“We are a Model of What America Can Become,” Former UH President Fujio Matsuda Tells Young Vision Crafters

Dr. Fujio Matsuda
Published with Permission

Editor’s note: What does the future hold for Hawai‘i? Is it a future that we will stumble into que sera sera — whatever will be will be — style, or will it be one based on a broad, well thought through vision for our island state? That is the weighty question now being considered by a task force made up of members of HAPA — the Hawaii Asia Pacific Association — and the Kamehameha Schools. Representing HAPA in the crafting of this vision are the young executives of its various member-organizations, their counterparts from the Kamehameha Schools and leaders in the native Hawaiian community. The result of their sharing of experiences, perspectives, and hopes and dreams for Hawai‘i’s future will be presented in a book and a documentary film to be shared with the general public early next summer.

But the work will not end there. The young vision team will continue to work together on a public service project and also meet with other leadership groups in Hawai‘i to map out strategies for implementing the vision over the next three generations.

The following is a shortened version of Matsuda’s talk to the young leaders, which followed Dator’s presentation. Our thanks to Dr. Matsuda for allowing us to share the text of his presentation with our readers. To read Dr. Matsuda’s full speech, please subscribe to The Herald!

“It is a perspective that I acquired through osmosis — a full immersion process that transformed me from a Japanese immigrant background to a Japanese Hawaiian. It started early in my life through contact with native Hawaiians and immigrant kids from other countries.

I was fortunate to have been born and raised in Kaka‘ako, a society of immigrants from many Pacific, Asian and American (European) ethnic and cultural traditions. Kaka‘ako is a small community located adjacent to and east of the civic center and harbor of Honolulu, the government and commercial center of the state of Hawai‘i. The original American immigrants (haole) were New England missionaries. The second-generation kids of immigrants spoke their native tongues at home and Pidgin English at the playgrounds and in school. Pidgin English was recently declared to be a legitimate language. We were all bilingual at an early age! English was a “foreign language” we had to learn at Pohukaina Elementary School.

We played, went to school, grew up together and dated when we became teenagers, completely color-blind. I had as many Chinese girl friends as I did Japanese girl friends at a time when China and Japan were bitter enemies. The common denominator in our friendship was Hawai‘i, our adopted land.

What I did not understand at that time was that this could only happen in Hawai‘i, with its warm, welcoming people and culture. I was thinking only of immigrant families and how we got along. It’s like looking at the ingredients of a delicious pot of stew and forgetting the pot and the stove and the people who provided them so we could make the stew. [ … ]

Photo of group discussion with Dr. Fujio Matsuda
Dr. Fujio Matsuda (right table, center) listens with interest as a multiethnic people at least two generations younger than himself share their views on Hawai‘i’s future.

America is a democracy where diverse races and cultures try to live peacefully together. But we see our democracy unraveling into self-destructive factions fighting for political and economic control. We don’t have time to discuss this today, but in thinking about our future, that is an initial condition that we must start from and have to deal with.

I like to think of the future in terms of generations. In Hawai‘i, the racial and cultural mix in individuals change with each succeeding generation. [ … ]

We are a color-blind society that has transcended traditional racial and cultural barriers, by no means perfect. We tend to be much more tolerant and accepting than other communities that have not achieved the racial blending to the degree we have. That this happened in Hawai‘i is no accident, I believe. The Hawaiian values of aloha and ‘ohana provided the environment within which this melding took place.” – Dr. Fujio Matsuda

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