The late, “Aunty” Deva Yamashiro was born and raised in Moanalua Gardens on Oʻahu. Her and her two sons, Kaloku and Keawe, moved to Vancouver, Washington in 1998. She loved her new home but worried that most local Native Hawaiian children lacked access to the beautiful culture she had experienced, including her two young boys. At first it was a small commitment when she started her classes as a kumu hula (hula teacher). It wasn’t long before she realized this could not fill the need expressed by her students’ parents. As her vision of a culturally powerful Native Hawaiian community grew, it also became her defining life’s work to grow and share it with the greater community.
Among her many accomplishments she founded and led the Ke Kukui Foundation – a nonprofit that provides classes in the Native Hawaiian language, hula, music lessons, traditional arts and cultural preservation – along with the Hālau Hula (hula school) Kaleinani o ke Kukui (The Beautiful Lei of the Kukui) and the then 3 Days of Aloha festival.
However, the multitude of cultural wealth Deva so generously bestowed upon the Pacific Northwest can only provide a glimpse into Deva, the person. In spite of such an impressive array of accomplishments, she was a humble, generous and kind person. Asked how she remained so committed a culture bearer, her son, Kaloku Holt, provides a simple answer. “It was for the children.” Indeed, anyone who witnessed her teaching or choreographing student performances quickly understood where the warm and gentle heart of Deva Leinani Aiko Yamashiro resided.