Part 3 of "Al Harrington Talks Story"

Hawaii: 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?

Harrington: 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.

Hawaii: That would be your grand-uncle.

Harrington: 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.

Hawaii: How would you characterize your childhood and your background?

Harrington: "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.

Hawaii: For our mainland readers, please translate "hanabata," which you've used twice now.

Harrington: (Laughs). It's running around with snot-nose. And not having Kleenex, so you use your arm.

Hawaii: You've always spoken almost fastidious English and been extremely verbal. Where does Mrs. Abreu at Liholiho School fit in?

Harrington: 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.

Hawaii: Tell us a bit about Joe Griswold at Aiea Elementary.

Harrington: 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 heaven, right?

Hawaii: Is there a simply way to describe how Punahou, and going there in the eighth grade, affected your life?

Harrington: 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.

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