LESSONS FROM MY FATHER, STEPHEN SUMIDA
During long summer days on the farm as a child, my father would often gather us kids to tell us stories about growing up in ‘Aiea in his glory days of the 1950s and 60s. We would shout out what kind of story we wanted him to tell —scary, funny, or action. No matter what we asked for, he delivered, with great animation and drama.
These stories were so fun and entertaining, my Aunty Barb ended up recording him one day and created a spooky cassette tape titled “13 Stories.” You can hear my cousins all laughing, gasping or shouting in the background as he went through his greatest hits of ghost stories and silly tales, from the “Fire Eye Dog” to his interpretations of old Hawai’i classics.
As I grew older, and especially once I decided to take over management of Sumida Farm, the stories evolved into more serious history lessons and conversations. He wanted to ensure I understood the deep and long history of not just our farm, but of the ‘aina. He was the first to tell me, “our family’s farm story is just a blip in the long history of the ‘aina, we must respect that history.” Kyle and I have truly come to understand this sentiment and this idea has become central to how we educate partners, customers, and students who visit Sumida Farm.
My father was the oldest son in a family of four—and as the oldest son in a male dominated era, a lot of the family’s responsibilities were put on his shoulders. He felt he was raised to one day take over management of Sumida Farm and influenced many important projects for the farm over the years. He was tasked by my Grandpa, Masaru Sumida, to lead what would be the farm’s largest infrastructure project when they re-graded the terraced farm land in the 1970s. The re-grading of the land back in the 70s is still how the farm is laid out to this day. He was the one to design and come up with the iconic Sumida Farm Grass Shack that we all know and love. He was the one, along with my mom, to raise me as the future fourth generation of Sumidas to run the farm; teaching me the importance of our farm, our workers, and the history of the ‘aina – all values that are now woven into every part of me and why I love the farm so much.
My father’s career ultimately led him off the farm as he became a pioneer in Asian American Studies/American Ethnic Studies—with an emphasis in Asian American Literature. He wrote a book, “And the View from the Shore,” which examines Hawaiian Literature and Culture. My mother, also a pioneer in the same field, focused on Asian American History—particularly women’s history. Throughout their careers, as I grew up as an only child on the mainland in non-ethnically diverse small college towns, I had a longing to find community and family away from my home in Hawai’i. I feel fortunate to have found my community with the Hawai’i Clubs at my parents’ universities, where the students, who looked like me and ate the same food as me, became my babysitters/big brothers and sisters, and with my parents’ colleagues and their children who became my extended family of Aunties, Uncles and cousins. While we were thousands of miles away from the farm and Hawai’i, I grew connected to the islands through and in spite of this upbringing.
I am forever grateful for my parents and how they worked so hard to ensure I felt connected to the farm and Hawai’i. Kyle and my path to managing Sumida Farm was paved because of their lessons and the experiences they allowed me to have at the farm. Kyle and I often speak about how we believe the farm represents “nourishment.” Nourishment is more than just nutritious watercress on your plate—it is about education, culture, history, music, art and more…This idea is a result of my parents and the lessons I learned through them, and thus, they are the foundation of our farm’s future.
Happy Father’s Day to my father, Stephen Sumida, my father in law, Steven Suzuki, my husband, Kyle, and all the many fathers that work at the farm! Wishing all the fathers and father figures out there a wonderful day!
I was a student of your dad at UW sometime between 98-02. I just happened to look up his name because I’ve always wondered how he was doing and I came across this post. One of the best profs I’ve ever had. Please tell him I said hello tho it’s been 20+ years so it’s likely he won’t remember me lol
What an amazing story and so inspirational, I want to be honest with you, I am from a military background and moved around a lot growing up, so our family was very diverse and very respected by others. This gave me the opportunity growing up to see and experience different cultures. I am so inspired knowing that in Hawaii the people there are motivated and dedicated to their work, Thank you again for sharing your story. I have never been to Hawaii, but maybe someday.
Aloha! I was wondering … what ever happened to the spooky cassette tape, “13 Stories”, your Aunty recorded of your dad?