by James Y. Iha
President, Hawaii United Okinawan Association
Member, Chatan Sonjin Kai, Wahiawa Kyoyu Kai

I would like to start this message by thanking so many of you for turning out for our Installation Banquet and to honor our Year 2000 “Uchinanchu of the Year.” We had a full house — we couldn’t have stuffed another body into our Legacy Ballroom. I would also like to express my heartfelt gratitude for the many beautiful leis you brought me (and my wife Marian) and my fellow HUOA officers — and for your kind words of encouragement and support. I will remember the evening forever.

In the weeks since that January 20 Installation Banquet, Vice Presidents Keith Kaneshiro, George Tamashiro and Karen Shishido and President-elect Gladys Tokunaga-Asao and I have been busy every weekend, attending the shinnen enkai of our member clubs. All of these parties were well-planned and carried out. No matter how large or small the club, we always felt the spirit of mensoree (welcome) and warm fellowship as new relationships were forged and old friends were reunited.

Several of the shinnen enkai we attended occurred while the Okinawa administrators and teachers involved in the 11th annual Hawaii-Okinawa Student Exchange Program were here in Hawaii. Again, that spirit of “Mensoree!” reigned as they were graciously invited to attend the parties with us. Our guests from Okinawa were truly impressed with the “Uchinanchu aloha” they experienced and shared many favorable comments with us. Thank you to our member clubs for giving us the opportunity to come together with your members for fun, fellowship, delicious food and great entertainment!

This year won’t be as hectic as last year was due to our memorable Okinawan centennial celebration. It is nevertheless a very important year for the Hawaii United Okinawa Association as we celebrate 50 years since our establishment in 1951. But while we look back with deep gratitude to our founders for clearing the path for the creation of HUOA, we realize also that we need to look to the future of our organization. At this very important juncture in our history, we need to take a serious look at HUOA, to float some dreams, and then to take bold steps to strengthen HUOA so that the Okinawan cultural heritage will remain strong and viable for our grandchildren and great-grandchildren and the generations to come. The leadership of HUOA is committed to working with our member clubs to help them remain strong and productive — for the success of HUOA lies in the strength of you, our member clubs.

“Yui Nu Kukuru — Uchinanchu Spirit With Hearts Together” is the theme of the HUOA’s 50th anniversary celebration. It embodies our proud legacy as people of Okinawan ancestry and is testament to the potential and beauty that unfolds when Uchinanchu and Uchinanchu-at-heart work together for the common good of all. Let us stand together in unity, forever grateful for what the past has brought us and look forward to a bright and promising future.

The 50th anniversary celebration, which is being chaired by Chatan Sonjin Kai member and former HUOA president Roy Kaneshiro, will consist of three main events — all of which will be held at the Hawaii Okinawa Center. Please mark these dates on your calendar and let’s all come together.

The first event, a “summit,” is set for Saturday, April 28. We are asking that the officers of our member clubs participate in this “HUOA Summit,” which will be an opportunity for our member clubs to rediscover, reflect and take steps to keep their respective clubs viable and productive.

The second event is a Storytelling festival, set for Wednesday through Friday evenings, May 9, 10 and 11. The Storytelling Festival is aimed at reaching out to the greater Hawaii community and building bridges between generations and cultures through the medium of storytelling. By sharing stories of the various cultures that make up Hawaii, I think we’ll find that woven through each cultural group is a common thread — an experience shared by all — and the realization that we are all one people in our humanity.

The third main event will be our 50th anniversary banquet, scheduled for Saturday, September 22. This Golden Anniversary banquet will highlight our proud legacy and provide us the incentive and motivation to meet the challenges of the future.

We look forward to a great 50th anniversary year that will be complemented with other activities aimed at preserving, promoting and perpetuating our beautiful Okinawan culture. We ask for your support, assistance and participation in the spirit of “Yui Nu Kukuru — Uchinanchu Spirit With Hearts Together.” Ippe Nihwee Deebiru!