Wesley Ueunten was born and raised on the island of Kaua’i in Hawai’i. Both his parents’ parents had immigrated from Okinawa in the early 1900s. He grew up speaking Hawaiian creole (also known as pidgin English) while getting a more or less standard American education at school and by watching television and movies. However, he always had a longing to learn about his Okinawan heritage. After graduating from the University of Hawai’i, Ueunten was able to study in Okinawa, where he first learned to speak Okinawan as well as play the sanshin and sing traditional songs. He returned to the University of Hawai’i and completed a M.A. in sociology and soon after went to Japan on a scholarship and did research on Okinawans living in the Tokyo area. While there, he learned sanshin and singing from a teacher who had left Okinawa to work in the blue collar area in Kawasaki. He left Japan to enter the Ethnic Studies Ph.D. program at the University of California, Berkeley. Ueunten has been in the Bay Area for almost twenty years during which he has been involved in Okinawan and Japanese American community as a performer and teacher of Okinawan music and activist. He presently teaches Asian American Studies at San Francisco State University. He is deeply committed to demilitarizing and decolonizing Okinawa and Okinawan culture and identity.
- Born: Kaua'i, HI, USA
- Based: San Francisco, CA, USA