Special to The Hawai‘i Herald
Most people who know me through my company, Cane Haul Road, would probably assume I was born and raised in Hawai‘i. In response to the often-asked local question, “What high school you went?” my answer is “Kubasaki High School, Department of Defense, Sukiran (today Zukeran), Okinawa.” It’s a surprise to most people.
Do my 12 years in Okinawa, from first grade to high school graduation while my father was a construction supervisor for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, make Okinawa my home? If you ask me where I call home, my answer is Hilo, my birthplace, and Okinawa, where I lived the longest with my parents and siblings — not Honolulu, where I’ve resided for 50 years. The answer is more emotional than rational. Hilo, because I’m a fourth-generation Kagimoto from there. My father was born there, and my mother in ‘Öla‘a, so their Big Island values are what defined our home life. While growing up, we would return to Hilo every other summer to spend about a month there with family and family friends.
Okinawa is where I became aware of being an “overseas American” — an Asian in a mostly white military world surrounded by an Okinawan world. It was rather complicating and confusing.
I recently went back to Okinawa with my brother and sister for the first time in 46 years! As expected, much has changed after so many decades. What has remained the same, however, are familiar Okinawan faces, kindness and generosity.
We spent a whole day with our former maid and her family. It has always been awkward for me to talk about our “privileged” lifestyle growing up. But this was the norm for American families in the 1950s and 1960s in Okinawa and Japan. We had a yardman to take care of the greenery, a “sew girl” to make dresses for my mother, a car wash to clean our family car and a live-in maid.
Chiyoko, our maid, came to work for us when she was 16. This was the age that most Okinawan children went to work if they couldn’t continue on to higher education. Chiyoko wasn’t that much older than my sister, Kathleen. In the time she was with us, she married and had four children. Chiyoko did everything for us: She cooked, washed and ironed our clothes, cleaned the house, waxed the floors, made the beds, polished our shoes . . . you name it, she did it.
My mother was a kindergarten teacher, who taught class all day. I’m sure she taught Chiyoko how to cook and bake the American meals and desserts she mastered. The meals were typically from ingredients available at the base commissary — lots of meat, pot roast, meatloaf, beef stew, corned beef and cabbage and spaghetti. The only real chores we did were on Sunday, when Chiyoko had the day off and I actually had to make my own bed one day a week.
As I remember it, Chiyoko would work a half-day on Saturday and then catch the bus home. I think she had a house in Urasoe, where she and her family now live. As in Hawai‘i, owning land in Okinawa is a major asset.
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