By Léo Azambuja
A string of Hawai‘i officials and stakeholders performed a groundbreaking ceremony for the Kaua‘i Philippine Cultural Center in Puhi last week.
“Today, we move some dirt. Tomorrow, our dreams come true,” KPCC president Lesther Calipjo said prior to the groundbreaking ceremony on a parcel of land next to the YMCA of Kaua‘i March 29.
Sabra Kauka blessed the grounds while several stakeholders and government officials sunk shovels on the property that will one day house a center “to provide, promote and enhance cultural, educational training and social programs as well as cross cultural exchanges in our multi-ethnic environment,” according to KPCC’s mission statement.
U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard said everyone involved in the project worked hard. But the KPCC is not about them, she said; their motivation is the investment and commitment to the next generation.
Back in July 2012, the Kaua‘i County Council approved a 99-year lease on a prime 3.6 parcel of land, for $1 per year. Then in 2013, Grove Farm Company signed a 100-year lease on an adjoining property of more than 11 acres. The seed for the project had been planted years before, when in 2010, Calipjo, then Kaua‘i Filipino Chamber of Commerce President, called for the creation of a cultural center.
Gov. David Ige commended Calipjo and the center for being an all-inclusive facility. Despite being put together by the Filipino community, the KPCC has been labeled as “a place for all” since the beginning.
State Rep. Jimmy Tokioka jokingly blamed Calipjo and the slogan for the long time it took for the project to get to the groundbreaking. Because Calipjo called it “a place for all,” he said, the state Department of Transportation had to widen the highway from Lihu‘e to Puhi to make sure there would be infrastructure for everyone.
State Sen. Ron Kouchi reminded the project began back when he and Tokioka were members of the Kaua‘i County Council. Now, as a state senator, he is pleased to see the project being executed.
Kaua‘i County Council Chair Mel Rapozo also commended the Filipino community for planning and organizing the project. He said when Calipjo first approached him with the idea years ago, he told Calipjo, “Lesther, we can’t even get a toilet done in this county, and you want to build a cultural center?”
Calipjo said despite the challenges, there was a lot of support from the County of Kaua‘i and the community through donations and fundraisers, and also from the state of Hawai‘i, which gave the KPCC a $1.5 million grant in aid in 2012.
Philippine Consul General Gina Jamoralin said the center is a classic demonstration of everyone coming together for a common goal. She has been in Hawai‘i for only a year and a half, but she said she feels the ‘ohana in the Islands. She comes to Kaua‘i often — she was here in February to provide consular services — and says the island has a “dynamic” community.
Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. said in terms of football, they are only on the 50-yard line.
“Let’s celebrate now, because there’s a lot of work to be done,” he said.