The following appeared in the Des Plaine Journal, May 10-15, 2006 issue, page 48:
By RONNIE WACHTER
Gwen Keake'akamai's heart lives five hours behind the rest of her body. The aloha spirit in that heart makes her want to explain why.
Because Hawaii is not what most Chicagoans think it is. It is not a vacation, a drink, bright colors or mood music, it is certainly not what most of the movies show...it is not what some folks are looking for when they contact her Hawaiian-themed entertainment company.
Hawaii is a lifestyle, Keake'akamai said, one that even the natives of the Northwest suburbs can make their own. While full-blooded Hawaiians are hard to find in the Northwest suburbs, their culture is inclusive by nature - anyone with the right heart can make it their own.
"That's an inspirational ball of wax," Keake'akamai said.
Though born in Des Plaines, Keake'akamai said Hawaii has been her life since age three, when her parents moved there to work for Hawaiian Airlines. Now a purveyor of the islands' culture, she noted that there is little of it to find in the Northwest suburbs. She said she wanted to change that, one customer-turned-student at a time.
"The more Hawaii, the better," she said. But there are few Hawaiian genes in the Second City, she said, even at her own business. The Barefoot Hawaiian teaches the islands' music and dance, and offers similar entertainment for all kinds of gatherings, but Keake'akamai said that of her 160 employees, about a dozen were full-blooded natives.
But she also noted that Hawaiian is not Polynesian - a term that refers to all the Pacific islands, including Somoa [sic] and Tahiti. Chicago is a popular destination among some of those nations, she said.
"Now those types of people, we've got a ton of them," she said.
But finding genuine Hawaii is a challenge. Besides her business, she noted the Hala Kahiki bar in River Grove, The Tiki Terrace lounge in Prospect Hts and Bob Chinn's Crabhouse Restaurant in Wheeling. She said she knew of no Hawaiian business communities or religious centers here.
That is partly because of the small number of natives in Chicago, she said, and partly because of the open-armed core of the culture.
"They're mixing in with everybody," she said. "Part of the Hawaiian spirit is to welcome whatever happens."