After his mother died, Kaloku Holt considered just packing it in. Many of the organizers of the Ke Kukui Foundation were in favor of taking a break of at least a year from staging their big annual Polynesian festival in Esther Short Park, he said.
That’s an annual tradition launched 17 years ago by Holt’s mother, the late “Aunty” Deva Yamashiro, a Hawaiian native and hula dancer who moved here and appointed herself a cultural ambassador. She wanted to make sure her children, and everybody’s children, could continue learning and enjoying Hawaii’s unique aloha spirit here on the mainland.
But after Yamashiro died of cancer almost two years ago, her son wondered whether to continue that mission. Holt’s a full-time musician who’s accustomed to traveling, not staying put. But he’d also just started a family with his girlfriend in Hawaii, Alyssa Reyes, and the couple knew real roots were in order. Nothing would have been easier than simply settling down in Hawaii, they said.
What changed their minds? They watched Yamashiro cuddling her new grandson, Oku, for a few precious months before she died, Holt said. “I saw in that hospital bed the whole circle of life, one leaving and one just arriving,” he said. “It just woke me up to what my mom knew the whole time.
“It’s just not about me anymore. It’s about him. It’s about everybody. It hit me that my purpose in life is to keep building what my mom built. To make it even greater.”