Part 3 of "Al
Harrington Talks Story"
Your great grandfather, Saimasina Suapaid, founded the Mormon
Church in Samoa in the early 1800s. Is that the origin of your
own spiritual value system?
I'm sure. Saimasina was a very special guy, very strong, but
very gentle, as opposed to the very physical kinds of people
that Samoans are. To anybody from that kind of culture-strength
is a language, and the will, and the power. Saimasina was a very
gentle man. Reasoning, always tried to reason, with his children.
He raised two great sons, one who became the first Samoan to
sing in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
That would be your grand-uncle.
And then his brother, my grandfather Tinei, was noted in Samoan
annals was one of the strongest men there. His son was Vilai
Sua, who used to wrestle with Lee Grable and all those guys back
in the Civic Auditorium days. The two brothers, you know, it
was like strength and finesse that Saimasina raised. And Suapaia
eventually was the one that set the stage for many Samoans to
come from Samoa to Hawaii. He would get people jobs and that
kind of thing.
How would you characterize your childhood and your background?
"Hanabata" days, running around with shorts and not
knowing that we were poor. We climbed mango trees and stole mangoes
from each other, and from other people's neighborhoods, when
they had mango and we had no more mango. We went down to the
river and caught crayfish and cooked it and ate it right there.
For our mainland readers, please translate "hanabata,"
which you've used twice now.
(Laughs). It's running around with snot-nose. And not having
Kleenex, so you use your arm.
You've always spoken almost fastidious English and been extremely
verbal. Where does Mrs. Abreu at Liholiho School fit in?
She-God bless her-she was a great big Hawaiian lady. Married
Portuguese; that how she got the name Abreu. But she was very,
very Hawaiian looking. Very, very big; hefty, you know? She filled
the chair when she sat on it. She taught us how to read Jack
and Jill. When I first started with her, I was kind of in
the middle reading group. And by time second grade was over,
I was in the top reading group. But my right ear is also bigger
than my left ear. And that's because when I didn't pronounce
the words right, she would say, "Alvin! You know better!"
And she'd pull my ear. I remember crying. Learning to pronounce
the words grammatically was a great thing for me.
Tell us a bit about Joe Griswold at Aiea Elementary.
Joe Griswold was an educator's educator. In our days, Aiea was
rural. Now, it's metropolitan, you know? He was the principal
of Aiea Elementary and Intermediate School. And he was always
on the lookout for kids that came from that area, who were plantation
workers or Halawa Housing residents. Looking to see which ones
he could pull out of there...and place in private schools, like
Kamehameha School. So four of us went to Kam School. And we all
passed the test, but Al Harrington couldn't go there, because
Al Harrington was Samoan; he wasn't Hawaiian. That really broke
my heart. 'Cause Kam School guys wore uniforms in those days,
came off the bus in their dress blues. To all of the kids in
Halawa Housing, Kam School was like nirvana. You know you hit
Is there a simply way to describe how Punahou, and going there
in the eighth grade, affected your life?
It was a whole new world for me, because at Halawa Housing, what
are you thinking of? You're thinking of becoming a mechanic.
Because mechanics those days made money. The vision is all in
manual things. But at Punahou, the vision becomes management.
It's no longer just how tough you are, it's how smart you are,
too. See? So the impact of Punahou is fantastic. That's why I
hope they never stop giving scholarships to the lower ladder
of our community. Because this is what democracy is all about,
to give the lower ladder of the community a chance to see what
the vision is in middle and upper management. That's what it
did for me.
Go to Part 4
Back to Part 2