda took us under his wing.

 

You’d already distinguished yourself athletically as well?

 

Yeah, I began to. [CHUCKLE]   ‘Cause in Halawa Housing, we’re not far from Japanese Camp, plantation camp and Borrinke Camp, Filipino Camp. And so, we all used to play baseball up in Aiea Community Center. But the best organization of baseball, and any sports, was the Japanese community. So, we were then playing in Barefoot League, playing baseball. And they were all very well organized. So, I began to play baseball.

 

No football?

 

Then, I started also playing Barefoot League. And I was only thirteen.

 

But people noticed.

 

Yeah. ‘Cause I had big feet. [CHUCKLE] But some kids that came out of there were already playing in high school. And it happened that Mr. Iaukea had heard that I had been playing in the athletic sports in these various leagues, local leagues. And so, that’s why when I went to take the test at Punahou, he kind of pushed the fact that I was also a good athlete. And at this particular time, you know, so many things happened. ‘Cause Dr. Fox was president of Punahou School, but he had not won a ILH championship in football. In baseball, he had, but in football he didn’t. But he loved football, so that’s why at this particular time, he was trying to recruit whatever Polynesians or whatever athletes he could get to play football. So, that opened the door for me also, besides the fact that I passed the test.

 

I read accounts of your playing football at Punahou at that time, because you were admitted.

 

M-hm; yeah.

 

As Al Taa, that was your name then.

 

Yeah.

 

And I know the longtime sports columnist, Bill Kwon called you up.

 

Yeah.

 

A man among boys, because they would pile on you, and if they managed to stop you, they’d untwist themselves from on top of you, and then you’d just get up and say, Eh, good going, good tackle. But you were hard to stop.

 

Well, I wasn’t the only one. Had others, like Danny Fuller, and the Abreus. There were some Abreus that were playing, and Yonamine, Wally Yonamine was before us.

 

What was your position?

 

I was a running back. I was a running back. But yes, it was nice of him to say that, but had other guys that were great too. So, that took us to Punahou.

 

And what about your concerns about no like going to the Haole school?

 

Again, you know what it is? Teachers. Having good teachers at Punahou. I remember these guys. Brogan taught me English. And this guy taught me Shakespeare. And he starts to speak in, this poetic sense of the English language. And I took to that. I said, Wow. You know. Rich; it was Mr. Rich who taught me Western Civ, and the fall of the Roman Empire, and all this kind stuff about the Mongols coming down, but made it colorful, made it real. And then, I had others who taught me economics and stuff like that. That’s what became intriguing, is the teachers that were there. There was Brogan. Kiefer was another one. And then Iams, James Iams was the athletic director.

 

How about social life? Because you’re a kid from Halawa Housing.

 

Right.

 

Son of a police officer.

 

Right.

 

Adopted son.

 

Right.

 

Or, he was soon to adopt you, but you were step kid to a police officer.

 

Never knew what Haole people were. ‘Cause us guys, we were out in the districts out in Halawa Housing. Everybody is one color, or we’re all mixed. And to be there, and then all of a sudden to see, wow. The management people were mostly Haoles at that time. Some Japanese, but mostly Haoles. So, what my father had told me, you know, began to ring true, you know, that all these guys that speak good English are the ones that are in management. Everybody else is doing the manual work. So then, I moved more in that direction, because of teachers, because of my dad.

 

What about friends? How about making friends there?

 

Oh, yeah. I made some great friends.

 

And when you were in sports, it is a family that welcomes you, right?

 

Right.

 

So you did a lot of stuff with fellow football players.

 

Yeah; yeah. The Espindas, AK Espinda and their family, they just kinda took me in. Charlie Henderson, whose father was president of Castle & Cooke, and you know, I would sleep at his house. And they had maids. And I’m looking, and then I remember this is really interesting. I went to this party at Lou Ann Dunkley’s house. And I walked in the house from the kitchen, and right as you get out of the kitchen you see this big freezer. The same kind freezer I saw at the Pake store down in Aiea. I look at the freezer, I said, Holy cow, these guys get one store in the house. So all of that kinda stuff then impacts me as to, Okay, how come they got that, and we no more that?

 

And what were your friends at Halawa Housing saying about, how come you never hang with us anymore?

 

Right. So my mother, the warrior woman that she is, I started to get famous as a football player, so the headlines were, Taa did this, and Taa did that. My mother looks at that, and she says, How come Taa, it’s Taa? He no support you. She said, Your daddy support you, Harrington support. [CHUCKLE] So, she goes to the courts and has my name changed. Changes my name to Harrington. So, I come home the summer of my my freshman year, I’m going into sophomore, and she says to me, Okay, that’s your dad now, your name is Harrington. I said, Oh, okay.

 

We all have difficult times in our lives, and when those difficulties do occur, we can choose to hide from the problems, or we can embrace them and learn from them. Al Taa, now Al Harrington, chose the latter. He chose the cup half full. For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou kakou.

 

For audio and written transcripts of this program, and all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit pbshawaii.org.

 

People who know you well, they use a couple of adjectives to describe you most. And I think it goes without saying, you know, they feel like you’ve got a good brain and great athletic ability, but they say what really sets you apart is your hard work and your tenacity.

 

Uh-huh.

 

Where does that come from?

 

That comes from my mom. It’s the warrior spirit of my mother. My mother, when she make up her mind that this is going to get done, it gets done. And you know, I believe that if I don’t do as well as you do, I can either out-work you, or I’m gonna out-hustle you.

 

Part 2: A Life of Gratitude

 

I’m basically born in a grass shack.

 

Literally?

 

Literally. In this little village of Malaeimi. And then I get a shot to come here … go to school, and then I go back to Samoa on a mission, and I see these kids carrying bundles of bananas and stuff to cook, and watching them. And I look at that, and I said, By the grace of God, that could be me. That could be me. But we were given a shot at it. We were given a shot at it.

 

And sometimes, all you need is that one shot. Al Harrington took that one shot…that opportunity, along with the many more that followed…and turned them into a life filled with teachers, mentors, academic, athletic and entertainment success, family, and gratitude.

 

Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawaii’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in high definition.

 

Aloha mai kakou. If you mention the name Al Harrington to ten people, you might get ten responses as to how they know of him. Some may remember him as a star football player at Punahou in the 1950s…some may recall that he played the role of Ben Kokua in the original Hawaii Five-O. And others may fondly remember his cabaret show during the heydays of Waikiki. For every one of those roles that Al has played in his life, he can recall the person or persons responsible for his success…and the moments when these people changed his life. A life filled with gratitude.

 

So, your mom had said, You’re now Harrington. And you said?

 

Right. Oh, okay.

 

Just like that?

 

Just like that. Okay. Because … of his goodness. My dad, the Irishman that adopted me was such a big picture guy, and he knew—I mean, here I am, I’m raising his kids, all these hapa kids in the family. And I’m helping him as much as I can as a boy. But he was good to me.

 

Tell me how that went over with the Halawa Housing kids.

 

Oh.

 

Because you went to the Haole school—

 

Oh.

 

—and now you have a Haole name.

 

Right. So, I go to school the next—the fall of my sophomore year. And they’re saying, Al Harrington is now the running back at Punahou. And everybody in the town is saying, Who—wow, they got one new Haole kid at Punahou. And then one time when the name … the kids in Halawa Housing began to realize, ho, my name Harrington now, one of those kids came up to me when I got off the bus and he hit me like this. He said, So what, you like be Haole? Come over here, I teach you how to be Haole.

 

[CHUCKLE] What did you do? What did you say?

 

So, I had to fight my way. And then of course, we had a few bumps and grinds here, and then after that, then they accepted it. [CHUCKLE]

 

And how did you feel about it?

 

Well, I felt good about it. The real truth is I felt good about it. Because I really loved him. He never underestimated my intelligence. He always thought that whatever I wanted to do, you could do.

 

So the Samoan boy formerly known as Al Ta‘a was now Al Harrington. The boy who was born in a grass shack was enrolled in Punahou. With the help of so many, Al’s life was changing…his potential for success was rising. And then along came…Stanford University.

 

Charlie Henderson was—they lived in Diamond Head. I mean, ho, that house. It’s right next door to the Dillingham, what you call, estate. So, I used to go there and spend the weekend there. Charlie Henderson’s father, Mr. Henderson, was really good to us guys that came and spent the night. I remember sitting down having breakfast, and Charlie is showering, and the old man would come and sit down and have breakfast with me. And he would talk to me, you know. Talk to me, in his pajamas. The buggah would come and sit down, talk to me and tell me [SNIFF] ask me about what—how or day is, and how we’re doing in school, and all that kinda stuff. So that makes an impression.

 

Yeah, you mattered.

 

Yeah. Exactly. And I don’t have to, ‘cause he could buy me. The guy had enough money, he could buy my—the Halawa Housing, he could buy that building. But here he is, he sits down and talks to me and he says, Well, you guys gotta get ready for college, Charlie’s gonna go to Dartmouth. And then when it comes time for me to go to college … it’s—becomes a part of it, because the group of guys that I’m running with, running around with, they’re all oriented towards that already.

 

M-hm.

 

In Halawa Housing, I would have gone to Waipahu School, and I would have said to myself, Oh, I going be one mechanic, I going to do something else. But the orientation is different at Punahou.

 

So, you believed you were going to college, but you didn’t know how you were—

 

Yeah.

 

—get there.

 

It’s funny, ‘cause I came home one day and I said to my mom, I said, Ma, dakine, Mr. Iams and the athletic director, they said that I should go college. And my mom …

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

What is that? ‘Cause … she’s just from Samoa. She said … I said, That’s a school after high school. So we get ready for it. And then, my dad, he got the big picture, and he says, That’s good, let’s get ourselves ready for that.

 

I suspect Mr. Henderson admired you, because of what—

 

Yeah.

 

—you could do on the football field.

 

Part of it was that, because Punahou had not taken the championship in twenty-nine years, and here his son is on the team that was on the verge of making it [SNIFF], of doing it.

 

And it was an amazing group of guys, and—

 

Oh, yeah.

 

And you were the standout, I would say.

 

Well there was a lot of standouts, you know, Brooks was on that team.

 

Oh, that’s true; that’s true. Okay; so it was a fabulous team.

 

Yeah. Yeah. Curtis Iaukea was on that team, the Ane brothers was on that team.

 

Wow; okay.

 

Yeah. Then you had AK Espinda, who eventually goes to Purdue, and all of these kids what you call, Wendell goes to Cal, University of California. All of us, from there, we go on to bigger and better things, and Punahou was good to us. And then, I find myself at Stanford.

 

Stanford came calling.

 

Can you believe it?

 

Did you have other choices too, besides—

 

Yeah.

 

—Stanford? What’d you have?

 

Well I sound like I’m bragging. But I could have gone to Ivy League schools like Princeton, Harvard, Yale. So they sent me up there to go visit these schools. And they sent me up there when it was so cold … froze my okole off up on the East Coast. So immediately, I said, I no like go school over here. So then, Dr. Fox comes in, and he suggests that I go to Stanford. And I was—at this particular time, I had become fairly close to Dr. Fox, because he was [SNIFF] there as a counselor and all—helping all of us as members of the team. So then, that move me in that direction.

 

Most times, our successes define our lives. When we conquer, overcome, adapt, and succeed, we usually take a step up. But those rare occasions when we don’t succeed can also be defining moments…forcing us to consider other options, to seek a totally different direction.

 

Tell me about playing football at Stanford. What was that like?

 

Oh, my … [SIGH] … challenging. Very challenging. I found that I became much more comfortable in the classroom, and I began to get a little bit tired of football.

 

Why? What happened on the football field?

 

I wasn’t as successful as I wanted to be, number one. Number two, I didn’t know how to handle the coaches. I was the darkest guy on the football team.

 

Did you feel counted out by them? Did you feel minimized?

 

See, if I say yes, then it sounds like I’m complaining. If I say no … then it’s not the true picture, completely true picture.

 

So they did minimize you?

 

From my point of view … from my point of view, there was a little bit of that.

 

Why? Do you think they didn’t think you were smart?

 

I’m not really sure. I think a lot of it, too, was my own insecurity. There were some insecurity. As much as you say to yourself that you’re secure in the situation, but there are some subtleties of things there. So, I became very much comfortable doing what I was—I got more success in the classroom.

 

Really? Wow.   And yet, it seemed like sports was such a—

 

Yeah.

 

—natural for you, all along.

 

Yeah, it was. There was a naturalness. But …

 

Did you not get opportunities?

 

Yeah. I think we got the opportunities. It’s hard to put your finger on it, because the human being is full of all kinds of inconsistencies.

 

M-hm.

 

And so, if—when I come to that part of my life, there’s still some parts of that experience that I have not articulated.

 

M-hm.

 

I’m still in the process of articulating it. Yeah.

 

When you left Stanford—

 

M-hm.

 

—I understand the Baltimore Colts—

 

Yeah.

 

—wanted you, and you could have played with the great—

 

Yeah.

 

—Johnny Unitas.

 

Well, I wasn’t that high in the draft. So there was great possibilities that I could have gone there and not make it. So, but the possibility of going on a mission … I could make it. [CHUCKLE]

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

I could—yeah. [CHUCKLE]

 

You could work for free for the church.

 

[CHUCKLE] Right. So that’s basically—and it made my mother happy.

 

Mm.

 

When my mom said to me, when she started to cry on the phone, and saying, Oh, we’ve been missionaries all ov—for years, and so be—make me so happy if you went on a mission.

 

And you had a BA in history from—

 

Yeah.

 

—Stanford University.

 

That’s right.

 

So, you were ready to go.

 

I was ready to—I was ready to go do something. I was also what you call, accepted to various law—to a number of law schools. So, I could have gone to law school also, which I did when I came back.

 

Oh, how long did you go?

 

I went for one semester, and then, my dad had a business and he went broke in the business. He had gotten into a business with this guy, another cop, and then it was cracking rocks, the rocks that they have up on St. Louis Heights. And then they crack the rocks so they can set the foundation for the houses up there. So, he got into this business, and then the guy ran off with the money. So, he was about to lose the house that we lived on St. Louis Heights. So, then he called me, and then I said, Okay. So, I left law school, and … I—

 

Did you like it? Did you really miss having to leave?

 

Yeah; I did. ‘Cause the semester exams had come out, and I was not far off from the top. Not, you know—above the middle of my class. So I left. But I always thought that I was gonna come back. But I—

 

And what; did you crack rocks, or what did you do?

 

[CHUCKLE] Well, I got out—I got out there, got off the bus going back to my apartment. I ran into Ellis Brooks Chevrolet in Mabanis [PHONETIC] Boulevard. And there was sign says, Salesman Wanted. So I get off the bus, I go into the car dealer—Gere [PHONETIC] Chevrolet, Gere Chevrolet. I walked into the Gere Chevrolet, and I filled out the application, and the guy comes out and he looks at the application. He says, Okay, we’ll call you. Don’t call us, we’ll call you.

 

Oh, so you were thinking, I’ve gotta make money for my dad. That’s what I—

 

Right.

 

That’s what my job now is.

 

Yeah; that’s right. M-hm.

 

Wherever I am, I’m making money.

 

Yeah; exactly right. [SNIFF] So, I filled the application out, and the guy says, We’ll call you. And … of course, Martin Luther King still hasn’t done his thing, right? So, this still counts. So, I’m walking out of the Gere Chevrolet, and in walks this Chinese guy. His name’s Ray Lim, and he comes in the door. And he looks at me, he says, Eh, brah.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

[CHUCKLE] You’re Al Harrington. I said, Yeah, yeah.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

You was at Stanford, right? Yeah. Where you going? What you doing here? I says, I was just applying for the job over there. And the guy says, And what? The guys he going—they going call me. He grabbed me by the hand, takes me right back into office, and he says to this guy—the guy’s name was Grant. He said, Grant, this is Al Harrington, he played football at Stanford. You remember, up there, Palo Alto. And he says, Yeah, I know the school. He says, Well, you gotta give this guy a job. And he says [INDISTINCT] the manager looks up and he says, Okay, we can start him next week. One person.

 

One; oh.

 

One. Well, that changed. Ray Lim becomes the guy that saved my family. So, I go in there, and I start selling cars that week, and two years time, we get the man out of hock, the old man out of hock.

 

When you listen to Al Harrington talk about all the different lives he’s lived…student, athlete, car salesman…it’s like watching the film, Forrest Gump, and the many coincidental lives that Forrest lead. Every turn that Al’s life took was by the good graces of people willing to lend a hand, or a good word. And being in the right place at the right time.

 

This is when I meet Heather, my first wife. I meet her, and then we get married. And then, the movie Hawaii is being filmed. Okay. They asked me to come home—to come home to be a part of the casting crew. To help in the cast, the cast situation. So that’s what brings me home. I come home with—I get married, and I come home with Heather. And we do the movie, and we make good money. And Heather is pregnant. So, I gotta make up my mind whether the movie’s over, and whether—I gotta make up my mind whether I’m gonna go back to Hollywood and play the game in Hollywood, and read for parts, et cetera, et cetera, or go back to law school.

 

Yeah, because now, you have these valuable contacts—

 

Right.

 

—in the movie business.

 

Right. Exactly. And so, I’m down at the shopping center, and I run into Dr. Fox. And Dr. Fox says, Eh, Al, good to see you. He says, What are you doing? I says, I just got through with the movie Hawaii, and I’m thinking of going to Hollywood. He says, Oh, no, no, no, no, this is what you’re going to do now. You’re gonna go back to the university and get your teacher’s credentials, and you’re gonna come and teach at Punahou. And so the life changes again. And so, I go to Punahou—I mean, I do exactly that. I get my credentials, and then I start teaching at Punahou. And I love it. Absolutely loved the process. James Scott, who is president of Punahou School, was one of my students. Hoo, make me feel good.

 

Did he act up on you?

 

No.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

Because he was a good student. I mean, he was not only a good student, but a good athlete, and a good person.

 

M-hm.

 

And then Nainoa Thompson; he was one of my students. When I think about those kids, I said, Man, I just hope that one day in that classroom that I said, Maybe one thing that might have changed their mind.

 

Now Al Harrington is teaching and coaching future leaders of Hawaii…giving them direction and knowledge. But this striking Polynesian man was not finished with life. Where most of us would have been content to accomplish all that Al had done so far, Al was still reaching.

 

And while doing the teaching and the coaching, I’m doing motivational speaking for various schools. And in the audience in one of those speeches that I do, is the casting director for Hawaii Five-O. Ted Thorpe was his name. Ted Thorpe. And he comes up to me after the speech and he says to me … [SNIFF] … I have a script that you might be interested in. And he gives me the script, he says, Read the script over and call me. So I take the script, read it. And … it’s bad guy, but it takes a lot—I mean, it takes good—bad guys to make the good guys look good. So, I get that part. And then, I’m in the door of Hawaii Five-O. And meanwhile—or I’m teaching and loving it, and then pretty soon they give me a part every year, every season, for four seasons.

 

Different bad guys.

 

Yeah; different bad guys. So and that then begins to move the other way. And then, I get involved in doing luaus, because I wanted to make more money. And the lady that opens doors for me in the entertainment field is Mrs. Flanders, Josephine Flanders. Remember her?

 

Who taught you ballet.

 

That’s right.

 

What were you doing, learning ballet?

 

Because when we were playing football, I had read in a book about this guy named O’Shesky at the University of California who took ballet and as a result, strengthened his legs. And then, I meet Mrs. Flanders, Josephine Flanders, and she loves the idea, because a football player she would never get anybody like that taking lessons. And so, she begins to teach me about the whole idea of drama in school. Josephine comes back when I’m teaching at Punahou, and my kids are born, and I don’t have enough insurance to get ‘em out of the hospital. And then, doctor—Dr. Fox gives us advances in the insurance thing so I could bring the child—get the children out of the hospital. And then, I’m looking for other ways of making money. And so, Josephine is at this particular time, is the entertainment director at the Hilton Hawaiian Village. And she has a luau there twice a day—twice a week. And her head luau person is, Ray Kinney, who, this great, great, kupuna of Hawaii that was able to take on music into all corners of the world. And he’s back home now, he’s retiring, and he’s doing just the luau. And he does a fantastic job. So, she asked me to support him. So I go and I watch him. This where I learned how to handle the visitors. ‘Cause he’s working directly with the visitors, and he’s working with this mana of aloha that is able to touch them. Ray Kinney and Josephine Flanders gave me an opportunity to come into the market. So while I was teaching school, I would do one luau a week.

 

That’s such a good part of island life.

 

Yeah.

 

And some people say it makes us very provincial, because everyone’s afraid to offend each other. But also, when you … you’re gonna run into people again, and again. And in—

 

Yeah.

 

—your life, they’ve come back around—

 

Right.

 

—and around, and it’s been a good thing for you.

 

Oh, yeah.

 

They’ve been really helpful to you.

 

Well, Josephine—

 

And vice versa.

 

Josephine she just took a liking. Just like Mrs. Abreu. She just took a liking. And then, I got Mr. Griswold at Aiea School. And then at Punahou, there was Dr. Fox. And all of these people, they come into your life, they touch you, they raise you up, they give you an opportunity to see another side of the situation.

 

If you’ve ever been up late at night, and turned on a good western, you may have seen a familiar face…Al Harrington, born in Samoa, raised in Hawaii, found success in Hollywood playing Native Americans.

 

I love cowboy movies. I’ll watch—

 

Yeah.

 

—any Western, any time, any place.

 

Me too.

 

I’ll watch it ten times.

 

Yeah.

 

You show up in the Westerns—

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

—as an Indian, again an again. And you have the speaking part.

 

Yeah.

 

I wonder how that was? And you do a great job. You—

 

Oh, I mean, the Indians wanted to take me home.

 

[CHUCKLE] You know, I’m just thinking. Hawaiians wouldn’t like—

 

Indians.

 

—an Indian playing—

 

Playing Hawaiian.

 

—a Hawaiian. So, how did the Indians feel about you playing an Indian?

 

Well, first of all, they didn’t know.

 

Oh, they had to know.

 

Well, there was certainly—and there was a part where me and the Filipinos were getting all the Indian parts. And the—

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

[CHUCKLE] And the Indians were getting mad. ‘Cause some of the Indians that came to try out for the parts, they couldn’t read, because they came from the reservations, and the schools sometimes weren’t as good—

 

Oh …

 

—in the reservations. So, they leaned towards us, who could read. So, we began to get the parts. But then, the Indians started to make a little bit of—make noise, so the union passed a law that you—if you’re gonna play Indians, you gotta show what reservation you came from.

 

That’s a problem for you.

 

That’s a problem for me.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

So … when I did White Fang, when I—

 

White Fang II.

 

Yeah.

 

Yes.

 

Yeah. When I did White Fang II, the director wanted me—I mean, after all the readings, yeah? [CHUCKLE] I go for the reading for White Fang II, and it’s like a Quonset hut in Disney—Disneyland—I mean, Disney Studios. [SNIFF] And I walk in there … uku paila Indians.

 

M-hm.

 

Every Indian you can think of is sitting there, waiting to get to read.

 

And they’re going, He’s not an Indian.

 

No, no, no.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

No, no. They thought I was Indian. And so, the whole room goes through the reading. And lo and behold, I’m the last guy that is being chosen. And then in order for me to get the part, we have to go to the Haida—Haida Council, ‘cause the chief is Haida, and ask the Haida Council if I, Al Harrington, could play this role. And they had to give us approval. Probably have to give them a stipend for the movie. [SNIFF] So … we go the Haida Council, myself, the director, and the producer. And the Council comes in, and in the Council … there’s about ten of ‘em, is one guy that looks familiar to me. And I’m looking at him, he’s looking at me. And I find out that he used to come to my show in Waikiki.

 

Oh …

 

See, he used to come with his family, and I used to tell Bob them, When my friend the Indian come, just let him come in, take care of them, because he’s my friend.

 

Karma.

 

Yeah. See? So, we are introduced to the chief.

 

And you’re paying it forward. I can just—

 

Right.

 

—feel it coming. [CHUCKLE]

 

We’re introduced to the Council, and the chief gets up and says, Hey … that’s my brother. That’s my brother Al Harrington, he’s from Hawaii. And he says, He can play the part. So there it is. I’m given the role of the chief of the village, because of that thing that happened. So yeah, you don’t know. So much of life is being in the right place at the right time, one person moving in one direction.

 

But you were willing to take the chance.

 

Yeah. You gotta be open.

 

And go on merit.

 

Go on—be open for the opportunity. Be conscious, be conscious. It’s like … he says, From the time of conception … to the time that you’re born in that nine months, you do nothing. Everything happens for you. Why not let things happen for you also after you’re born? Sometimes, we try to make things happen, and we don’t follow the pattern … that is destined for us to follow.

 

With angels on his shoulders, Al Harrington has followed his destiny. And through his eyes, we were privileged to get a glimpse of a life filled with gratitude, lessons learned, and valuable friendships. For Long Story Short and PBS Hawaii, I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou kakou.

 

For audio and written transcripts of this program, and all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit PBSHawaii.org.

 

I remember my grandfather, my grandfather on the Kalama side … in Laie. People walk by the house, Tutu Kalama … Grandpa Kalama is on the porch. People walking by, they go, Hui! Hele mai, hele mai, come, come have some—have some—something to drink, have something to eat with us. And you hear that. And that’s what this is all about. In the end, Hawaii creates the situation by which that can happen. And the host culture laid the foundation. And that’s what we were doing when we were in Waikiki. Trying to convey that.