By Brenda Velasquez, Asian Avenue magazine
Mirroring the diversity in mainland U.S.A., Hawaii thrums with a rich mixture of customs. Amidst intermingling cultures however, these islands have managed to preserve one of their ancient Hawaiian traditions: the art of hula. A practitioner of the dance since age three, Kevie Kawasaki, a 20-year-old Hawaiian local studying biology at University of Colorado Denver relates the fulfillment of performing:
“I love seeing the faces of people in the audience because I made them smile even for a moment and maybe even helped them forget their problems. When people come up and tell me they loved the performance, I’m glad I brought some joy to their life.”
A product of her eclectic environment, Kawasaki harbors Japanese and Okinawan heritage, attending a Hawaiian language school as a child while picking up conversational Hawaiian pidgin. Kawasaki shares the experience of growing up in a popular tourist destination:
“My most fond memories are camping and fishing – the simple stuff. I was raised a good distance from Waikiki so the tourist industry wasn’t something I was aware of until I was older.”
“Family is very important; there’s a saying that in Hawaii there’s only three degrees of separation. People are also easygoing and our cuisine is influenced by many cultures, incorporating sushi, malasadas (Portuguese), and manapua (Chinese).”
Although Kawasaki’s family has resided in Hawaii for generations, they haven’t lost touch with their ancestry, enjoying Japanese and Okinawan cuisine, attending bon dances, participating in mochi pounding, and practicing judo.
After entering the competitive traveling class in her halau (hula dance school), Kawasaki received the opportunity to perform in the Beijing Olympics; her team has also entertained Fergie Duchess of York, Crown Prince Naruhito of Japan, Vice President Dick Cheney and President George Bush. To maintain her skills, Kawasaki joined the Hawaii Club of Auraria (HCA) as a freshman and became the luau coordinator in her sophomore year, choreographing the routines for the annual HCA Luau.
Growing up in a tropical town, Kawasaki explains her move to snowy, mountainous Colorado:
“I chose Denver to get away from the islands; many Hawaiians attend school in California, Oregon, Washington, so I wanted to start fresh and make the best of my experience, to be on my own.”
Yet throughout her traveling, Kawasaki remains connected to her island home through its traditional arts, using hula as a vehicle for sharing her beloved Hawaiian culture, and putting a smile on peoples’ faces.
About Kevie Kawasaki
School: University of Colorado at Denver, Class of 2015
Hometown: Waipahu, Hawaii
Involvements: Hawaii Club of Auraria, Denver Bound Scholar, University Honors and Leadership Program, Presidential Scholar
Kevie in three words: hardworking, easygoing, thoughtful
Hobbies/interests: violin, ukulele, exercising, judo, board games, the beach
Dream job: Optometry private practice while serving the community
Lives by: “no sked um, go get um” (pidgin, “don’t be scared, just do it”)