By Ashley Shuler
Among a melody of strumming ukuleles and guitars, children dance.
The children, some who have hardly learned to walk, go out next to their mommy, or their mammaw, and mimic their hip movements to the beat.
They’re learning hula, a Hawaiian dance.
About once a month, that’s where you’ll find Carey Cox and his family—getting together, for no reason at all, to connect and celebrate their culture, singing until the stars dull.
Cox started working as a security officer at the college about a month ago.
When he isn’t working his midnight to 8 a.m. shift, Cox is at home spending time with the people he cares about the most: His family. Cox and his wife, Susan, have five children. The youngest is 17 and the oldest is 31 years old.
“Everything, to me, revolves around my wife and my kids,” he said. “That’s something that’s always been inflicted in all of us kids.”
Cox is the youngest among his seven brothers and sisters. And although he was born in Columbus, Indiana, he and his family have bounced back and forth between Hawaii and Indiana his whole life.
Physically, he calls Indiana home.
Spiritually, he calls Hawaii home.
“Indiana is where we were brought up and raised. We know people. We have friends. We have coworkers,” Cox said. “When you go back home to Hawaii, when you get off the plane, you just have that feeling that this is where you belong.”
That sense of belonging is what has kept Cox in touch with his culture, even though he’s lived in Indiana for decades.
Around his Hawaiian family, Cox speaks in Pidgin English—a simplified English dialect people speak on the island.
For example, instead of saying a phrase such as, “The baby is cute,” those who speak Pidgin will say, “Cute, da behbeh.”
Cox remembers a time when he was little and he and his siblings sat on the floor, gathered around their mom when she called their family in Hawaii on the phone. They found it fascinating to hear how she talked and how they could still pick up what she was saying.
He tries to instill this same sense of wonder and fascination for Hawaiian culture in the children in his life.
“I’m a true believer in thinking you really don’t know where you’re going until you know where you came from,” he said. “My job, as an uncle and as a father, is to make sure that not only my kids, but my nieces and nephews know where they came from and have the answers for them when they have questions. That way, they can pass it on to their kids.”
For his own children, Cox started teaching them hula while they were in school. When they finished their homework, he had them study Hawaiian language for an hour each day.
“For a Hawaiian, it’s very difficult to live anywhere on the mainland,” he said. “Because you’re not around that culture. You’re not around that setting every day, where people around you talk Hawaiian or speak Pidgin or dress the way that you dress. … So it’s difficult living here and still trying to bring your kids up in that culture.”
But on an even larger family scope, Cox has about 100 family members living in Columbus.
Cox joins seven of his family members in a band named “Leigacy”—a group that grows each year as more family members are born. This year marks their 26th year performing a Christmas show as a family.
At the family band’s peak, they performed 78 times in one year.
Cox also has a band with his two brothers, Jerry and Marlin Cox, called “Na Kane O Makuaole.” They do six or seven shows a year with hula dancers and more traditional music.
The brothers’ band was formed to honor their mother, Lily Makuaole Poliahu Cox, by singing and performing their favorite Hawaiian songs.
They once auditioned for America’s Got Talent in St. Louis, Missouri. The night before their audition, they took their instruments down to the lobby of the Hilton Hotel they were staying at and played in the lobby for hours, gathering a crowd of lounging listeners.
“We even had some people who said they weren’t going to do their auditions and checked out that night and left,” he said. “We didn’t come there to do that. We were just having fun.”
Besides the music, Cox loves Hawaiian eats. His favorite foods are kalua pork, pig roasted in the ground until the meat is very tender, and poi, mashed up taro root that is traditionally believed to be a food that connects Hawaiian people to their early ancestors.
But what Cox says he likes most about Hawaii is the laid back people.
“They have a little saying that everybody’s on Hawaiian time in Hawaii,” he said. “Which means you just show up whenever you want.”
As they get older, Cox and his family still think about, one day, moving back to Hawaii, even though the family keeps growing in Indiana.
“The reality of it is, it’s probably never going to happen,” he said. “But I can still dream.”