July 22, 2012
Dear Miss Kakugawa,
It has been 46 years since I was your student in the first grade at Waiakea Elementary School. I was 6 then and I am 52 now. Before the half-century mark comes to pass, I think it is time that I said hello and thanked you for teaching me to read and inspiring in me a love of words.
I have thought of you so many times in my life but perhaps at no time more powerfully than when I heard the Nobel Prize acceptance speech in 2010 of novelist Mario Vargas Llosa. It began, “I learned to read at the age of five…. It is the most important thing that has ever happened to me.” (Here’s a link to his very moving and beautiful speech: http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/2010/vargas_llosa-lecture_en.html)
While I obviously cannot claim to have reached the heights of Mario Vargas Llosa (!!), I can say that being an avid reader has enhanced my life in so many important ways, from launching me into an academic career to giving me refuge from the mundane and hectic features of everyday life.
I have such clear memories of you as my teacher in the first grade. I remember learning to read and how exhilarating I found it! I recall also when one of your poetry books came out a few years later. I think it may have been your first. My father and I went to a book signing you did at a small shop in downtown Hilo. It made quite an impression on me! I still have that book, as well as another one of yours, in my parents’ home in New York. I have gone back to the poems they contain from time to time. Doing so transports me back to a past that I have such fond memories of. Yet it is also a past full of people with whom I have long fallen out of touch, somewhat regrettably. I have been back to Hilo only once since we left in 1972. My parents have never returned.
Ann Kakugawa has given me an important emotional bridge back to the Hawaii days. After a three-decade lapse in communication, I am in contact with her again. Although I have yet to see her in person, it almost feels like we never lost touch. I will probably go to Alaska next summer and am so looking forward to seeing her in person. In addition to providing me with your e-mail address, Ann has brought me up to date on your writings. I can’t wait to read Kapoho. My family, along with the Kakugawa clan (your brother, Ann, Jill, and Lynn), went out to visit you and your mother there once. I have the clearest memory of that day. It was the first of several times that I was around your mother, who had such a nice way about her: calm, gentle, and very Japanese.
Hawaii holds a very special place in my heart. Its emotional meaning is no doubt heightened by the fact that it was the last place where we lived as a whole family. As you probably know, soon after my family moved to New York (in 1972) my brother Danny died. My parents and I have grieved his loss and cherished his memory ever since. Despite the enormous hole his death left, we have led good lives.
I went off to Cornell University as an undergraduate (I started in 1978), then onto Berkeley for a Ph.D. in political science. I am now a professor at the University of Texas, and my area is Latin American politics. My country specialty is Brazil. Here’s my professional link: http://www.utexas.edu/cola/insts/llilas/faculty/hunterw1
I love my work – both the teaching and the research/writing aspects — and I feel enormously privileged to hold a tenured position in a university that supports my aspirations and interests in both spheres.
I am married to Kurt Weyland, who is also in my department. I met him in Brazil, but he is a German national (who went to Stanford while I was at Berkeley). We have two wonderful sons, Nikolas and Andreas. Niko is now 14. He is the one posing in front of a store called Niko in Berlin! Niko “has the magic” when it comes to language and literature. My other guy is Andi (12) and he is in the photo with my parents. He is very straightforward, funny and lively. As you might discern, Niko got a big dose of the Japanese genes and Andi is more European. Kurt, myself, and my parents (both still alive) are insanely in love with them.
Just writing you brings back so many wonderful memories! It feels good to finally express my gratitude – however overdue — for the lessons you taught me long ago and for the example you provided of being a writer.
(printed with permission from Wendy.)