Learning To Be Hawaiian — Some Years On The Mainland Helped

Peter Apo's roots may have saved his life when he was on the West Coast. Now he is working to facilitate federal recognition for Hawaiians.
By Chrystèle Bossu-Ragis /

In the aftermath of World War II, when Peter Apo was growing up on Oahu, there was a big push toward assimilation into American culture for Native Hawaiians like him.

Amid the popular patriotism of that time, he didn’t really understand what his roots meant. Ironically, the mainland’s appropriation of elements of Hawaiian culture — think Elvis Presley — drew him down a turbulent path that ultimately led him to develop a deep understanding of his roots.

Now in his mid-70s, he continues to explore them.

The professional musician-turned-activist-turned-elected-trustee at the Office of Hawaiian Affairs spends his days offering his take on what it means to be Hawaiian in the 21st century.

His business, which is apart from his work as a trustee, involves consulting for companies from outside the islands on how to be sensitive to Native Hawaiian culture. We caught up with Apo recently to share the story of his journey.

Hit the play button to hear the discussion or subscribe to the Civil Beat Podcast on iTunes or Stitcher.

Read a transcript of this podcast here.

Peter Apo spent much of his childhood in the 1940s and 1950s around the Ala Wai Canal and Waikiki, before the big buildings went up across the water.

Eric Pape/Civil Beat

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