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Interview with Kim Sueoka




Kim Sueoka was born in Kaua'i, Hawaii. She was a trained musician and singer. SUBJECTS DISCUSSED: Early life in Hawaii and family history - picture brides and how her family came to Hawaii - education - singing and music - traditional Hawaiian music - coming to the Evansville, Indiana to study music therapy - coming to Minnesota - identifying herself as a Japanese American - working as a freelance singer and as part of the Rose Ensemble as a story teller and performer - religion - going back to Hawaii - comparing living in Minnesota to Hawaii - controversy around singing ancient Hawaiian songs - goals for the future, to be and making her career in the arts work financially.





World Region



Asian American & Pacific Islander
Oral History Project
Narrator: Kim Sueoka Interviewer: David Zander



Cover design: Kim Jackson Copyright © 2012 by Minnesota Historical Society All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy and recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the Oral History Office, Minnesota Historical Society, Saint Paul, Minnesota 55102.

The Asian population of Minnesota has grown dramatically since 1980, and in particular during the period from 1990 to the present. The Asian community is one of the largest and most diverse in the state, and is particularly noteworthy because its growth has been spread across such a wide spectrum of ethnic groups. The Minnesota Historical Society and the Council on Asian Pacific Minnesotans formed a partnership to create a series of projects of oral history interviews with Asian community leaders. The projects are intended to help chronicle the history, successes, challenges, and contributions of this diverse and highly important group of Minnesotans. During the past twenty years the Minnesota Historical Society has successfully worked with many immigrant communities in the state to ensure that the stories of their arrival, settlement, and adjustment to life in Minnesota becomes part of the historical record. While the Society has worked with the Asian Indian, Tibetan, Cambodian and Hmong communities in the recent past, the current project includes interviews with members of the Vietnamese, Filipino, Lao and Korean communities, with more planned for the future. These new projects have created an expanded record that that better represents the Asian community and its importance to the state. The project could not have succeeded without the efforts of a remarkable group of advisors who helped frame the topics for discussion, and the narrators who shared their inspiring stories in each interview. We are deeply grateful for their interest and their commitment to the cause of history.

James E. Fogerty Minnesota Historical Society

Kao Ly Ilean Her Council on Asian Pacific Minnesotans


Kim Sueoka in 2012 with an ipu a Hawaiian implement.


Kim and her sister, Stacey on "Hinamatsuri" (Japanese Doll's festival) in 1986.


Kim dancing hula at a May Day celebration at Koloa Elementary School, Kaua'i, Hawai'i, 1990.



Kim's father's Kanreiki (60th birthday) party in 1991.

Kim’s High School Graduation in 1996.



Kim dancing at an Obon Festival (Japanese festival commemorating deceased ancestors) on Maui, 2002.



Kim at hula practice on Kaua'i with members of the Rose Ensemble, 2005.

Cleaning ogo (edible seaweed) with Grandma and Stacey on Maui, 2008.



After a performance with The Royal Hawaiian Band, Honolulu, 2008.


Kim and members of The Rose Ensemble after a school program in Hawaiian music, 2011.

Kim with members of Lau Hawaiian Collective, Minneapolis, 2011.



Kim Sueoka Narrator David Zander Interviewer March 9, 2012 Minnesota History Center Saint Paul, Minnesota

Kim Sueoka David Zander


DZ: We are at the Minnesota History Center and it is Friday, March 9th. Kim, would you please tell me your full name and where and when you were born? KS: Sure. My full name is Kimberly Yoshia Sueoka. I was born at Wilcox Memorial Hospital in Lihu‟e, Kaua‟i. My family lives on the South Shore of Kaua‟i in the towns of Koloa and Po‟ipu. DZ: I love to ask people for their first memory. So as a young girl what were your first memories? KS: I sometimes wonder about this memory. [Chuckles] But my very first one is of being in one of those little children‟s pools that, you know, the rubber pools that you blow up. And the water was really warm and there were bubbles in it. So I think my mom must have put soap or something in the water. And it was wonderful. That‟s probably the earliest thing I can remember. [Chuckles] DZ: Were you outdoors? KS: Yes, it was outside and it was a warm day, lots of sun. DZ: Describe the house that you were living in then and how far from the ocean was it? KS: The house that I grew up in until I was about eleven was in Koloa Town. It was right behind our family‟s grocery store, about three miles, three and a half miles from the ocean, from the South Shore. There was a stream called Waikomo that runs alongside the store. It‟s still there. It varies in its flow and height of the water. At time the water is down to, you know, six or twelve inches and when it rains really heavily in the mountains the water goes up ten, twelve feet. KS: So there are some pretty high bridges that people walk and drive over in that area. And Waikomo flows out into the ocean down in Po‟ipu near Whalers Cove. 24

DZ: How did your family ancestors first get to Hawaii? KS: They were contract workers for the sugar plantation. My father‟s family is on the island of Kaua‟i and my mother‟s family on the island of Maui. Two of my great-grandmothers on my mother‟s side were picture brides. So their husbands came as contract workers in the sugar industry and then they sent home for brides. And they had never met them until they arrived. DZ: So who was the very first on either side that came? KS: This is a great question. My mom sent me some notes. It was probably on my father‟s side. They all came in the 1880s and 1890s. And these are my great-grandparents from. . . It‟s different on each side. KS: My father‟s mother was born on Kaua‟i. Her parents were born in Japan and moved to Kaua‟i. But then when she was about six or eight years old they moved back to Japan and she lived there with them for several years before moving back to Kaua‟i when she was a teenager. And then my grandfather, my father‟s father, was born in Japan in Yamaguchi Ken and came over, I think, he was already an adult when he came over and worked in a store, grocery store. And then started his own grocery store. DZ: I was excited when I googled the town where you‟re from and I saw your family name come up! KS: Oh! Yes. [Laughs] DZ: [Chuckling] And it said, “Best place to eat upon the island.” KS: Oh, yes! [Laughs] DZ: So there‟s a lot of history there about sugar plantation workers and picture brides. Very, very interesting. Tell us more about picture brides. KS: Sure. I think the original intent for most of the contract workers, from Japan anyway. The end goal was always to return back to Japan. And so the idea of sending home for a mate meant it would be more likely for you to have somebody you could return to Japan with. And live with for the rest of your life. And so I think that was the main impetus behind it. Plus there were language issues, too. In Hawaii we had plantation workers from many different cultures and sometimes language barriers were tricky. If people didn‟t all speak English or didn‟t all speak Hawaiian or Japanese or Chinese. And so, from what I understand, everybody‟s experience is so different. My one great-grandmother who talked the most about her experience as a picture bride described it as a really rough experience, you know. She was told these amazing things about Hawaii and it being paradise and it being, you know, so friendly and so green. And she vividly recalled sailing in on the boat and seeing nothing but trees and not being able to understand people and feeling 25

very forlorn and alone there, even after meeting her new husband. And so it‟s hard for me to even fathom that! But they built a really amazing life together and had a family. And I think that‟s the biggest reason why a lot of Japanese immigrants didn‟t return, and probably a lot of other immigrants, too, didn‟t return to their home countries. Because once you start having children and have others to support, it becomes much more of a financial difficulty to move the whole family back home. DZ: In your immediate family how many brothers and sisters do you have? How large was your family? KS: Sure. My immediate family is just me and one sibling, my sister, Stacey; she‟s seven years younger than I am. My father has four children from his first marriage. And they are Steve, Sandra, Cindy, and Karen. And two of them live on Kaua‟i now. The other two live in California. DZ: So your father‟s second wife is your mother? KS: That‟s right. DZ: And a sister, Stacey. And were you all together, with the others? KS: No. Steve, my brother, our half-brother, lived with my parents, my mom and dad for about a year, like right around the time I was born. And then I think he turned eighteen right around then, and so he moved out. And the others were living with their mom. And so besides that short amount of time when I was an infant, we‟ve never lived in the same household. All six of us. DZ: A big question that comes up with Samoans. Kim. Can you swim? KS: [Laughs] Can I swim!? I‟m learning to swim now that I live in Minnesota! KS: I loved swimming. I took swimming lessons and loved being in the water. So much as a child. But never really learned to swim. . . sustainably. [Laughs] Because in the ocean you don‟t really have to swim laps or anything like that. And the salt really lifts you. And so I found after moving to the mainland that I sink like a rock! And I have to work really hard to stay up. And so I‟ve been actually swimming a little bit more in the last few years [laughs] in the pool. To learn how to swim laps. DZ: So you played in the water, went to the beach. . . What other games do you remember playing? KS: Games. [Chuckles] There were some silly outdoor things like at all of the elementary schools, you know, everything was outdoors, unlike how a lot of schools are here. And so we‟d play this game called pole-master, which is basically the same as, you know, tag. Anytime you were holding or touching a pole, which is what they usually had to hold up the roof, you know, along the walkway or something or along the side of a building. You were safe! [Laughs] 26

KS: And we played lots of just outdoor things. We climbed trees, and we fished, played in the dirt. DZ: Fishing from the beach, from the rocks? KS: Yes, fishing, and also in the little stream by the store. My parents had a pond in the back, like a man-made pond in the back of our house that had koi in it. And so I spent a lot of time back there just hanging out and wading in the pond and feeding the fish with my hands. [Chuckles] And things like that. DZ: So growing up did you help in the Sueoka family store? KS: Yes, I did. I helped mostly in the produce department. Just cleaning vegetables and helping rotate product. And then later on. . . the restaurant. We have a takeout restaurant on the side of the store that my Auntie Lily started when she moved home from New York. She was living in New York for twenty-something years as a Kindergarten teacher. She moved home and decided she wanted to start this restaurant, and so I would help in the restaurant a little bit, growing up, too. And then in the summers when I was home from college also. DZ: Let‟s explore going to school. What kinds of schools were there? Where did you go to school first? KS: Sure. I attended a preschool called the Children‟s Center in Koloa Town and it was inside. . . or part of the church building, Koloa Union Church. And then elementary school was Koloa, Koloa Elementary School, on the same road as the preschool. And then Kaua‟i High School and Intermediate School for seventh grade and up. I went to college in Evansville, Indiana. The University of Evansville. And then came here to Minneapolis for graduate work. DZ: So you left to come to college when you were eighteen? KS: Yes. I think I had just turned eighteen. It was right after high school graduation. I spent a summer. [Pauses] I spent that summer working at the store, getting ready, and then moved up to Evansville in August of that summer and started school. DZ: Prior to leaving for college. What were your interests in high school and how were things shaping up for you career-wise? KS: Yes. That‟s a great question. I come back to thinking about this a lot, actually. I was thinking about becoming an educator of some kind. I was really, really interested in special education while I was in high school. And so during, I think, both my junior and senior years, I spent one class period a day with the special ed. Students. I don‟t even remember what they called me. But, you know, just assisting with different tasks that they were working on and things like that. But I was also so immersed in music. I started singing when I was in elementary school and played in the band for a little while, in intermediate and high school, and then 27

switched back to singing. And I just couldn‟t stop; I just loved it so much. So somebody told me about music therapy. Back, you know, when I was a junior in high school, and they said, “You know, since you really enjoy working with the special ed. students so much, and you love music, maybe you want to do something that combines or could possibly combine working with people and having music. So I looked for a school that had a music therapy program. DZ: So that‟s what drew you to Evansville. . . looking at Evansville. KS: Yes. And at the time, Evansville had only had a music therapy program for a few years. So it was pretty new. But they were offering a joint music therapy, music ed. degree, and so that‟s what I started out doing. DZ: So, backtracking a bit there, music, singing. . . were you singing in elementary school. KS: Yes. DZ: Was it a choir? KS: Yes, actually. Well, at first it was just for fun, you know. We had this really awesome program that the state department of education funded called the. . . I think it was just called the Kupuna Program. Kupuna means elder in Hawaiian. And they would bring people in from the community to teach us little songs and vocabulary and games and all kinds of things to get us more acquainted with our Hawaiian culture. You know, just wonderful. I think that almost all the way through elementary school we had a kupuna. Maybe up to like fourth or fifth grade. And the kupunas weren‟t the same every year, so that was kind of neat, too. So that was, a lot of singing, but just for fun. And then in sixth grade one of the teachers I admired so much, Mrs. Millie Wellington started a theater choir and dance group called the Silver Lining. And so I was in that for my last year of elementary school. DZ: Silver Lining. KS: From the Judy Garland song. [Sings] “Look for the silver lining. . .” I can‟t remember what movie that‟s from. Theater, dance, and music. And so she had three different staff, teachers, to work with us in each of those areas. DZ: Very interesting. The kupuna, were these traditional Hawaiian women or all kinds of cultures? KS: All kinds. . . mostly people with Hawaiian heritage or some kind of background in hula or other Hawaiian types of arts. So. . . actually, my late kumu or teacher, who I studied with as an adult, his name was Pohaku Nishimitsu. He was a kupuna in the elementary schools for many years, but he was very young. And he did all kinds of really active things with the kids that he worked with. He would take them down to the beach and teach them how to make their own ipu, which is a gourd. . . you know, hollow gourd instrument for hula dancing. And he would take them on excursions to look at things in the streams, different kinds of plants and animals. And so 28

every kupuna was kind of different. And I don‟t remember exactly how a person became a part of that program. But the ones at our school were mostly women who were probably in their sixties. DZ: So Pohaku Nishimitsu was a big influence on you. Could you spell his name out? KS: Sure. Pohaku. P-O-H-A-K-U. And over the O in his name there‟s a little horizontal line. So it elongates that vowel, Pohaku. And then his last name is Japanese, actually. N-I-S-H-I-M-IT-S-U. DZ: Was the ipu a gourd that you would tap? Like a hollow wood. . . KS: There are a couple different kinds. The ones that he taught the students to make were gourds for standing dancing. I guess in diameter anywhere from eight inches to sometimes, you know, a foot. And then they come up and narrow at the top. And you play it by holding the narrow neck in one hand and slapping the bottom for the bass note, and then slapping the side for a treble-y higher pitched note. And the most common rhythm is bass, treble, bass, treble, treble. Bass, treble, bass, treble, treble. And there are variations on that, depending on the dance. DZ: Do you have an ipu? KS: I do. I actually have one my sister made. Yes. DZ: Perhaps we could get a picture of it for this narrative. KS: Sure. DZ: So music was getting very deep in your soul, and these teachers an important influence, and music therapy was now considered as an area to go to. Shall we leave Hawaii now and come to Evansville? [Chuckles] Is there anything else you‟d like to say about that? KS: Yes. I guess the only thing I would say is that at this point, like right before leaving Evansville, I had become really. . . really interested in Western classical music. So I was really interested in, you know, some of Mozart, and then the romantic art song composers and things like that. I had this wonderful teacher named David Conrad who was my choir instructor and my voice teacher in high school. And he really propelled me toward just learning about Western music. And so I stopped being as involved in learning about Hawaiian music. And really dove into the sort of Western classical training that you get in a lot of colleges! [Laughs]. . DZ: So music therapy was there, with an interest in Western music. Did you have to audition for Evansville? KS: Yes, I did. Actually, they let me audition by tape. So I did that. And then once I was accepted we took a trip as a family out there to see the school. My sister and my parents. And it 29

was clear to us that it was a good choice. It was such a small campus and really warm, hospitable faculty. It seemed like just the perfect place to go for a little girl from a little town, you know. DZ: What‟s the size of the campus, student body? KS: The student body at that time was between twenty-five and twenty-seven hundred. Very small. DZ: Where is Evansville? KS: It‟s in Southern Indiana. Way down where it comes down to a tip, a little point. It‟s right in there near the Henderson, Kentucky border. DZ: What did you have to do for your audition? KS: I don‟t remember exactly, but I think because I was auditioning for both voice, you know, and. . . and, you know, my music education and therapy, they wanted to hear whatever I felt like I could do strongly. So I think I did two pieces of vocal music. Maybe a Mozart and a Gabriel Fauré, you know, art song. And then a piano, a Bach piano solo, I think, from the Well-Tempered Clavier, probably. DZ: Let‟s see, Mozart, Bach, that I understand. But there was an art song. . . KS: I think I may have also done an art song by Gabriel Fauré. A French composer. DZ: So you went to Evansville, a small campus. You‟re in a specific program. Anybody else from Hawaii on this campus? KS: That‟s a great question! I think, when I got there, there were two other people from Hawaii. And we formed like, you know, a little group. But it was so busy with school that we only got together maybe once or twice. And then in the following years we kept trying to do that. I wish I could remember their names. We didn‟t really get to know each other well. Different majors. . . Really get to know each other. I know that towards the end of my time at Evansville, this girl, Cindy Ozaki, who I knew as a child for a little while, ended up going to the University of Evansville. She was a few years behind me. But that was really exciting to hear that she was coming. And then when she got there, she did not major in music, so I didn‟t see her very much once she got there. DZ: So coming to college, were you living in a dorm? KS: In Evansville, yes. DZ: Were you there four years? KS: Yes. 30

KS: I was there for four years. [Chuckles] I loved it. The first year I was in one of the oldest dorms, where they put a lot of freshmen. But it was great because there‟s no air conditioning and it was just the no-frills dorm. And there were tons of international students there. And so there were always like cool and weird smells of food from the kitchen downstairs. [Laughs] I loved it. I got to know a lot of people. DZ: I am very interested to see how your career evolved. . . So you graduated and were looking for a job. How did you come to Minnesota? KS: I was looking for graduate schools, you know, as I was finishing up at Evansville. And I had applied to several and auditioned at several, and the first round didn‟t go so well. [Chuckles] So I sent out several audition packets to different places, and I was pretty set on going to Baylor University in Texas. They offered me an assistantship and some other opportunities. And they had a great teacher there that my teacher knew from Evansville. And then the University of Minnesota called . . And I hadn‟t sent all of my, final anything yet to Baylor, and I just got a gut feeling about it. And I don‟t. . . I still don‟t really know… things could be all kinds of different ways. But I felt like I was supposed to come here. . . I wanted to come here. So I came here without ever having visited Minnesota. DZ: What year was this? KS: 2000. DZ: So and what year did you go to Evansville? KS: I was in Evansville from 1996 until May of 2000. I spent part of that summer in Italy studying art song and opera. It was like a two-month program before I came here. DZ: There was a question I wanted to ask you right at the beginning. . . [Sighs] . . . Every time I say something, people say, “Oh, where are you from?” Or, you know, they want to know if I‟m English, Australian. How do you identify yourself if people ask you about your ethnicity, culture, what do you say? KS: That‟s a really good question. I usually say I‟m Japanese-American and I was born and raised in Hawaii. It‟s a long answer, but I feel like it‟s the most accurate one. Because. . I feel like both of those cultures are so much a part of my identity. What do you say? DZ: I say I‟m from West London. [Chuckles] everybody knows about East London and Cockney accents, but I‟m from West London more closer to Heathrow Airport. So I‟m a Londoner. [Chuckles]. 31

KS: [Laughs]. DZ: So you identify yourself as Japanese American heritage from Hawaii. And there‟s a lot to explain to people about that. Okay, so you came to Minnesota for graduate school. Was this the music department? KS: Yes. And by this time. . . [chuckles] I guess halfway through my time at Evansville, I switched my major to music performance because I was just singing so much and really loving it. And so what I came here for was a master‟s degree in music performance. DZ: Were you thinking about opera? You mentioned going to Italy. KS: Yes. I was thinking about it. And I still do think about it sometimes. My voice, my instrument, I don‟t think, is entirely cut out for that. It‟s such a strong sound and. . . it has to be. And so I haven‟t really done very many productions since then, maybe just three or four. I have enjoyed it every time, but I just know that if I wanted to do it as a career I would need to somehow grow my voice bigger. DZ: So finding the right genre is the task? KS: I would say, yes, genre, the right fit, the right niche. For where your voice, where your instrument can really lend something to the world, I think is so important... We don‟t always talk about that in college, but everybody has a place. I think no matter what their career is. And it so happens that some people who have smaller voices really thrive in smaller chamber ensembles or doing more solo work . . . when you don‟t have to really fight to build your career, it‟s really lovely. DZ: A lot of your story interests me. In teacher‟s training college, for some reason, I was very interested in folk tales. Why do we teach children myths? Nobody had an answer for me in the English department. Their emphasis was on literature. But I later found my way into a subculture of storytellers So, I agree, it‟s all about finding that genre, finding that fit. So you came for a master‟s program. When did you finish that? KS: It took me a little while. I took a break. So when I finally finished, it was 2006. I took a break to sing. I think it was in 2003 that I got hired to sing with the Rose Ensemble. This is this early music vocal group in Saint Paul. And it‟s a touring ensemble. So I left graduate school for a couple of years to do a lot of that. And then just went back to finish up what was needed, my final things. DZ: So tell me about how you found your way to the Rose Ensemble. Did you hear them perform? Did you know about them? KS: Yes. I had heard about them from people at school. I hadn‟t heard them perform yet. When I heard about there being an opening. And it was actually by word of mouth. I had just started 32

singing professionally in 2001, a year or two after coming here. And I was just picking up freelance gigs and working . . . as a church soloist and doing things like that. And so at one of those pickup gigs, I met a couple of people who also sang in the Rose Ensemble. And so in 2003 one of the other sopranos, Kathy Lee—she‟s one of my dearest friends now, actually—she decided to take a year of leave because her son was starting Kindergarten and they needed a soprano to replace her for a year. And so this other singer from the Rose Ensemble said, “Hey, I think you should probably audition for this year-long position.” And so I did that. And I thought for sure it would just be a year, you know. And when Kathy got back I would just do something else. But then when she came back, one of the other women left. And so I stayed and I have been with the group ever since then. DZ: What does the Rose Ensemble do? KS: I love that you talk about storytelling, because I think that what we do is musical storytelling. Our programming is thematic most of the time, unless we get asked to do something more, you know, mixed, but pretty much all of our programs center around a historical figure or a time period or a place. And just dig into the music that surrounds that theme. So we have a program of music all dedicated to Saint Francis of Assisi, Renaissance and Medieval stuff. We have a Slavic program that has Eastern European and Russian music from I think it‟s the late Baroque period. Programs like that. Programs that center around a historical figure like Queen Christina of Sweden. All kinds of really cool and interesting work. And so Jordan. Jordan Sramek, our director, does a lot of research to find material. Sramek, it‟s a Czech name. DZ: Who founded Rose Productions and when? KS: Jordan is the founder and artistic director of the Rose Ensemble. And I think there are still four other members of the group who are founding members who started the group with him. In 1996. DZ: Rose Productions, local, based in the Twin Cities, how would you describe it? A musical group, a choral group. . .? KS: It‟s a small vocal group. Twelve, usually between eight and twelve voices, depending on the program. And then we‟ve got two pretty regular instrumentalists who play with us. Ginna Watson does historical string instruments. And then David Burk is our other instrumentalist who does a lot of shows with us, and he plays Middle Eastern „ud and then he also plays guitar and ukulele on our Hawaiian-themed program. And then we hire on different other musicians, instrumentalists and vocalists for different projects depending on what forces are needed. DZ: So it sounds like you‟ve worked on a lot of thematic programs with them. Tell me about how you use water as a theme. Is that a current one?


KS: Yes, it‟s very current. It‟s not associated with the Rose Ensemble. My water songs project is like the oral history project actually also funded by the Legacy funding. And it‟s funded by a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board. KS: The Artists Initiative Grant. I wanted to do more Hawaiian music, and I wanted to be able to try out being in charge of a project, and try out my own thematic programming outside of the Rose Ensemble. [Chuckles] And so I applied to do this show [laughs] called Na Mele Wai. And it means “the songs for water,” or, “songs about water.” And I don‟t even know exactly why and how this project came about, but I was just thinking about what similarities Hawaiian culture and Minnesota culture have. And I thought there is this really cool song that my kumu Pohaku taught us which is just asking what water is for. And while he was teaching us this song. . . it‟s a hula chant, he said, “You know, Minnesota has lots of water names. In all of their towns. . . and there‟s all those lakes and it‟s really like an appropriate place for a person from Hawaii to live, you know.” To be surrounded by water in this other kind of way. And he said, “Just think about it. How many fresh water words are there in Minnesota and look at Hawaii. The word wai is everywhere in Hawaii, too. Wailua, Waikiki, all of these. . . all of these place names that have the fresh water word in them.” And so I was thinking about him and I was thinking about what would be a good project to do in Minnesota, and I thought, there has got to be tons of stuff we can do with water songs. And so I applied for some money to do a program that‟s all Hawaiian fresh water songs. It‟s from traditional Hawaiian music . . . most of it is from the late 1800s, early 1900s, and what we did was just take those songs and arrange them for voice, guitar, [unclear], bass, and for some songs we have another backup vocalist. And we added glass harp. [Chuckles] Which I thought would be nice to have another water instrument. DZ: So how do you collect material, find material? Are there music archives where it was collected, the older, early 1800s songs? KS: I ended up looking through a couple of different sources. There‟s a really wonderful book of traditional Hawaiian lyrics. . . I think it‟s just called Na Mele o Hawai'i Nei. So mele is the word for song. Or it actually could just refer to poetry, too. DZ: Mmmm. KS: And that collection was compiled by, I think, [Samuel H.] Elbert and [Noelani] Mahoe. It‟s an authoritative source. And so I just looked through that and just skimmed through lots of different translations and titles of songs. And already was finding, you know, things I wanted to look into. And so after looking there, I tried to dig up the sheet music or find recordings that I could, you know, at least 34

listen to the melodies and transcribe them so that we could, you know, put our own ideas together. DZ: So have you performed Na Mele Wai? KS: Ah, yes, Na Mel Wai. In that case, it‟s pronounced with a V. We‟ve performed it a number of times now. We started performing it in August of last year; the Lake Harriet Band Shell, I think, was our first show. We‟ve done it in a few different venues since then just because people have heard about the project. The grant actually only funded two performances, the one at Lake Harriet and then the one that we‟re going to do in May, which is our CD release concert. But we‟ve had some other really great opportunities to share it at the Riverview Café and the Black Dog Café a couple of times. And with the Minnesota Guitar Society‟s local artists concert series, the Schubert Club‟s hospital series. We‟ve done it a few times, and it‟s been really fun. So I hope we keep doing it. And we just recorded it, too, in January. So the CD is going to be ready in a few weeks and we have our CD release concert in the beginning of May. DZ: At Hamline University, Sundin [Music] Hall? KS: Yes. May 11th. At eight p.m. And that particular concert is going to be so fun because the Hamline University's Center for Global Environmental Education found out about the concert, and decided that they wanted to do something with us that night. And so [chuckles] they‟re going to do a little presentation about the amazing work that they‟re doing with their Waters to Sea Program. Just wonderful. They‟ve got these great education materials that they‟re churning out for learners of all ages about conservation, and about the water cycle, and watersheds. So I‟m really excited about that. DZ: Excellent. Let‟s backtrack. I would like to ask you about religion: religion. Now your grandparents, great-grandmother are from Japan. You‟re growing up in Hawaii. What influences were on you for religion? KS: When I was growing up, it was mostly Christian and Buddhist. We went to the Christian church more regularly and to Sunday school there. But we practiced Buddhism also and we celebrated the Buddhist dance for the dead, in the islands. Where we would dance in a circle around a little tower and. . . Basically you‟re honoring anyone who has left this world. And so, yes, it was a really lovely blend. There was never any conflict between the two, growing up. I feel like I‟m much more familiar with just Christianity, doctrine and ritual, and I just have had more experience being around it. But my grandparents on my mom‟s side, my mom‟s parents were Buddhists. All the way. [Laughs] DZ: Did Shintoism come to the islands? KS: Yes. I actually don‟t know what branch, if you call it a branch of Buddhism that my family practiced. I still don‟t even know. Like when you go to the temples, there are two different kinds 35

of temples you generally find in Hawaii. . Actually, there are three. There‟s a Jōdo Shinshū, and then Zen. And I don‟t know if they‟re affiliated or different. . But I know that they all sort of alternate hosting those dances.

DZ: Would these old songs be a sort of a Hawaiian religion in the islands? KS: Yes, and that‟s sort of the other component, you know, among my family‟s friends, there‟s sort of this understanding no matter what your spiritual identity. . . You know, religious identity, there is always honor for the native Hawaiian spirituality. And some people even call it like being superstitious. But it‟s true, I mean, we really, really. . . honor that there are living spirits in our land and among our, you know, our animals and our nature. And I think. . . oh, it made it. . . it makes it a lot more familiar and easier. . . easy for me to grasp some of the poetry and meaning in some of the songs that are in like the Na Mele Wai Project. Mmmm, these are lots of references to goddesses and gods and different symbolism in different items in nature, you know, rocks and water and different characters in legends will come up a lot in some of the songs.

DZ: Yes. I was teaching a storytelling class, and there was a young woman in it who had lived in Hawaii. And it was incredible because she didn‟t know how good she was. You know, she wove in the native story of Pele the goddess of the volcano and an actual volcanic eruption that she had experienced in her own life. KS: Wow. DZ: Living in Minnesota, or in living your own life, have there been challenges, have there been obstacles, have there been things to overcome? Or has it been pretty smooth? KS: There have been some. Overall, I‟ve been really so thankful. Because people here are very warm and kind. And I guess the things that are difficult are just mostly cultural. People tend to be more assertive, more willing to talk about things that might be more difficult for somebody in my family. Things like conflict and conflict resolution. Just things that we dealt with in such a different way, a much more quiet way. DZ: Yes. KS: And I see, here. . .it might not even be Minnesota, it might just be sort of parts of mainland culture. But with, politics and interpersonal relationships and work relationships and all those things. There‟s just this really different dynamic for communicating. And so I‟m learning a lot. [Chuckles] I always am. For sure. And then, of course, just knowing how far away my family is, is difficult. I kept thinking I was going to move home right after graduate school and it hasn‟t happened yet. 36

DZ: So tell me about that, keeping links with your family. Do you visit them? KS: Yes. I try to visit them once or twice a year. Most of my family is on Kaua‟i, but my grandma and some of my relatives from my mom‟s side still, live on Maui, so I‟ll try to make a trip there, and if I can, also to Honolulu in O‟ahu because that‟s where some of my other family is. But it‟s tricky to get that in, in a trip, all of those in sometimes. So, you do what you can. My sister and I try to time our trips together. She‟s living in Tucson, Arizona right now. So, if we can, we try to go home at the same time. DZ: This is Stacey? And then, you know, there is phone and email and other ways of staying in touch. What would you say to other students coming from the islands or other people coming to the islands? What have you learned for living here? What would you say as words of wisdom? KS: It seems like when you don‟t mind just being who you are, it‟s usually a good thing. I think people here are so interested in learning about different cultures. I mean, it‟s so clear and . . . not just in person-to-person interactions, but also in the way that things are structured. . .the fact that we have funding in our state for exploring culture is so exquisite, and so unique. And I think that‟s really a testament. I think people from afar [chuckles] will really draw comfort in that, that being different is really a lovely thing sometimes, and that we all have things to share with each other. [Chuckles] [Pauses] Is that an okay answer? DZ: Definitely. KS: [Chuckles] DZ: A lot of the other persons I interviewed talk about the opportunity that‟s here that‟s not in their homelands. Here there is more opportunity. So that seems to be a theme, the educational opportunity here. KS: Absolutely. DZ: Are there other things that you miss from the islands? KS: I miss the weather, of course. I just am such a warm weather person. [Chuckles] And I miss hearing Pidgin English. You know. . . my ears prick up if I ever hear. . . In fact, the Iron Range accent is very similar to Pidgin English, Hawaiian Pidgin English. And sometimes I‟ll be standing somewhere and I hear somebody and I think that they‟re from Hawaii and they‟re from the Iron Range. [Laughs] It‟s so funny! There are some things about the inflection and some of the ways that they form speech patterns. It‟s so interesting. But I miss that, you know, for sure.


DZ: Well, that‟s interesting. I am remembering Professor Ogan, who lives in Hawaii now, Eugene Ogan. He talked to us about Pidgin English in New Guinea . . How that developed. So people in Kaua‟i speak Pidgin English. . . KS: Yes. Not everybody does. . . and every island has its kind of flavor, its own sort of flavor of Pidgin English. But it‟s basically, you know, English with Hawaiian, Japanese, sometimes Chinese words thrown in. And then the sort of sentence structure tends to mirror Hawaiian language. I wish I had. . . a good example. Ah, you leave out all the unimportant words. Like, my brother would say, I going fishing. You like go.” And then, you know, the inflection is a little different, too. Sometimes questions go down instead of up. DZ: What questions haven‟t I asked you about your life that were important? What else in your story would you like told? KS: Oh, gosh, I think it‟s really important for me to really learn a little bit more about my family. Like now I feel, especially after thinking about some of the questions that you might ask, I spent a lot of time listening to my grandpa tell stories. This is my grandpa on my mom‟s side. When I was growing up. And he‟s the one who lived here in Minnesota for a little while. DZ: We haven‟t touched on that. KS: He was just a wonderful storyteller. [Chuckles] But he was the one who told me a lot about my family on that side and where they came from and he was an irrigation manager at the sugar plantation in Kihei, Maui. And he volunteered for the service twice during the war. The first time he wasn‟t accepted because they told him his job was too valued, , like they couldn‟t lose him because of the sugar industry. And the second time around, they took him, because they needed interpreters. And so he came here. By that time, the military language school had been moved here, to Savage, Minnesota. And he learned formal Japanese here. [Laughs] In Minnesota. I mean, he had spoken it in his own household growing up, but it was, you know, totally different. And he learned about interrogation techniques, learned about Japanese Americans on the mainland! You know a totally different culture. And then he served in New Guinea and the Philippines during the war. And then in Japan for a little while doing interrogations and helping with some relief efforts in Okinawa right after the war, and then moved back to Hawaii. DZ: He served in New Guinea and Japan and the Philippines. KS: Yes, they would man these radio towers that intercepted Japanese communication and translate them. . . DZ: So he was here before you. Savage, Minnesota, and I think they were at Fort Snelling. And then he went back to live in Hawaii. Interesting. I‟d love to hook you up with people I know. Like Les Fujitake who is superintendent of Bloomington schools. Les told me that Don Ho‟s 38

brother lives here, and so I tracked him down. He also told me about a group here called Frozen Ohana. KS: Yes! [Laughs] I‟m actually a member of the group now. That‟s Matt Kamara. DZ: Well, let‟s close by one question. I know there was some controversy in the Asian American press, what would you say about the controversy about you singing songs from ancient Hawaiian tradition? KS: I think a controversy of that kind is sort of analogy for an ongoing discussion or a need for an ongoing discussion, because people are always going to have their own opinions. And culture is so delicate and sensitive when it comes to ideas of ownership and possession and protection, preservation. And of course you want to always honor the roots of whatever tradition that you are exploring. And at the same time, it‟s so compelling to be a part of helping that tradition survive in whatever way that you feel like you can lend your skills to advancing that or to, you know, to increase understanding about it. I think there has become this sort of acceptance in the classical music world and even in jazz and other types of music where it‟s less. . . it‟s less sensitive for people of different cultures to be performing those kinds of music. But when you look at the histories of any of those cultures, it can lead you to questions of ownership. And I think it‟s important for us to recognize that and to find our own ways of being respectful and reverent. DZ: I‟m very struck in this interview of the part played by water - water streams trickling through your land, ponds, songs you learned as a very young girl. It seems to be. . . it‟s not something out there that you have gone into, it feels like it is part of your whole upbringing. KS: Yes, somehow it does. It‟s interesting, a couple of years ago, there was this composer who I think you know, Todd Harper. . .who lives here in the Twin Cities. He asked if I would be interested in doing a recording of his compositions. And nearly all of them were fresh water, , rivers and streams were. . . were all kinds of songs about nature and water. And in the process of doing that project, I felt so connected, I guess, so inspired. And so wanting, so desiring to be a part of continuing some kind of water theme of some kind. In my life and in the life of this beautiful cultural landscape we live in, I think. DZ: Let me ask you a closing question about goals, dreams, hopes. What do you envision, what do you want for yourself? Your life, your professional life? KS: Yes. I guess it‟s a two part answer maybe. . . yes, to be on a path toward sustainability as an artist. I feel like I am on the path. But I feel like I need to be moving a little bit more effectively. [Chuckles] Right now, you know, my financial health it is okay, but it could really be improved, I think. And part of it is because what I‟ve chosen to do with my life [chuckles] and with my career. . . A career in the arts is a lot of times it‟s sort of pieced together out of different projects and different contracts and different commitments. And at the same time, I love it. And so I want to find a way 39

to make it work. And the second part is in both artistry, you know, pure, like unconnected to financial anything. And pure artistry and pure human relationships. I want to be honest and nurturing and reverent of experience. So in whatever project I do, I hope that I can be helping to illuminate some part of some human being‟s experience. DZ: Do you have themes yet to work on that express this. . .? KS: Yes, actually, the one that I have been really passionate about and trying to get funding for in the last year is a project about music and memory. I want to be more involved in working with the elderly and their families and caregivers. And then bringing some of those experiences into the public knowledge and realm. And having jointly created musical experiences. I‟ve got some ideas that I‟m calling the project Song Sparks. Because. . . it would be jogging people‟s minds for immediate memories and reactions to different words and images. And creating music out of those reactions. KS: So, we‟ll see. DZ: Now that sounds like music therapy. KS: It does, doesn‟t it? It‟s kind of like I‟ve come around again. [Laughs] DZ: Yes. Wonderful. Well, Kim, thank you. Thank you very much for your time. I‟m delighted to listen to a creative person, get their story. And I‟m looking forward to seeing this published. KS: It‟s been an honor. Thank you.