Where I’m From

Knowing a person’s hometown tells you more than just where they were raised.

Henry Kapono Ka‘aihue, Musician B.1948
Kapahulu, O‘ahu

My parents lived in the same house on Moheau Street since before the war. There were eight of us kids; I was the third youngest. My father had three jobs—he worked for the city and county. He also worked as a parking lot attendant, and late at night, he moved houses on trailers. He was a worker, but he always had time to take us to the beach in between jobs.

There were a lot of families with kids in Kapahulu. Either we were at the beach or playing football or baseball or kickball on Winam Avenue. It wasn’t paved streets, either, so we would be bust up some days when we came home, with bruises and scrapes.

Kapahulu Avenue had only a few stores then. There was the Okamura Store, where you could buy a shave ice for 5 cents. There was Bill’s Bakery that had the best custard pie. Every Sunday morning, my dad would go down to Bill’s Bakery and buy pastries—that was a treat for us.

There was always music in the house. Everybody played, danced the hula. My sister would play guitar, my dad would play ‘ukulele. My mom was the only one who didn’t play. She sang. She was her happiest when we all played. My dad taught me a little about the ‘ukulele, taught me a couple songs. He used to just sit in his chair and play himself to sleep. I do that now, too.

Ronald Moon, Hawai‘i Supreme Court Chief Justice B.1940
Wahiaw-a, O‘ahu

My family owned a shop on California Avenue called Duke’s Clothing. My father catered to the soldiers from Schofield Barracks, but they had a hard time pronouncing his Korean name—Duk Mann Moon. So they called him Duke. He went by that for the rest of his adult life.

I was the oldest of four kids. We lived upstairs from the store. As soon as you could say, “May I help you?” you were downstairs working. My dad and mom worked long hours, but they never opened the shop on Sundays. Church was the focal point for the family. Both of my grandfathers were part of the group that founded Wahiawa Korean Christian Church. Dad was choir director and president of the congregation; Mom played the piano and taught Sunday school. Sunday morning, we’d go there for services. Sunday evening, we’d return for Christian endeavor meetings. Wednesday was choir practice.

Wahiaw-a was known as the “Korean ghetto” at that time, so Korean traditions stuck with you more than if you lived somewhere else. I was 11 when the Korean War started. My dad would send foodstuff to my uncle and his family, who were living in South Korea. The whole Wahiawa community got involved. They brought clothes, soap and food to the church to package and send to South Korea. It was a lot of Koreans coming together.

Dee Jay Mailer, Kamehameha Schools President B.1952
Kailua, O‘ahu

My hometown is actually Makiki, but as a teenager, I spent a lot of weekends in Kailua. I would study during the week, and, come the weekend, I would say aloha to my parents and hang out with Auntie Bobbie and my cousins Rob, Val and Donna in Kailua. Auntie Bobbie was my mother’s twin. She was a cool aunt who let us do things my mother would never let us do. Because I was an only child, my cousins were my brothers and sisters.

We spent a lot of time at the beach, and I loved to be around surfers. We would lie out on the beach, getting terribly tanned, hoping and praying the surfers out in the water would just glance our way. One of my cousins and I even pretended we were surfers, just so we could be part of that group, though you would never see us on boards. But we had the surfer look—the long, straight blond hair with bangs, and sometimes we’d wear those Indian toe sandals. Surfers had those “surf bumps” on top of their knees and on top of their feet that they’d get from their boards. But if you weren’t a surfer and you wanted those bumps, you could actually rub your knees and rub your feet to get them. That’s what we did. It was cool in those days.

Satoru Abe, Sculptor and Painter B.1926
Mo‘ili‘ili, O‘ahu

You know where Pake Patch was? Sheridan, Kapi‘olani and Kalakaua at one time was all vegetable, all Chinese farms, so we call them Pake Patch—I grew up there. After 1939, we moved to the back of Kuhi-o School—my parents rented a house there. My father worked at Dairyman’s, now Meadow Gold. My mother was a housewife. Mo‘ili‘ili looked different. No tall buildings; some of the low houses today are original. Ke‘eaumoku didn’t go through King Street and Kapi‘olani until the ’60s or ’70s.

My parents were from Hiroshima. The day Pearl Harbor was attacked, I was delivering newspapers. That was really a lonely day. I went to Washington Intermediate. I had friends of all nationalities. I thought, How can I face my friends? I felt bad. But I think we went back to school, everything was the same. I guess kids never felt the difference. There was curfew, at 7 or 8 o’clock, I think. But my family never had any problems.

The Honolulu Stadium, that was the biggest thing in town. It had everything. This was way before the Islanders. It had all local players, more or less, in ethnic teams—the Filipino team, the Portuguese team, the Asahi Japanese team, the Chinese, the Hawaiians. During the war years, we’d have major leaguers come play for us. One time, Jesse Owens, the sprinter, raced a horse at the stadium. He beat ’em.

Hokulani Holt-Padilla, Hawaiian Culture & Language Educator B.1951
Waiehu, Maui

I was born on O‘ahu, but I was hanai by my maternal grandparents and lived on Maui for the first five years of my life. I went back to Honolulu for schooling, but every vacation, I was back in Waiehu, in the Wailuku district.

The place I was raised, at that time, was considered country. There were about 15 families that lived right on the beach, in a bay known as Ka‘ehu. We probably would’ve been considered poor, but we didn’t know we were poor, because everyone else around us was the same way. We always had food to eat, people to play with, people who loved us.

We had a separate house where all the cousins slept when they visited, one long room with beds inside and a closet at the end. I had 50 first cousins. During the summer, we had a new batch visit every couple of weeks.

I learned Hawaiian as a language when I went to college, but I was around Hawaiian language all my life. My grandmother was pure Hawaiian, and my grandfather was half-Hawaiian, half-English. I was being raised in a basically traditional Hawaiian family. That meant they spoke Hawaiian to each other, but didn’t teach me to speak Hawaiian except for pule ‘ohana, evening and morning prayers, and a few words and phrases. The belief then was children should not speak Hawaiian and should be educated in a more Western way.

Jesus Salud, Former World-Champion Boxer B.1963
Nanakuli, O‘ahu

My family has two houses in Nanakuli, including the one I grew up in. My parents worked hard to do that and support eight of us kids. My father is a bellman at Sheraton—he still works there. My mom just retired from working at another hotel and a hospital.

All of my brothers and sisters hung out together—we swam at the beach, played football in the sand, hiked in the mountains. The only time we went home was to eat and then we’d go back out again. It was nice growing up in Nanakuli because, back then, everybody knew everybody.

My brothers all boxed. I started at age 9. One day, I went with my brother to Waipahu Gym, and I just liked it. It’s hard to explain—the adrenaline rush, the challenge, showing your skill. I liked getting good at it.

I was very dedicated. When I was in high school, I’d wake myself up at 5 a.m. and run five miles on the field at my school, Nanakuli High. After school, I’d go home and take the bus to Waipahu to train. I even worked the night shift at 7-Eleven for a while, but I had to quit. I was killing myself. My friends used to come over and want to go out or go clubbing in town. I couldn’t go—sorry, I’m training. They got tired of asking.

Leslie Wilcox, TV Newscaster B.1954
Niu Valley, O‘ahu

I was in third grade when we moved to Niu. It was a new subdivision. People would say, “You live out there? You live out in the boonies.” At the time, the valley before Hawai‘i Kai was the boonies.

What I remember most about my childhood there was a long pier off the Niu coastline. The beach there was rocky and filthy, but somebody had this beautiful pier that they allowed the neighborhood kids to use. That pier would take you over the coastline water, where you could get a coral cut and staph infection, and up to where you could surf, swim, spearfish or even sneak your first cigarette.

It was all things to all kids in that neighborhood. It seemed to be whatever I needed at the time. Whenever I wanted to be alone, I’d walk out on the pier and I was the only one on it. When I was looking for company, there was always a friend or two out there. More times than I care to remember, I would be sleeping on the pier after surfing and somebody would squirt me with a sea cucumber. I had the best talks with friends there, did my science experiments there—anything to justify being out there.

I’m sorry it’s not there anymore. It started falling apart and eventually was dismantled. My guess is a family built and maintained it, because it was right off their house. I never knew that family. I’d thank them if I could.

Rochelle Ballard, Professional Surfer B.1971
‘Oma‘o, Kaua‘i

I remember when there were only 20 houses in ‘Oma‘o. Now, there’s like 100. I was a tomboy. My friends, Miguel and Cody, lived down the street. We lived on a dirt road, and we’d ride bike to each others’ houses or play in the forest behind our house. The trees had lots of thick vines, so we played chase master on top of them. Their mom would pick me up after school and take me surfing when my mom was working.

Kaua‘i waves aren’t that easy to surf on. They can get dumpy. My stepfather and my mom bought me my first real surfboard when I was 12. The first time I actually had a proper wave, I was surfing with this guy, Craig Hoshide. I caught a wave all the way into the beach. From that moment, I was hooked. He had a twin-fin Progressive Expression board, swallow tail. That’s what I wanted, because he had it. I even got the same airbrush as him—lime green with yellow clear fins.

I remember the first time my mom took me down to PK’s (Prince Kuhio Beach)—that was the spot. Everybody used to surf there. The first time I went, though, I didn’t want to go out, because I was embarrassed to go with all of the boys. There weren’t any girls. I sat on the beach with my mom and she said, “Aren’t you going out?” I just couldn’t. But Miguel and Cody really got me into surfing. Once I started doing it, I was into it.

Harry Kim, Big Island Mayor B.1939
‘Ola‘a (now known as Kea‘au)

My father worked for the ‘Ola‘a Sugar Company, but we lived in the middle of a forest so he could farm when he got home. In the immediate area of a mile or two, there were only four families. I was born in a one-bedroom house without electricity or running water. No doctor for my mama.

I had five great sisters and two brothers. I was the baby, so no matter what kind of hardship I had growing up, it was Mickey Mouse stuff compared to my older brothers and sisters. When we came home from school, we went to work immediately. We picked lau hala from trees and weaved baskets and mats for my parents’ lau hala business. Everybody had chores regarding the farm, tending to the chickens and vegetables. I didn’t even know there were people who had weekends off for leisure.

But we were very lucky. There was beauty in being raised in the rain forest of ‘Ola‘a. We ate from what nature provided—hearing the pea (avocado) drop on our roof, picking up guavas as we walked to school, the mangos and bananas, coconut and ‘ulu. Our pets would be wild birds or wild dogs.

We didn’t have toys. We made slingshots and played games like who could run the fastest or who could climb the coconut tree first. It’s a lifestyle that you could talk about for a month and a year and a day. I tell you, there was so much joy.