Special to The Hawai‘i Herald
How Hui Makaala’s Scholarship Fueled Her Success
Linda Taira’s attraction to journalism began early. “As a child, I would read newspapers spread out in front of me on the floor, and my family always tuned in to watch the evening news,” she recalls. Today, Taira is an award-winning former journalist whose credentials include being among the first Japanese Americans to work in television network news. Currently working as a communications consultant with her own firm, she credits the Hui Makaala scholarship and co-founder Tokuichi “Dynamite” Takushi for financial support and encouragement.
While a student at Castle High School, Taira remembers meeting Takushi at the Hawai‘i State Capitol when he interviewed her for a Hui Makaala scholarship. After she won the four-year scholarship, while attending the University of Hawai‘i at Mänoa from 1974-‘78, she regularly sent reports to Takushi providing him with her academic progress as a condition of the program until he passed away in 1977.
“Just like my own father, Mr. Takushi encouraged me to keep up my grades. Without the full four-year scholarship it would have been difficult to pay for my college expenses. The financial aid allowed me to pursue my journalism studies and even start working as a night-shift reporter at a local TV station (KHON) during my senior year. I always loved writing and current events,” said Taira who earned a B.A. in journalism at UHM and an M.S. in journalism from Columbia University, long considered one of the top graduate programs in her field.
Taira began her career as a reporting intern at the Honolulu Advertiser (now the Star-Advertiser). She went on to other news positions in Honolulu and Seattle, rising to the position of chief congressional correspondent at CNN, and then becoming a CBS News correspondent in D.C. and New York. She covered Congress, the White House and presidential campaigns and traveled the world, including a trip to Moscow to report on the final U.S.-Soviet summit with President George H.W. Bush.
For Taira, the most rewarding stories focused on the human drama between individuals – whether on a small stage or a big national or international one. In 1991, as CNN’s chief congressional correspondent Taira reported on the U.S. Senate confirmation hearings — chaired by then-Sen. Joe Biden — of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court. The tense, personal drama between two people was exposed to the world. When Anita Hill alleged in her testimony that Thomas had made sexually explicit comments to her as her supervisor, “I knew I was witnessing a watershed moment in American political history. Thirty years later, we’re still seeing these issues play out in the extremely polarized political environment and with the MeToo movement,” states Taira.
She later served as a senior vice president at two global public relations firms in the nation’s capital – Ketchum Public Relations and Hill & Knowlton – and then moved to the national headquarters of PBS as its vice president of station relations.
In 2005, Linda joined The Boeing Company, where she spent 14 years supporting communications for the CEO of the company’s global defense and space business, and managed communications for Boeing’s defense programs in the Asia-Pacific region. In 2015, Linda was selected for the prestigious Japanese American Leadership Delegation, an annual program of Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs that brings together leaders of the two countries. In late 2019 after leaving Boeing, Linda opened her own communications consulting practice, based in southern California.
Linda’s grandfather, Kame Taira, emigrated from Oroku, Okinawa, to Hawai‘i in January 1907. He would later own Pacific Bakery on N. King Street and manage a small restaurant in Chinatown. Her father Walter served in the U.S. Army and met Linda’s mother, Doris (Hisako), in Tökyö during the U.S. Occupation. Doris later worked for many years at the Japanese Consulate in Nu’uanu. Linda’s Okinawan and Japanese roots help Taira to appreciate and be sensitive to other cultures and the treatment of minorities.
Thanks to her ancestral values, Taira says she was able to break down barriers as she moved up in her career. “I was usually either the first Asian American or among the first in many positions that I had over the years,” said Taira.
Taira credits Hui Makaala with providing her important financial support and “Dynamite” Takushi with helping motivate her to persevere — much as her grandfather did when he left Okinawa more than a century ago. “I wish my grandfather could see what he made possible,” she said. “He might have been amazed that one of his granddaughters would have ended up with an education and career that I’ve been very fortunate to have.”
Her advice to future scholarship recipients: “It’s important to be adaptable, willing to take a step sideways or even a step back from time to time. You never know what might come your way, but you learn so much from taking big leaps and big chances. Find mentors who can help guide you – but ultimately you must own your own path and choices.”
In January 1946, Hui Makaala was formed when members united to work for the Okinawan community; unusual for an Okinawan organization of that time, it was not explicitly focused around the region or locality from which its immigrant members (or their ancestors) had once migrated to Hawaiʻi. Instead, members created this organization to provide younger English-speaking Okinawans a sense of belonging. At the end of World War II, this need was strongly felt by Nisei in the community. Although Nisei could have, and did, join the locality clubs, these clubs were limited in their capacity to fulfill this need, because many were then controlled by the Issei, who conducted the meetings in Japanese. With a club of their own, young Okinawans could socialize with each other and develop activities based on their mutual interests. Founders of Hui Makaala were Dr. Francis Kaneshiro, Dr. Bunkichi Uesato, Clarence Uyechi, Dr. Yoshio Yamashiro, Dr. Shoyei Yamauchi, Tokuichi “Dynamite” Takushi and John Uehara.
The deadline for the 2021 Hui Makaala scholarship is May 31. To learn more about the organization and download an application go to their website huimakaala.org.