One of my heroes is the father of Patsy T. Mink, the beloved late U.S. congresswoman from Hawaii who died of viral pneumonia in a Honolulu hospital 10 years ago on Sept. 28.
Let me tell you the story.
Suematsu Takemoto was one of the first to earn a college degree in engineering at the University of Hawaii. He became a land surveyor for the East Maui Irrigation district, the entity that oversaw the masterfully built irrigation ditches constructed between 1876 and 1923 to water the cane fields of HC&S and Maui Agricultural Co., which operated the Paia and Haiku plantations. Japanese laborers built those ditches, and 22,000 Japanese, mostly sugar workers, comprised about half of Maui's population in 1930. (Filipinos were a fourth, the 1,800 haole less than a tenth.) Takemoto worked directly under EMI's head Harrison Foss in a high-level job for a Japanese in those days.
He married Mitama Tateyama, who grew up in Kailua where her parents ran a store, and they had two children, Eugene and Patsy. Patsy was named for the daughter of Paia Hospital's popular Dr. Arthur C. Rothrock. "My mother couldn't think of a haole name to give me," Patsy told me at the Paia Reunion of 2001.
"That's where we grew up, running around that concrete building of the plantation office," she said. Saturdays they'd be dropped off at the little library the plantation opened in Skill Village in 1929, the year Patsy was born.
"The marvel that was contained in this itty-bitty library that didn't contain more than a couple of hundred books," she recalled. Her aunt, Tanaio Okazaki, was in charge of yardage at the huge Paia Store. "I thought she owned it."
Patsy loved camp life. "Paia has always been a part of me, part of my being. I treasure everything about the place. It has meant everything to me, everything I care about," she said.
The Takemoto family lived in the idyllic community of Hamakuapoko, of which nothing now remains, in the wide valley that stretches above Ho'okipa between Paia and Maliko Gulch. It was a favored place with old monkeypod and mango trees and "in between weather," as Bill Eby told me.
Most people lived in the 200 or so camp houses, but because Takemoto was a supervisor, the family home was set off by itself on several acres of open pasture near the old mill. Nearby was the Hamakuapoko Grammar School that ran camp children through the obligatory 8th grade. On a ridge above was the row of marvelous residences with long driveways where the haole supervisors lived.
"It was just so carefree, wonderful, just playing, being a tomboy, doing whatever I wanted to do and nobody to stop me," Patsy remembered. She and Eugene attended Kaunoa English Standard School in Paia, but reveled in the country life. "Everybody cared about everybody else," she said. "It was just one big happy family."
Then one day, two years after Pasty graduated from old Maui High School as student body president, her father was passed up for a promotion yet again. The glass ceiling in those days deemed that Asians not be promoted to managerial positions. Haole were hired at all cost, even from the Mainland if necessary.
That was the end. Suematsu Takemoto told his family he was quitting. "I was heartbroken," Patsy said. They begged him to reconsider, but Takemoto moved his family to Honolulu, where he planned to start his own land-surveying business.
"But nobody would hire him. He was blackballed," Patsy said. It took 10 years for her father to get his own business going. The move was a dreadful blow to Patsy's mother, who had lived the good life of a supervisor's wife, giving teas, supervising the yardman provided by the plantation. She was forced to support the family by working at a soda fountain.
For Patsy the timing couldn't have been worse. She had just entered the University of Hawaii, and now there was no money for tuition. She saw a scholarship for children of World War I veterans advertised - "Dad, did you save your discharge papers?" - and with that was able to continue her education.
Years later, she came to appreciate her father's courage, and devoted her life to the fight for equal rights.
* Laurel Murphy is a former staff writer for The Maui News whose "Keiki o ka 'Aina" column appears each Tuesday. She can be reached at email@example.com.