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Our Kakaako: A legacy of loyalty, aloha, and family values

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The Galuterias

Front and center: Senator Brickwood Galuteria. Standing left to right: Barbara Kaholokula, Mae Dela Cruz and Peter Galuteria. Photo: Napua Heen /

I recently had the honor and pleasure of sitting down with one of Hawaiʻi’s old-time local families, the Galuterias.

As we sit and talk and laugh, they take me back to a time of dirt lanes and hanging fishtail ferns, a time of digging for brass in the city dump and diving for money as the cruise ships come in at Aloha Tower.

Meeting the Galuterias

We meet in Senator Brickwood Galuteria’s office at the Hawaii State Capitol. In attendance are Senator Galuteria, his Uncle Peter, his Aunt May and his Aunt Barbara.

Peter, May and Barbara were raised by their parents, Pedro and Rose Galuteria, in Kakaʻako during the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s. Pedro and Rose had four sons and five daughters.

I bring out an old map of Kakaʻako from the late 1920’s, and Peter excitedly shows me where he was born, at their home on the corner of Coral and Pohukaina streets in 1933. Peter was the fourth child and second son. Sister May, sixth child and fourth daughter, was also born on Coral Street before the family moved makai to the Ilalo Street camp. Sister Barbara was the baby of the family and had the luxury of being born at Kapiʻolani Hospital. In our time together, Barbara is the most vocal. The passion for Kakaʻako, however, is equal among the siblings.

Memories of Growing up in Kakaako

The three siblings come to life as they reminisce about their days at Pohukaina Elementary School. I am impressed as Peter remembers every single one of his elementary school teachers, naming each by name from the first through sixth grade. Barbara shares a special story, one that truly demonstrates aloha. As a sixth grader at Pohukaina, she participated in a program helping physically disabled children with their lunches and bathroom visits. In addition, she would go to the Opportunity School on Ilalo Street, across from her home, and help more friends with learning disabilities. They played, among other things, billiards and ping-pong or simply “talked story.” As she shares about her experiences, there is a genuine love and respect in Barbara’s voice. I can tell that she truly connected with the disadvantaged students for which she cared.

The conversation turns light-hearted as the trio talks about feeling safe and comfortable and playing in the neighborhood. I laugh in disbelief as Barbara says, “Our playground, which I thoroughly enjoyed, was the city dump.”

The Ilalo Street camp where the family lived was in close proximity to the incinerator where the city would burn its rubbish. (The incinerator is where John Dominis sits today.) To the children, the piles of trash were treasure troves. They would dig for brass and sell it to “the Japanese man.” One of the Galuteria’s relatives would go early in the morning to “kapu” the trash piles brought in by the city street cleaners, because these piles would have money in them.

“They didn’t know they were poor,” Senator Galuteria jokingly chimes in through chuckles. We all have a good laugh at his comment.

Of Love and Loyalty

How true those words are, though. They didn’t know they were poor, because everyone growing up in Kakaʻako was the same. Everyone shared and helped one another. And above all else, the residents of Kakaʻako were loyal to each other.

“We really loved one another,” says Barbara. And then we start joking around again, because now we’re talking about “gang fights.”

“If there was a ʻgang fight,’” Barbara says proudly, “Kakaʻako would be fully represented.” These “gang fights” Barbara is referring to are confrontations had with other Honolulu neighborhoods, like Kalihi and Kaimuki. Back in those days, Kakaʻako had quite a reputation as a rough neighborhood, because the Kakaʻako boys didn’t back down from a fight and produced a number of champion amateur boxers. The Kakaʻako neighborhood itself was very tight-knit. They stuck together.

The conversation turns serious as May says, “Even to today, if there is a funeral for someone from Kakaʻako, everyone will go to the funeral.” Sorrow for friends and family lost shows on her face.

Of Family and Legacy

We talk about legacy. “What would you like to see perpetuated and cultivated by the next generations of Kakaʻako?” I ask. In short, the answer is family values.

Peter, May and Barbara felt safe and comfortable growing up. They were well loved and well fed. “We didn’t have very much money, but our mother made sure we had plenty to eat,” says Peter. “Our mother, she fed us very, very well.”

“Every Saturday morning,” recalls Barbara, “my mom would say, ‘Little girl, let’s walk to the store.’ And she would teach me all this good advice. ʻRemember this,’ she would say. ʻAnd this you should do all the time.’”

Kakaʻako was a good place to raise a family. It was a place where children played freely and neighbors were there for each other. It was a place where friends became family. This is the Kakaʻako the Galuterias would like to see again.

“We must look back at our values,” says Peter, “our family values. How do we help each other as we used to? How do we help [the new residents] to remember family value?” Peter’s words resonate with his sisters, and everyone sits quietly for a moment.

Tears and Anger at Leaving Kakaako

The Galuterias left Kakaʻako in 1962. They moved to Kāneʻohe and “took Kakaʻako with them,” says Senator Galuteria. It’s a bittersweet subject. “People didn’t willingly move out of Kakaʻako,” says Barbara. “There was sadness and anger at having to leave.” But, the cottages and family run businesses were being torn down, and large warehouses were going up. There was traffic, construction workers, and new, unfamiliar faces. “The atmosphere of Kakaʻako as we knew it had changed,” says Barbara. Kakaʻako was no longer the haven of her childhood. Fortunately, one of the Galuteria brothers had had enough business success that he was able to purchase the family a nice home in Kāneʻohe.

Hopes for a Renewed Kakaako with a Local Feel

The Galuterias are excited about the developments in Kakaʻako. After decades as an industrial area, there is hope of having a thriving community once again.

The Galuterias grew up in Ilalo Street camp, which was a mix of nearly every ethnicity. Their father, Pedro, was Filipino. Their mother, Rose, was Portuguese. Their family has been in these islands for over 100 years. The Galuterias, like several other Kakaʻako families, have produced successful leaders in the Hawaiʻi community at large. They’re as local as they come. And they’d like to see Kakaʻako keep its local flavor.

“Don’t lose the local. Make it comfortable, visually, for local people to want to come back to enjoy,” says Barbara. “Put in little shops, ice cream shops, local shops.” The Galuterias brainstorm about walkthroughs, shaded benches, affordable local retailers, and maybe even a saimin wagon. (Kakaʻako was once famous for its saimin shop, Matsuda Saimin.)

“In our forward thinking for Kakaʻako, balance is key,” shared Senator Galuteria who represents Waikiki, Ala Moana and Kakaʻako. “We are now experiencing the most vibrant urban growth in our lifetimes, and we can all learn from those that treasured their lives in Kakaʻako.”

And so his Uncle Peter’s question continues to resonate through the conversation, “How do we help each other as we used to?”

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