Valkyrie Choy and Holly Cost

Recorded November 6, 2008 Archived November 6, 2008 01:17:29 minutes
0:00 / 0:00
Id: SFB000035


Kanani Choy, 57 is interviewed by her good friend Holly Cost 53.

Subject Log / Time Code

Kanani was born in Honolulu as one of three children.
Kanini’s family is very diverse ethnically. Her grandparents are a mix of Chinese, Spanish, Japanese, and Native Hawaiian.
Her youngest sister, Cheryl had polio.
Her father started gambling in order to pay for Cheryl’s medical bills.
Though they made a lot of money, Kanani missed a lot of school due to traveling for her father’s gambling.
Kanani talks about her parents relationship.
Kanani talks about cultural differences between herself and Holly.
She talks about going to a Native Hawaiian school and not feeling like she was smart enough to go to college.
She talks about applying to community college on a whim.
Kanani eventually transferred to University.
Kanani talks about her maternal grandmother’s ethnic background.
Kanani tells a story of her grandmother purchasing land in Hawaii only to have it taken away from her due to discrimination. Kanani found out about this land when a rich friend invited her to a party there and her grandmother explained the story.
Kanani talks about being married to an African American and the parallels to the situation of Native Hawaiians.
Kanani says that her ninth grade teacher made a huge impact on her.
They both talk about the election of Barack Obama.


  • Valkyrie Choy
  • Holly Cost

Recording Location

San Francisco StoryBooth


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00:05 My name is Holly cost. I'm 53 years old today is November 6th 2008 and I'm here at the Jewish contemporary museum contemporary Jewish Museum here in San Francisco and my partner can any is long lifelong friend.

00:30 Hi, I'm Kanani Choy. But my real my full name is Valkyrie.

00:38 Like the new movie Valkyrie and soo soo Choi and Williams, but Williams is not officially on anything, but my husband's name is Williams and I am 57 years old. And today's date is November 6th 2008 and I'm here at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco, California, and I'm with my friend Holly.

01:14 Cost Holocaust

01:19 Okay can any why don't you tell tell me something about where you were born? And where you grew up I am from I was born in Honolulu, Hawaii 1951 and I grew up in Honolulu. And I'm the oldest of five children and I was going to Richard high-fat Sue and Valkyrie Eleni of the Eco burn. And so they already that begins my story and like I said jokingly being 2008 right after the election. I have my own Barack Obama background because I'm Hawaiian Chinese Spanish English Irish, and I think a lot of my life has to do with finding an identity in this world.

02:19 Fits that description and Hawaii you can grow up like that and not have that worried. But here you kind of feel like a muggle a lot of the times, you know, the code Harry Potter and you don't you know, you got kind of don't fit into the the the real world at in the continental United States what you would call the mainland in Hawaii.

02:45 But I spent most of my childhood there, although I spend a lot of time here in California because my youngest sister had Polio right before they invented the Salk vaccine and we just Medical Services in Hawaii. We're not available at that time. The only place my parents, my father was independently employed him. He never worked for anyone. He was kind of Bohemian and the only kind of support he could get was through Shriners and they told him that they would choose medically to amputate my sister's leg and that he had to sign his parents All rights over to them before they would support him financially.

03:31 So my father became a gambler in Las Vegas in order to find a way to get the money to pay for her medical care. And so we spend a lot of time living in California as she had these intermittent operations now as a child, I don't remember exactly where and we spent a lot of time in Chula Vista near San Diego and I think it was his scripts that you know, he did he did manage to get some services and she's

04:07 54 now I think and still has her legs. So I think her at his efforts are probably well worth it. And when you were in when your father was making his money for the fruit for Cheryl surgeries in California, would you was there some place where you live for a little while or how does that work with He travel to Reno or Vegas and you would not UD in California and Hawaii and he was gone from the family. Sometimes we came here and I think I remember my paternal grandparents had friends in Los Angeles and I know and Chula Vista and them so we stayed they were nice enough to take us in for a while. I had an uncle who lived in San Francisco.

05:04 And he get a week. She would have the operations we drive up the state and we stay at his house and I must say I I really think I missed a lot of Elementary School my parents now would probably be in jail in speaking as an elementary school principal. I mean it really be something I could condone but you know, that was a 50-year you could get away with the unofficial homeschooling. My mother's version of homeschooling. I was that she'd converted to Catholicism so that they could get married in the church. My father was a Catholic my joke is I don't think he went to church since the day they got married and but she kept her vows very, you know, she tried and so we went to Catholic I went to Catholic School. My sister after me went to cap his goal as you promise as a comfort in marriage to let you bring your children of Catholic so my mother's version of homes.

06:04 Going with that. I've been to every Mission and as someone who moved here as an adult when I was like 2027 or no, maybe a little older but you know, I think I met many Native California to dance today that and so that was kind of you know, that than library books in motel rooms constituted a good portion of my elementary education II wasn't Elementary School teacher before coming a principal and I never went to third grade and I taught third grade for 8 years. So I hope I didn't scare him wrong. But yeah I made up for the day.

06:48 And so there was all five kids that were there with your family know because Cheryl. Where she had Polio my parents then didn't have children for 10 years. I believed then my you know father who was Chinese Spanish. I mean, yeah, it was still very traditional Asian. He wanted that son. And now my sister was somewhat stabilized at I guess by 10 and so all of a sudden they had Boom Boom Boom 1 2 3 in a row, so I have a sister and Wendy my brother Michael and then by the end of sister Patty, they were born very close together think within four years. My mom had the three of them and then and so they were born that's when you were back in Hawaii.

07:48 I can't really say anything you like I said he he was pretty I don't know. What would be the word. You know, what kind of phone original independent Bohemia artistic Soul you know, what one of the nuns would ask me. What does your father do he tell me what just put down artist and he could paint, you know, it was an artist but he also did chiropracting and he was kind of a brooding genius very dark side, but a very intelligent inside, you know that they did not too forthcoming Gladys secretive secret keeping, you know, and the my mother was that kind of typical wife. We didn't know a thing about finances didn't know any near where

08:42 The business was or what the business was in and so I you know, therefore I really don't know too many details except for the father that I know in a grew up with and you know, it was interesting it was different. I don't think I have a typical.

08:59 Upbringing but of course he know who is in a child of a well and some of those things you'll never be able to find out about about some of those things about your father's always remain a mystery. They will you know that and you know, you just wonder

09:21 If you did, that's it. There's so many expired. That's what I it's interesting. I mean I digress from your questions, but you know meeting you in my life and in others that are and Clay Avenue close friends that I you know, that's part of your lifelong education and their things that you know, I was exposed to through you that I still can't understand even though you know, I've gotten my two master's degrees with Patches by doctor it whatever that I can't understand certain things that I know through your life experience, you know are a given I understand it the erratic I understand it academically like taking your children to go and visit colleges and investing that time you'd I mean, I see it I encourage it through as through my academic academic side. I really can't relate to it. Honestly as you know in my life, I just think I don't think that would have ever done.

10:21 Parents said that was like something you needed to do or should do it. It was hard enough defining myself as worth investing in at all. But you know cuz it was like too bad you weren't a boy, you know, we could have done so much and then subject closed and a 10 from then on. I know it's another curious road travel that I even received the the higher education that I did.

10:50 So that you know that end I remember once we were I came here just visiting San Francisco. I must have been you know my early twenties and you had a friend and he was a friend of your roommates and you had invited him to dinner and then we were out together having a good time. And you said we have to stop having a good time. Now we got to go back because I invited so-and-so to the house and you know, he's going to need to go get it. I have to be there when he gets there and I said, but you're either your friend is there that's more his friend than you are and why can't you just let him in the house and he said no, it doesn't work. That way. I invited him. I have to be there to let him in to today. I'm 57 years old. I don't get it. You know, why would another human being let's try to understand it and wrap my mind around it but there again

11:50 Call example of the disconnect at you know, you take care of your childhood experiences and try to thread them through your life experiences and you know, stitches all over that's what makes life. Interesting. When did you get the feeling that oh, she might have been better if I was a boy. I've been born a boy. How did that how did that get that? What would gave you that impression? Can you remember things that my father said or things he wouldn't do or attention you didn't receive at the time or seeing things that you were capable of but nobody recognizing or encouraging you, you know, for instance school. I ate was always something I felt capable in doing it what you know, who's never but I never had any confidence I never under

12:50 Good where I am where I was I mean choosing to to go to college remember being in high school and I went to Kamehameha schools school for native Hawaiian children. It's private school at the time was very lucky. They had a college prep course, you know foundation and I think you know that's shifted. They used to kind of do more Blue Collar training and try to get people employed. And then right I graduated in 1969 right around that time. You know, it was a groundbreaking. And the native Hawaiian children here. They thought well Jeep, maybe some of them are smarter to put on a college track, but here I was I didn't think of myself as smarter, you know, I had friends I thought were smart.

13:39 And I went to the the auditorium for a speaker's, you know counselor was going to talk about who was going to go to college and he said his opening speech and I'm going to say most of my Educators for you know from the from the United States. They were white Caucasian Educators. I think maybe I just think two that weren't in my whole school experience in high school. Anyway from Grade 9 to 12 and they said if you're not sitting in the front seat paying attention forget going to college you're you're not going to make it and I was in the back row by see where up on the chair is this probably chewing gum and I thought okay, but you know, all right. Well right now I know it's not for me and and you know, I was you know, I can kind of remember myself being 17 thinking that that was a real thought.

14:39 And kind of going with it, you know, and I didn't remain very conscious about that as I've dealt with children in school. That's a big moment for me to put that together with what I'm trying to communicate to families and children now in my life because it can be that simple Symphony on Flipping to know I never had one person tell me different or identify the that was the moment that maybe we should try to run that by her again. There was no awareness in my life for anybody influencing me that you know that you think more than you know, 10 seconds about it, but then something happened cuz you went to college. So where what what happens if it sounds like a comedy routine, but I have a girlfriend that was older who was I admired very much. She was very attractive. She was a stewardess and she came to

15:39 Rent a room from my parents who rented out space in our home let you know and rented rooms to make extra income. And you know, I had my sending didn't she seem to have it all together and one day she said, you know, I'm going to go register for Community College take some classes and I'm so boring. Would you come and stand with me? Of course? This is all going on in pidgin English because you know, we didn't, you know speak standard English if necessarily in Hawaii, so just wanted somebody to talk to so I stood in line with their end in Hawaii standing in line is a real Act of friendship and it's outdoors. It's so hot those community colleges were really lines were long. So, you know again, I still have that same brain that made up my mind that I wasn't going to college even though I was a little older then but I was already

16:38 I think married and and Pregnant cuz I got married at everything 18 and I may have been pregnant already then I'm standing in line and

16:49 She she and I just thought you know, I've been in line so long I'm here now. I might as well register. So I registered for classes and subclasses than I thought, you know all this is not real college of me so easy, you know and I went and I I ended up with a 4.0 at Community College. So I went to see a counselor some you know, I can't find anything. Would it take your what do you think I should do when he looked at my grades and he said, you know, why don't you go to the university. I mean you you have a 4.0 you've taken everything still intimidated said that I can't I can't even universe end up smart enough to be ridiculous. You know, how smart can you show your smart enough? I never believed that but then

17:39 I didn't have any place else to go. So I I went to the university. I was working part-time collecting traffic fines in the Traffic Violations Bureau. I hated it. I know making check marks and you know, you had to show your empty pain and they test it to make sure there was no more ink in it for they gave you a new pen. And I know I wish I thought I would see it so bad to get that they put me in the Mailroom. I was delivering mail and I was delivering mail to the judges cuz I'm the court building and they talked to me and they said what are you doing being an email girl and Michelangelo just a job, you know and they sing for your smart that you could call it started to you or like I should you know, and then so I went to the university. My family didn't live far from there.

18:31 And I went in at those days your great point from Community College transferred into your state college. So I came in at 4.0. Next thing. I was nominated to be in Mortar Board, which is this Witt at that time woman's Honor Society. I guess free Title Nine and so I find myself in the top 5% of my graduating class and I'm in this Honor Society and then I get elected. I thought it was when I read the letter I thought it was said motorboat. I didn't know who it aboard aboard was and then

19:08 You know you rise to the occasion you find yourself being recognized and honored for being intelligent. HEI very kind of make good on this and again, you know the owner, you know, one of the few classes that I I think I didn't do well in just due to being not informed are intelligent enough with meteorology cuz I thought I was going to go in and learn about meteors but everything is easy. And you know, I did have my baby by then. It wasn't easy and I still I'm sure was working part-time and and I I was going to I Will Always Love dark. I wanted to be a fine artist, but I couldn't afford the materials and an art studios like 3 hours long and a regular class. This takes one hour, so I was broke and I just want to see a counselor Isis. Look I've got these credits.

20:08 What's my quickest way out? I can't afford to be here anymore. So I got a degree in Asian art history.

20:16 Enjoy, but it and it was a quicker and cheaper than a fine arts degree, which I really my passion would have been to try to complete that and the other thing like I said, I think I took a freshman English three times, but I could always right and you know communicate but it was so boring that I just couldn't make I couldn't lie. I just got done dropping I'm dropping again, but finally I bit the bullet and just did it but it wasn't cuz I couldn't do is just like you, you know, those freshman classes. Are there nine hundred people in a theater. I mean it is an inspiring and so I've I've disposed of victim of that repeatedly.

21:00 It was kind of interesting that you ended up being really interested in art that was kind of a little bit of a legacy from your dad of these traits are inherited, you know, my grandmother his mother.

21:17 Who was extremely know she could so and decorate cakes images of you know, she didn't do painting. She did domestic creativity and and she spoke like five or six languages being raised in the sugarcane fields and camps, you know, they have a lot of different ethnicities. She'd watch television. See what Japanese cooking shows and shiny in a Chinese. She spoke Spanish. I think she was maybe half Chinese and Spanish. I'm not even sure and

21:53 In so she had all this in a talent and I just wonder if you don't see myself and what I've been able to do in my lifetime hook or crook or whatever to have this woman and that I could just feel probably be this Creative Drive and having eight children and you know, all you could do was decorate fancy cookies and make pillows. I mean, I think oh my God. You don't go to My Face. Ya Ya tell me a little bit about your mom's family about the family that she came from in. Did you have a chance to know them when you were growing guess I'd actually I'm closer to my mother my maternal grandmother and grandfather there native Hawaiian, but half of it, you know, like I said being mixed is very common. My grandfather his name was his last name was Colburn my mother.

22:53 The name is Colburn and they come from Massachusetts New England. There's Hawaiian a lot of Hawaiian history and people connected with the New England because of the Wailing that came to Hawaii. So they were busy captains and then missionaries, you know came with the the ships. And so that's how that side of the the family evolved in Hawaii. My grandmother is like also Part White. I think she's Chinese. I've seen some Chinese and I know that they were both they both always told me they were half and half Hawaiian and half white, you know, everybody forgot the little league in 1/16 of this or that but I know that there were other things because one of the person who supposedly supposedly baguettes brought sugarcane,

23:53 To Hawaii is named on depaolo Marion and the accused had a figure in the wax museum in Hawaii. And I remember going with my grandmother and she's telling me that you know, this is your great great, whatever how many great grandfather, but I know I know that in those days like they had like thirty two wives or something so he could be almost everybody, you know, they're directly and she was so proud of her native Hawaiian Heritage and you know, she said it deliberately in passing on in a genealogical information to me that I should know that our family was connected to this man.

24:39 So they is it my fault. My grandfather was an electrician interesting story about my my grandparents.

24:48 He my grandmother, you know of was was very wise. I guess you know, she she is the more responsible of the to my grandfather had a drinking problem, but my grandmother saved money and she knew that, you know getting her toe hold in land and it's very similar to you know, my husband's African American and it's kind of similar to family stories. I've heard from him that the the the woman was the one that had more ability to make those inroads because men were looked upon is so threatening and there was so busy keeping men in their place that women could somehow through less conventional means get into these markets, you know, once without thread and acquire land and apparently she did that in a very nice Beach area that wasn't that expensive at that time.

25:46 And then there were people I think she told me it was the owner of the Hawaiian Electric. Well, I think Hawaiian Electric and maybe you know some other prominent company.

26:01 You know this Enclave where she owned the land became kind of a prestigious Country Resort and they didn't want any native Hawaiians in that area. And so they condemned her land and also called her in and said, you know, if you want your husband to have a job. Do you know you'll sell it to us? And then for what we say, and actually I don't think they gave her any money. They traded her for a less desirable piece of land, you know down the road and it was called malaekahana this area and she's never told Mike. She told me she never told my grandfather that at that happened because she did everything go give me up everything she could to preserve his manhood and you know, even twitching and tell him that that happened to her, you know, she was so strong.

27:01 She bore it all herself. And the reason that I found the story was that someone I worked with who was from this wealthy missionary family eventually acquired the land to their family and she invited me to come for the weekend. And you know, this is where where that's why I'm sure she may not know her family history. I didn't know but my grandmother's never said don't go but she had a reason for telling me the story. What did she tell you before you went or I guess you didn't go once you heard the story.

27:41 You know it.

27:43 It was

27:45 Yeah, very telling she was she was so strong this African-American and I do know why don't you grow up in an island? It's kind of a very insular.

28:04 You know what your only role models for African Americans are military and the the media all I ate a both pretty negative and then to have this chapter in my life and see these parallels parallels.

28:22 From a net, you know from a personal perspective that we don't not reading it in the textbook but hearing real people tell their stories and then they're real story. And that wasn't that was your family that was happened to your family.

28:42 Now I often wonder why didn't I just go? I don't know. I can't even deny. You know, I'm making stupid decisions about college and things and yet I remember making that a conscious choice.

28:58 What did you tell your friend I said I can come and come a strength is empathy. You know, I always feel like this bike try Multicultural translator. Try not like kind of say it the way I can see it over this side and I can see it for that side. And of course both sides think I'm totally bulshit not thinking about that.

29:37 Tell me a little bit about what was it. Like when you when you came to the mainland, I mean you were here as a small child, but then you came to the mainland once you were young adults and how is different for you. What was it like in terms of race and culture when you came here? And you saw how things were here in the mainland? Well, I like I mentioned that one experience with you. That's where I think you know, a lot of changes were happening. So, you know, I met my current husband in the Virgin Islands. I had gone there to teach after my divorce from my first husband and my plan was to take my daughter there and he no have some of these experiences that I was really feeling I was missing cuz I got married so young and I stayed in Hawaii and you know, I had the mind now in the confidence and then

30:37 So I signed up with the federal government to go and teach and be a reading specialist in St Croix and that's where I met coffee.

30:47 And he you know, I had to learn a lot from him. I mean, I really didn't ever ever really know any other black people in you know, my I mean never met but nobody close intimate no best friends or anything but I felt like I was just learning so much and trying to figure out what's so much having myself involved with this person. Then we move back to Hawaii and you know, I don't care what color you are. It's a it's difficult. Hawaii was a very race bias play to African Americans to Black Sea know. It's it cuz it's the they grow but that same experience of me and I don't like limited exposure negative negative, you know Fear Factor big Fear Factor in such a multicultural place, you know, that was like the one Fear Factor am and the other things like how you look at it at Holy sir or Caucasian people.

31:47 You have this filled in pictures already filled in for you, but it's all based on, you know, kind of very few personal experiences. But you know here I am right at that age right at the time. We're meeting people like you I'm being coffee and then I come here and you know, it's okay. I was educated already but curious things like that.

32:15 When it when people say hello, how are you? And you know, I really came from a place where if you going to ask me I'd like to tell you but it's not always fine. You know, I mean, like all Wells kind of tired to stay up late and you talk story you talk to each other and hearing people asking to keep walking and I mean that was kind of a mystery for a long time. Like why did you ask if you don't want to know I mean clearing again at nothing I could list in a book a minute just come to mind as an example of where your mind is that when you trying to fit in with a different place and then knowing enough, you know, what the ethnic sense of humor in Hawaii is is fine. It goes over there. I don't know maybe things have changed in 25 years since I've lived there but I don't think that much about it. You know, it's appropriate that goes over there but here and in a setting of Education like I feel like while I'm smart enough to make that at that page

33:15 But you know in your mind you still trying to think okay. What's what's politically appropriate? What what is in Chino that and you're doing similar cultural adjustments constantly I hear in San Francisco, but I love this city cuz you know, the diversity is just the kind of thing that really turns me on so I I love you know, right now we work with a very in Chinese Chinese neighborhood in the sunset where most of the children of my school are Asian, but predominantly, you know, what variety of Monolithic representation of Chinese people, but and I just think that they're so interesting so, you know, I mean you have that background of me and then you can Chinese King come out.

34:08 I am able to relate and I feel comfortable, you know, so that's what I always say. I like to be able to blend. But again I make impression is everybody thinks like a you know, I'm depending like, you know the elephant in the room, but talk to you they talked to you in Tagalog. They talk to you in Spanish. They talk to you in Chinese and your legs, you know, where did Tim and they really want speak to you dropped the ball there. You gets beat the leg of you drop the ball.

34:55 So can any who who is someone who might have be a person that you think he had a really big influence on your life. And what kind of lessons do you think you might have gotten from that person or persons? You know, I think there been many people and I kind of can limit it to the context of who and what and what are what part of my life. I always will think fondly of my 9th grade English teacher who finally stop correcting my spelling and started complimenting me on my content again with the person. I've been here in education and and that being like a real foundational of memory that has affected so many of my decisions and so many of the thing the things I've advised people that I've worked with

35:55 People work for me. So I think it's different for all these various life experiences. You you influenced me because you know, I I did when I went to the Virgin Islands and I had all those those Caucasian roommates who pick the food off my plate and smelled it in the put it back down thinking that I was going to eat it after that again. What the hell? Do you know what this is supposed to be educated teachers. What are they teeth again. Now I know they didn't know they aren't educated the big gaps in their life experiences. But at the time you make these assumptions like you have a degree must know something so, you know,

36:42 So much for a new president. I think he's got it going on. It's very momentous that we could have this interview. It's such a momentous time and we just have a little time left. So I want to take this moment to say something to you cuz I know I'm going to get Alex hooked up to but I just want to say that, you know, I wanted to do this interview with you because you

37:17 Have so much life and you bring me so much. Joy. I know that if you come over I'm just going to laugh. I'm going to have a wonderful time. You know, we always have great conversations we can go and do nothing go to garage sale or going or or do something exciting. It doesn't matter. It's always it's always just it's always just a wonderful time and you've been through a lot and I just see you as being such a rock and

37:56 But a rock that is just so full of so if you have so much to give and I just feel that I'm really lucky to be a part of your life and thank you for being my friends tell you about that. We didn't even talk about my kidney transplant transplant save lives.

38:20 Yes.

38:24 But thanks Holly. I still don't get why you picked me but it was it's been great fun. As always. It's we're so fortunate that we can go back and do this again in 10 minutes. Yes. Yes exactly why I kind of just just keep going on.