Lee Tonouchi, author and playwright and teacher at Kaplan Community College

Lee Tonouchi, author and playwright and teacher at
Kaplan Community College
Recording by Dmae Roberts
Date: 11/16/04

TRACK 7 – 9:28

DMAE: Testing. Can you come in a little bit? Just say your name and start off with I’m and what you do.

LEE: I’m Lee Tonouchi,
. I teach at KCC.

DMAE: What else do you do?

LEE: I write books.

DMAE: Where are we?

LEE: We’re at KCC inside a classroom.

DMAE: What is KCC?

LEE: Kaplan community college.

DMAE: So can you say your name and where we’re at?

LEE: This is Lee Tanaguchi. We’re at KCC, Kaplan Community College in Honolulu.

DMAE: What kind of books do you write?

LEE: I’ve got a collection of short stories in Pidgin. I have a book of Pidgin essays. Pretty much all my stuff is in Pidgin.

DMAE: why?

LEE: Because that’s how I talk. That’s my native language, so that’s the language I choose to express myself.

DMAE: When did you start writing in Pidgin?

LEE: It was a little bit funny because I didn’t start writing in Pidgin until I was in college. All through high school I’d never seen Pidgin literature. It wasn’t until I went to UH Manoa that was my sophomore literature class, my teacher was using one poem, Tutu on the curb, I was like wow, the guy’s writing in Pidgin. We were studying it in college, I’ve got to be smart for learn Pidgin. I was like wow. So I figure oh I can write too I think then. But prior to that I never dreamed I could write.

DMAE: Tell me some books you’ve published.

LEE: The collection of short stories is called “The Word” from Bainbridge Press. I’ve got a collection of essays called “Living Pidgin: Contemplations on Pidgin Culture” from Tin Fish press. I’m co-editor of Hybolics magazine.

DMAE: Why do you write in Pidgin as you can write in English too?

LEE: I hope so. Again, I’ve a Masters’ in English. Pretty much all when you’re growing up people tell you if you do this in Pidgin, where can you go? People tell you you can’t do this, you can’t do that, you can’t do that. And then you think about how many of those people actually tried doing stuff. They say oh the perception is the Pidgin talker is going to be perceived as less intelligent than the Standard English talker. So what can you do? Your basic options are you can change yourself or you can change the perception. So I guess I opted for doing the second way, which is a little more harder, but when I was in college, after I discovered guys writing in Pidgin I said I can do this Pidgin creative writing. After I did the Pidgin creative writing I thought wow, I can do my creative stuff, how come I can’t do my critical stuff too. I should try and see what the teacher does. So I started doing that. Eventually I did my thirty-page research papers in Pidgin. I did my Master’s thesis in Pidgin.

DMAE: What did your professors think?

LEE: For me I was a little bit smart, I did my research beforehand so I only took classes from the cool professors, so I’m sure I’m going to have some professors that wouldn’t have flown very well.

DMAE: So you knew who you were writing for.

LEE: Yeah. Ask around, who’s cool.

DMAE: Why is it important to write in Pidgin?

LEE: I guess hopefully for inspire other people to. If they see hey, somebody else doing it they think hey, I can do it too. Just like I was inspired by the poem Tutu on the curb. Basically pretty much I try to do all my stuff in Pidgin. So people ask me to write them letters of recommendation. I tell them if you ask me they’re going to be in Pidgin but if you chance I’ll chance them. Pretty much almost everybody who I wrote scholarship letter or job recommendation letter they either got the job or got the scholarship. But that’s not thanks, I don’t want to say it’s all thanks to my letter, but I think people are pretty much accepting of Pidgin but people are very scared for bust them out because they think the other guy’s going to reject them.

DMAE: When you teach, do you have kids write in Pidgin?

LEE: A lot of them write in Pidgin but they don’t know they write in Pidgin. Most of them by the time they get to the college level they are already trained to lose the Pidgin. I had one student one time, she come to my English 100 class and she was all crying, she was sitting outside the classroom all teary and I asked her what’s wrong. She goes oh; I thought someone else was supposed to be the teacher. I said what’s wrong with me? She said oh, I don’t know, you’re the Pidgin gorilla. I heard that a few teachers said that you’re going to make us write everything in Pidgin and she was trying to lose the Pidgin, her mom said she’s not supposed to talk Pidgin anymore and so she was in my class but I was the last teacher she wanted. And this was a little ironic to me because she had a TNC t-shirt that said Garings Ball-bearings on top. So she had that Pidgin pride and Pidgin shame in conflict.

DMAE: Can you talk more about the Pidgin shame?

LEE: She had the Pidgin shirt so naturally she’s proud of Pidgin, but she had the shame because the mom said you’re supposed to lose the Pidgin. Pretty much all through school you’re trained you’re not supposed to bust out the Pidgin if you’re in the classroom. I remember when I was going to school if you asked the teacher, ‘Teacher, can I go bathroom?’ she won’t let you go bathroom, you got to shishi. You have to say ‘May I please use the restroom’ and then you could go do your business.

DMAE: Is Pidgin going to be more prevalent in Hawaii?

LEE: What’s interesting to me is a lot of people who teach here say I don’t hear Pidgin as much, I think Pidgin is dying. I tell them right, college is not the best place to assess the vitality of Pidgin, because by the time they come to college they are trained they are not supposed to bust them out and they’re going to be less inclined in class to bust them out if you don’t bust them out, so just cuz you no hear Pidgin where we work it doesn’t mean it’s dying. I remember one time I was on the radio and this lady calls up, she says same thing. She said she doesn’t hear Pidgin, where’s this Pidgin? So I told her how can you not hear Pidgin, where do you cruise? And she’s all excuse me? So I’m thinking that there’s all about it. So after I left the radio studio, just walking on the sidewalk in Kimakee, just cruising through the shopping center, I hear lots of Pidgin. How can people not hear Pidgin? I don’t know.

DMAE: There’s something like 600,000 people here who speak Pidgin.

LEE: How can you avoid all of them?

DMAE: Are you working on any future books or anything?

LEE: Again a collection of poetry I’m working on now. It’s called ‘Significant Moments in Life of Oriental Father and Son,’ that’s what I’m going to be sharing with you guys later on. I just came out with my Pidgin play the past few months ago.

DMAE: What’s that called?

LEE: It’s called ‘Gone Fishing.’ It’s all in Pidgin too.

DMAE: Is that going to be done here?

LEE: It came out in April or May.

DMAE: East-West Players is doing a reading.

LEE: I don’t know. Maybe you know more than me.

DMAE: Should we let the kids in? When was the first time you realized you were speaking Pidgin?

LEE: I guess sometime in the fourth grade I was talking to this girl and I said ‘Bambye’ and she never understand ‘bambye.’ I said how can you not understand ‘bambye’ so I made her a bet I said that’s a word, she said that isn’t a word, so we looked it up in the dictionary. Oh, there’s no ‘bambye.’ I was all distraught because I lost a bet. So I went home and asked my dad. Dad, how come the word bambye not in the dictionary? That’s when he explained to me the word ‘bambye’ is Pidgin. Up ‘til then I didn’t know there was a difference, Pidgin, English, that’s just how we talk, whatever.

TRACK 8 – 3:26

LEE: …You guys can come inside.

KIDS: My god, it’s so cold in here. Where are you sitting?


LEE: Today we have special radio documentary people so this is Dmae, this is Jennifer. So if you want she’s going to do a little portrait of? For you guys, so. They also are going to be asking you guys too maybe. You guys can answer and maybe be a part of the radio documentary. Wow, exciting, ooh, ahh. You guys all get paper 5, your first draft before I forget. Who said no? You should take that out. You should staple.

GIRL2: It’s two pages. I couldn’t make it to five. I couldn’t even make it to three. I’m still turning it in. Give me feedback.

LEE: it’s not so much two pages, it’s the quality of those pages. On the back, can you guys copy your outline, the outline from Monday? Can you copy that so I have your outline too? And then just pass it up. Real quick just write the four sentences. It should be already on your paper right?

GIRL2: I deleted it because I didn’t want it on my paper, it made it look messy.

LEE: I just want the four sentences on your thesis, and your three points.

GIRL2: I don’t remember what they are anymore.

LEE: But they should still be on the paper. Pass them up.

GIRL: My syllabus is not done yet. I’m going to hang on to it.

TRACK 9 – 1:11

DMAE: That’s really quiet. Watch the mike because it’s real active.

LEE: Waiting for Corey, waiting for Abbey.

DMAE: be that close….I need a picture of you…

GIRL: If you have sources, can you get a magazine course online?

LEE: As long as it’s a reputable…

TRACK 10 – 0:27

LEE: Okay, heads up.

DMAE: Can I explain a bit about what this is? Explain ‘Crossing East’.

TRACK 11 – 50:25

LEE: Okay, I figure this is a good one for kick-off for discussion. This is a group poem that my fall 2001 communication classes at KCC we kind of made together. I asked them, make a list of all the things people told you over the years that you cannot do if you talk Pidgin. They each made their lists and put together other lists and we came up with this group poem. The poem is called ‘They Say if You Talk Pidgin, You No Can.’ Be smart, be important, be successful, be professional, be taken seriously, be one teacher, be one doctor, be one lawyer, be a government worker, be big businessman, be the pope, be the president, be the wife of the president. They say if you talk pidgin you no can communicate, eat at fine dining restaurants, enter a beauty pageant and win, flirt, function, go out tonight, go to job interviews, go mainland, go mainland school, go opera or someplace elegant, go forward. They say if you talk Pidgin you no can get good grades, get good education, get good job, get a smart guy, get a sophisticated guy, get chicks. They say if you talk Pidgin you no can give public speeches, join the military, look high class, make it in Hollywood, pray to God, read, run for governor. They say if you talk Pidgin you no can score, talk intellectual, survive, talk straight, talk proper, talk to the phone operator, talk to the judge, talk at funerals, talk to the haoles, talk to tourists, talk in European countries, talk in the classroom, take tests, teach and understand. They say if you talk Pidgin you no can work customer service, work at Neiman Marcus, write a proper sentence, write formal essays, write letters, write papers to pass this class. They say if you talk Pidgin, you no can. I guess now is when Dmae can bust out questions and ask the students stuff or no.

DMAE: Is that true what he just read? Can you tell me why? Is it okay if we record you?

GIRL: Well, one of the things you read you cannot work at a professional place or in customer service. Well, I work at a professional place, which is Niketown, and it’s very professional, and I got the job there and I work with customers and I’m making big sales and I talk Pidgin too once in a while. It’s not something that can take something away from you. It’s a plus cuz a lot of people on the mainland can’t talk it but we can and we can do other things that they can also. So it’s just a plus.

LEE: The way you look at it is you’re the multilingual. So when you guys were growing up your parents all said you should be proud, you’re multilingual.

GIRL: No, they didn’t say that, cuz they don’t think of it as another language but some other people do, so it’s just something that comes natural when you grow up here.

LEE: So for you were you always proud of the Pidgin or had a point where you were a little bit shamed?

GIRL: There were times when I got a little bit shamed because some say if a guy was going to check you out some guys would degrade you or put you down if you would say, “Oh bra, what’s your number?” It’s more like “Oh hi, can I get your number?” It’s, you use it in different places.

DMAE: Did you grow up speaking Pidgin at home?

GIRL: You learn it in Hawaii you learn it everywhere you go. Especially at home though.

DMAE: Anybody else agree with what he read? What’s your name? How many people know how to speak Pidgin? Anybody heard Pidgin? How many people are in Hawaii?

KIDS: A million. A lot.

DMAE: 600,000 speak Pidgin. Do you want to read something else?

LEE: Teacher told me I’m never going to count. Never going to amount to anything of work. Keep doing that Pidgin thing it’s just going to hurt my chances for the future. When will you learn, when will you learn? How will you compete? How will you get ahead you fool? Try get into medical school with that Pidgin thing that you do. Teacher told all the directions she was told, never questioning if it’s true. Cuz then she might realize hey, sometimes she talk Pidgin too. She’s not one boozer one loser, one general overall…okay, I think I do it one more time now. I’m not used to having the microphone. Teacher tell I’m never gonna count. Never gonna amount to anything of work. Keep doing that Pidgin thing it’s just going to hurt my chances for the future. When will you learn, when will you learn? How will you compete? How will you get ahead you fool? Try get into medical school with that Pidgin thing that you do. Teacher told all the directions she was told, never questioning if it’s true. Cuz then she might realize hey, sometimes she talk Pidgin too. She’s not one boozer, one loser, one general overall loser. Cuz plenty people who talk the kine get the brains and the ambitions and then get some who are still government state politicians. I just gotta say Ben is the bomb. So when teacher tell, Pidgin is for the birds, I tell teacher hey, you gotta get with the word. Pidgin is fly, is dope. Today we get role models who give us hope. Pidgin is the language that we breathe, the words that we sing, so how can there be life without that Pidgin thing?

DMAE: Did you understand what he said?

LEE: You guys are ashamed today, nobody raised their hand. Only one person heard Pidgin, oh, how come?

DMAE: can you hear Pidgin rap here? Any music groups here? LATECOMER Can you hear Pidgin on the radio? What stations? 98.5?

LEE: You should try to ask Michael about Pidgin because he works in one school, so maybe he knows about Pidgin in schools.

MICHAEL: At the school that I work at…

DMAE: Is it okay to record?

MICHAEL: Okay. How much do I get? Okay. Well, the school that I teach at, I wouldn’t say Pidgin is as prevalent as some of the other elementary schools, I guess because it’s a charter school and a lot of the parents who want their children to go to this particular charter school come from families where they speak well. And I’ve taught at other schools before and the kids are pretty heavy in Pidgin except for the kids from Oaili. And we get kids from Wahili, Waimanalo, Hoikai, all different areas. So it depends on the environment.

DMAE: Do kids quit speaking Pidgin after a certain time? Like in public?

MICHAEL: I think it depends on the environment and the atmosphere that you’re in. And depends on the friends and people that you hang out with.

DMAE: Is Pidgin something you speak with friends and family but not in school?

MICHAEL: I would say so. There’s been times that I visited the mainland and I have local friends up there who speak well. They can communicate well with the mainland people, but when we get together to speak in code, we talk pidgin. And freak them out.

LEE: When you say speak in code you mean to talk things around people who don’t know Pidgin?

MICHAEL: Pretty much. Like we played monopoly with some haole people in California and I guess this one guy as soon as he landed on a particular spot he was buying the property. So I said oh, how’s the brother over here, scoop up the ina. And my friend over here and I were busting up laughing and the guy was clueless. So that’s code.

DMAE: Anybody else speak code with friends? I don’t believe you. Is their different kinds of Pidgin? Does every island have their own Pidgin?

MICHAEL: I would say there’s different in different places. The people in Waimanalo speak differently compared to the people who live in Kaneohea and Waimanai. Like the people in Maui, they all sound like Portagee Pidgins, or Pidgin Portuguese. They have a different regional dialect.

LEE: In Maui everything is exaggerated. Sam lam everything, sam this sam that.

MICHAEL: And then on the big island it’s oh bra, choke this, and choke that. And I think the term ‘choke’ come from the island of Hawaii.

LEE: What gets special about the Kauai Pidgin. When you move here I’m sure you notice some differences.

DMAE: Want to read another piece? What do you think of his work?

LEE: You guys like it because you’ll have to do real work after today.

GIRL: You’re doing the work now.

LEE: I know.

DMAE: He’s a performer, did you know?

LEE: Okay, this one is called ‘Significant Moments in the Life of an Oriental Father and Son’. Birth. Delightful thing, he start off in one whoosh. Or if he was feeling particularly peppy, maybe one unbridled or unrestrained whoosh. For demonstrate his virility. For an oriental father, he not a man of many words. Of much emotion. He probably make do with ‘guh.’ Just one grunt. For send the message he don’t ?chew oh pow? Time for go sleep now. All I can imagine oriental father saying when he was trying with mama for trying to conceive me. He just not the type for say oh yeah, work it baby, work it. Come on down, let’s get funky like a monkey. No, ‘guh.’ Just one. Puberty. For my thirteenth birthday my oriental father gave me my long-awaited Cosby show talk about the birds and the bees. I know if the Cos did it would probably take forever and a day, cuz whenever the Cos talks it’s always so drawn out. Son, a long time ago the birds and the bees hooked up, so that is why the stork took over for them. Can know my oriental father can never sustain speech for that long, so I was anticipating something a little bit more concise, but not something that would take only 2.2 seconds. All he did was hand me a black TNC t-shirt with a smiley face balloon character and fluorescent yellow letters that said ‘No glove, no love.’ That was it, no explanation. Not even a hint that we was talking metaphor. College. After I graduate high school my oriental father wanted me for go Harvard, Princeton, Stanford and Yale. He never know where all those places was, just that’s where I have to go. So I went. UC Irvine. That’s where I discovered my oriental father wasn’t really my oriental father. He was my Asian-American father. They said I can have an oriental rug, or some oriental furnitures. But I cannot, cannot have an oriental father. Oriental is a term used for the kind inanimate objects. That’s what they told me. So I told them, my oriental father, he hardly says anything. That’s kind of like being an inanimate object, yeah? What do you think? When I say that their faces just freeze. They can’t believe I say something that disrespectful like that. That is an American, that’s why. Marriage. I came back home with my girlfriend, fiancé actually who was one katonk. Only she never know she was one katonk. She probably more used to the term ‘banana.’ In a way, my oriental father was happy – katonk, banana, twinkie, so long as oriental he said. Asian-American she corrected. Just for fun I took her to a Frank Delima show at the Polynesian palace, but she never laughed. Not even one chuckle for what she called the ‘blatant stereotyping and racist ethnic portrayals.’ Ho. So I started playing around after the show and telling all my friends, ‘hey, what’s up oriental? Who are you friggin’ oriental. Bra, your mama, she’s so oriental. I bet she can’t see her chopsticks unless you turn them sideways.’ I figure I would take back the term. If popolo people can use the “n” word, how come I cannot use the one that starts with “o.” empowering like that. She thought I was nuts. Out of my freaking mind. So she got back on her plane and left, looking at air all I could think was what, Lucile, you going to leave me now? even though Lucile wasn’t even her name. Death. Right before my oriental father died, suddenly he had plenty for say. No watch ‘Kingpin,’ the movie junk. ‘English Patient’ more better was, but not as good as the book. That shocked the hell out of me. Never know he rent movies. Let alone read books. Thought he just stayed home, watched the kind of Rambo Shogun on keiku and drank the kind of green tea and all of that. But now he is giving me the lowdown on the latest movies. I tell him oh, I could just picture him on TV, bra. At the movies with Roger Ebert and my Oriental Father. And people would ask oh, which one is Ebert. It’s like duh, the one that’s not oriental. He laugh a bit and he cough and he ask real soft if I thought people would really mix up him and Roger Ebert. So I told him nah, Roger Ebert have glasses. That’s what I told to my father.

DMAE: Any thoughts on that. That’s from your new book, isn’t it?

LEE: The book yet to be published. You guys got a sneak preview. You can go home and say mom, teacher showed us something special.

DMAE: Are they all short stories?

LEE: I’m going to share on with you since you’re interested in Pidgin. This one is written in the voice of an older pidgin talking person. Since you’re having a hard time getting the older people talking, maybe I can share this one. Okay. This one is called “Hard Work.” It’s written in the voice of an older Japanese man. This one is specifically written in the voice of my grandfather. [Sara note – I can’t vouch that this section is correct] Young time. You gone far. Carpenter far man you know. State capital viladine, your Grandpa will. Meeting place hard for make was. Not square, ten point. Honolulu no more so there for that. That’s why leader Martin, from University higher, and Genea. He point, I mark concrete all pour. Follow me come, I finish. He glad. Lucky thing I get you tighter. He say that you know. See your grandpa no go school nothing. Only sixth grade Japanese school. Boss say you know more English I know was. General foreman can be. That’s why you gotta work hard for my boss no like. You finish school, fine good work.

DMAE: Did he say that to you?

LEE: Something similar to that. I know from my students what parents tell you guys about how important is English. Your parents never stressed the importance of English? As long as you know goja you guys is good.

GIRL: That’s what my mom said but I didn’t grow up here.

GIRL2: All I heard was get good grades and go to college.

LEE: You guys shy today. Go ahead and give her.

DMAE: What if you held the mike? Go ahead, hold it.

LEE: What about the girls? The girls hiding in the back? You girls don’t like talking about Pidgin? Nobody. You can talk to Jolin too, she grew up here. You got to set the example, bra. Just say a little bit.

DMAE: why are you videotaping this?

JOLIN: Because I’m actually doing my dissertation about Pidgin and education.

DMAE: Can I ask you about that?


DMAE: Introduce.

JOLIN: Okay. My name is Jolin Asato and I grew up here, just down the street actually. And I’ve been an education student at the mainland, I’m a UCLA student actually. And I wanted to do my dissertation on Pidgin and education because when I was there, I was doing a lot of stuff with English as a Second Language people and bilingual education. And when I was studying the bilingual education stuff I was listening to people’s stories about growing up with bilingual education, I heard a lot of parallels to my own experiences and my parents’ experiences growing up here with Pidgin and the ways they were told they weren’t going to amount to anything if they didn’t speak proper, didn’t speak straight, and it reminded me a lot of the stories I was hearing from my friends and the other people I was interviewing who didn’t come from a background of speaking English. Lots of Spanish speakers, lots of Chinese speakers. And it made me really interested to come back home and take a look and see what was going on over here, so that’s why I’m back here looking at the role Pidgin can play in education.

DMAE: and what have you found out?

JOLIN: I don’t know yet. I just started and I’ve actually been studying this class, but I haven’t had the time to sit back and analyze this yet.

DMAE: Does this class usually talk?


DMAE: Do you hear a lot of Pidgin in this class?

JOLIN: More or less. Mostly from him.

DMAE: what do you hope to find?

JOLIN: one of the things I hope to find, is to find out what people think about Pidgin, and also the ways in which Pidgin helps learning in the ways people don’t think that it can. To see how that can facilitate thinking and writing and academic skills.

DMAE: Did you grow up with Pidgin?

JOLIN: Yeah, my dad speaks Pidgin mostly but my mom doesn’t. and also they made me go to private school so I didn’t speak much at school, and I was really looked down upon when I went to school.

DMAE: Really?

JOLIN: Yeah. I can’t remember, I can remember especially in seventh grade I had this one teacher, he was my math teacher, and every time someone said “tree”, it comes up a lot in math, she’d write your name on the board and if you had three checks by your name on the board you had to go work in the snack bar. And pick up all the trash. So that was her way of telling us if you keep on speaking Pidgin, this is the only kind of job you can get. So.

DMAE: What do you mean by ‘tree?’

JOLIN: The number three.

DMAE: Do things like that still happen? Shamed in school?

MICHAEL: I was probably the same as you. I was shy. So now I’m coming out of my shell. That’s all.

DMAE: Did you have a thing happen when you were growing up?

MICHAEL: I think for myself how I came out of it was living on the mainland and living in Seattle. You’re forced to communicate and if you don’t you’ll just be stuck in by yourself.

DMAE: They probably didn’t understand you in Seattle.

MICHAEL: They probably didn’t understand me too. There were times when I was on the swim team and some of the senior girls didn’t understand a single word that I said. They’d say what? What’d you say? And I had a hard time explaining. And then I went to Seattle and they kind of poked fun at the way you spoke and they make a general comment and say that Hawaii people like to giggle when they speak and do they always cut short their sentences? So I made a conscious effort to try to speak a little more clearly.

DMAE: Is there discrimination if you speak Pidgin here?

MICHAEL: I think so. Not here but…I don’t think so. Everybody speaks.

DMAE: Where do you think there’s discrimination?

MICHAEL: On the mainland.

GIRL: Do you think teachers are just as hard on kids say from inner cities that don’t know how to speak English very well and have their own little dialects, or people that live in the south? Deep deep south? Because I’ve heard people from the south and I can understand a damn thing they’re saying. But clum? Clumb is climb but you can’t understand tons of their words, they make them up themselves. Are they just as hard on kids in those areas or are they more focused on children here in Hawaii?

LEE: I was telling Dmae earlier about how my experience was similar to Jolin’s. about how when I was growing up if you have to go bathroom and you tell hey teacher can I go bathroom? She wouldn’t let kids go bathroom. You gotta say may I please use the restroom and then they can go bathroom. That’s not something that happened for you guys?

DMAE: Maybe they’re better now.

MICHAEL: I think maybe it depends on where you’re at. I grew up in Palolo, went to Palolo elementary school, and the majority of the kids there, I’d say 98% is heavy Pidgin.

DMAE: Where?

MICHAEL: Palolo. Palolo Elementary. Which is a couple valleys away from here. And everybody was thick Pidgin so the teachers had to learn.

DMAE: And you’re an elementary teacher now?

MICHAEL: Hawaiian studies teacher. I teach at Wailai school, which is a charter school.

DMAE: Do you use Pidgin too?

MICHAEL: Sometimes. But a lot of the students are good speakers. They all sound like haoles.

DMAE: Is that good to sound like a haole?

MICHAEL: For me, I think they’re on the right track, because they’re communicating well. And if they ever came across a situation where they have to speak and express themselves, they can.

DMAE: So you kind of have to know both.

MICHAEL: Pretty much.

DMAE: So it is bilingual.

MICHAEL: Would you call it bilingual.

LEE: For Lena, she was saying it’s to her advantage that she knows more than one language. She says it’s very helpful to know Pidgin for her job. It helps her rack up choke sales, she says, yeah? So for you is there an advantage to knowing Pidgin?

MICHAEL: I think depending on situations it has its advantages and disadvantages. If you’re in a workplace and you’re working at Kahala Mandarin Hotel and you’re servicing guests there, they’d want someone who can speak instead of someone who mumbles and they don’t understand, so it could be a disadvantage to you. And advantages are if you’re going to go Wainai or Wainaho and you can rap with the people down there. That’s an advantage too.

LEE: Are we assuming that tourists don’t want to hear Pidgin? Because when I was teaching a Hawaiians writers class at HPU, I figure oh Hawaii writers, I’m only going to get local students to sign up for this class. But I only had two local students. All the rest was people from elsewhere and they were all curious about Hawaii culture, about Pidgin and I thought oh, how are they going to read Pidgin, it’s hard. Initially it was hard because the spelling’s all trippy for them, but they say they just read it out loud and they could understand, they could pick it up. And they enjoyed that they was learning about Pidgin. So do you think we’re assuming that people don’t want to know about Pidgin?

MICHAEL: I think the curiosity would draw people to Pidgin because a lot of mainlanders when they hear that they want to get into speaking slang like us. Oh, the kine and all this kind of stuff. But for us it’s natural, it’s neither here nor there.

LEE: So it’s an advantage to you that you can talk Pidgin. Besides you can talk stink when you play Monopoly, maybe you can teach all the people you met when Seattle wherever. Maybe you can teach them and when you come here they can fit right in then. That’s the plan.

DMAE: What is talk stink?

MICHAEL: Talk about somebody.

DMAE: Like gossiping? Or bad.

MICHAEL: It’s not real bad. It’s all in fun.

LEE: Oh no, I assumed that it was, ‘talk stink’ was something you knew what it meant.

DMAE: No I don’t know anything. We say ‘stink eye’. Or ‘evil eye’. It’s the same, yeah, ‘stink eye’.

JOLIN: Who came up with the word bambye.

LEE: Bambye is from the English ‘by and by.’

DMAE: Will Pidgin die?

MICHAEL: It’s in books.

LEE: Okay, one time I was on UH Today, that’s a radio program. This lady calls up because they told me go take calls and this lady asked me I think Pidgin is dying, I don’t hear Pidgin. So I told her, lady, where do you cruise? She said excuse me? So I’m like a little bit bambye. I thought wow, why does she think Pidgin is dying? So all day I try to keep my ears open listening for Pidgin. Right? Just walking up the sidewalk in Kimakea I hear plenty peoples talking Pidgin. Crusing Alamana and thought that lady must not go Alamana. Must not go Fir Ridge, must not go out of her house, bra, I don’t know. So for you guys, do you hear Pidgin a lot?

BOY: In school you should talk good because you want to express yourself, but when you’re around your friends you have fun, talk Pidgin.

LEE: So the lady must not have friends.

GIRLEE: In high school I heard it a lot. Kimakea is where all the people from Haloa go and sometimes I would look at the Haloa boys, the way they talk is oh bra, how is this chick, she’s solid, ah da da. They sound so stupid, but that’s the way they grew up talking. If you go to Kimakea high school or Namakea high school you’re going to hear it all around. So…Kawakea’s right down.

DMAE: So we just need to go down and sit in the hallway?

LEE: Most of you students are straight out of high school, right? So how come it’s different over here.

DMAE: Maybe it’s like growing up, you don’t speak it while you’re in college? You thought it was trying to be something you’re not.

GIRL: You grow up talking a certain way with certain people. Like with my friends, I would use regular English mixed with Pidgin, but now when I talk to them I try to speak as perfect English as possible. Practicing for the real world or something.

DMAE: What’s your professional voice and what’s your at-home voice.

GIRL: Also my brother’s fiancé, she was haole. And every time I would speak, come home and tell my brother about my day: Oh, this stupid guy, he’s picking on me, I no tell what his problem is, and then she’d be stop talking like that and It’d be oh go up your haole hole. Cuz the way she talked to me was as if she was higher up than me and I felt low and I wanted to be like that and take a step up so I tried to talk like her.

DMAE: A class thing.

GIRL: Yeah. I see her going to those high restaurants, expensive places and I’m going to L & L and get the number one.

LEE: I want to ask Karen, when you came here what was your impression of Pidgin?

DMAE: Where are you from?

KAREN: California. Well, when I came here it was just another dialect. To me it was people talking with an accent. I lived in east Oakland for a while and I couldn’t understand a thing people were saying for at least a month or two. And here it took about the same amount. Pretty much everyone speaks regular English but when you hear Pidgin it can be kind of confusing because you hear words that don’t make any sense except when you know what they mean.

LEE: So it took you one month to pick up Pidgin?

KAREN: Not all Pidgin. But I can understand what different pieces mean.

LEE: Some people live here their whole life and still can’t pick them up.

DMAE: Any other thoughts. I appreciate you guys talking. It’s a weird thing. Do you want to read one last thing?

LEE: Okay. I’ll use the book, that way we only have to do one take, or try to see if I can get them in my head.

DMAE: I’m going to see if they can stop doing that. He’s sweeping and he’s going to take a long time.

LEE: This one goes out to Abbey and Hazel. It’s their favorite one. It’s called the House of Liberty. My girlfriend loves to shop at the generations department, Liberty House. Perridge, Alamorna, Kalua Mall, Winward Mall. She even go to Liberty House in town for her lunch break at work. If you’re a frequent shopper you bound to take notice of her. She’s the one who gets all the sales announcements in the mail before the ad comes out in the paper. Seems she’s always looking forward to the super sale, safari sale, rainbow sale, white sale, blue-tag sale, one-day sale, twelve-hour sale, thirteen minute, thirty-three and a half second sale. Who wants to buy expensive name-brand quality shoes in the LA shoe department where my friend Matt Takamini works. So he could probably give us off. We ended up going to Payless and getting five pairs of shoes for $6.99. Which her cost gives her ? the next day at school just walking from the parking structure to Kakiendo. Three weeks later they break and we have to repeat the whole process again. Who buys her makeup from the Clinique counter, but only when they have their free gift offer – usually a container filled with travel sizes of lipstick, mascara, eye shadow, lotion, and soap. Which she just brings home and keeps in her drawer, because usually she doesn’t use that much makeup. But the stores she likes to go at the limited times because she wants the free gift. Just because it’s free. Who dreams of purchasing a Denover bag behind the glass case in the handbag department. The real Denover, not the fake kind at the swap meet, cuz women can tell that sort of thing. Every time we go to the store we’ve got to set aside special visiting hours, so she can point out to me the exact shade and style she prefers. Finally I get tired of going there all the time, so I get her one for one-year anniversary. However I failed to foresee that I would have to get the matching checkbook, wallet, pocketbook, purse and keychain. What did I start? Who tries on at least one garment from every department. Swimsuit, shirt, blouses, shorts, slacks. Even socks must be carefully selected and fitted inside a dressing room, while I wait patiently outside looking desperately for a wall or pillar, something to lean against. So I can rest my weary, shopping-fatigued body. Or attempt to look cool, like I want to be shopping, like I’m enjoying myself. Like I belong by all the bras and panties. Who pays for everything on her LH charge card, when asked if she wants it deferred she says yes, as if she’s a member of the secret sisterhood of the shopping elite. After she signs, me, the big shot that I am, get to carry all her bags from all her separate departments luckily she asks for a shopping bag for her final purchase, so I can put all the other bags in the big bag which I suppose does make my life a little easier. Who lets me look at the aloha shirts for approximately two minutes before she goes ‘huh.’ And looks at her watch like she’s anxious to go back and buy something she had previously decided she didn’t want but apparently during those actual two minutes of think time had decided that it she can’t possibly live without, or at least some item she can always, always return later for full refund, no questions asked. But only the occasional stink-eye from the sales girl recognizes it as being a shirt she bought two seasons ago. Now, this might seem a lot to endure for a guy my age, spending his most vital years being bagboy to the almighty shopping queen. But seeing her happy is what makes me happy. At least so she says.

DMAE: Are there other writers who write in Pidgin?

LEE: Like I told you, when I was going to school, I never seen Pidgin in writing until college. It wasn’t until college I see Pidgin in writing. It was the poem ‘Tutu on the curb,’ a poem by the poet Eric Chack. Darrell Lum, he’s a famous Pidgin writer, I never know about Darrell Lum until I’m in college too. Lois Ann Yamanaka, she’s just starting to hit her stride around when I was in college.

DMAE: Will there be more?

LEE: Hopefully if the younger people don’t forget about their Pidgin.

DMAE: How important is that?

LEE: I think it’s important. You should ask the younger people if it’s important. Do we want each region to have its regional flair, or do we want the national radio broadcasting voice? Yes? Everything will sound dramatic then.

GIRL: I think it’s nice to have diversity.

LEE: When you were in Seattle did you make fun of the way they talk too? Do Seattle people talk funny?

MICHAEL: No. They’re all white. White, white white. I mean like dead white. I was the minority so I had to be nice. It was nice, I got to hang out with black people and white people.

GIRL: So the black people were white too?

MICHAEL: No, the black people was black. But Seattle was fun. It was real different from California and their whole attitude and everything was different. The time I was there was in the 80s and they were very career-oriented. I think the young people were all yuppie kind. Compared to the people in California. The people in California were laid-back.

BOY: Northern California and southern California is different again because I used to live in LA and the people are not as nice as the people up in San Francisco because the people up in San Francisco are totally different. Very nice. When you ask them something they’ll immediately come and help you. But in southern California you ask three or four times, sometimes you still don’t get your answer. I’m like okay.

DMAE: Don’t you have a nice voice. You do. Any last thoughts? I’m going away.

GIRL: I was going to say I think you should visit the high schools and see what it’s like there.

DMAE: Can you tell Jennifer where she should go?

GIRL: Kamkuli, Kuliwanai. And Kailua.

MICHAEL: If you go to the schools that’s heavy Pidgin you should go to other schools that’s not heavy Pidgin. Ponoho, Kuowani. And you’ll see the difference. A few miles away but big difference.

LEE: I have a question. If all your Kawakee peoples see Jennifer here with a microphone, do you think they’re going to talk different?

DMAE: Will they talk to Jennifer in Pidgin?

GIRL: Yeah, you just got to grab the right people and…

DMAE: Do you know people there? Can you help Jennifer find some people?

GIRL: If you go Kamakee, go to Hawaiian studies. There is only one class, but you go to her little hut and she teaches Peer education and Hawaiian studies. Kumo Kaleo. Kaleo O’Kim is her name.

DMAE: Thank you. Last thoughts? What do you think of your teacher? Thank you for reading, Lee. Do you read a lot?

LEE: I go school to school. I’ve been to Kamakee school. Name a school I’ll tell you if I’ve been there.


LEE: I went to about half the schools then.


TRACK 12 – 0:17

DMAE: So we’re done, yeah.