By Jeff Gere

Story Summary:

In Hawaii, Jeff Gere meets a Samoan man, who tells him his history of crime and prison. “What turned your life around?” Jeff asked. What do you think can change the direction of a life? Listen, and Jeff will tell you what the Samoan man said.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: The Lei Queen Contest in Honolulu Hawaii

Discussion Questions:

  1. Please identify on a world map Hawaii, Oahu.
  2. Google Hawaiian Lei, Lei Day Celebration.
  3. Do you believe that love can change the direction of a life, can improve it, and can give new meaning to another? If so, who has given you that sort of support in your life? If not, what do you make of this tale told by the Samoan man?
  4. Can you think of anything that can change a person’s path in life for the better? What can change it for the worse? Speak from your own experience or perhaps from someone you know or something you heard. What inspires change in people?

Resources:

  • Ka Lei: The Leis of Hawaii by Marie A. McDonald
  • No Na Mamo: Traditional and Contemporary Hawaiian Beliefs and Practices by Malcolm Naea Chun

Themes:

  • Asian Americans/Asians
  • Crossing Cultures

Full Transcript:

Aloha, my name is Jeff Gere and I am a resident of the state of Hawaii. Now for 27 years I worked for the city and county of Honolulu’s Department of Parks and Recreation as the Drama Specialist. It was my job to tell stories to everyone who has ears. I also founded the Tuck Story Festival, the biggest storytelling event in the state. And also doing a million small duties for a 1000 community events.

Now Hawaii is gifted with a plethora, a bounty of floral life. People love stories. They love the flowers. Therefore, we have a city and county celebration of the flowers, the Leis, the garlands at the Lei Day Festival and thousands of people come into the park to see these gorgeous works of art called Lei.

Not only that, for that celebration we have a Lei Queen, so of course, we need an event to pick the Lei Queen. And on this particular morning in the late 90s, I was tasked with being the parking attendant. So before any sun came up, I was tasked with a flashlight, directing traffic, making sure they could unload the car, directing them to go up the two stairs to the second floor of the Ala Wai Golf Course where the event was going to unfold.

Well, by Dawn nobody was coming in that needed to set up and all the people were pulling in. My job was done. I went upstairs drank a cup of coffee. Listened to the grumbling of my co-workers, “Oh I gotta get up early – blah, blah, blah.”

Never mind. I would like to see what the event is like. So I saunter down the walkway, opened up the double doors into the ballroom where the event was unfolding. What a difference fifty yards made. I am now in the front of floor to ceiling, huge open windows looking over a golf course, sleeping Honolulu, Palolo Valley and the Ko’olau Mountains behind. Dawn is coming into the world.

The edges of this ballroom are laced with Lawai Fern and Palm Trees. It’s an envelope of green. Five islands where women are sitting making fresh lei with fresh flowers. They’re dressed to the nines. Their hair is up. There’s flowers everywhere. Ohana – people are circling. The extended family is so proud of these ladies. Old ladies are walking around with clipboards. The Kupuna asking questions – the girls responding. It’s a beautiful celebration.

Everybody’s happy. Except for me. I’m tired. I sit down in the row of seats. I’m thinking, “Man this is what the Parks Department should do. Celebration people making leis and flowers. Man this is gorgeous. I’m happy just to be in the room.

And I’m sleeping.

I yawn. I look down the row, two, three seats, there’s a Samoan guy. He’s yawning. He sees me. I see him. We start to yawn together. We laugh because we’re yawning together.

I look at him, I say, “Yeah I got up early. I had to do the parking.”

“Yeah I know. I came in with my girlfriend. She’s going to be a queen. She’s over there.”

She turns over. He turns over. We both look at her. She looks at him. She smiles he smiles.

I say, “Oh, pretty girl. Good luck.”

“Yeah, to be a Lei Queen’s a lotta work. I didn’t know anything about that. Huh, we working for two days. Hardly any sleep last night. But anyway, no problem. She wanna be queen. I support her. That’s enough for me.”

“Cool”

Now just about then the chalang-a-lang starts to kick in. This is 30 seniors dressed to the nines – matching aloha shirts, mu u mu u. It’s a red field, yellow flower print on top of everything. The men have white pants. The women have their hair pulled up, flowers everywhere, two stand up bass’s, guitars, ukuleles. They are singing, it sounds good, they look good.

Wow. I look over at him. I say, “This is nice.”

“Yeah! It’s nice to be here. Nice to talk to you.”

He says, “Time ago, you know a guy like you look at me – pffft, I take my fist and I pound your face bro. I break it open. I take you out. “

I’m starting to wake up.

Say, “Well, I’m glad those days are gone.”

He says, “Yeah. I grew up in KPT. He’s got crude letters etched from Kuhio Park Terrorists.

This is the subsidized housing high rise apartment buildings. Rough places, places where the immigrant islanders from these little communities find a home in Honolulu. We had a park there, but we closed it down because we were tired of having burned furniture thrown off the top of the building sinking to the bottom of our pool.

Rough place.

“You know. I had blackness in my soul. I had a hatred. I was mad at everybody. Fight – sure! Drugs – oh yeah! Knives, guns, you name ‘em, I did ‘em. Gangs, oh yeah!”

“They caught me – Pffft. Three years is a long time to be in the bin. Now I out. All that was old. I, I got a new life.”

The music swirled around. I paused a moment. I said, “What are you doing now?”

“Hey Bro, I gonna make my parole. I’m gonna go back to school. I gonna learn things. Yeah. Me in school. Dig that. I gonna be a counselor and then I’m going to go back to KPT and I’m gonna help the kids, so then they no make the same mistake as me made. I gonna get the blackness out of their heart too. I wanna help. I just glad I got another chance.”

I said, “Yeah.”

Music swirled. Smell of flowers.

I said, “So what turned it around? The blackness, the new life. What did that for you?”

“You really want to know? The thing that will change my life is the love of a good woman. That’s her over there. I do anything for her. This is a beautiful thing and I happy she happy.”

I sat back in my chair I said, “Love brothers. Aloha can do that.”

 

The Lei Queen Contest in Honolulu, Hawaii: A Small Incident