My mother is going to scold me after she reads today’s column, I know. But as I’ve been advised by more than one mentor, sometimes it’s better to apologize after the fact than to seek approval beforehand.
In more than eight years of “Sharing Mana’o” on this page, I’ve made my mother the focus of a dozen columns and mentioned her in perhaps a hundred more. That’s only one-fourth of the 420-plus columns I’ve written. But to her, it seems like I talk about her “all the time.”
“You should write about other people,” she admonishes me. “More important stuff. Nobody wants to read about me.”
“People love reading about you, Mom. You’re an inspiration.”
“Well, that’s enough already.”
Like most local Asians of her generation, my mother was raised to be hardworking, soft-spoken and, above all, humble. Now, approaching her 94th birthday, she is a prized volunteer at Maui Adult Day Care Centers, logging at least a dozen hours of office work each week. She’s more of an extrovert than she was as a young mother, a bit more brazen in conversation, but she still prefers the sidelines to the spotlight.
My father was the same way, content to contribute to the community quietly, without fanfare. Besides the countless hours he volunteered as an Olympic weightlifting coach, Daddy devoted a great deal of time and effort to local politics. He never aspired to hold office himself; instead, from the 1960s through the early ’80s, he served as campaign manager or adviser to various candidates, supporting men and women who, he believed, held Maui County’s best interests at heart.
Mom also worked behind the scenes — and, occasionally, on stage — to help get these candidates elected. Though she wasn’t, and still isn’t, the type to seek out attention, public speaking is actually well within her comfort zone. As a Makawao School 7th-grader, she was the first Maui girl to win Hawaii’s annual territorial “Voice of Democracy” oratorical contest. The Honolulu Star-Bulletin, on April 5, 1938, documented the victory:
“For years the ‘outside islands’ had no chance of winning. The contestants, ambitious and intelligent as they were, could not compete, as users of the English language, with Honolulu-trained boys and girls. Today that is changed. . . . Yaemi Shibasaki, 12-year-old girl of Makawao, youngest and smallest of the contestants, won the junior division. Norman Scott of Lahainaluna placed first in the senior division. A clean sweep for the Valley isle in as close, as brilliant a competition in public speaking as this territory ever saw.”
Decades later, Mom would put her skills to use as a campaign rally speaker for Congressman Spark Matsunaga, delivering rousing speeches before hundreds, maybe thousands, of cheering folks. I remember feeling as though I would burst with pride as I watched her, barely visible behind the podium, wearing her wide-brimmed hat and long white muumuu trimmed with Sparky’s stars-and-stripes logo.
She wrote and voiced radio commercials for Daddy’s candidates and helped with proofreading and editing print ads and press releases. And once, many years ago, she also managed a campaign.
When she was a student at Maui High, the school had a big/little sister program, in which incoming freshmen were paired with sophomores to help guide them through their first year. Her assigned charge adapted well to high school, involving herself in service clubs and student government, just like Mom. Student government elections were held in the school year previous to the term of office, so when her “little sister” decided to run for student body president, Mom, a senior, managed her campaign.
Little sister was a definite underdog, for the office had always been held by a boy, and the school principal had clearly stated that he preferred her male opponent. But the girls persisted, speaking one-to-one with each and every student, and in the end, their grassroots campaign was a success. Patsy Takemoto became the first female student body president, outpolling Elmer F. Cravalho.
That’s right, Mom was Patsy Mink’s very first campaign manager. Much later, when I was a reporter for KITV News, I met the congresswoman at a news conference in Honolulu and introduced myself as Yaemi’s daughter. Again, my heart filled with pride as she told me what a great help and influence my mother had been.
So, Mom, I can’t stop writing about you. Even if I praise and thank you every week, it would never be enough.
Sorry (not really).
* Kathy Collins is a radio personality (The Buzz 107.5 FM), storyteller, actress, emcee and freelance writer whose “Sharing Mana’o” column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.