Category Archives: Education

E Ola ka Lāhui Hawaiʻi Sovereignty Symposium with Hawaiʻi County Councilmember Jennifer Ruggles, Dr. Keanu Sai and Dr. ʻUmi Perkins

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Guest Lecture by Keanu Sai

Dr. Keanu Sai spoke in my course Protest under Occupation (PACE 450) in the Matsunaga Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa.

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This post is a guest blog from Kamehameha student Omari Kenyatta, who I think could become a new voice on the music (and perhaps music criticism) scene. 

During the 80s, in the time of extravagant musical experimentation swarming the studios of Sunset Boulevard, my father worked as a producer and audio engineer for RCA Records. He worked down the hall from Diane Warren, conjuring a similar arsenal of R&B-infused hip-hop, reggae and pop records.

Today, my dad’s work is far less flashy and sensational, but he insists that his new career is far more fulfilling.

Reducing his full collection of studio furnishings to a single Squier Strat and a copy of Cubase Pro housed on a hard drive proved to be a major challenge during my dad’s move from L.A. to Oʻahu. But as far as I can remember, he always made time to sit himself down and hold a late-night jam session for one.

Naturally, as I grew older, I would learn a few tidbits of general music knowledge in passing if we weren’t talking about it together. He would always tell me that all good music has some soul about it. Being that my dad is predominately African-American and raised in a Black environment, I always assumed it meant that he preferred R&B and soul music because it sounded better. One night, when I was around 12 or 13, he made it clear that he thought of “soul music” as a concept, not a genre. He explained that making music that is original and inspired transcends all genres, and most importantly, all racial identities.

A prominent difference you’ll notice right away between my father and I is that he, unlike me, is not a rock music kind of guy. I found my first personal tastes in the primal shouts and wails of Bad Brains and Black Flag and the punching fuzz guitars of Metallica and Marilyn Manson. Meanwhile, you’ll find my dad deep in the groove of a Parliament record or nodding his head contently to his Bob Marley: Legend cassette. But being that both of us seek and study talent, musicality, and inexplicable soul anywhere it would happen to exist, you’ll also find my dad’s back collection of Green Day CDs, and the giant Maggot Brain poster hanging just above my desk.

Observing this phenomenon in my own home granted me with a unique perspective to offer when older, self-proclaimed music aficionados of yesteryear began to accuse my generation of producing an ever-growing string of cheap music, completely devoid of any thought, talent or soul. Usually these critics stand behind the generalized assumption that “pop is dead”, or, assuming that it still somewhat alive, that “today’s pop music sucks”. For me and my dad, it was simple to point out that if you were to look beyond the surface of pop music that is so obviously written to sell, you’ll find that there are big-time acts out right now who write and play with the same quality and musicianship as those who have come before.

My dad and I first came to this sort of agreement listening to a live recording of the John Mayer Trio in an attempt to stay awake through a bout of heinous H-1 evening traffic. “Gravity” booms through the compact, but surprisingly powerful subwoofer in the cab of our F-150.

Drummer Steve Jordan rocks the song slowly into full swing with a deceptively simple 4/4 backbeat. We both marvel at Jordan’s masterful inclusion of a ghost triplet on the one that seemed to warm up the entire atmosphere of the track. And then, John picks out all of six notes in a subtle blues riff, and the rest of the band fills in the rhythm groove in the back. Each note flows into the next and speaks to an intangible feeling of ecstatic melancholia that is yet to be explored by the song’s lyricism. My dad observes that the entire song is built on small, modest nuances that anyone could play in an hour, but it is the control and phrasing of these nuances that propels the song forward into soulful territory.

Mayer croons:


Is working against me

He lets individual syllables ring out and register in the mind of the listener, and sets up a powerful extended metaphor, no more than eight words at a time. His guitar chimes in its higher register in the silence between line breaks. Pino Palladino’s bass accentuates the root chord of the progression and brings the chord circle home just in time for a new musing from the narrator of the song.

Absent a chorus, a bridge-of-sorts builds tension in each new verse:

Twice as much

Ain’t twice as good

And can’t sustain

Like one half could

It’s wanting more

Itʻs gonna send me to

My knees

Leading up to a point of both maximum and tension and minimal relief during the vibrant, flighty guitar solo.

Then another verse, holding back just a bit.

And then an explosive coda that dimly brightens an otherwise completely blue auditory landscape, with just five simple words:

(Keep me)

Home where the light is

Home where the light is

Home where the light is

Home where the light is

Repeating itself, gradually losing intensity, until everything returns to the silence from which it came.

Five minutes, five chords, one simple idea, infinitely open to personal interpretation-otherwise known as a basic formula for a fast-selling pop song. How can a few simple music theory tricks and guitar licks evolve the idea so drastically?

This can be found almost anywhere a listener dare venture, from Young the Giant to Lukas Graham. While guys like these may be far from the levels of success and viral fame enjoyed by mumble rappers and autotuned preteens, any listener with an open ear that can hear these miniscule differences can find something good within their own personal preference, including modern pop music.

Of course, at the end of the day, appreciation for any form of art is entirely personal. What separates good art from bad art is individual at its core. And what do I know? Iʻm just a kid. But if you choose to categorize an entire group, genre, or subdivision based on a few outliers that misrepresent their alignments, one could also choose to generalize a group based on their principles of good art and creativity.

Just like finding a few bad acts can easily result from actively seeking them out, finding these hidden gems can be just as easy.

Omari I.O. Kenyatta is a third-year student at Kamehameha Schools Kapālama High School, living Nānakuli, Hawaiʻi. He is the frontman and founder of alternative music project King Cave, and is currently developing a stage adaptation for Radiohead’s OK COMPUTER. 


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Americanization or Denationalization?

The presentation below was for Hina Kaʻōpua’s (daughter of Noelani Goodyear-Kaʻōpua) Senior project for Halau Ku Mana Public Charter School. It was done at the Kamehameha Schools’ Māʻili Learning Center.

The poem I reference in the presentation is below:

The Indian Student, or: Force of Nature

by Phillip Freneau

From Susquehanna’s farthest springs
Where savage tribes pursue their game,
(His blanket tied with yellow strings,)
A shepherd of the forest came.

Not long before, a wandering priest
Expressed his wish, with visage sad–
“Ah, why (he cried) in Satan’s waste,
“Ah, why detain so fine a lad?

“In white-man’s land there stands a town
“Where learning may be purchased low–
“Exchange his blanket for a gown,
“And let the lad to college go.’–

From long debate the council rose,
And viewing Shalum’s tricks with joy
To Cambridge Hall, o’er wastes of snows,
They sent the copper-coloured boy.

One generous chief a bow supplied,
This gave a shaft, and that a skin;
The feathers, in vermillion dyed,
Himself did from a turkey win:

Thus dressed so gay, he took his way
O’er barren hills, alone, alone!
His guide a star, he wandered far,
His pillow every night a stone.

At last he came, with foot so lame,
Where learned men talk heathen Greek,
And Hebrew lore is gabbled o’er,
To please the Muses,–twice a week.

Awhile he writ, awhile he read,
Awhile he conned their grammar rules–
(An Indian savage so well bred
Great credit promised to the schools.)

Some thought he would in law excel,
Some said in physic he would shine;
And one that knew him, passing well,
Beheld, in him, a sound Divine.

But those of more discerning eye
Even then could other prospects show,
And saw him lay his Virgil by
To wander with his dearer bow.

The tedious hours of study spent,
The heavy-moulded lecture done,
He to the woods a hunting went,
Through lonely wastes he walked, he run.

No mystic wonders fired his mind;
He sought to gain no learned degree,
But only sense enough to find
The squirrel in the hollow tree.

The shady bank, the purling stream,
The woody wild his heart possessed,
The dewy lawn, his morning dream
In fancy’s gayest colours dressed.

“And why (he cried) did I forsake
“My native wood for gloomy walls;
“The silver stream, the limpid lake
“For musty books and college halls.

“A little could my wants supply–
“Can wealth and honour give me more;
“Or, will the sylvan god deny
“The humble treat he gave before?

“Let seraphs gain the bright abode,
“And heaven’s sublimest mansions see–
“I only bow to Nature’s God–
“The land of shades will do for me.

“These dreadful secrets of the sky
“Alarm my soul with chilling fear–
“Do planets in their orbits fly,
“And is the earth, indeed, a sphere?

“Let planets still their course pursue,
“And comets to the centre run–
“In Him my faithful friend I view,
“The image of my God–the Sun.

“Where Nature’s ancient forests grow,
“And mingled laurel never fades,
“My heart is fixed;–and I must go
“To die among my native shades.’

He spoke, and to the western springs,
(His gown discharged, his money spent,
His blanket tied with yellow strings,)
The shepherd of the forest went.


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Violence, Ends and Means: Is the world getting more peaceful? Then why all the contempt?

According to The New Yorker’s Adam Gopnik, violence has decreased in a big way in urban settings. In 2016, 385 were killed in New York, compared with 2000 in a typical year in the 1970s. Other major cities have followed this trend.


Maya Soetoro-Ng, director of the Matsunaga Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution at UH Mānoa (my supervisor there and, incidentally, sister of Barack Obama) noted in a presentation to my students that there are currently 37 armed conflicts in the world. This is a 33% decrease from the 55 armed conflicts of just 15-20 years ago. Both then and now, the vast majority of these conflicts are civil wars. According to Francis Fukuyama (of “the end of history” fame), Civil wars occurred roughly every 50 years in England from 1066 until the late 1600s (about 1685).



Since then, inter-state wars raged, especially in the 20th century, but that gave way to more and more peace between states (that is, countries). The decrease of war in general, coupled with the rise (but only relative rise) of civil wars tell us two things: the nation-state as we know it may be in its twilight, and at the same time the world is getting safer and more peaceful.

All of this supports the seemingly outlandish claim of Stephen Pinker, author of The Better Angels of Our Nature (and more recently Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress), that violence is declining worldwide. So why does it seem that the opposite is happening? Could it be, as Michael Moore asserts in Bowling for Columbine, that it is simply the fear of violence that’s increasing?

In a talk at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, Arthur Brooks argued that the problem in politics today is not opposing views – that in itself is healthy in a democracy – the problem is an epidemic of contempt, which Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines as:

  • : the act of despising : the state of mind of one who despises : disdain glared at him in contempt

  • : lack of respect or reverence for something acting with contempt for public safety

  • : the state of being despised

Through their contempt, the two sides are so entrenched now that each has vilified the “Other,” in a way, dehumanizing them.

In the 1990s, I remember having a remarkably cordial conversation with a conservative (not conservative by today’s ludicrous standards perhaps, but no bleeding heart), middle-aged man from upstate New York, and being struck by how, on the topic of outcomes, we were in near total agreement. We all, it seems, want the same ends; dignity, opportunity for ourselves and our children, in short, a decent life. Where we differed was on the means to achieve these ends.


Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind: How Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion offers a bridge over the impasse, one that many, if not all sides of the debate find intriguing (the “New Atheists” in particular singly seem to despise the argument). Haidt:

goes about demonstrating why [mutual understanding] is such a difficult thing for us to achieve, and what the tools are that could make it possible. It’s a difficult read, not because of the style, but because the content may challenge you to accept that the ‘other side’ isn’t so bad after all, and that perhaps your own moralistic mind could do with a shake up.

London School of Economics Review of Books (UK). Review by Rebecca Litchfield.

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Misconceptions about the Overthrow

1. That Hawaiʻiʻs sovereignty was lost
Many think that Hawaiʻi lost sovereignty on January 17th 1893. Yet most also seem to know that annexation was five years later in 1898. This shows that what I call “double think” is operating when people think about the overthrow. Hawaiʻi, whether as the Kingdom or as the republic in 1898 was sovereign. If it wasnʻt, there wouldnʻt be any need for a treaty at all. (If a treaty wasnʻt needed, then why did the US try twice to get one?)


The Palace, Jan. 17, 2018

2. That the overthrow was inevitable
After the Provisional Government proclaimed themselves, Queen Liliʻuokalani still had control of the Police and the Royal Guard – in other words, all of the armed forces of the Hawaiian islands. So there was really no overthrow, there was a surrender by a head of state who was in full control of the government apparatus of Hawaiʻi, although the US Marines had temporarily occupied Honolulu.

Afterwards, Grover Cleveland negotiated an agreement of restoration with Liliʻuokalani, who, as she notes in her book Hawaiʻi’s Story, still considered her the head of state as late as December, 1893, a full 11 months after the overthrow.

Screen Shot 2016-07-20 at 10.20.00 AM

The statue of Queen Liliʻuokalani at the state legislature reads “Queen of Hawaiʻi 1891 – 1917”

3. That it was “US backed”
It is well-established that President Benjamin Harrison gave a green light for the overthrow, without explicitly saying the words. “If you people act as you have indicated, you will find an exceedingly sympathetic administration here.” There is also an encoded US document that, it is alleged, actually gives a plan for an overthrow, but this needs to be vetted by historians. What we have then, it seems, is a US, not a US-Backed, overthrow.

4. That its legality is debatable
Some people seem to have forgotten about the 1993 apology resolution (Public Law 103-150), which makes the illegality of the overthrow a settled issue. I havenʻt.

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Genealogies of the Postcolonial

A lecture from my course Indigenous Nonviolent Action in the Asia-Pacific.

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The World’s Most Important Living Intellectuals

I wrote in an article in The Hawaiʻi Independent that most Americans couldn’t name a single intellectual. When then-candidate George W. Bush was asked who his favorite philosopher was, he famously answered “Jesus,” suggesting that he, like most Americans couldn’t name a single philosopher. In this post, I attempt a quick and dirty remedy to this. This is not a list for intellectuals, who will ask “where’s Agamben, or Ranciere, or [insert their favorite  theorist]?” but a list of intellectuals:

Cornel West

“Without the presence of black people in America, European-Americans would not be “white”– they would be Irish, Italians, Poles, Welsh, and other engaged in class, ethnic, and gender struggles over resources and identity. (p. 107-108)”
― Cornel WestRace Matters

West is an intellectual who manages to balance popular relevance (he was in one of the Matrix films and did the DVD analysis track, along with Integral philosopher Ken Wilber – see below) and intellectual weight – a tricky balance. A “jazz man in the world of ideas,” his Race Matters, remains a critical text for negotiating the politically-correct halls of academe. A theologian by training, West has specialized in African-American – Jewish relations. West does not only engage in popular formats, he speaks in pop culture terms: he said regarding Obama that progressives expected of him John Coltrane and got Kenny G. He called Hillary Clinton “the Milli Vanilli of politics” – there’s no bigger insult, as far as I am concerned, than to compare someone to the group that almost single-handedly destroyed pop music my Senior year in high school.

His battle with Neo-Conservative Harvard President Lawrence Summers precipitated a return to Princeton, breaking up the greatest Afro-American Studies department in history. There he was a colleague of…

Henry Louis Gates

“The thing about black history is that the truth is so much more complex than anything you could make up.”
— Henry Louis Gates

An Afro-American Studies professor of mine at Harvard once hinted to me, somewhat scornfully, that Gates had a 40-page CV (academic resume). When I mentioned this to another academic acquaintance, she said “that sounds about right, for him.” As much a documentarian as a scholar these days, Gates’s most recent history of Africa may be his Magnum Opus.

Slavoj Zizek

We feel free because we lack the very language to articulate our unfreedom.

A Lacanian Marxist from Slovenia: this strange epithet is surprisingly descriptive of the Elvis of Cultural Studies, and yet inadequate. His apprenticeship to the enigmatic psychotherapist Jaques Lacan partly accounts, in my view, for Zizek’s seemingly endless string of insights into the underlying psychological bases of ideology – his main object of study. Zizek has a magnetic presence, an entertaining style, even, by his own admission, a “half-clown” persona. These make him a star on YouTube, the world’s number one website. But Zizek’s constant attention to popular culture (Star Wars, The Avengers, etc.) belie his status as a true philosopher – his The Sublime Object of Ideology is a tome to Hegel, the philosopher to whom all other moderns are merely footnotes. In this Big Think video, Zizek encourages us not to act, “just think:”

Gayatri Spivak

“Can the subaltern speak?”

A translator of Jaques Derrida, Spivak is in a way his intellectual heir. Her contributions to subaltern studies (the study of the powerless) shows the class power dynamic functions in academia. To illustrate the concept of how the global South (the so-called “third world”) is silenced, she used footnotes to compose an entire “subaltern” text in the “South” of the paper. A famous question she asks is “can the subaltern speak?” Her answer in the negative shows the entrenched nature of the very power structure she examines.

Alain de Botton

“We will cease to be angry once we cease to be so hopeful.”

Some may scream here “pseudo-intellectual!” but I disagree. de Botton was in the process of getting a PhD in French philosophy at Harvard when he was unceremoniously kicked out of the program for writing How Proust can Change your Life, which the department saw as a self-help book (he has a Master’s in philosophy from Cambridge University). “We do not write self-help books” was the response; de Botton once said “under different circumstances I might have been an academic” – he never looked back and has probably laughed all the way to the bank (his account in which is considerable being the son of a financier worth 250 million pounds). After several best-selling books he started the School of Life, a YouTube channel with some of my favorite videos and which is an actual school of practical philosophy, with campuses around the world. One of his contributions is to bring back the value of stoicism and even pessimism, as the epigraph to this section shows. As I wrote in “Philosophy as Therapy:”

Alain de Botton wrote The Consolations of Philosophy, which became one of the best-selling books on philosophy in recent years. He certainly has a knack for making the  field of philosophy practical for everyday use. Along with an accompanying series of videos, de Botton shows us how Schopenhauer can help us with love, Seneca with anger and fear, Montaigne with self-esteem, Epicurus with happiness, and Socrates with self-confidence.


Judith Butler

“There is no gender identity behind the expressions of gender; that identity is performatively constituted by the very “expressions” that are said to be its results.”

Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (1990)

Winner of the “Worst writing award” from New Republic, which didnʻt like what it saw as her excessive use of jargon, Butler nevertheless remains central to the field of gender studies. The worst writing award may be taken by some (possibly Butler “her”self) as a badge of honor showing mastery of the word-play of academia. Similarly, a recent video from The Onion parodied her contributions, but in a way that actually explains them:

Ken Wilber

“The point is to unify the opposites, both positive and negative, by discovering a ground which transcends and encompasses both.”

– Ken Wilber

Like de Botton, some will definitely object to Wilber’s inclusion in a list like this, because while Wilber’s influence has been immense, it has been entirely outside of academia.


Wilber is the architect of Integral theory, and the reasons for his exclusion from the academy are hinted at in this passage I wrote for the post “Integral 101:”

Integral theory is a map that integrates the major domains of reality: the physical (biology, physics), the social (sociology, anthropology, political science), and what could be called our interior (psychology, religion, philosophy), into a meta-system. And here is where it collides with one of the prevailing approaches of academia: postmodernism. Postmodernism is a view that allows for the simultaneous existence of multiple worldviews, even within an individual. It is suspicious of meta narratives, or grand narratives that claim to be independent of their cultural context. Because Integral makes this claim to be cross-cultural, it violates postmodernism’s prime directive. And yet Integral sees postmodernism as a high level of consciousness development, and it is this development that makes up the next component of Integral theory – [what Wilber calls “evolution.”]

Wilber’s integral influence has extended to Bill Clinton and (former UK Prime Minister) Tony Blair, UNESCO and Whole Foods Market.

Neil DeGrasse Tyson*

“The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.”
― Neil deGrasse Tyson

Director of the Hayden Planetarium Neil deGrasse Tyson has become a celebrity for skillfully using media, especially social media to bring popular understanding of science. His raison dʻetre:

“The problem, often not discovered until late in life, is that when you look for things in life like love, meaning, motivation, it implies they are sitting behind a tree or under a rock. The most successful people in life recognize, that in life they create their own love, they manufacture their own meaning, they generate their own motivation. For me, I am driven by two main philosophies, know more today about the world than I knew yesterday. And lessen the suffering of others. You’d be surprised how far that gets you.”

*This description is a place-holder while I wait for my colleague Robert Hutchison to send me his write up of Tyson.

Jurgen Habermas

Science can only be comprehended epistemologically, which means as one category of possible knowledge, as long as knowledge is not equated either effusively with the absolute knowledge of a great philosophy or blindly with scientistic self-understanding of the actual business of research.”

-Jurgen Habermas

The last remaining member of the classic Frankfurt School (Herbert Marcuse, Thodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer were the most prominent members), which began the ongoing analysis of popular culture. Habermas is, along with Badiou, Levy, and Chomsky, the last of the old-school intellectuals. He was adamantly opposed to postmodernism and had debates with Jaques Derrida, the founder of deconstruction. He had the following four critiques of postmodernism:

  1. The postmodernists are equivocal about whether they are producing serious theory or literature;
  2. Habermas feels that the postmodernists are animated by normative sentiments but the nature of those sentiments remains concealed from the reader;
  3. Habermas accuses postmodernism of a totalizing perspective that fails “to differentiate phenomena and practices that occur within modern society”
  4. Habermas asserts that postmodernists ignore that which Habermas finds absolutely central – namely, everyday life and its practices.

I started a group on Facebook called “Building an Intellectual Culture,” and in the description I cite Habermas:

The philosopher Jurgen Habermas came up with the idea of the public sphere, a public space in which ideas are informally exchanged – outside of universities and where coffee abounds. The idea for this group came out of a short article I wrote of the same name in the Hawaiʻi Independent. The group attempts to bridge the gap between the ivory tower and mainstream popular culture, which is increasingly anti-intellectual. The group holds Antonio Gramsci’s contention that an intellectual can be “any[one].”

Noam Chomsky

“The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum – even encourage the more critical and dissident views. That gives people the sense that there’s free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate.”

– Noam Chomsky


Chomsky’s influence is hard to describe – it is both massive and subaltern, suppressed. As I wrote in my review of his book Who Rules the World?

Chomsky is the founder of modern linguistics. It’s Einstein. And the linguist uses his field’s most powerful weapon: sarcasm. Politically, Chomsky is an Anarcho-syndicalist, or as he has confusingly put it: a “Libertarian Socialist” (most who know these terms would call that an oxymoron). Over time, I, like many others, have grudgingly come to respect Chomsky as perhaps the legitimate “world’s leading intellectual” – certainly he is the last of a great generation. He also may be the worldʻs most important ignored intellectual. While researching a piece I wrote for Summit magazine on Gore Vidal, I found a clip in which Vidal said that he and Chomsky tried to speak in Harvard Yard, put up flyers, and found them all torn down half an hour later – somehow, 3000 people still showed up. And there is the enigma of his celebrity – the love/hate relationship he has with his supporters and detractors may be precisely the sign of his greatness, or perhaps simply his breadth of thought.

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The Mānoa Academy: What Iʻve been up to

In a recent bio, I described myself as “Manoa Academy Scholar” mainly because this title combines two of the institutions Iʻm working at right now – Kamehameha Schools and UH Mānoa.

Over the past year or so, Iʻve been involved in a dual credit program in which High School students get college credit while in High School for courses taught by UH faculty. Being virtually the only Kamehameha teacher who is also UH faculty, I was at the vanguard of this program. Iʻm now about to begin my third course in this program, Ethnic Studies 221: Hawaiians (Intro to Political Science was offered previously). The video below describes the program, which is also partnering with the following schools:

  1. Henry J. Kaiser High School
  2. Kaimuki High School
  3. Kalani High School
  4. Kamehameha Schools Kapalama
  5. President Theodore Roosevelt High School
  6. Punahou School – Clarence T.C. Ching Pueo Program
  7. Saint Francis School

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Reading for Hawaiʻi Review #85 – “The Breach”

Hawaiʻi Review, the University of Hawaiʻi’s literary journal had a reading and launch on Saturday May 6th, 2017, for issue 85, entitled “Occupying Va.” The theme of a pair of issues (85 and 86) is the space between things, which has meaning for Pacific peoples. The readers included Kapena Landgraf, Lee Kava, the Hong Kong-based poet Wa Wa, Eric Paul Schaefer and myself.

My short story ‘The Breach” (read the full story here) is based on the true story of my motherʻs cousin, Charles Makekau Apo, a 1957 Kamehameha graduate who attended Harvard. As a veteran Kamehameha teacher and Harvard graduate, I thought I could get inside the head of someone who was very much a pioneer – it was extremely unusual for Kamehameha students, and Hawaiians to attend Ivy League colleges in the 1950s – and try to understand the struggles he may have been facing in terms of social norms, social class, and social capital. More generally, it is a story of the conflict, often internal, of Hawaiian, local and mainland haole norms and the imposition of one on the other, which, for Makekau (as he is called in the story), begins at Kamehameha and only continues at Harvard. Below is the excerpted version that I read from.

The Breach

By ʻUmi Perkins

This story first appeared in Hawaiʻi Review #85, Fall, 2016

Spring, 1952

The letter in the mail was thick. Addressed in pica type to Charles A. Makekau, the envelope read, “Harvard University – VERITAS” in Crimson, and was postmarked Cambridge, MA 02138. He’d been waiting all day, every day over spring break, doing nothing else. His heart pounded so hard he was sure his Japanese neighbors could see it beating in his chest. Back in the house, Charlie took his mother’s stainless steel letter opener and delicately sliced open the envelope, careful not to make any tears. The letter, on fine parchment, began: “Welcome to the Harvard class of 1956!”

The next day, feeling good, Charlie regarded himself in the mirror. He thought he looked Chinese with Hawaiian coloring and lips. His jet-black hair was slicked back and to the side. The overall effect was handsome enough. He looked at his body. His stomach was flat from youth but soft from indulgence and frailty. He thought of a girl he would see in Smith Library – something welled up in him, but he fought it off. He took a dress shirt off a hanger. He was appalled that men had recently started wearing florid blouses – he liked his shirts crisp and lily-white.

      In the last days of high school, he seemed to form an unspoken bond with the two boys who were going to Stanford, Jerry Kamoku and Randall Hoʻopiʻi. The popular boys gave him big grins and raised their chins toward him as they passed in the hallways of Paki and Bishop Hall, as if to say, “You’re one of us.” But they were athletes, going on baseball and track scholarships. Charlie was no athlete, nor was he on scholarship. He was going on brains, paying full tuition. But all agreed he was bound to be one of those success stories, a doctor in the new Honolulu, where racial boundaries were just beginning to loosen.

Fall, 1952

Charlie boarded the Clipper ship. Gaining speed along the water of Keʻehi Lagoon, the chopping ceased, and the pontoons lifted off the lightly rippled sea. He crossed the vast expanse of the Pacific. How could Hawai’i be a part of America if this separated it? It seemed endless, but he would come to know that it separated his home from another realm entirely, another world, not just far away, but alien.

A week later, Charlie got off a train in New York and took a bus to Boston. The campus straddled the Charles River, the first real river he’d seen. Old, but stately red brick buildings made the skyline jagged in a way not entirely different, he thought, from the way it may have looked in the seventeenth century. But the historic buildings were flanked and juxtaposed by Harvard Square, a mottled, steamy, miniature version of the more literate sections of Manhattan. He checked in to Elliot House. The common room had a grand piano. His suite had a Persian-style rug and a fireplace. His new roommates walked in gleefully, quickly pausing, seemingly taken aback by his appearance, and then just as quickly seeming to decide they would like him. “Hey buddy, I’m Alfred, Al…” “Harvey.” “I’m Charlie,” he said as he shook their hands haole-style, and a grin slowly appeared on his face, mirroring theirs. They were from Brooklyn and Long Island and had both gone to school in New Hampshire, at Exeter and St Paul’s. Harv Shapiro was the first Jew Charlie had ever met.

After an impossibly short time, Al said, “We’ve got to do something about your clothes!” They went to Brooks Brothers and got him fitted. He was dipping into monies he shouldn’t have this early in the year, but it was worth it. He would write to ma for more. After the measurements were taken and the suits ordered, Harv said “Now … to John Harvard’s!” and there was no refusing him. Charlie spent far more than he meant to on beer and whiskey that day. This became a Friday ritual.

There were two other boys from Hawaiʻi at Harvard, but they were from Punahou. He ran into one of them, Howard Brigham, at a finals club called The Fly. The young men there wore robes, smoked cigars, played pool and acted like kings. “Charles, isn’t it? From Kam School?” “Charlie.” Howard was with a group of other boys, and one of them said, “So you’re from Hawa-yah, eh?” Another said, “By the way, how are ya?” His laugh excluded Charlie. Howard laughed nervously. These Punahou boys were conflicted mavericks who rebelled against their families by not going to Yale. Noblesse oblige required them to be cordial to a Hawaiian, but networking meant sticking with the Blue Book families their grandfathers had met while lobbying for Hawaiʻi’s annexation. The kama’āina families cherished these connections above almost all else.

When he told Al and Harv of the encounter with Howard, Harv said, “Forget those goy snobs!” Al said, “Right. Besides, you’re almost there, Charlie …” Where he almost was he knew, and knew not. The next time Charlie saw him, Howard looked at him without recognition.

[Charlie] began to speak out in class about the inequities of life in Hawaiʻi and Puerto Rico, where they had taxation without representation. He even mentioned the unlikely rise of John Burns, a cop turned politician – actually he had lost every race so far – and how he had called Hawaiʻi’s system one of “economic strangulation.” He told the story of Joseph Kahahawai and the Massie Case, and how honor killings still took place in America’s fringes. His classmates, from Connecticut and Newport, downplayed his protests as anecdotal, not representative of American political life. But how could they know what life was like on the edge of American empire? How his hardscrabble Portuguese friends from small kid time, like Skippy Gomes, scratched out a living as newspaper boys in Kauluwela, their skin becoming wrinkled at eleven or twelve? Yet he was covetous of these scions of the East Coast establishment families. While he championed the Kauluwela boys, he grew unrecognizable and unintelligible to them, the last trace of Pidgin draining from his speech into the gutters of Harvard Square.

He got a D on a Zoology test and left the class feeling as if life was ending. It was his first D. He’d never gotten a C. When he complained to his roommates about his difficulties in his science classes, they tried to reassure him: “Small fish, big pond, all of that, old boy…” They were both business majors and had no academic troubles that would matter. They would go effortlessly on to Wall Street and summer in the Berkshires or on the Cape.

Spring, 1953

For the first time, he began to procrastinate. He erratically read philosophy – Descartes, Mill, Kant – in no order, with no plan, and when they weren’t assigned. It did help in barroom conversations to drop a philosopher’s name. (The ritual at John Harvard’s now included Wednesdays and Saturdays). “Kierkegaard claims…” made people think he was deep and erudite, and they began calling him “Charlie the barstool philosopher,” which gave him a certain perverse pride. It also made him feel phony, like the characters he’d heard about in Catcher in the Rye. He’d stumble home in the snow over the rough, uneven brick sidewalks, centuries old, questioning his own integrity aloud in front of Harv and Al, who gave each other significant looks over his stooped shoulders.

He bought a record player, and listening to music became an activity, not just background. Jazz was a revelation, especially this new jazzman John Coltrane. Charlie was thrilled to think Coltrane had been stationed in Hawaiʻi and made his first recording there. He felt sure that Coltrane had listened to the Kamehameha song contest in ‘46 – everyone in Honolulu huddled around their radios in those days to hear the classes compete on the Friday before Spring Break. How different his music was from those predictable songs! Every song ending in “Haʻina ia mai,” with no bridge or refrain. His roommates found Coltrane repetitive, but Charlie felt that in playing two adjacent notes over and over, back and forth, he was looking for the space between them. When A Love Supreme came out, it was obvious that his playing was a spiritual practice and Charlie wondered if that space between the notes was, for Coltrane, where God resided.

He began to work in the Elliott House gardens, though he had shown no inclination towards plants before. He was now taking Botany, but it seemed to bear no relation to real practice. He even learned how to weed the flowers and get the dead material off, revealing the fresh plant beneath, and casting off the chaff. The deadwood was tossed to the side of the building, forgotten. All this was to avoid his chemistry work, and it tore at his insides like a spade.

Summer, 1953

It took a week to make the trip, cutting his summer short on both ends. On the Road had come out and he thought of his cross-country train ride as a Kerouacian misventure. He was far too timid to hitchhike or even drive. Kerouac’s prose, though, burned with an intensity he felt but could never match.

America stretched out in its endless sameness, except for the Rockies and California, where vistas were breathtaking compared to his truncated island world. America wasn’t really states, as they’d been taught at Dole Elementary, he realized, but regions – the green and rocky East, the brown, flat Midwest, the grey Western plains. But, the Pacific! What was once simply endless now began to feel more like home than Cambridge or Honolulu. The breach, he called it. He felt he was crossing seas and centuries. He wasn’t entirely comfortable in his skin or his suit in the East or in the islands, but here, in this space that America claimed to bridge, but he knew could not, nothing welled up nor needed to be fought back.

Many years later, his cousin recalled that at family gatherings, in the heat, Charlie had worn his Brooks Brothers suit, a felt hat. And carried a walking stick.


Before Christmas, Charlie asked Al to drive him to the train station, since his trunk would be hard to take on the T with all his new clothes. Al demurred, making a lame and transparent excuse about his sister, who Charlie knew was at Wellesley and had her own car. Charlie felt an overwhelming nausea that was a kind of revulsion at the thought that everyone, despite all the “Buddy” and the “Hey pal,” was entirely out for themselves. It started at the bridge of his nose and sank to his stomach and made him feel seasick. He found it hard to breathe. It dawned on him that he’d been a project, one Al had now given up on. He felt he would never be there, and everyone, other than he, had known it all along.

Christmas, 1953

The letter in the mail was thin. It read “Harvard University – VERITAS” in blood-crimson. Veritas – truth. His nose turned up into a sneer as Charlie took the letter opener again and carefully slit the edge. Though he saw it coming – he hadn’t been asked to go home last Christmas – his head spun. This last time over the breach would be his last. The only part of the letter he remembered later was “You will always be part of the Harvard class of 1956.”

He fell into an abyss, and only left his room to raid the liquor cabinet or throw up in the bathroom. When the hards were gone, he went for the wine, some of it his father’s vintage. His mother only confronted him on Christmas Eve, when he chose to make one of his forays to the wine rack. She was beside herself and more disheveled than he’d seen her, making preparations for Christmas. She looked as if she scarcely recognized him. He was pale and bloated, his eyes shadows. “What you tink you going do now?” His lip curled into the kind of wicked smirk he’d seen at the finals club. “What I …tink?” Their eyes locked, and he knew what she was thinking. She had passed the English standard test to get into Roosevelt, only one in her family, and Pidgin only slipped out in the most fraught moments. He softened his look, and hers turned to a panicked beseeching. He turned into his room, sat on the bed he never left, and downed two glasses. He thought of the breach of his trust and the false bill of goods he’d been sold, for which he’d willingly paid his family and culture. He thought of the turmoil on both sides of the Pacific, and how neither side could ever understand the other. The unknowing innocents on this side and the clever wicked – unknowing of his world – on the other. And then, the Pacific between. The peace of it took his breath away and he fell, ineffably, into the breach.

Keola came over the next day. He went into Charlie’s room because his mother would not. He came out and, without looking at her, shook his head, wordlessly staring at the floor.

The official cause of death was an asthma attack. Everyone was at the funeral: Keola, Uncle Joe, Pop Diamond, Grace Lee, Jerry Kamoku, even Dr. Oleson. They offered their condolences to his mother: “He was a fine, brilliant and cheerful young man…” She wondered why they came if they didn’t know him. He was buried at Puea Cemetery in Kalihi, three plots over from Joseph Kahahawai. Kahahawai’s grave reads: “Born December 25, 1909, killed January 8th, 1932.” Charlie’s reads: “Born December 8th 1932, died December 25, 1953.”


Luriyer “Pop” Diamond’s book Images of Aloha is dedicated to two Kamehameha graduates, Randy Hoʻopiʻi and Charles Makekau Apo, “whose lives were far too brief.”


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