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LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Terence Knapp

 

Original air date: Tues., Oct. 18, 2011

 

Hawaiʻi’s Adopted World Class Actor

 

Leslie Wilcox sits down with Terence Knapp, “Hawaiʻi’s Adopted World Class Actor.” Terence is perhaps best known for his title role in Damien, the Aldyth Morris play and PBS Hawaiʻi special about the Kalaupapa priest.

 

Terence reflects on key roles he has portrayed, his childhood during World War II and his global travels. Now professor emeritus with the University of Hawaiʻi at Manoa, he continues to mentor up-and-coming Honolulu thespians.

 

Terence Knapp Audio

 

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Transcript

 

My feet have always been a problem. Well, ever since I’ve been to the islands, that is. Oh, not when I was a boy in Belgium; no, I was as good on my feet as anybody in those days, running around the countryside, helping out on the farm, driving the cows in at night, skating on the River Dijle. Why, the night before I left home for good, I walked fourteen miles to say goodbye to my mother at the Shrine of Our Lady. Twelve years I promised her.

 

This studio at PBS Hawaiʻi has been the scene of many wonderful productions. From music specials, educational and informational programs, to shows about the arts, our cameras have captured them all. But in 1976, over a series of several days, a high water mark in local television was set. Journey with us to that time, as we look back on the career of actor Terrence Knapp, here on Long Story Short.

 

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


Aloha mai kākou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. In this edition of Long Story Short, you’ll meet a man who is considered by many to be a cultural treasure of Hawaiʻi, a devoted teacher of the dramatic arts, who chose to relocate from the British Isles of Shakespeare to an island home of a very different kind, an actor who has performed with Sir Laurence Olivier in the National Theater of Great Britain, and who mentored Booga Booga’s James Grant Benton. Now, that’s quite a range. Join us, as we take you from the King’s English to Pidgin English with actor, director, professor, Terrence Knapp.

 

Did you grow up in an august theatrical family?

 

No. I grew up the oldest of a family of seven. I had only sisters; I was the only boy, I was the oldest. And my mother—

 

You sound like you were spoiled by seven younger sisters.

 

Spoiled, my eye.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

I did the spoiling of them, if anything—

 

Aha.

 

—right. Because my father, of course, was in the British Army practically all of my young life until I was about fifteen. And my mother—this was during World War II, 1939 to 1945. And we were forcibly evacuated from London in 1940 into a Welsh mining village, which had no running water, no electricity, bla-bla-bla. My mother got fed up with that, and managed to get us over to Dublin by boat. But things were just as bad there, because there was no rationing, see. In Britain during the war, everybody got a fair share, even though it was only that much, right? And my mother’s great advantage was that even children were given an allowance of tea. Tea leaves, right, two ounces a week, something like. Well, she could barter for all kinds of things, because we children didn’t drink tea much; water would do, or milk, yeah?

 

What could she get for the tea leaves?

 

Well, canned food, for example. And people who had an allotment and grew their own vegetables, right? Just kind of whatever they wanted. If she had something to offer, then it was tea. The British like their tea.

 

Did you go hungry sometimes?

 

I don’t remember being hungry. But I do think it was the fittest generation that ever grew up in the United Kingdom, yeah. I was seven when the war broke out, I was fifteen when it was all over, as it were. I was a very healthy youngster without an ounce of fat on me, if you follow me. And I think that was true practically of the whole population. In 1945, when the war came to an end, all the young men who had been taken from the schoolmasters, yeah, returned. So there was a wonderful new energy at the Anglican Grammar School that I won a scholarship to. The parish priest was very annoyed that I was then going to go to a non-Catholic high level school. But my mother said, no, she wanted me to take the opportunity, because it was given within a kind of education area, if you follow me, and she knew that I’d get enough of a Catholic upbringing with her and my sisters at home. So I was very lucky. A three hundred year old Anglican grammar school with a marvelous tradition of excellent teaching, especially of literature, and that turned me on. I’d always been an enthusiastic reader of my own accord. We used to go to the public library and look for books, the Count of Monte Cristo, whatever it might be, and if I enjoyed it, within a year I probably reread it, yeah. There was no television in those days, none at all, but there was a wonderful BBC Radio service, and one of the things they did were short plays and stories, and that kind of thing. So there was much to educate and inform, as well as entertain.

 

How did you qualify for that scholarship?

 

I had to … well, actually what happened was, we did a play at school, Macbeth. And I was cast as Lady Macbeth.

 

You were cast as Lady Macbeth.

 

Yeah.

 

Were there girls in the play?

 

No girls in the school.

 

No girls in the school; okay. So how did you be the one to get the Lady—

 

Might I remind you that in Shakespeare’s time, when he wrote the play, there were no women in the theater at all, apart from tarts.

 

All right; all right. Point taken. [CHUCKLE] So how did you feel about playing the role?

 

I didn’t have to worry about it, because she came and haunted me at night. And I don’t mean in a frightening way. She just came to me. In other words, as I became more familiar with the text, and with the situation of the play itself, she formulated herself in my imagination. And then, because nobody interfered with me and my natural response, right … apparently, I knocked them for six.

 

Wow.

 

And the headmaster, the classics master immediately told the board of governors that I should be given a scholarship, or at least to audition for the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. Which I did, and I was accepted, and I got the scholarship. But I just had such a jolly time pretending using my imagination.

 

Did you ever pretend in real life to get through situations?

 

Yeah.

 

For example?

 

Going into the Royal Air Force. I didn’t know what I was letting myself in for. So, I went through the three-month training period, an intake of twelve hundred young men, boys of my age, eighteen or so. And I passed out as best recruit of the entire wing, and I was offered a commission. Because I pretended I was somebody like Richard Todd. Do you know Richard Todd?

 

I don’t know who Richard Todd is.

 

A soldier in a film.   And yeah, I just pretended to be somebody else. And that’s how it worked, yeah.

 

In 1978, the PBS Hawaiʻi production of Damien won top national honors, including the coveted Peabody Award. But it might surprise you to learn that Dr. Terrence Knapp discovered Father Damien, not in the 1970s in Hawaiʻi, but in the middle of World War II, in a little Victorian chapel in a borough of London called Hackney.

 

And that’s where you heard of Damien?

 

Yes.

 

In this church?

 

At the back of the church, there was a magazine rack, little books that people paid the equivalent of fifty cents to buy, and go and read about this, that, or the other. Well, I read every pamphlet [CHUCKLE] in between masses, waiting.

 

Sure.

 

And I was fascinated by this character, Damien. Yeah. And—

 

He’s Belgian, what did you relate to?

 

Yeah, Flanders, rather. So, I absorbed the story for myself. In fact, I still have that two-penny booklet.

 

Do you really?

 

Yeah. I should have brought it with me to show you. So he was part of my psyche in a sense, because I’d read about him so much.

 

And what did the story tell you about him? What did you know at that young age?

 

That he was a man of very little education, who was filled with the idea of loving God through other people. And not minding doing the dirty work. Because he was used to doing it with the pigs and the cows, all that kind of stuff, yeah. And he wasn’t in any sense really educated. And he had a brother, Pamphile, who decided he was going to be a priest, an older brother, so he went off to be trained as a priest. And, Jef De Veuster, later to be Damien he thought he’d like to be a priest too. [CHUCKLE] So he went trotting after his brother. And then his brother was ordained but fell sick, some type of chickenpox, right, and he could not go by boat to the Sandwich Islands, as was arranged. So the head honcho in Belgium said to Jef De Veuster, later to be Father Damien, Well, you take your brother’s place. And he said, Yeah, all right, yeah. And he went. Now, when he arrived, the French Bishop who was here said, You’re not even a priest? And he said, No, not yet. So the Bishop ordained him, then sent him to Hilo to build a church and Catholicize the community. That’s how he got going. It’s a remarkable story, really, because he wasn’t to know that he had anything like the capacities that he exhibited as the years went by. But I think the simple answer is that he’s a man of the soil. There’s no pretension about him, he never pretended to be anything other than he was, which was really a simple God-fearing young man who wanted to be of help to other people. And then when I went to talk to Aldyth Morris about doing something for the bicentennial, and I mean, I knew that Damien was the patron saint of Hawaiʻi, as it were. There was this Marisol statue that I’d also seen in Washington earlier. So we wrote a multi-character play about him. And then, I thought, well, we should develop this more, because he’s part of Hawaiʻi in an extraordinary way. Anyway, I thought it’d be a lovely part to play. [CHUCKLE]

 

And you were talking right to the camera in this studio—

 

Yeah; yeah.

 

All those years ago.

 

Yeah.

 

Wade Couvillon was the cameraman, and he—

 

Yeah, that’s right.

 

He said he felt you were playing right to him.

 

I did. I did. ‘Cause I wanted a pair of eyes, yeah, and he was on a crane, as you probably know better than I do. And so, when he would come in for a close-up, yeah, I would look, as it were, past the lens into his face. And I enjoyed it. It was a wonderful, wonderful experience. It really was.

 

The University of Hawaiʻi at Manoa was to be Professor Terrence Knapp’s home for a long career, where he taught and mentored generations of up and coming actors. It was also the site of a most unlikely pairing; the works of Shakespeare, and the local comedy group Booga Booga.

 

I had met David Friend, who knew Dr. Ernst, who was the founder of Kennedy Theatre. And I had tea with Dr. Ernst in Japan, and he said, When you come to Honolulu next, please let me know. So I did. And first thing I saw at Kennedy Theatre was called The Magi—Russian play. Russian play, a comedy, translated. And I simply could not believe, six hundred people sitting in that wonderful auditorium, having such a good time, and enjoying the play. Then I trotted back to England in due course, then I got a letter from Dr. Ernst to say, would I be interested in coming out and being a guest director. And I thought, I would like that. [CHUCKLE] And he wanted an English Season. We were going to do The Importance of Being Earnest, Shakespeare’s Scottish play Macbeth, and then …

 

You didn’t play Lady Macbeth, though, right?

 

No, no, no. Hay Fever, Hay Fever by Noel Coward, a lovely threesome. And I enjoyed it. And Joel Trapido, who was the vice chairman at the time, came and said, Are you enjoying yourself? And I said, Yes. He said, Do you like it here? And I said, Yes. And he said, Would you like to stay? And I said, Yes. [CHUCKLE]

 

That’s nice and neat, isn’t it?

 

I didn’t have to apply for the job, it was offered to me.

 

And so, along the way, thirty-five years with the University of Hawaiʻi at Manoa, you taught students in acting.

 

Yes.

 

You must have seen all kinds of ranges of raw talent. What was the most needed thing for these students?

 

There was a man called Jim Benton who was one of my earlier students, and it was through him that something like Kumu Kahua came into being.

 

That’s James Grant Benton.

 

That’s right; as he later became. He was Jim Benton, right. And there was knock on my door, and I’d been there only for about a year or so, and he put his head—rather, this man put his head in and he said, Eh, you Shakespeare 101?

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

And I said, How dare you?

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

It was Jim. He came in, and we became buddies very quickly. And he said, could I help him understand Shakespeare. And I said, Yes, you can register as a student in day classes, can’t you? He said he couldn’t afford to do that. So I said, Well, if you like, we’ll have some Shakespeare readings in my office. And he came, and brought, the Booga Booga lot. [CHUCKLE]

 

That’s an interesting assortment of people in your office.

 

And they were sitting on the floor. There must have been fifteen people in there, as well as on the sofa and on the stairs.

 

And what attracted you to do that? ‘Cause you didn’t have to do that.

 

His delightful personality, as much as anything else, and a kind of Cheerful Charley quality about him, which I liked enormously. And so, we read Twelfth Night, okay. Blow me down if just something like two or three weeks later, [KNOCKING] on my door. He walks in, he’s got papers in his hand. He has rewritten Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night into Pidgin.

 

And what was your reaction to that? Could have been very negative.

 

No, I loved it.

 

You loved it.

 

Well, I was enchanted by Jim himself. I thought he was such a delightful spirit, and he was mad about performing and comedy as I am, if you know what I mean. And we read it. I got a cast. And there were people who were wetting themselves with laughter. They really were. So I decided to stage it in the Lab Theatre, because the main stage season was already, set up. And they were hammering on the doors to get in. Then we became, as it were, bosom friends, and I decided to—the Lab Theatre, they liked it. Then we took it out to one of the community colleges which has a big, big auditorium, about six, seven hundred.

 

Leeward Community?

 

Leeward. The walls were shaking. The walls were shaking with delight, yeah. So that was simply a lovely thing to have happened, yeah.

 

What a great cross-cultural mix.

 

Well, yes, it was. And me, with my great love and respect for Shakespeare itself, right, it was simply a matter of idiomatically transferring that into this other gorgeous language, right, Pidgin. Of course, it’s English with Hawaiian flavor. But it was great fun. It was great fun.

 

The same man who enjoyed watching the locals rolling with laughter in the theater at Leeward Community College has certainly seen it all. In his long career, Dr. Terrence Knapp can count among his friends and colleagues some of the most distinguished actors that Great Britain has ever produced; and he knows a thing or two about taking a show on the road.

 

Well, there’s Laurence Olivier, for a start. [CHUCKLE] The Lord Olivier of Brighton Stone, as he was. He became a peer and sat in the House of Lords on behalf of the theater arts. I was with him for almost four years in his company. He was founding a company in Chichester in South of England, a beautiful theater like the one in Canada, open stage. And I auditioned for him, I was taken into the company, and then when he founded the National Theatre, later to be the Royal National Theatre, he invited me. One of the greatest joys of my life was playing Osric in Hamlet with Peter O’Toole as Hamletm and Rosemary her name fails me momentarily. But it was a stunning, stunning cast, right. And he had me play Osric as the kind of runabout boy at the court of the King, right. So I was often to be seen doing this or the other, offering the Queen a handkerchief. But enormous fun. And I was well noticed in it, in the production, and Larry was very pleased with me.

 

What did the critics say about you?

 

Well, they just said I was kind of a quicksilver. And that was the one word that I was very flattered. Light on my feet, and I mean, Hamlet doesn’t like Osric for those reasons; he’s like an annoying fly, right. But I enjoyed myself enormously.

 

Judi Dench; you know Judi Dench, right?

 

Oh, Judi, I know. Well, Judi and I were part of a British council touring company to West Africa. Now, this was one of the most exciting things that ever happened to me in my life. We played out of doors usually, to audiences in Ghana, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone, and on one occasion, we were playing to two and a half thousand people sitting on the southern edge of the Sahara. And because it was so dry, the acoustics was perfect. And as I was saying, I was playing Feste, and I had a trio of musicians who would give me the note, and I’d go. And on this particular occasion, I got the note, and I sang, but they weren’t accompanying me. [CHUCKLE] When we got off, I said, What’s the matter with you? And they said, You took the wrong key. I said, I did not.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

I said, I took the one you gave me. Apparently, what happened was, there was a train whistle twelve miles away which went, beep. And it traveled all that distance, and I took that as the …

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

That’s quite a memory, isn’t it? Yeah. And Judi and I became chums, because she liked to paddle around in the swimming pools, right. And so we formed an aqua ballet. [CHUCKLE] It was very hot, altogether in the Sahara, but we had such a lot of fun. And then, two years later, I was invited to do a similar tour of Southeast Asia, and I was looking forward to being with Judi again, but for whatever reason, she wasn’t able to do it. But by then, we’d become fast friends, right. And so, I see her when I go back to England, and her daughter Finty and her grandson Sam. And I knew her husband, Michael Williams very well. He sadly died of lung cancer after only about ten years. But it was a closeness and conviviality, and a liking.

 

In the 1970s and 80s, Hawaiʻi was a hotbed of television production, and the industry needed the best of Hawaiʻi’s acting talent to line its casting sheets. Although he filled his share of guest slots, Dr. Terrence Knapp might hope you might forget some of his appearances on the small screen.

 

What do you think about acting in that venue? Do you enjoy that?

 

Not much.

 

Not much.

 

Not really.

 

Not much.What did you play in Hawaiʻi Five-O?

 

Oh … a kind of middle aged English twerp. [CHUCKLE] Fully suited and ties, and so on, and visiting something or other. I did do one that—I’ve forgotten what it was called. Something Hawaiʻi, and I was cast as an attorney. And I had to do something like a twelve-minute speech and I knew that I probably would have a hard time memorizing it with certainty. Do you follow me? So I asked the director if he would put it on the thing, and I would read it off. And he was very dubious. And I said, Well, this way, I won’t falter, I can time it according to … All right, he said, one take. And I got a standing ovation from the entire set when that one had done. Because I was so relaxed, I didn’t have to try to remember, I could just … and then I said, [INDISTINCT].

 

Now, you know the Twelfth Night in Pidgin? That never rubbed off on your speech. And after how many years in Hawaiʻi, more than thirty—

 

Yeah, well—

 

You still have your—

 

If I want—

 

—English—

 

—I could do a good—

 

—accent.

 

—imitation, sort of, yeah. I can slur. [CHUCKLE] I don’t have the vocabulary; I mean, that’s what gives the Hawaiian dialect or form such joy, their version of certain words, right, and the way they’re used. Oh, I’ve been a very lucky man.

 

Hawaiʻi’s world class actor, Dr. Terrence Knapp, a man who’s rubbed shoulders with English lords and UH Manoa undergrads, who made a huge contribution to the legacy of this TV station, PBS Hawaiʻi, with his performance in Damien, continues to live in Honolulu in retirement. As professor emeritus of theater, he spends his time traveling, mentoring students, and occasionally performing. For Long Story Short and PBS Hawaiʻi, 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.

 

As the eldest of seven kids, the rest of whom were girls, what can you share with us about growing up with girls? What kind of insights can you tell us?

 

You learn to be very patient, first off. [CHUCKLE]

 

You never got to use the bathroom for any length of time, I bet.

 

No, no. I don’t remember that, but the three elder sisters, as it were, Sheila, Eileen, and Patsy, were only about a year apart, right. So they were almost like triplets, in fact, yeah. And I remember them sometimes losing their temper when they were little girls, and pulling each other’s hair, for no good reason that I could think of. And my mother told me never to interfere. [CHUCKLE] She said, Just let them do it. [CHUCKLE]

 

UH law professor to appear on PBS show ‘Open Mind’

PBS Hawaii

 

Carole PetersonHONOLULU, HI – The national public television show “The Open Mind” will feature a conversation with Carole Petersen, a Professor of Law at the UH William S. Richardson School of Law, and Director of the Spark M. Matsunaga Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution. The episode is scheduled to air Sunday at 6:00 pm on PBS Hawai‘i.

 

On the program, Petersen discusses the state of civil liberties in Hong Kong, where Petersen taught law for 17 years. She predicts that a small independence movement in Hong Kong will give Beijing incentive to further crack down on the territory.

 

Petersen has been researching challenges to civil liberties in Hong Kong since 1997, when it ceased to be a British colony and became a “Special Administrative Region” of China. In her 2006 co-authored book, Academic Freedom in Hong Kong, Petersen argued that the “One Country Two Systems” model had been largely successful in protecting academic freedom and civil liberties in Hong Kong. However, her latest research documents a dramatic decline in academic freedom in the past decade.

 

“The Open Mind,” hosted by Alexander Heffner, is a one-on-one conversational show that explores the world of ideas across politics, media, technology, the arts, news and public affairs. Designed to elicit insights into contemporary areas of national concern, “The Open Mind” explores challenges of the digital age, American politics and other emerging issues.

 

Download this Press Release

 

For questions regarding this press release:

Contact: Liberty Peralta

Email: lperalta@pbshawaii.org

Phone: 808.462.5030

 

PBS Hawai‘i is a 501(c) (3) nonprofit organization and Hawai‘i’s sole member of the trusted Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). We advance learning and discovery through storytelling that profoundly touches people’s lives. We bring the world to Hawai‘i and Hawai‘i to the world. pbshawaii.org | facebook.com/pbshawaii | @pbshawaii

 

Friends of Jimmy Borges establish UH music scholarship in his name

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HONOLULU, HI – Friends of local jazz vocalist Jimmy Borges have raised more than $300,000 for a vocal music scholarship fund bearing his name at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. The needs-based scholarship will benefit Hawaii high school graduates.

 

Borges, 80, is battling cancer.

 

Friends of Jimmy Borges establish UH music scholarship in his name

 

Borges is thrilled with this legacy fund and wants the vocal music scholarship to encourage Hawaii teens to pursue their dreams, just as he has done during his successful 60-year music career. “There’s no such thing as a stop sign,” Borges said. “Just speed bumps.”

 

A team of the entertainer’s friends raised the scholarship money in less than a month:

 

• Robert Clarke, a cancer survivor and retired chief of Hawaiian Electric Industries (HEI)
• Walter A. Dods Jr., Matson Chairman and retired First Hawaiian Bank CEO and Chairman
• Leslie Wilcox, PBS Hawaii President and CEO

 

Contributions are still being accepted by Malia Peters at the UH Foundation: malia.peters@uhfoundation.org

 

About 50 scholarship donors were treated to a special concert by Borges last week at PBS Hawaii. The singer candidly explained his situation: a recurrence of cancer has migrated from his liver to his lungs. He does not expect to survive.

 

The footage will be used in an upcoming TV presentation, Jimmy Borges: Faced It All, scheduled to premiere at 8:00 pm on Thursday, January 21 on PBS Hawaii.

 

Download this Press Release

 

Contact: Liberty Peralta
Email: lperalta@pbshawaii.org
Phone: 808.973.1383

 

PBS Hawaii is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and Hawaii’s sole member of the trusted Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). We advance learning and discovery through storytelling that profoundly touches people’s lives. We bring the world to Hawaii and Hawaii to the world. PBSHawaii.org | facebook.com/pbshawaii | @pbshawaii

 

INSIGHTS ON PBS HAWAI‘I
Climate Change

 

The University of Hawai‘i’s Sea Grant Program predicts Hawai‘i will become increasingly warmer and stormier, and will be at risk of more vector-borne and water-borne diseases, over the next few decades. The most drastic change may be the rise in sea levels, which scientists predict will be one to three feet higher by the time today’s infants reach retirement. What does all of this mean for Hawai‘i’s ecosystem and economy?

 

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

 

Phone Lines:
973-1000 on Oahu or 800-238-4847 on the Neighbor Islands.

 

Email:
insights@pbshawaii.org

 

Twitter:
Join our live discussion using #pbsinsights

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Mahina Eleneki Hugo

 

As a member of the 1987 national champion University of Hawaii Rainbow Wahine volleyball team, Mahina Eleneki learned the value of discipline, teamwork, and of getting right back up after failure. Now, as Head of School at La Pietra- Hawaii School for Girls, Mahina Eleneki Hugo teaches those same values to new generations of women.

 

Mahina Eleneki Hugo Audio

 

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Transcript

 

For me, athletics is definitely my success in my career. And I think it’s just there are so many things; you learn; you take risks, you fail, but you get right back up. You know, there’s challenges to be had, there’s discipline, there’s others to be considered on the team, but each person has to do their responsibility in order to make the organization work. And when somebody doesn’t, then as the head of the school, it’s my job to either fix it or make the change. And so, that kinda has that team, you know. You have to find that right combination.

 

That’s Mahina Eleneki Hugo, the head of school at La Pietra Hawaii School for Girls, at the base of Diamond Head. And she knows about athletic success. When she discovered volleyball in seventh grade, she dedicated herself to the sport. She was a member of the beloved University of Hawaii Rainbow Wahine Volleyball Team that won the 1987 NCAA championship. The lessons she learned as an athlete continue to serve her well. Mahina Eleneki Hugo, 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. Mahina Hugo was Mahina Eleneki when she played for the University of Hawaii’s Rainbow Wahine Volleyball Team. Besides being a member of the team that won the National College Athletic Association Championship in 1987, she was named the NCAA’s Women’s All Conference Player and NCAA’s Most Inspirational Player of that year. Her family nurtured and supported her passion for athletics at a young age.

 

Home is Kailua, Oahu. It’s Enchanted Lakes, more specifically. I was born and raised, and in fact, my parents still live in the same house in Kailua. It was a fun neighborhood, growing up. It was a fun childhood. We always played barefoot on the road, or rode our bicycles, and it was all outside. We would build our own kites, or try to build a go-cart, and the neighborhood kids would come with one piece of something to add to the go-cart to try to make it go. Mom is Caucasian from Colorado. And my dad is Hawaiian, Chinese; he attended Kamehameha Schools, and went off for a football scholarship in college, and he met my mother, and they moved and lived here ever since. Mom is Caucasian from Colorado. And my dad is Hawaiian, Chinese; he attended Kamehameha Schools, and went off for a football scholarship in college, and he met my mother, and they moved and lived here ever since.

 

I did; I have an older brother and an older sister. And so, I think I was always the brother that my older brother didn’t have. And so, I sort of was a tomboy growing up, and could very much hang with my brother and the football, and the this and that.

 

And when it came time to go to school, your parents sent you to town.

 

They did. I think being that Dad went to private school education, Kamehameha, and through athletics, we’re a very competitive family, and I think that’s due to both parents. They were very competitive. And so, we were all into sports very early. My brother played all the major sports in Kailua, and I found the love for volleyball probably in the seventh grade. But back then, they didn’t really have club teams in Kailua. And so, we had to travel into town to play sports. And so, I think finding a school in town made sense, because right after school, then I would go to my club practice. And I’m very proud to be a Sacred Hearts graduate, and I think it served me well.

 

Did you like being in an all-girls school?

 

You know, to tell you the truth, it’s so funny, because I don’t think I really recognized it at the time, because I had so many other things that I did that involved either guys or just other friends from other schools. I didn’t really feel like I was missing at school that sort of school. And I did my best at school, I played for the sports team. And then, I had lots of other friends from different associations of either sports or other activities. So, I didn’t necessarily feel like I felt anything different. Just the comfortability part, I could feel then, as far as not having to act a certain way or dress a certain way.

 

I’m not quite sure what the pressures are of having boys in class with you.

 

Well, it’s the comfortability, and I know I keep saying that. But it really is. There’s things like, there’s no silly questions. I mean, I think when you feel comfortable, or not having to dress up. You know, having a uniform, first of all, was a big help. And I know some people would think that’s kind of boring. But really, what the focus is, is the academics or whatever school’s all about, and not having to worry about what you look like, or if you were having a bad hair day that some guy was gonna be there to, you know, say, Oh, bad hair day. You know, I’m sure girls can do that to girls as well, but I don’t think it happens as often. So, having that comfort zone of being with peers, alike peers, I think really took off a lot of pressure. And sometimes, that pressure’s undue pressure. It’s put on by you, not others. And so, not having that, or that pressure to have to feel like we needed to do that made going to school pretty easy.

 

You discovered volleyball in, you said, the seventh grade?

 

I did.

 

And did you know it was gonna be something you needed to play every season?

 

Not at first. Actually, one of my mentors to this day—he has since passed, but in the volleyball world, Uncle Bobby, as we call him, Bobby Yomes was a mentor to me, a very good coach. And he was actually watching. My dad was a big handball player back in the day, and he was watching a game and watching my dad. And I got introduced to him through my dad. And he said, What is your daughter doing? And at the time, I really wasn’t involved in a club sport. And he said, Have her come out; we’re having practice next Saturday, volleyball. And so I said, Yeah, I think I’d like to try that. And so, we went to practice, and I pretty instantaneously fell in love with the sport.

 

What was it about it that made you fall in love with it?

 

I think at first, the challenge. Like you said, we grew up so competitive. And not being able to find it so easy when I first started made me want more and made me want to perfect. And so, it was quite funny how, Oh, I want to go back for more. As you know, there’s so many aspects of the game.

 

What did you like first? What was the first thing you liked?

 

Hitting.

 

Everybody loves to hit. So, it was that. And then, Uncle Bobby was a very old school coach. And what I mean by that is, very disciplined, could raise his voice. I mean, you know, those were things back in my day that were acceptable and parents supported it. It wasn’t like, Don’t raise your voice to my daughter. It was, You better listen to Uncle Bobby. So, it was very old school coaching, but very good coaching as far as the finer points of the game. So, you learned the basics and then each year, the details that he provided to the game, and looking at it as a chess match. And just the intricacies of the game that he shared through my years with him has been amazing.

 

Was that sport offered through the school as well?

 

So, right after the regular school season was over, then everybody would go to the different club play. So, he was one of the clubs that was available for people to try out. So, yeah.

 

Your parents really supported sports, as you mentioned. And you all supported each other in your sports?

 

Yes. I was very fortunate. I mean, I think about my parents and the sacrifices that they made for me as far as they didn’t miss one practice or one game growing up, and drove me to all my practices until I could obviously drive myself. But even when I was of age to drive, they still made every game. And even all the way through my career when I eventually went to UH, the games were back-to-back Thursdays and Friday, and they were there every Thursday and Friday. And we had a little neighborhood contingency that also came with them. And so, very supportive parents and family; my siblings would attend all the games as well.

 

So, you go through Sacred Hearts, and what academic subjects have captured your attention at this point?

 

Favorite subjects. I liked history. I enjoy reading things from the past. Math, I enjoyed. Not to say that I was really good at it, but I enjoyed it, I think credit to the teachers there. And then, believe it or not, it might be equivalent to today’s technology, but they had typing, and I thought that was pretty intriguing. I think my class was one of the first where we got the electric typewriter. So, we started our classes with the old, you know manual, then when they said, Oh, we have two new electric, we all sort of–

 

And they’d have speed tests; right?

 

Yes. And we all fought for those. But those were some courses that I think just inspired. And Hawaiian history in particular, there was a teacher that I really appreciated, and I think that’s what I loved so much about the course, was the style that she taught it in made it so interesting for me.

 

And at this point, teaching is not shaping up on your career horizon yet?

 

Not at all.

 

Not yet.

 

Not at all. No. You know, at this point, it was really volleyball.

 

What about the competition did you like? Did you like being better than everybody, or did you like winning as a team? Or did you like the way you could hit that ball?

 

I think at first, you start to develop your individual skills. And so, you like to see the things that you can start to do that you couldn’t do before. But the magic comes when the coach and the coaching puts it all together, and then you start winning, because each individual is taking care of what they need to. And when you put it all together, and now you’re winning game after game, or tournament after tournament, that’s exciting.

 

What was your role? I mean, everyone sort of finds their place on a team, generally.

 

Right. So, outside hitting and setting; those were primarily my roles. But the other beauty about the coaching style was that all the players had to know all the positions. And so, that was really exciting.

 

But you did get the positions you liked the most?

 

I did.  I did. So, that was fun. Uh-huh.

 

So, the volleyball bug had begun to bite.

 

Yeah.

 

Mahina Eleneki Hugo practiced and competed in volleyball matches during the school year, while summers were spent at University of Hawaii volleyball camps. Her dream was to someday play on the U.H. Rainbow Wahine Volleyball Team.

 

I still remember this day; I was at home in the living room. This was my senior year in high school. My mother was cooking. And we only had one car back then, so my mother would take my father to work and then, she’d have to pick him up. And so, the phone rang, and it was Dave Shoji. And he said, Hi, Mahina, this is Dave Shoji from U.H. And I’m kind of the deer in headlights going—

 

Had you met him?

 

He came to one of my games. I would go to the U.H. summer camps, and so, I met Dave there, and I would attend the camps and stuff.   And so, at the end of the camp for that summer, he said, Can you send me a school schedule going into my senior year so I can maybe watch your game? And so, he did come in, and we’re warming up. And when you see Dave Shoji come in, it’s like, Oh, my god, Dave Shoji’s in the room. And so, fortunately, I had a good game, and so I hadn’t heard from him, and then I received the phone call. And I remember my mom saying—I said, Hi, Dave. And my mom was cooking and she sort of looked at me, and I went …

 

And so, he said, You know, I’m calling to offer you a full scholarship to UH, and that would include, you know, books and tuition, and room and board, and getting a full scholarship on the team. And I just remember, Wow, thanks Dave!

 

And you know, kinda trying to play like I was a little Joe Cool, but not really. And then hung up the phone, and I looked at my mom, and I just screamed, and tears came down. And she said, Okay. She turned off what she was cooking, and said, I’m gonna get my purse, let’s go hop in the car, we have to go tell Dad. So, you know, there were no cell phones, right, back then. So, we got in the car to go share the news with my dad. But that was the start of it.

 

Were you going to UH anyway, or was this a change in course?

 

Well, that was my dream. Now, I know a lot of people—you know, remember back then, they had just come off of back-to-back national championships, and my parents would take me to the games and I would aspire to be some of the players. And so, it was a dream, because Hawaii was a number-one program.

 

A powerhouse.

 

So, I thought, wow, if I could get a scholarship to UH and play. And that was a dream for me. If not, I did apply to other schools and sent them, you know, volleyball materials and see. But once I heard the news, I didn’t even bother.

 

Did you have any trepidation? You know, ‘cause a lot of students think, Am I gonna be good enough for college ball?

 

Right; right. You know, I didn’t, and that’s just either being naïve to maybe the bigger picture, and just trusting that I was given so many tools. And when you’re that young and fearless, I think you don’t really put boundaries. You’re just, I got it, and I’m going for it. And that was sort of the attitude I had. And so, I just felt like, once I got it, I was thrilled, and I couldn’t wait to be out there on the court.

 

And how was it, when you joined that team that you had emulated or aspired to?

 

Well, at first, it was a bit intimidating, because some of the ones that I would go to watch didn’t graduate yet, so they were gonna be either juniors or seniors. And so, you know, it was like, Ooh. But the nice part were some of my teammates that were coming in in the same class as myself, we were the newbies together. And so, it was nice to have that comfort zone of, I’m not the only new one. And of course, Tita Ahuna, who was at Kamehameha, we’re the same age and year, we knew each other from playing all those years of high school together. And so, the two of us immediately would click and say, Okay, here we go, and let’s do this together. And so, it was okay. And once you get into the groove of what you feel comfortable doing all these years, but actually on a bigger stage and the drills were more intense, there’s a challenge there that’s very exciting. And so, it was hard. I’m not gonna say it was easy, but it was exciting and it was challenging, which I loved.

 

There was that wonderful ’87 year of the national title.

 

Yeah.

 

Can you tell when you’re on a potentially national title winning team? I mean, does it feel different than other team play?

 

It does, especially at a college level. You know, now you’re bringing the best of the best; they’ve all been recruited. And so, there are no weak spots, so to speak. I mean, when you’re in high school, you know, maybe you have to sort of go with kids that are there. Now, you’re actually out there recruiting. And so, the level of intensity, the level of the game—

 

You can’t count on a break.

 

No; no. And so, if you’re having an off day in your position, there’s somebody really in arrears here ready to come in and take your spot. And so, it is business in one sense, where you know, you must perform every day, because there’s somebody else there. And so, it does; it makes the joy of that special unit, when you feel that you have the right six on the floor, or the right girls coming in to sub at the right place, and you don’t lose that momentum, then there’s a magic that happens.

 

The magic certainly happened for Mahina Eleneki Hugo when her team won the NCAA Championship during her senior year. With college graduation came … no guaranteed future.

 

Did you have your future all locked up as soon as you walked out the college doors?

 

Can we swear on this show?

 

 

Hell, no. No. In fact, it was just one of those things where you get out, you just go, Okay, I don’t really feel like I needed to be pressing and finding a job right away. And as it landed, I applied a few jobs. I had a friend and a neighbor at the time who was in Customs as a Customs inspector, and Hey, why don’t they do part-time work. I applied, so was an intermittent Customs inspector for a while, which is all the international flights and things. And so, that was for a little while. And then, I had a friend who called me one day and just said, Hey, there’s a P.E. position at La Pietra, and the only thing is, the resumes and things are due today. And this was kind of in the morning, and I hung up, and I said, Yeah, P.E., that sounds like something up my alley that I would love. And so, got off work and put together a resume, and drove it to La Pietra, and turned it in. And so, that sort of was the next phase when I obviously got the job at La Pietra. So …

 

And did P.E. teaching seem like that was gonna be it for you? You really enjoyed that?

 

I did, for so many reasons. I mean, teaching the girls, something that I love. Working out every day and getting paid for it, having my summers off, thinking, This is pretty good life right here, and being able to catch up on some of the things. And so, I thought for a while that might be something that I might do.

 

But then, the lure of paperwork attracted you.

 

No!

 

I think what attracted me was the opportunities. Because when you’re at a small school such as La Pietra, we wear many hats.

 

And how big is La Pietra in number of students?

 

We have two hundred students, and we’re Grades 6 through 12, all-girls school. Our tuition is comparable to or a little under your Punahous and some of those other schools. But you know, the individualized attention that the girls are receiving. They go to great colleges and universities, the environment, you know. I mean, the beauty. I mean, even things as simple as P.E., our girls get to make use of Kapiolani Park, they will go down to the beach and surf. You know, to be able to use what’s given to us up there as the facilities.

 

Come to think of it; how did you get ownership of that wonderful land?

 

Well, our co-founders Lorraine Day Cooke and Barbara Cox Anthony, they had daughters, and they were at Punahou back in the day. Other schools at younger ages, but eventually at Punahou. And just felt that there were differences in what they wanted for their daughters, and thought, Well, you know, it might take us trying to come up with a different type of school—or environment. Not school, but different school environment, and more nurturing, so smaller. And so, I think these two women, with their vision and direct relationship to how it would affect their own daughters, lucky for us, came up with that and they purchased the land, and the rest is fifty years old. And so, even as teachers, you wear your class advisor hat, your regular class teaching hat. There’s a lot of opportunities that exist. And so, I started getting more involved with either the different clubs, or leadership programs that we have there. And so, through the various opportunities and doors that opened up within La Pietra, I just enjoyed it, and I think administratively, did it pretty well, I guess. I mean, somebody obviously saw something in me, and I was able to develop those skills further. And then, you know, of course, it took me to assistant admissions director, and then dean of students.

 

You got your master’s degree along the way.

 

I did. Along the way, I went back for my master’s in education, and with an emphasis on private school leadership. And so, that was a great not only opportunity to get a master’s, but to network with other leaders from other independent schools. And so, those opportunities just kinda came up for me at each stage of the way, and here I am twenty-three years later at La Pietra. I’ve been with La Pietra for twenty-three years.

 

Well, you didn’t really jump to apply for the head of school position, though, the top position.

 

I didn’t. And it was quite incredible. I had been the dean of students for a while, and when our head announced that she was gonna be retiring, the board of trustees formed a committee, a search committee, and I was asked to be on that committee, and gladly, you know. But even prior to that, actually my head at the time did ask me, Are you interested in applying for the position, or in the position? And I thought about it for a brief minute or two, and then I just said, No, I don’t think so. As the dean, there were long hours involved, and I just thought, you know, my family time. I’m very family-oriented, I still love to do a bunch of activities. And I thought, I’m already spending some long days, but I still want some me time, and thought, No, I think I’ll pass. So, I joined the search committee, and had a lot to say as far as, you know, what the school was all about. And I think when I was talking to our trustees, the third meeting I walked in, and I noticed they were sort of in a different arrangement on the table, and kind of got quiet when I walked in the room. And so, I was just waiting for the meeting to start, and they said, Okay, Mahina, we need to talk to you. And I said, Oh, okay. You know. And long story short, it was just sort of they said, We actually want to offer you the position as head of school. We’ve been listening to you, we know your record here, and we’d be silly to bypass somebody who already is on the job and knows the school, and has an appreciation. I mean, they said some pretty kind words. And at that moment, you’re supposed to sound highly intelligent, of course, and being just baffled by this opportunity and what they have just presented me, it was like, Oh. I mean, I was very honored. And so, I went home, and of course, I talked to my husband, and you know, it was a no-brainer for him. I said, Well, you know, it’s not just me taking on this role; it will be you as well, you know, supporting and sacrificing the hours and whatever needs to be done. And so, never looked back, and I’m happy I’ve been able to have this opportunity.

 

And how long have you been on the job now in that position?

 

I’m going on my ninth year, this year; ninth year as head of school.

 

Mahina Eleneki Hugo’s ability to not only be a team player, but to become a strong and caring educational leader, grew out of her lifelong competitive spirit and passion for sports. Now, as head of school at La Pietra Hawaii School for Girls, she inspires new generations of women to work hard with self-discipline and achieve their dreams. Mahalo to former UH volleyball star Mahina Eleneki Hugo for sharing her stories for us. And mahalo to you for joining 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.

 

What did you learn about coaching people from Dave Shoji?

 

Dave is a wonderful individual. And it’s so funny; the joke of the team was, when I was playing with Dave, he’s a very detail-oriented coach, which in a close game it’s a wonderful thing to have. I mean, you know, we would play each girl across that net a different defense. And these were life lessons. He taught a lot more than just the game. But the joke that I was getting at was, he was also a very private man. I always said, If I got stuck in an elevator with him, I wouldn’t know what to say.

 

It’s not ‘til later in life where you can really appreciate and actually go back and say, Hey, thanks, Dave, there was a lot, you know, you shared with so many of us through the generations.

 

[END]

LEAHEY & LEAHEY
June Jones

 

This episode’s guest will be former a university of Hawaii head football coach June Jones.

 

The Leaheys will discuss with Coach Jones his future and any interest in returning to UH in any capacity. Plus the three will discuss Hawaii’s Marcus Mariota winning the 80th annual Heisman Trophy.

 

This program is available in high-definition and will be rebroadcast on Wed., Dec. 17 at 11:30 pm and Sun., Dec. 21 at 3:30 pm.

 

 

LEAHEY & LEAHEY
Don Murphy and Kurt Osaki

 

Tonight’s guest will be Don Murphy & Kurt Osaki from the “We get ’em” campaign supporting UH Athletics.

Kanoa and Jim will also be discussing the UH Football team’s latest loss at Colorado and the Quarterback situation moving forward.

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Amy Agbayani

 

Original air date: Tues., Nov. 10, 2010

 

Encouraging Diversity at the University of Hawaii
In this edition of Long Story Short, Leslie Wilcox introduces us to Amy Agbayani, who oversees the University of Hawaii’s diversity programs. Dr. Agbayani came to Hawaii from her native Philippines to study at the East-West Center in the turbulent 1960’s. The antiwar protests of the era helped set the stage for Agbayani’s lifetime fight for civil rights and social justice.

 

Agbayani first found her calling helping her fellow Filipino immigrants adjust to life in Hawaii through a group called Operation Manong, which she co-founded 40 years ago. She soon broadened her efforts on behalf of other immigrants, women, and almost anyone needing a voice, becoming the first chair of the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission.

 

Over the years, Agbayani’s office at UH has expanded into one of the most comprehensive university diversity programs in the nation. She now oversees more than 20 programs to recruit and assist students who are diverse in terms of culture, ethnicity, gender, age, disability, religion and sexual orientation.

 

Amy Agbayani Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

I think people who don’t know me are really quite surprised when they do meet me, because I’m not frothing at the mouth. Because some of my statements might be outrageous, but on a personal level, I’m kind of mild, I think. But I do take strong positions on these issues.

 

Have you taken a position, where you really put yourself out there on the very edge?

 

Oh, yeah.

 

Amy Agbayani came to Hawaii in the turbulent 1960s to get a graduate education, and she stayed to shake things up with her activist approach and sense of social justice. She has spent the past forty-plus years, on campus and in the community, chipping away at the barriers holding back immigrants, women, gays, and other underrepresented groups. Her story is 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. In this edition of Long Story Short, we’ll get to know Amy Agbayani, a Hawaii civil right pioneer who’s built a career and a reputation fighting for the underdog. Her activist roots date back to the anti – Vietnam War protests in the 60s at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Instead of returning to her native Philippines after graduate school, Dr. Agbayani found her calling in working to improve the lives of Filipino immigrants here in Hawaii.

 

Over the years, she expanded her efforts to include other minorities and almost anyone on the fringes of society. Known as a tireless advocate, Amy Agbayani picks her battles, and never gives up the fight.

 

I’ve always known you as Amy. But now, I learned that that’s not your legal name; it’s a nickname. What’s your real first name?

 

My father made it up, and it’s Amefil. And it stands for America, Philippines. I was born during the war. Some people say, Which war?

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

But I was born during World War II, in Manila. And so the Philippines and America were working together. And so that’s how I got my name.

 

Now, I believe your dad was a diplomat; wasn’t he?

 

Right. My father actually was a journalist, first, and a faculty member, actually. And he was with the Philippine group right after the Philippines got independence, to represent the Philippines as a diplomat. So he was the first crop of Filipinos to represent a new nation. And my father was assigned—his first assignment was to Sydney. And usually, diplomats are allowed to stay a few years, and then are asked to move on. But my father liked it, and we liked it, and it was good for our education, I guess, and so we stayed there for nine years. So when I was growing up and if you had talked to me on the telephone, I spoke like an Australian child.

 

And what did you speak at home?

 

We spoke English in our home, but because my mother and father speak two different Philippine languages.

 

One is Tagalog?

 

Right.

And what’s the other one?

 

Ilocano, which is eighty percent of the Filipinos here in Hawaii speak in Ilocano.

 

And you’re still proficient in both languages?

 

Oh, no; I’m not. Yeah. I left the Philippines when I was five, and so, English is really the language that I’m most comfortable with.

 

And no more Australian accent?

 

No, I dropped that in about two minutes, when I went back to the Philippines, ‘cause everyone, would laugh at me.

 

[CHUCKLE] And you lived other places too, right?

 

Yes. Actually, I graduated high school from Bangkok; Bangkok International School. It was a small, international school, and I think there were only ten of us as seniors. And then, I went to the University of the Philippines.

 

When you were growing up, and living in some different countries, and traveling too, was it hard to figure out who you were sometimes, because there weren’t other people like you right there?

 

I guess I didn’t notice it. I thought I was Australian for a long time.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

But then, because of my parents, and they had to represent our country, it was clear that I was Filipino. And so I wasn’t confused about that, and I found it interesting, though, that with the exception of two or three friends, I really did grow up with non-Filipino classmates.

 

Amy Agbayani says she didn’t experience racial discrimination, thanks to her family’s diplomatic and educational status. And as the third child, her parents did not put undue pressure on her to excel.

 

Did your mother convey anything to you about people who get left out of the best of society?

 

She was always kind, and inclusive. So I think that’s what I got from both of them, is that there’s such a variety of people, and that there’s so much talent out there. And so she made friends with everybody, so I just sort of copied her. She was sort of into United Nations all the time. She would dress me up in my Filipino uniform, and I’d be selling United Nations buttons downtown. So I sort of had that international and multicultural sort of idea as a five-year-old.

 

The Philippines is known as a country of Haves and Have-nots. So you’re obviously a Have.

 

My parents were Haves, but through education rather than land or property. So my father and mother were very well educated.

 

And wanted you to be, as well?

 

It was just assumed [CHUCKLE] that we would be educated.

 

Did you get any direct advice from them on that?

 

Yes; I was supposed to be a doctor. I didn’t enjoy that. My first ambition was to be a tennis professional, tennis star. ‘Cause I grew up in Australia, and tennis was the important sport there. But I learned early on that I wasn’t going to survive or get hired as a tennis player. I was the alternate to the alternate on the tennis team, so I wasn’t really one of the best tennis players. And so I think because of that, I sort of understood that I’d better pay attention to school. The next profession was to be a lawyer. And so that’s where I got a degree in political science, and planned to go to the University of the Philippines Law School, which is excellent. But really, there was a very long line for registration, so I decided to go across the street, which is the graduate school. And I was starting a master’s in political science, and that’s when I met a professor from the University of Hawaii visiting the Philippines, Bob Stouffer. And that’s where I heard about the University of Hawaii, and the East West Center, and that’s how I got to Hawaii, as a East West Center scholar.

 

What was said to you, to get you so interested in giving up your plans, and moving to another country?

 

Well, the scholarship, to the East West Center and the University of Hawaii. I had no intention of staying in Hawaii. I was supposed to be an international foreign student, and actually required to go back to the Philippines for two years. But I got married, and stayed here, and those plans went out the door. But I had fully intended to go back to the Philippines and hopefully get a job at the University of the Philippines.

 

And then in Hawaii, you would become associated with a program that was for, expressly, Filipinos.

 

Yeah. I think it was interesting, because I came to Hawaii in a way, laterally, and it never occurred to me that Filipinos would be in such a disadvantaged position here. And so it was quite a shock when I learned about Hawaii’s history, and the situation of many Filipinos in Hawaii that it didn’t seem right or fair. And so it was an easy transition for me to work in the community.

 

So you’re at the East West Center, and you do complete not only your master ’s, but you get a PhD. Where did that take you?

 

Well, I was twenty-six when I got my PhD, and my first job was to work in Kalihi- Palama on a model cities program. And then, the 1965 immigration law was passed, and that brought along a lot of new immigrant Filipinos trickling into Hawaii. And so people like myself noticed that Filipino immigrants were really, really being picked on in the public schools, there was no bilingual education for them, they couldn’t be understood, and there were big fights. And so a group of us started Operation Manong. But I think the reason we were able to do that is because most of us were highly educated. All of us, Sheila Forman, Melinda Kerkvliet, we were PhD candidates, and we had haole last names, and with faculty husbands. And so I think we had a lot of self-confidence to just try anything out. And so, we did start that, and it was really simple. We asked Filipino students, Will you help tutor in the public schools, ‘cause the Filipino children need your help. And the day that week that we got there, we noticed there were Koreans, and there were Chinese, and others. And so we expanded Operation Manong from just Filipino to every immigrant community.

 

And this was a private nonprofit you started?

 

Well, we didn’t even have any organization at the time. It was sort of just a group. And then, later on, we got some church money, and then we were able to get a very large federal grant to hire our tutors to work in the public schools. I’m extremely proud of the students that we got. The first two included Robin Campaniano, and Emme Tomimbang. Both of them represent the kind of student that we wanted, who was good at getting through college, but at the same time, getting into a profession, and being community oriented.

 

I recall meeting you at that time. It was in the early 70s. And the immigrant Filipinos were being picked on by, who, but established Filipino kids.

 

Right. They wanted to distance themselves, and not be considered the bottom of the totem pole. So they did fight with each other. And so that was one of the things that we had to work on, is to change the paradigm.

 

How long did it take for things to shift?

 

Well, we’re still working on it. So every new generation, every new kid has to learn that. But at least, we’ve won the argument, I think, that the schools must— and also, the laws. And that’s one of the reasons why I think I entered or participate in politics, is to change the laws. And civil rights laws are better now, than they were then.

 

If you’re interested in civil rights, it’s pretty hard not to be politically minded, if

you want to get things done.

 

Right.

 

So you did enter politics.

 

And I helped lobby for the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission, and I was the first chair of the Civil Rights Commission.

 

Amy Agbayani’s involvement in academic and activist circles led her to become acquainted with some of Hawaii’s future Democratic powerbrokers, relationships that continue to this day.

 

So many times, when I see you covered by the press, or I see an announcement of some kind, you are the only Filipino person there. And during primary election night, on live television, the wife of the candidate Neil Abercrombie, was introducing you, and she said … she described you as, This little Filipino woman.

 

Well, she sees me as a mentor. Because I did introduce her to her husband, and actually, got her to uh, finish her college degree when she was a nontraditional student. And you’re right that there are very few Filipinos in a lot of places, and that’s one of the reasons why I am active in politics. It’s because I think that that is a venue for Filipinos to improve their status in the State of Hawaii. And, like, Neil Abercrombie and I do go back a long way, and he is a strong friend of Ben Cayetano also. And so I used to ask Neil Abercrombie to help us on Filipino immigrant issues. So he would.

 

And so, how did it come to be that you introduced Nancy Caraway to Neil Abercrombie, and they’ve been married for decades?

 

Well, she was a nontraditional student. She didn’t have a BA. I, at the time, had already gotten a PhD. And she attended a workshop for women returning to college, and I suggested that she interview Neil Abercrombie for her term paper. And they got to meet each other, and that’s history. And as I always tell everyone, I also helped them get their first apartment, which is even harder.

 

[CHUCKLE] And did you see that happening? Did you see sparks, or did you think that would happen?

 

No, I didn’t. I didn’t know Nancy that well, either. She was one of the women that I was getting to know. And of course, we have become good friends since then, but at the time, I didn’t know her that well.

 

In 2010, Amy Agbayani served as honorary co-chair for Neil Abercrombie’s successful campaign for Governor of Hawaii. He’s one of the politicians she has identified with, and supported, in campaign after campaign.

 

Sometimes it’s hard for me to picture you working in politics, just because there are so many aspects of it that you get your feet dirty sometimes, right? I mean, it’s not a pleasant business some of the time, because of the devil in the details, and the stuff that you have to navigate.

 

Well, that’s why I’m in politics, and not in a—I pick which things I will participate in. Some people think I should run for office. The only thing I do is run races, 10K or the marathon, but I didn’t personally want to run for office, because then, you have to do that a hundred percent. Whereas, I pick and choose, and so you know, I support this candidate, or that candidate, or I’m interested in this issue, or that or another issue, but it’s not a hundred percent. By the way, I have not won every battle, and I have supported people who have been beaten up and lost. For example, everyone thinks of Patsy Mink only of the successes she’s had, but I’ve helped Patsy Mink when she lost three to one, think, against Sparky Matsunaga. So I’ve been on the losing side on a number of issues. But I keep coming back to the Legislature.

 

So when people read a position you’ve taken, it comes across strong, and wow. And then, when they meet you, you’re mild mannered.

 

Well, I think I actually play the special role in Hawaii politics. And that is that I’m on the streets demonstrating on some issue, but at the same time, I have developed access to insiders in the Legislature, and even in corporate business, to try and make sure that we have access to those resources, too. We’re knocking at the door oftentimes, and so I do try to have friends on the other side, or people who are decision making. ‘Cause most of the groups that I am supporting are not at the table.

 

So you need to know people who have power, to partner with those who—

 

And some of the young students, they call me Manang Amy. They think that I’ve always had access. I said, Hey, no. I couldn’t even get to talk to the Superintendent of Public Schools before, when I was working in Operation Manong. He wouldn’t answer my phone calls. So we actually—one of the things we did was, we’d have press conferences, and he would say, Who is that? I said, I wouldn’t have had this press conference if you had answered my phone call.

 

You are still, in a sense, the head of OM, which used to stand for Operation Manong. But now, it stands for the Office of Multicultural—

 

Student Services. And that’s just one of many programs that I have at the University of Hawaii. I made up the office name; it’s called SEED, Student Equity, Excellence, and Diversity. And I sort of say, you can’t have one without of the other. You can’t have excellence, unless you also pay attention, or you should pay attention to diversity, and inclusiveness, and equity.

 

At the time of this conversation in 2010, Amy Agbayani oversees more than twenty programs addressing the needs of students from underrepresented groups, in terms of age, academic ability, ethnicity, disability, economic class, culture, gender, race, religion, and sexual orientation.

 

This group is just like any other support services I have for Hawaiians or Filipinos. We try to make sure that they get through college, that they know how to navigate the University system, that they feel comfortable, and that they are encouraged to fully participate in student government, or make presentations about their issues. So we have one program like that, and we’re one of the few in the country that has a tenured faculty member assisting gay and lesbian students. My whole program, by the way, used to be threatened all the time. For example, when there would be a one percent budget cut at the University, my program would be identified for a hundred percent cut. Me, Ethnic Studies, Women’s Studies; they would line us out. I said, Excuse me. But now at least, we’re on par with Physics and Math, and Geography, and so forth. And so that when they do come to deciding or allocating budgets, we hold our own.

 

Because we can point to the strategic plan; it’s included in the strategic plan. But we just have to make sure that we keep advocating, and that the leadership understands it really is to the self-interest of the University of Hawaii to have diversity.

 

So are you the go-to person on campus, and maybe well outside campus, when there’s an issue involving somebody’s rights being marginalized or disrespected?

 

Oftentimes. I think the newest civil rights battle is the same gender and civil unions battle for equality. And I’m very active in that. And some people wonder why I’m so active in it. And actually, for me, it’s just a no-brainer. I mean, I didn’t even think about, Oh, should I do this, or should I participate in that? I said, it’s so clear, and it’s like breathing, that you would see that as unequal and unfair.

 

Are you not getting married, out of a wish to support civil unions? If they don ’t get that, then I’m gonna—you know, the Brad Pitt line?

 

Well, I was married before to my professor, Bob Cahill. Some people may know him. He’s very progressive, liberal and he got me involved in my first campaign for Tom Gill, who ran for lieutenant governor. I have a partner; his name is Gus Gustavson. He’s haole. Swedish American, I think, from Boston. And he’s retired from the Department of Health. And he likes to run also, and I guess the first week he retired, he got addicted to golf. I was married before, and I felt that a relationship should be—you should be there, if you want to be there.

 

Well, it’s working.

 

Gus and I, we have been together now for over thirty-five years. We live in Kalihi Valley. It’s a wonderful place. We live in a small plantation home. I think it’s about six hundred and fifty square feet, but we have very large land, and we have bananas, and hundreds of heleconia.

 

Why did you pick Kalihi Valley?

 

Oh, well, we could afford it. But uh, um, and you know, it—lots of Filipinos there. Every house with a malunggay tree, we call that the Filipino flag. And I work in Kalihi a lot with the community, Kalihi, Waipahu. I also have programs for Native Hawaiians in Waianae and Nanakuli, so I’m not just in Kalihi. But it’s a nice location, and as I pointed out, I graduated from Bangkok International School, and everyone assumes I graduated from Farrington High School. So I tell everyone I’m a Farrington High School wannabe, and I have purchased a Farrington High School alumni shirt—

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

I think that’s a great school, and I have programs there, too. It’s sixty percent Filipino in Farrington High School.

 

Amy Agbayani worries about what happens to those students after high school, because too many do not go on to college.

 

Filipinos are severely underrepresented at the University of Hawaii, and that’s one of the areas I work on. We’re twenty-three percent in the public schools, and we’re only less than ten percent at Manoa, and we’re less than two percent on the faculty. And so, we’re also underrepresented in um … corporate boards, and we’re underrepresented in many areas. So we’re trying to change that. And we’re well represented, by the way, politically. For example, in the City Council, three out of nine of the council members are of Filipino ancestry. And we have the first Filipino American governor in the United States with Ben Cayetano, and we are actually well represented in politics. So I see education, politics, media, the culture and the arts; we have to make a dent in each of these areas. We’re doing well, by the way, I think, with the unions. We have good leadership, Filipino leadership in the unions. We are majority in the Hotel Workers’ Union, Local 5. I did get arrested just a couple of months ago, by the way. I joined the protest for Local 5, in Waikiki. We actually prepared to get arrested so that we would know how to handle ourselves. And it was actually just civil disobedience, to make a point, that workers should be given a fair contract. One of my criticism of the previous mayor was in his first term, there were no Filipinos on the Cabinet. That’s just totally unacceptable. My criticism of Governor Lingle, which was in the newspaper recently, was she has one woman on the Board of Regents, out of fifteen. And then, her nominees previously from the Bar to the udgeship, there were no women. In this day and age, you sort of say, Duh. It’s sort of a non-brainer, and you don’t have to convince people, just because it’s fair, but it’s because you actually get better decisions that way, if you utilize more the talents out there.

 

Did I hear you say a while back that innovation and excellence—

 

Excellence.

 

Those come together?

 

Yeah; and diversity. The person who’s going to solve cancer for Hawaii might be this little child in Molokai. Well, we have to make sure that the children on Molokai get educated, have access to higher education, and become our scientists, and our leaders. So to me, it’s sort of self-serving, and to everyone’s self interest, to really reach out and try and include people. Because that’s the reality. Diversity is the reality. What we have to do is, include that diversity.

 

What kind of a shift in public opinion in Hawaii have you seen since the 70s?

 

A lot; and I’m an eternal optimist. And it’s gonna—the best is yet to come.

 

What is it about you that allows that optimism to flow, even when you ’ve been defeated multiple times.

 

Yeah. I’ve figured out that as I said, you don’t have to be very brainy oftentimes. You have to be there. So persistence is much more important, I think, than intelligence or being articulate. Like, you don’t want me, but I’ll be here tomorrow.

 

Amy Agbayani intends to be a voice for fairness and justice in Hawaii’s academic, legislative, and political arenas, not only tomorrow, but the day after that, and in the weeks and years to come. Even after she retires from her job at the UH, Dr. Agbayani has no plans to abandon her life’s working, plugging away for the people and causes she cares about. Mahalo to Amy Agbayani for sharing her Long Story Short, and mahalo to you for tuning in. I’m Leslie Wilcox.

 

A hui hou kakou; until next time, aloha.

 

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

 

I think it takes sort of a fire to continue to do what you do. What keeps it burning?

 

Actually, I make no boundaries, in a sense, between my work, and my community work, or my professional career, or whatever. So it’s just an interest to me, and I identify with those things. And I guess, I get rewarded for doing these things, so it’s not really hard for me to do this.

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Maenette Ah Nee-Benham

 

Original air date: Tues., Jun. 31, 2012

 

Dean of the Hawai’inuiākea School of Hawaiian Knowledge

 

Leslie Wilcox talks story with the dean of the Hawai’inuiākea School of Hawaiian Knowledge at the University of Hawaii at Manoa about how her culture and her grandparents’ influence guided her through life.

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

We’ve been going through what I call this period of survivance, relearning how to be powerful, relearning how to be strong, how tell our stories, and all we really needed to do was to go back and listen to our kupuna, and make that connection for ourselves in this contemporary world.

 

Maenette Ah Nee-Benham, the first dean of Hawaiinuiakea, the University of Hawaii at Manoa’s School of Hawaiian Knowledge; 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. The gift of story passed on from one generation to the next has been the guiding force behind Dr. Maenette Ah Nee- Benham’s journey of self discovery. Stories as shared by her beloved parents and grandparents, and other kupuna have informed her core values as a kanaka maole, a native Hawaiian. As a leader in the field of education, Maenette Ah Nee-Benham heads Hawaiinuiakea School of Hawaiian Knowledge at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Her journey began in Monterey, California where she was born, and it continued in Germany where her father, Albert “Sonny” Henry Ah Nee, was stationed in the military. His service took the family away from the islands for the first five years of Maenette ’s life. The family included her mother, Emmaline Padeken, and two younger brothers.

 

I grew up with the mele, the hula that my parents surrounded themselves with. We had luaus in Germany. I don’t know exactly what we ate, but I see pictures of us having luaus, and people dancing, and stuff like that. So everywhere we went, my parents, parents were deeply grounded.

 

Was it ever a negative to be Hawaiian where you lived?

 

I never felt that way. I’m sure, I’m sure that I was shielded by a lot of that. I think it wasn’t until I got older. I think being Hawaiian, and not appreciating who you are actually started, sorry to say, when I moved back home. When I started growing up and started going to school, and started hearing from people that it wasn’t really good.

 

How old were you then?

 

I think I started to feel that when I was more like in third or fourth grade. I’ve always felt proud to be Hawaiian, my entire life. And I would get very upset when people would put me down, or my family down. And I remember hearing all these really rotten stories, stereotypical stories people would tell about us, so to say.

 

What were the things you heard?

 

You know, that we were very lazy, we were not smart. People would tell me, Oh, you know, you’re just gonna grow up, you know, and get pregnant and, you know, if you really want to do well, what you’re gonna do is, you’re gonna either have to marry a Japanese person or a Haole person.

 

Amazing.

 

Right?

 

That’s what you were told.

 

That’s what we were told. I remember thinking to myself, Well, this can’t be true, ’cause my grandparents were just, like, the salt of the earth. They were the smartest people I knew. They weren’t lazy. None of the people that I knew were lazy. Well, maybe my brother was. No, I’m kidding. [CHUCKLE] But, no, people worked really hard, everybody I knew. And so, all the stereotypes flew in the face of everything that I knew. But I constantly heard that; constantly heard that.

 

What were the values you grew up with?

 

My grandmother, who was a fisherwoman, would teach us many things growing up. But there are certain things that I have sort of kept with me. My Grandmother Ah Nee always taught us to always take what you need, and never more. My Grandma Padeken taught me some really important lessons about how to be a person. And she could make anything out of nothing. Like, you would have like two dozen people sitting around the table, around a bowl of poi. She had two cans of canned corned beef, man, and you’d have a feast. Right? I mean, she was very, very entrepreneurial, she was very innovative and creative. One of the things my grandmother taught me is not only how to make something out of nothing, and how to appreciate that. But at her table, I remember people dropping in and feeling welcome and at home, and having conversations just about anything. And I remember just sitting there and listening to these big people talk, and laugh, and tell stories, and how much I loved that feeling of engagement.

 

Everybody was welcome, even though they were planned for, and everyone felt comfortable.

 

That’s right. And everybody sat around the bowl of poi and ate, and everybody was well nourished. That in itself is a life lesson of how to be, of how to live. And so when people say, What does it mean to be Hawaiian?, I tell that story.

 

Maenette Ah Nee-Benham excelled at Hawaii’s public schools, but at young age, felt strongly that Kamehameha Schools could offer better educational and leadership opportunities. On her own initiative, she recalls, she completed the application process and was accepted for her freshman year of high school. Later, she found a means to finance her college education, capping off her senior year by winning the title of Hawaii’s Junior Miss of 1974. With a full college scholarship in hand, she left for California to earn her bachelor and master’s degrees in theater and communications from San Francisco State University. Her first post-college work experiences were as a curriculum specialist and administrator at schools in California and in Texas.

 

Both my Grandma Ah Nee and my Grandma Padeken explained to me when I was very young about my name, Kape‘ahiokalani. And it is a name of one of my great-great-aunts, who was a chanter in King Kalakaua’s court. And basically, what they said to me was that because I held this name, I had the responsibility of remembering the moolelo of our family, and I had the responsibility of contributing to the health and wellbeing of my family. That was it. That’s what they told me. I said, Okay. Because that’s what you do. Your kupuna tell you that, and you say, Okay, so what do I need to do?

 

And there are all kinds of ways to accomplish that too.

 

Yeah, there’s all kinds of ways to do that. And I just found this to be my journey, you know, in educational leadership. I just found that to be what really gets me excited, what really inspires me. And it all started because in fifth grade at Koko Head Elementary School, Mrs. Kwon made me do flannel board stories for the kindergartners. And I loved it. I loved just telling stories, creating stories and telling them to young kids, and watching the light bulbs go off. So my first job was as a kindergarten teacher. What a great job, you know, where you get unconditional love every single day. And teachers are leaders; and good leaders are great teachers. I have worked with some very tough people. I have worked with some very tough situations. I’m not a Pollyanna, I’ve been through a lot. When I was an administrator in Texas—I won’t tell you where, because when I was an administrator in Texas, I was put into a principal position in an elementary school that was gonna be closed down because the students were primarily migrants, primarily Spanish-speaking, and it was failing school. And this was during a time when you could only teach English only in the schools, to a population whose first language was Spanish. And they’re taking a test in English. Hello; they’re not gonna pass anything. Of course, they’re gonna have, you know, tremendous problems. So I walked into that situation. At the same time, teacher testing was introduced into the Texas schools. And so, if you as a teacher did not pass a particular test, you were out. Didn’t matter how many years you were there, you were just out.

 

And you got to tell them that.

 

Thank you. So I was twenty-seven years old. So of course, you’re twenty-seven years old, right, you know everything, right? I had just come from California, we were doing bilingual ed, and so we did it. Now, that was a very tough situation for me, because the law said I couldn’t do it. And I did everything, you know, to ensure the success of the students in that school. And in the first year, we did teach bilingually, ’cause all the teachers knew how to do it, and they were very successful. The testing was good. I brought in some friends from Trinity University to come in and help the teachers, so that all the teachers passed the test except for two of them. Eventually, one of the two did pass, and one retired. So the first year, we did everything bilingual. I caught, and I got a talking to, you know.

 

By?

 

By the superintendent. That it was against the law, that I could be thrown in jail, bla-bla-bla-bla. And I argued that the kids could speak bilingually, we just needed to teach them that way, and they would be stronger for it. So the second year, what I did is, I instituted a coding system. We still taught bilingually, but every time somebody from the district came, the codes went out and everybody switched. Okay. And so, we did okay until some parents were very upset, because they wanted their kids to speak English only, and they didn’t want bilingual, so they reported me. Right. Now, listen. I am sitting in rooms with the superintendent and other school principals, and I’m being railed at. But there are lessons that I learned about integrity, about standing for what you believe in, and about doing things for the kids, because that was what was really important, was the kids learning. Not my job, ’cause I could get another job. But I would never be able to look at myself in the mirror if I didn’t stand up for what I believed was right. I learned what I was made of. I really did. My last meeting that I had, the superintendent was, you know, through clenched teeth saying how much he appreciated the work I did. I’m like, yeah, right. And whatnot, and that he had a gift for me. And I said, Oh, wow, a gift; oh, my gosh. And so, he gave me this little box, a little red box, you know, and I thought, Oh wow. He said, Well, open it, open it. So I opened it, and it was two silver stress balls, you know, the Chinese stress balls. And I was like, Oh, this is interesting. So I opened up the envelope, and in the envelope it said, Now that you have the balls, maybe you can do the job. I didn’t say a thing. I didn’t even say thank you. I just looked at it, I put it back in the box, and I just sat there, waited for the meeting to be done, and I was out of there. I was out of there. I was so full of rage … so full of rage, and there were so many things that I wanted to say. But one of the things I remembered is that you never want to put anything out there that you can’t be proud of saying. And I remember saying to myself, If what I have to say in this room could make a difference, then maybe I’ll say it. But I didn’t feel at the time that it would make any difference in the world. I’ve learned how to really understand my rage, and through that, learn how to talk with people about how we can come together to do good things together, how I can do that, even though I might be angry, even though I might disagree with what you have to say, but how I can do that through love. That was the beginning of my learning of how to work with people.

 

How do you do it? How do you it, when people are constantly throwing out personal slurs instead of just sticking to what needs to get done?

 

Well, one of the things is that you have to understand where that intent is coming from, where that hurt is, and you know, that the person is doing that because there is hurt there. There’s fear, there’s hurt, there’s history there that they still need to work through. And so, oftentimes, I just allow that to be there. I was asked to do a genius speech, and I talked about the genius of leadership is living into grace. And it’s that idea of creating a space where people can feel really safe, even though you say the worst things. I want you to feel safe here, I just want you to feel safe. And no matter what you have to say, no matter how angry you are, go ahead, go and do that. And when you’re pau, let’s get to work. And in the end, everybody will know that there will be a direction we’re gonna go.

 

Maenette Ah Nee-Benham taught at Kamehameha Schools, Chaminade University, and Kaiser High School while working toward her doctorate in educational administration from the University of Hawaii in 1992. In 1993, Dr. Ah Nee-Benham began a sixteen-year association with Michigan State University as a faculty member with the College of Education. Her work with indigenous educational institutions brought her in close touch with the American Indian Tribal colleges and universities, and led to a greater appreciation for the life lessons imparted by the stories of native peoples.

 

When I started working in Indian country, I’m not Native American. I’m not native to the Americas. And I walked into my very first meeting with another elder, and I sat there in a circle. And Lionel Bordeaux, who is a large man, you know, sits in his chair, and he has this cane like this, and he stomps the floor with his cane. And he goes, What right do you have to come and tell our stories? And I was near tears. And I thought to myself, Well, what do you say to that? And all I could say to that was, My name is Maenette Kape‘ahiokalani Padeken Ah Nee-Benham; let me tell you about my grandmothers. And so, I talked about my Grandma Padeken, and my Grandpa George, and our life in Kaaawa. I talked about my grandma, how she raised me in the ocean. So I talked about the way that I had been raised, and the stories my grandmother would tell me. And my point was that, I have my native stories, you have your native stories, and together, we can learn about each other, and together we’ll tell the stories. But, when I was doing work on the reservations, the elders would sit down, and they would tell stories. And it just captured you, just took you to another place, and I began to make connections. I was having a hard time, they were talking about finding medicine here, and how it helped them. And it helped me. And pretty soon, I began to remember the stories my grandmothers used to tell me, and appreciating that more. And that just made me feel so much a part of my skin, and so much a part of the islands. It takes time to retell the stories. And I think that’s what we as kanaka maoli have been going through too, is that we’ve been going through what I call this period of survivance, relearning how to be powerful, relearning how to be strong, how tell our stories, and all we really needed to do was to go back and listen to our kupuna and make that connection for ourselves in this contemporary world. If we go back and listen to our kaleo tapes, if we go and take a look at our newspapers, if you go back to that rich resource of knowledge, and experience, and stories, you’ve got all that. We have a strong history of being a self-governed nation, of being witty and wise, and prosperous. We have that. We just have to go back and relearn it. Because my mother died when I was very young, when I was six years old—and she was a very accomplished woman. Beautiful dancer, she danced at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, she had a master’s degree in education back in the 1950s. She was just so very talented, and she died in her early 30s, so at a very young age. Because my grandmothers and my mother’s friends loved her so much, there are many stories they would tell me about her. And of course, you want to live up to those things. And I have to admit, at times I was like, Oh, please. You know, Really? Just really, do I really have to do this?, kind of a thing. But I think that the really deep sense of kuleana, of deep responsibility to live a life that she would be proud of, I think … because I lost her at such a young age, that was just so important to me. And maybe, thinking about it, maybe that’s why I never thought less of myself. I’m Native Hawaiian … I’m a woman … I can be pretty dipsy at times, and I can be smart at times. But I never really felt down on myself, because I always had that memory of her, and the stories of her.

 

What is your memory of your mother? Your own, you know, direct memory.

 

My own memory. My own memory of my mother is that she was very driven. I remember her working, I remember her singing, I remember her dancing. I remember her teaching; she taught at two different schools.

 

This is all looking very familiar when I look at your life.

 

Yes; isn’t it? [CHUCKLE]

 

In 2008, Maenette Ah Nee-Benham was offered the opportunity to come home. She was named dean of Hawaiinuiakea School of Hawaiian Knowledge, located at the Manoa campus of the University of Hawaii. It’s the first new school or college established on the Manoa campus in twenty-five years, and it’s one of the largest schools of indigenous knowledge in the United States.

 

What does Hawaiinuiakea mean?

 

This is the name of our place. Of the islands, and the area around it. It is our home. And it embraces everybody. I think that’s one of the things I really tried to make clear to my colleague deans, and to my colleagues in other faculties who are non-Hawaiian, is that one of the values is ohana, and ohana does not always mean that we are of the same blood. Ohana means that we can agree on a set of principles and a mission for the work that we’re doing, and we’re gonna be innovative and entrepreneurial, and we’re gonna work together really hard to get there. That’s ohana. So when I came home … I am very committed to the promise of just that, of being the University of Hawaii at Manoa, a research run institution that is a land, sea, and sky grant, that is indigenous or kanaka maoli grounded. One of the things we’re working on right now is a lot of really nice signage that not only will tell the story of UH Manoa, but also of this pai aina that we’re sitting on. What used to be here before, you know, Cook arrived in the islands. Story of the land, our stories, the moolelo of this place. So when people come here, they know, Oh, Manoa. Oh, here’s the story of Kane and Kanewai. Oh, here’s the story of the winds. Oh, that’s why—you know, knowing the place. Knowing this place. Connecting yourself to this land will connect yourself to the University of Hawaii Manoa. Many Native Hawaiians, when they look at the University, that’s not our story. I mean, this institution is not our story. You know, it’s somebody else’s story. But it is a venue where we can learn the skills of the 21st century global world, to live into the stories of our time, you know, still holding on to our stories of lineage. And so, what Native Hawaiians, at least my community, needs to learn to do is, we need to learn to re-story this story, the academic story. And I think I’ve done a pretty good job of it for myself that I can live in this universe, I can be successful in this university, and I haven’t given up any of my kanaka maoli values.

 

Well, what is your idea for yourself of being a Hawaiian who’s true to her belief s and her culture in the 21st century Hawaii?

 

One of the joys of my work right now is actually working in community with youth. And so, I’m working a lot with Mao Farms, which you’re familiar with, with Kukui and Gary Maunakea-Forth and their youth leadership training program. And I have relations with these young people who are learning their value as people, they’re learning the moolelo of Waianae, and they’re learning to craft something that is going to sustain their community. And they’re going to LCC, and they’re graduating, and then they’re coming to Manoa in a variety of different fields; in agriculture, in engineering, in medicine. And the reason why they’re doing that, because when they get those skills, they’re gonna go right back home and make it a better place. I have a big project with the Kellogg Foundation; it’s called Engaging Communities in Education. We’re bringing together youth leadership groups, several from Hawaii, some from across the continent, and we’re converging on Youth Radio, which is located in Oakland, California. And for people who know digital media, Youth Radio is like right at the top of their game.

 

Right; one of the first and best.

 

That’s right. And we’re going there to learn about media, but social messaging advocacy, creating those kinds of plans, how do young people do that. How are you really smart about that, but at the same time, how do you remain around it in your lineage. How do you tell that? So that’s what it means to be a 21st century Native Hawaiian. We are rebuilding our story as a nation every day. And we’ve had to go through a lot of growing. I mean, come on, we were decimated; we were decimated when Cook landed and everything that happened. We’ve gone through a history of two hundred years of battling for our survival of ensuring that our stories were kept alive in remote places somewhere. We’ve battled hard, and we’re coming out of it now and we’re making clear strides forward, and we’re educating a whole new generation of Native Hawaiian leaders whose olelo was strong, whose moolelo is deeply rooted, and who love this land … and can have civic discourse, not only among Hawaiians, but everyone, who are learning how to speak in that way. So I think we’re ready. I’m glad I came home.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

Dr. Maenette Ah Nee-Benham says that the experience of learning and teaching moves her spirit, and connects her to the kupuna on whose shoulders she stands, and the generations of people yet to come. Mahalo piha, Maenette Ah-Nee-Benham, for sharing your long story short. And thank you for watching and supporting 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.

 

And, I went through that phase, where I thought I was the smartest whip in town. And I said some things that I know were very hurtful. And the intentionality of my words were hurtful, and that’s not a good thing. And my grandmother would constantly tell me, you know, once you put something out there, once you write it down, it doesn’t belong to you anymore. So what you want to make sure you do is that you say things that people can embrace, that can make them happy and healthy. Period. No wagging her finger at me or anything. Just matter of factly.

 

 

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