On Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2021, the Hawaii United Okinawa Association celebrated its 70th anniversary. As a supporter of 50 different clubs and 40,000 members, HUOA continues to work to preserve Hawai‘i’s Okinawan legacy for future generations. HUOA is also a sponsor and collaborator for a range of annual events such as the Hawaii Okinawa Student Exchange Program, Children’s Day Camp, Golf Tournament and Legacy Awards Banquet honoring Uchinanchu in the community and, the most popular, Okinawan Festival. Due to the pandemic, this year’s celebration was held virtually on HUOA’s YouTube channel.
Former HUOA president Lynn Miyahira started off the program by introducing HUOA’s mission which is to “preserve, promote and perpetuate” Okinawan culture in Hawai‘i. She reminded viewers that many of the founding members and the organizations that were a part of HUOA actually preceded the overall umbrella organization, which was started by the Issei as a way to provide support during the plantation days. Over the years, many more clubs were formed based upon various interests. It is through the tremendous support of the community that has provided HUOA with its sustaining members and continual interest for new ones.
Derek Fujio, chapter president of the Ryukyu Sokyoku Koyo Kai-Hawaii Shibu, followed with an introduction of himself and his school’s previously recorded performance of Kajadifu-bushi, a classical Okinawan musical performance, which he described as the “beauty and splendor that is the joy of today.” Rows of students from the Ryukyu Sokyoku Koyo Kai-Hawaii Shibu are then seen playing koto — a Japanese plucked half-tube zither instrument — while singing together to the plucking instrument and steady beat of a drum.
Patrick Miyashiro, HUOA president 2021 was then joined by HUOA executive director Jon Itomura, to share what the organization is about for those who haven’t known about it before.
Special guest appearances were then made by Gov. David Ige, Governor of Okinawa Prefecture Denny Tamaki, Mayor Rick Blangiardi, Mayor Mikiko Shiroma of Naha City, Okinawa, and Counsel General of Japan Yutaka Aoki, all of whom gave their congratulations to HUOA for sharing with Hawai‘i, and the world, everything that is Okinawan culture.
A recap recording of HUOA’s Yuntaku Live! Episode 41 “Pigs from the Sea” then shared how HUOA was formed. HUOA member Shari Tamashiro explained that HUOA played an important role in Okinawa’s post-war recovery effort by sending clothing, livestock and other essentials to help the people get back on their feet. Many of the member clubs of HUOA were, and still are, comprised of families whose ancestors immigrated to Hawai‘i from the same regions in Okinawa. It was through this type of organic crowd-funding that helped Okinawans, both abroad and in Hawai‘i, from suffering after the Battle of Okinawa and continued to create the amazing sense of community that still exists today.
A video compilation followed of the many clubs that started within HUOA such as Osato Doshi Kai, Nago Club, and Hawaii Shuri – Naha Club, along with various segments of past HUOA presidents such as Dr. Henry Gima (1951, 1952), Edward Kuba (1986), and Courtney Takara (2018).
Proceeding the history of clubs within HUOA was a musical dance performance by Frances Nakachi Kuba of Tamagusuku Ryu Senju Kai Hawaii. While moving effortlessly with a gold fan in hand, Kuba glides with intention and grace to the beat of Okinawan music.
To help perpetuate Okinawan culture is through its new and younger members. Colin Hoo, vice president of the Young Okinawans of Hawaii club, reassured viewers that although the name of the club says “Young,” he encouraged people of all ages to join the group who is interested in their mission of continuing to inspire and perpetuate Okinawan culture.
The event concluded with a segment about the history of the Hawaii Okinawa Center. Founded in 1990, which marked the 90th anniversary of Okinawan immigration to Hawai‘i, the Hawaii Okinawa Center has become a “home” for active Uchinanchu community members. It was designed by architect Maurice Yamasato, who incorporated the traditional Okinawan motifs in the plans along with two turtle-shaped buildings, an auditorium, a pavilion, an artifact display area, gift shop, and two gardens.
When asked why is it important to sustain the club for the next generation, Miyashiro responds that “it is important because we must value the precious stories and sacrifices that our parents and past generations made for us.” While walking in a parade, representing HUOA in 2006, Miyashiro remembered the proud feeling he had when he saw an elderly woman stand up from the crowd and bow before him and the rest of the club members with tears in her eyes. “I really had that feeling that we were all united as one. We should be proud that we are one of the few clubs that has a meeting place to maintain a relationship with our homeland. Our long standing history is a testament to teaching the values of our ancestors to our younger generation.”