A rich legacy of hula in the Windy City? Absolutely, and she’s proof of it

The Windy City has a connection with Hawaii that dates back 130 years and a new museum exhibit about that legacy will open in June at the Field Museum.
Published: May. 22, 2023 at 5:29 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Respected kumu hula Carole Lanialoha Lee is a third generation Native Hawaiian who was born and raised and resides in Chicago.

For decades, she has taught hula there and worked to preserve and promote the Hawaiian culture in the Midwest.

“It is super hard to continue to perpetuate our culture when we’re so spread apart,” she said.

Lee and other native Hawaiian cultural practitioners in Chicago have put together a museum exhibit called Chicago’s Legacy Hula. It tells the story of how hula first came to the Windy City.

“It was at the onset of the 1893 World Fair in Chicago,” Lee said. “They were trained experts by the court. They were given permission and sent to represent our people.”

Another wave arrived in the 1950s when four kumu hula settled in Chicago. One of them was Lee’s grandmother.

“It was the brilliance of the four of these kumu hula who plotted a new path for how we were going to have to be a bit more innovative of how to deliver hula and maintain in Chicago,” she said.

The exhibit opens later this month in the famed Field Museum in Chicago. It features stories, photographs, videos, and Hawaiian artifacts. Some have been on display independently in the museum for a long time.

“What’s really special for us here is that we learned pretty early on that a significant number of items in our collection have really significant roots in Hawaii and were brought to Chicago by native Hawaiians as well,” exhibition director Ryan Schuessler said.

Lee has been in the working on the hula project for two years.

“I’m in tears at this opportunity to share with the world what it means to me,” she said.

She is the founder of the Aloha Center Chicago, a non-profit that brought together other contemporary hula practitioners in the city. Her desire to remain true to her roots was passed down through her family.

“It was important to my mom that she delivered our culture to us here in Chicago. We don’t really have community that way. The community became the hula,” she said.

The Field Museum will host the hula exhibit for the next two years. Some events associated with it will be streamed online on The Field Museum’s website.

Lee hopes native Hawaiians in Hawaii who have ties to the kumu hula featured in her display will reach out to her to share their stories.

“There’s an established email. So if anyone wants to reach out it’s Chicagoslegacyhula@fieldmuseum.org,” she said.