New traffic light fixtures welcome

The following article appeared in The Waikiki News, December 2000. Reprinted with permission.

By James Winpenny

New light poles and traffic lights have been installed on Kalakaua Avenue in Waikiki. Carlino Giampolo sees a special significance in that project.

Since 1988, when the last renovation of Kalakaua Avenue occurred – a project he believed took place as if Hawaiian culture did not exist – he had been writing for the removal of the light poles and traffic lights there. “Belief precedes experience and those light structures were a symbol of an indifferent attitude and oppressive consciousness toward Hawaiian culture,” Giampolo says.

However, his knowledge of Hawaii was very limited when he first arrived in the islands. Back in 1973, Giampolo heard the pilot say over the public-address system, “We will be arriving on Oahu”” and he thought he was on the wrong plane. He was after all headed for Honolulu.

Seven years later, after touring 37 countries, he returned to Honolulu for good, wiser of the world, but still naive in the ways of the Islands. He started a publication business in Waikiki, even though he knew very little about the travel industry, even less about Hawaii, and very little, about publishing. His visitor publication, Paradise News, begun in 1980, carried only articles of Hawaiian history and culture.

In 1988, the City and County began erecting modern, big, orange, right-angular traffic-light poles on Kalakaua Avenue. Giampolo was appalled when he saw them. “Those structures didn’t belong on Kalakaua Avenue, the street that is the Hawaiians’ showcase for the presentation of their culture and heritage to people from around the world.”

He wrote a call-to-action message entitled “Lights Out” and another message, “Hawaiians Unite,” which contained these words: “The renaissance of Waikiki must be a Hawaiian Renaissance.” Both messages were published in the daily newspapers on June 22, 1988.

He viewed the structures as an affront to the Hawaiian people, and fully expected an outcry from the Hawaiian community. There was none. He decided to be an adventurer and use the written word as the means to change the consciousness.

There was little response to the messages from the media, the Hawaiian community or the general public. Giampolo continued to voice his concerns. Fifteen more “Lights Out” newspaper messages followed over the years. The messages led to a 10,000-word journal on the issue. Giampolo raised thousands of dollars from his own savings and the magnanimity of his friends to pay for his effort. He personally distributed the journal throughout the State Capitol, into the offices of every representative and senator, the governor and the lieutenant governor. He dropped it off at the offices of the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau, business leaders and Hawaiian organizations. Hundreds of attendees to a Hawaii Tourism Congress received copies.

No response from anybody.

“I wondered why the silence,” Giampolo says today. “I decided the government officials would prefer to stay quiet and hope the issue would simply go away; or if the issue didn’t go away, they would take no responsibility and blame someone else.”

He believes the traffic lights were corrupt on a spiritual level; that they – however subtly – undermined the attitudes toward Hawaiian culture visitors may have brought with them to Waikiki. He sees the 1988 renovation of Waikiki as a significant part of Hawaiian history; one he thinks should be a part of the curricula at Kamehameha Schools so that the next generation can be better prepared to ensure a future for their culture.

He also believes the shame of that project like so many other events throughout Hawaiian history, had been passed on to the next generation. He would like to see politicians participate in the healing process and to “end the shame by coming forth and having the courage to publicly express their genuine remorse for supporting a project that took place as if Hawaiian culture did not exist.” He would like to see politicians “take responsibility for their involvement or silence.”

One of Giampolo’s newspaper messages said this: “The degrading and humiliating light structures on Kalakaua Avenue will be uprooted and removed, and with them a negative consciousness toward the Hawaiian people that never again will gain a foothold in this land.”

Now, twelve years later, the light structures on Kalakaua Avenue are replaced by lampposts that are reminiscent of a bygone era, and there are numerous other improvements that are reflective of Waikiki’s rich history and charm.

Giampolo sees the new fixtures as the beginning of a Hawaiian renaissance in Waikiki. He believes the change represents a change in consciousness toward Hawaiian culture in Waikiki, which was his intent in writing those thousands of words. “Today we are in the midst of a transformation in Waikiki spurred by a new system of beliefs and attitudes, thoughts and feelings, choices and decisions that are most respectful of Hawaiian culture. There is a new light dawning in Waikiki that is illuminating a new future for Hawaiian heritage.”

Now he would like to see a re-emergence of the Hawaiian language in Waikiki. “It used to be the only language spoken,” he says. “If business owners can create menus and storefront signs in Japanese, Korean and Chinese, then they can do the same in Hawaiian. For language is indicative not only of the origins of a culture but also of a culture’s strength.”

“I realize that some may have deemed it foolish to equate light structures with the demise of Hawaiian culture, but to create major changes you must have a willingness to be wrong in the pursuit of what is right, go beyond logic and reason without abandoning it, look for the meaning within symbols, dream, be patient, and also seek the highest truth and be not afraid to tell it.”

Giampolo sees a doorway that the Hawaiian people can go through to create a new awareness – and a new future – for themselves in Waikiki. Were his “Lights Out” messages the catalyst for a new beginning? “I would like to think that I played a role as a spark for that rebirth.”