Her Dad was one of the last “Sakadas” brought to Hawai`i to work in the pineapple or sugar cane fields right after World War II ended. I had not heard the term Sakada before but I quickly realized she was talking about the large number of single Filipino laborers who were brought to Hawai`i in the late 1940s to fill in for the hundreds of Hawaii ’s men who had gone off to War, never to return. On her Mother’s side, one of her great grandfathers was from Contreras , Mexico and it is believed that he was one of the first Paniolos/vaqueros/cowboys of ancient Hawai`i . She was the oldest of six siblings, destined to realize her childhood dream of one day becoming a teacher…if her passion was to some day teach, her love was to some day become a good baker…..she has excelled in both fields. My Profile guest is Mary Jean Buza-Sims, one of the first Hawaiian/Filipino School Principals ( St Paul Parish School in South Seattle ) in Seattle and the Owner of the Kauai Desserts Bakery in the Georgetown area of Seattle ….Kauai Desserts Bakery is the place where people with a yen for Hawaiian flavored cakes shop…
Mary Jean Buza’s childhood was a tale that is very familiar to the many of us who grew up in a plantation environment….every family in the neighborhood seemed to have three or more kids…every house had a corrugated tin roof….every house had their own backyard fruit orchard with banana, guava or mango trees…and every family was money poor but rich in Ohana love. Mary smilingly reminisces about pork and beans sandwiches for lunch and having one (or at most maybe two) little Vienna sausages with rice for dinner…and how every town had its own social “separation” system (Mary, recalling her Hawaiian-Filipino heritage, smiles as she asks “Does anyone remember a town in Hawaii that didn’t have a “Filipino camp”?) It was that “being poor plantation environment” that inspired Mary Jean Buza to become an achiever so that the family she would someday raise would never have to know what pork and beans sandwiches taste like.
As the oldest child, Mary was responsible for taking care of and cooking for her siblings while her Dad Juanito Buza (last of the Sakadas) worked in the sugar cane fields and her beautiful Spanish-Hawaiian Mom Poinciana Contrades Buza worked over 25 years in the Kauai Store. Mary’s siblings are sisters Genara (lives on Oahu ), Lita and Jonette (live in Seattle ) brothers Chris ( Maui ) and Peter Buza (whose Kauai Family Restaurant was featured on national TV). Even though both her parents worked full time, money was scarce. The Catholic Church on Kauai , recognizing Mary’s potential, sent her to Honolulu so she could get the best possible education (she graduated from St. Francis HS in 1968). The Church then helped the Buza family pay for Mary’s attendance at the prestigious Seattle University from which she graduated in 1972 with a BA in Education. Ironically, Mary’s dream of becoming a teacher suffered a major setback when, in an interview for a teaching position in Seattle , she was informed that her speech “accent” (Hawaiian?) could have an adverse impact on students (she was not hired.) This riled brown-skinned Mary so much that she went back to school, got a Master of Social Work degree and became an affirmative action activist (including working for housing for the elderly; for counseling services for Asian Americans; against building the Kingdome.) Her activist reputation got her a Governor’s appointment to one of the first Asian American Commissions.
In 1974, the Seattle School District hired Mary as a Multi-Cultural Trainer where she taught teachers about the Filipino culture. After five years, Mary took on a new job: full-time mother for Jonathan, Kitatosha, Mosi, Umi and wife to Robert Sims (also an educator.) Five years later, Mary fulfilled her childhood dream, going to work as a teacher at Wing Luke Elementary. Recognizing that she wanted more responsibilities and pay, Mary taught school during the day/went home to feed her family then took off to night school for two years so she could get her School Principal credentials. In 1989, she was hired as Vice Principal of Maple Elementary and did so well that she was recommended for the vacant principal positions at St Paul and St Edwards Catholic Schools in Seattle . She chose St Paul where she was to enjoy eleven years as Principal before deciding to retire.
It was about this time that Peter Buza opened up his restaurant and Mary helped out by baking dessert items. The dessert items became so popular with the customers that Mary was soon doing it full time as the Kauai Desserts Bakery! One customer Mary will never forget is Harold Reynolds (former Seattle Mariner baseball player/current ESPN TV sports announcer) who loved Mary’s Carrot Cake so much that he would have them shipped to various cities where the Mariners were playing ball. After training Mosi and Kitatosha to operate the bakery, Mary decided to do something to “give back” to her community so she applied for and was hired as Director of the Seattle Rotary/YMCA Education Center. The Center assists an average of 130 young (16-20 years old) high school dropouts a year gain an education and a better chance at a successful life. Mary loves the job and the program’s success over the ten years she’s been there! Keep up the good work Mary Jean Buza-Sims! Like they say back on Kauai : “you da man!” (Ever the social activist, Mary says make that “You da Woman!”)
Until next time….be kind to each other……me ke Aloha pumehana……..Danny