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Panee, Aileen Emma Chong Hoon

Maka‘ala Akiona, great-granddaughter of Aileen Panee

Name: Aileen Emma Chong Hoon Panee
Birth: June 7, 1911. Honolulu, Hawai‘i
Parents: Chong Tai Hoon, Emma Mai Kaaloa Kaleo
Siblings: Uncle Chong, John Kaleo
Spouse: Eli Douglas Panee
Places of Residence: Schofield, O‘ahu; Mililani, O‘ahu; China
Children: Douglas Panee, Suzel Panee, Ernest Panee, Eli Panee, Aileen Panee

My Puna or great-grandmother Aileen Emma Chong Hoon Panee was born to Chong Tai Hoon and Emma Mai Kaaloa Kaleo on June 7, 1911. She is the second of three children. Her mother died while giving birth to her younger brother John Kaleo. For some reason, the three children all chose different last names. My Puna took Chong Hoon, her older brother took Chong, and her younger brother took Kaleo, their mother’s last name. After her mother’s death, Puna’s father was left to raise the three children on his own. Aileen grew up in Honolulu and attended McKinley High School. Her father fell ill shortly after she graduated from high school, so she went to live with a rich uncle in China. While living in China, her father passed away, and she had to decide whether to remain in China or move back to Hawai‘i. She didn’t like the lifestyle in China because women lived in subservience to their men and had little freedom there. In Hawai‘i, on the other hand, women were able to do many things and didn’t always have to bow down to the men. Although her uncle was rich, Puna decided to come back home. My Puna is Hawaiian-Chinese, but she was mostly raised Chinese-style because her mother was the one with Hawaiian and wasn’t around to pass her culture down to her children.

After her return to Hawai‘i from China, my Puna met and married Eli Douglas Panee, a 1923 graduate of the Kamehameha Schools. Like Puna, he was Hawaiian-Chinese. They lived in Schofield Barracks in Wahiawā because Eli had joined the military. Together Eli and Aileen raised a family of five; my grandfather Douglas was the eldest of them all. My Puna took care of them and raised them with very strict rules because they were on a military base and because they were a very American-style military family. Although she was strict, Puna still showed her children love and compassion.

Her grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and even great-great-grandchildren call her “Puna.” We call her “Puna” because she thought that “Kupuna” was too long a name and sounded too old. I think that “Puna” is much easier. My son loves to say it over and over. Today, Puna is still living in her little house with a huge yard in Mililani; it is the same house that she has been in ever since I can remember. I remember that every time we kids went there we would run around in her yard, fall down, and get sweaty and dirty. She would get mad when we did this because she thought that it would make us sick. Of course, we didn’t stop playing; we just had to watch out for her. Her yard had a lot of trees. There was also a little eggplant tree that we accidentally ran over. She was mad about that, too. I remember another time when she and the family made me dance hula, and all they gave me was pennies. It was always fun going over to Puna’s house, and I have good memories of those days. I notice, though, that the more I go, the smaller the house and yard look. Well, at least to me.

I love my Puna with all my heart and hope that she will be around until my son is old enough to have very clear memories of her. For now, she is just “Puna” to him because he is only two. But she is his connection, and mine, to our past families. I love the picture of my Puna holding my son in her arms because it is like she is bringing a new generation into this world with her knowledge and love all inside of him. She will always be in my heart, and I will always think of my Puna no matter how many times she has scolded me. She is 92 and still loving life.