Returning Hawaiian Values To Waikiki

The following article appeared in Midweek, Hawaii’s Favorite Newspaper.

The next time you hear somebody say one person can’t make a difference, mention Carlino Giampolo.

In fact, give Carlino much of the credit for all of the changes that are transforming Waikiki into a more Hawaiian place – and a more enjoyable place for locals and visitors alike.

It started back in June of 1988 when then-Mayor Frank Fasi put up those big, ugly, brown traffic light standards on Kalakaua Avenue – big enough to block out the sun and views of Diamond Head.

At the same time, Carlino came across a line in a metaphysics book – “belief precedes experience.” When I saw those brown poles, it was like those words flashed on them,” says Carlino, a native of Pittsburgh who moved to Hawaii in 1980 and lives in Waikiki.

“I thought, ‘I came to Hawaii for the beauty, why should I allow a few government officials to ruin that?’ So I started writing letters to the city.”

None, he says, was answered. With the exception of one daily columnist, the Honolulu media declined to get involved, figuring the standards were a done deal.

So, he started paying for ads to tell his side of the story. In all he and a few friends would spend $15,000 on 17 ads over the years.

“It was an investment in the Hawaii I believed in,” he says. “And it went beyond just a question of ‘beauty.’ It was a question of values. To me, the renaissance of Waikiki had to be a Hawaiian renaissance.”

Through it all, he took the high road. Instead of creating a disturbance on the streets of Waikiki or at City Hall, he says, “I chose to argue elegantly with words. I continued to speak my truth. I could have cut them down with a hacksaw, but that would not have changed the future or values.

“That project was the beginning of the decline of Waikiki. It wasn’t the Gulf War or the economic downturn in Japan. The poles created negative feelings in people. It’s because there was no regard for Hawaiian culture. It was if Hawaiian culture did not exist in Waikiki.”

As for the new changes in Waikiki, Carlino says, “It is very gratifying to see my dream become a reality after 12 years. This is a significant historical change. We’re seeing a changing of consciousness toward Hawaiian culture in Waikiki. The result is we’re creating a greater Hawaiian ambiance in Waikiki. Again, it isn’t just about beauty. It is about values. And it’s obvious Hawaiian values are coming back to Waikiki and we’ll never go back to the other way.”

Carlino, who publishes the visitor publication Paradise News and is the author of The Art of Letting Go, is easy to recognize around town. He drives a gold Chrysler LeBaron convertible and the top is always down: “I’ve never driven with the top up – October will make 11 years, so I think we have the record. Of course it helps that I live and work in Waikiki.”

Carlino also took on the state over an agricultural inspection film shown on Hawaii-bound planes. “It showed a Hawaiian woman giving a silk flower lei to an agricultural inspector for approval. And I thought, no Hawaiian woman would do that.”

He started writing letters. That portion of the film was taken out.

“Again, it shows that one person can make a difference,” he says. “You have to be patient, you have to be willing to look like a fool, but mostly you have to speak your own truth, your own values.”