Arlo & Lei Ann, Then & Now
This episode, we reconnect with Arlo Iron Cloud, our partner at KILI Radio, The Voice of the Lakota Nation, on the Pine Ridge Reservation. He tells us how life has changed for him and his family over the past few years. We also check back in with Lei Ann Shiramizu in Seattle’s Chinatown International District to hear how she and her neighbors have coped with the pressures of the pandemic.
Aaron Henkin: From WYPR and PRX, it’s Out of the Blocks: the final season. I’m Aaron Henkin. You know, one of the really cool things that happened with this podcast is that after a while, we got the chance to start traveling across the country with the show. We’ve done episodes in St. Louis, Detroit, Atlanta, Chicago, lots of other places around the U.S. We even got to travel to the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota and partner with KILI Radio, the Voice of the Lakota Nation, to do an episode there.
Unknown Voice 1: We’re on this reservation that’s about fifty by a hundred miles. But yet, we’re surviving. No matter what they did to us, how they put us on this reservation, we’re still surviving.
AH: This episode, we’re reconnecting with our KILI Radio partner at Pine Ridge, Arlo Iron Cloud, to hear how life has changed for him over the past few years.
Arlo Iron Cloud: Man, it was scary. I think we fell behind, like, four months on rent. But I knew it was okay for me to go back into the hills, which is where we love. So, we spent a lot of time out there.
AH: So, back in the day, one of the other locations we traveled to with Out of the Blocks is a pan-Asian neighborhood in Seattle called the Chinatown International District.
Unknown Voice 2: We not only have Chinese, we also have Vietnamese, Japanese, Filipino, Korean… That’s why they call this area International District Chinatown.
AH: This episode, we’re also gonna check in with the Chinatown International District to hear how the neighborhood has coped with the pandemic and its accompanying wave of anti-Asian hate.
LAS: You know, it’s always been rumbling in the neighborhood. We have seen signs before of white supremacist posters on the phone poles, but it was more apparent after it was in the media.
AH: That’s all coming up on Out of the Blocks, right after this. In 2019, we teamed up with Arlo Iron Cloud of KILI Radio to make an episode of Out of the Blocks on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. We’re gonna listen back with Arlo right now to a conversation we had together on that original show, and then we’re gonna get an update from Arlo about what’s going on in his life today.
AIC: My name is Arlo Iron Cloud and the last name Iron Cloud is a paternal name that has come through for many generations. I can go six generations back on to a man that is the origin of all the Ironclouds and we take his name, we can go up to the Battle of Little Bighorn, we can go to pre-United States stories, so, you know, my name is longer than the United States of America. We’re here at KILI Radio, Porcupine, South Dakota. At the radio station, we have a wind turbine that generates six kilowatts of power and on our building we have solar panels that generate five kilowatts of power, and just below the hill over here we have solar panels that generate twenty kilowatts of power, which probably makes us the greenest Indian-operated FM information radio station out there.
AH: It is windy out here. Talk about this hill and just sort of how high up you are, and just sort of the amazing view that you have from this spot.
AIC: So, we’re at the Porcupine Butte, the highest point on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Our radio tower definitely makes it the highest point. That’s a three-hundred-and-fifty-foot radio tower, so we kick out about a hundred thousand watts of FM power and you can hear us in three states: Wyoming, Nebraska, and South Dakota. In our culture, we have something called an Eyapaha. An Eyapaha is a person that shares information from the community. I wasn’t really under the interpretation that I was an Eyapaha at first, but an elder approached me and he said that, “Arlo, that’s what you are,” and so that’s what I took that upon. You know, and it gave me a sense of competence within my own tribe and that allowed me to understand my role. If any American across the United States wants to Google what an Indian is, chances are a lot of Oglala Lakota people are going to pop up. We’re very known for our defiance and that has made us the poster child for the American Indian, and when America wants to remember the American Indian they go to the poster child and those media outlets come in here and they have their own agenda. And when I got a call from you, you sounded like me. You sounded exactly like me with the intention that you want to bond the people in your own community. That’s what you do in Baltimore, Maryland and I love that fact that you go to communities and you interview so-and-so, Joe Schmoe, and give him an opportunity to talk about who he is, why he’s a part of that block, and when it comes to belonging to anything, if you can just give that person that amount of time to know that they’re important, that they belong to something bigger, you solidify that block. And so, that’s the connection point. I mean, that’s what this radio station is, that’s what the Out of the Blocks podcast is, that’s what a lot of radio people do is that we’re connectors.
AH: So, a couple of words of transparency about our process, here… You know, Out of the Blocks, we spend most of our time in Baltimore, but we’ve started to travel around and we got in touch with you and we’re co-producing this episode with you, Arlo, and we’re entrusting you to introduce us to a cross-section of folks across the reservation. Talk to me about the voices that you’re gonna introduce us to during this time we have together and what you hope that we’re able to take away from the experience.
AIC: I guess what I want to do is I want you guys to meet everybody that makes up Oglala Lakota in this part of the country. I want you to meet women’s rights activists, American Indian Movement members, students, teachers. I want those people that aren’t always heard to be heard. And I’d even introduce you to people I don’t like for the reason that… I need you to understand that this is bigger than me. That’s why I put you in their path.
AH: I just want to say I’m really grateful to have you as a partner on this project and that you’re putting your trust in us and in this collaboration. I think it’s going to be fascinating for folks who get a chance to hear it. I’ll say to you, “Pilamaya lo.”
AH: I’m still learning. [both laugh]
AH: (2021) When I met you a few years ago, Arlo, you told me the story of coming into your own as an Eyapaha. Talk about how that role has evolved for you. What it’s been like for you in that role in your community over the past year, especially with the pandemic.
AIC: Becoming an Eyapaha has been, for me… One of the biggest challenges I’ve faced so far at this point is learning to accept people’s ability to recognize you, because one of our phrases for the radio station is “Voice of the Lakota Nation,” and I go around and people call me “the Voice,” which in my head is an extremely heavy position and I think the other challenge is actually having the resources and time to actually get out and make some of these stories be heard.
AH: I remember hanging out with you in the booth when you were on the air at KILI Radio and hearing all the local announcements and community information you were sharing. I imagine the stakes of that kind of information over the past year has been really high-stakes stuff.
AIC: Yes. So, because of the pandemic, we’ve been pushing our public service announcements out maybe two-hundred-plus. I mean, we’re really making sure people are informed. The problem is convincing--not convincing, telling people--that the vaccines are safe. This information we’re providing is not to scare you but it’s to inform you. And so, yeah, for the past year, oh man, we’ve been pumping out information like crazy. I don’t even think we’ve played very much music in the afternoon anymore. We’re constantly sharing information. That, for sure, has been like our biggest change in the past… I mean, forever.
AH: During the week we spent together back in 2018, Arlo, I got to meet your family and I want to ask you how they’re doing, specifically your wife Lisa. She’s just an awesome person. I want to ask you about her. But first, let me go ahead and play this excerpt with her from a few years ago.
Lisa Iron Cloud: (2019) We’re making Chokecherry Wasna, which is kind of like a pudding, but instead of using flour, we use timpsula to thicken it up a little bit.
AH: You hand grind this timpsula with a mortar and pestle.
LIC: Yep, or stones from the creek. My name is Lisa Iron Cloud and Arlo Iron Cloud is my husband. I think it was his long hair, initially. I thought he was pretty handsome. [laughs] My upbringing is completely different than Arlo’s. We lived up here in Rapid City the majority of my life, but we were always… We were pretty nomadic. We couldn’t stay in one spot for too long. We were homeless. We lived out of a car. There were days where we would go without eating, you know? It was a lot of struggle and our knowledge of our culture wasn’t priority with us growing up. It was just about survival. My parents were fluent Lakota speakers, but they didn’t introduce us to ceremonies. So, whenever I made my path and met up with this guy—with Arlo—I kept thinking that I didn’t want my children to go through what I went through, and to have a better understanding of where they came from as Lakota people. So, I tried to play catch-up and talking to people who were willing to talk to me, which was a struggle in itself because you have a lot of people who have knowledge, who have a really great idea of where they come from and they know the history, but their willingness to share with other Lakota people, I mean… No offense, but you know, a non-Lakota? They’re so willing to share that information, but when it comes to a Lakota it’s really difficult, and it’s almost, like, territorial. It was hard, but there were people out there who were willing to sit down with me and work hands-on with me and teach me the stuff I should’ve known at this age. You can grind it and it’s not going to get totally fine, but I run it through the sieve like this, and it catches the bigger pieces, which I still use. I’ll put those in soups. Our circle has really grown a lot by, you know, us just asking for help.
AH: I’ve been hearing that Facebook is very popular in the community, which is… It’s kind of an irony that, you know, you’ve got this sort of modern internet social-network keeping people together for traditional purposes.
LIC: Right! Like, my personal Facebook page is just dedicated food. Just showing other people what’s out there, so I can post this and say this is [Lakota phrase], which means “hangs to dry.” That’s why it looks like this. I could easily do a photo or a video or something explaining how we do this, because we get a lot of that response where they’re like, “Thank you for sharing that because I didn’t know. I had an idea but I didn’t know.”
AH: (2021) I love following Lisa’s Facebook page and yours. It’s so good to stay connected with you guys that way. I have to wonder, you know, I know for Lisa especially--for both of you guys--the work that you guys do is all about being out and around other people. How have you guys been doing this past year personally, financially, emotionally? Has the pandemic taken a toll on your livelihood?
AIC: Honestly, no. I think that the only thing that’s really affected us is the financial end of it, but we had quite a bit of people, like, reach out to us and tell us, you know, there are grants, there are a lot of people helping artists, so a lot of people really helped Lisa out. Man, it was scary. I think we fell behind, like, four months on rent and our electricity bill got up to, like, four digits. It was really scary. But I knew it was okay for me to go back into the hills, which is where we love. So, we spent a lot of time out there and even though that there times were tough, but what we did was we really made it a priority to be out in the hills. Out in the wilderness. So, mentally, we were sound. But yeah, the last year, year and a half, if it weren’t for our ability to go out and do those things, I think we would have gone a little crazy. AH: When you look inside yourself and think about who you are today and when I met you a couple years ago, what do you think is different about who you are now as a person?
AIC: I am definitely moving into this administrative end of the radio, for sure. I’ve been moved up to Station Manager, so I’m taking over responsibilities for what the station is… More on the administrative end of the radio station. But, like, personally, I really worked on myself as far as listening, and paying attention to people, and I guess just making sure that we’re not… I haven’t had a lot of opportunity to--before or at that time--to pay attention to myself. Because we’re moving so fast, and all of a sudden there was this pandemic and all of a sudden I was able to look inside myself and one of the things I was horrible at was really listening to people. You know what I mean? Like, you can listen to somebody and capture the story, but actually hearing, like, the emotional end of it just didn’t click and my wife has been so patient with me on this. She really helps me identify some of the stuff that I’ve been lacking in. So, it’s important. It helps. But just to really get an idea who I became in the past couple of years is just… I keep on wanting to focus and center myself, so I work on it.
AH: I hear what you’re saying. It’s like you get so busy getting each of the things done that you’re not always in the moment when you’re doing the thing because you’re worrying about getting it done, and the next thing you have to do.
AIC: Exactly. You’re, like, concentrating on what the further end of the story is, or whatever. Like, when I sit down and I interview somebody, all of a sudden, like, as the story comes in, I’m like putting it here, putting it here, putting it here, putting it here, and then… Without actually, like, engaging so much. I just know how to ask questions really well and I end up in the position where I’m not listening.
AH: You’re really making me pause right now and think about how grateful I am to just have this moment with you. That was a really meaningful time, that week I spent with you and I really think of you as a kindred spirit and it really feels good to reconnect with you again.
AIC: Yeah, thank you. Yeah, well I liked talking with you and Wendel. I learned so much from you guys, like as far as, like, the technical end of how you guys get things done, I have, like, pushed a lot of the stuff I do now that much further. Just because I was able to witness how it was done. Because I’d never had any formal teaching or I’ve been doing everything off the cuff and everything is from YouTube and everything is from people like yourself. So, it’s important to me. AH: If I get back with you another three years from now and interview you again about where you’re at with life, where do you want to be? What do you want to be doing? Who do you want to be then?
AIC: Man, I appreciate you asking that question because we used to do this a lot and we haven’t done it for a while where we kind of put, like, a bucket list of stuff up that we write where we want to be and… I want to be right here in the future, in three years. I still want to be right here. I want to still be in this position, sharing, collecting, living in a Lakota way.
AH: Arlo, I’m glad to know you. Pilamaya lo.
AIC: Washte. You said it very well. Pilamaya lo.
AH: Arlo Iron Cloud of KILI Radio. We originally met him in 2019 at the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. It’s Out of the Blocks. More in a moment. Three years ago, we produced a special episode of Out of the Blocks in the Seattle neighborhood known as the Chinatown International District. One of the shop owners we met there was Lei Ann Shiramizu. We reconnected with Lei Ann to listen back to her original segment with us and to let us know what’s been happening in her life since then.
Lei Ann Shiramizu: So, one of the things we have here is tabi socks, the traditional toe socks of Japan, except for the difference with these is they’re little bit more whimsical. People buy them a lot for gifts. Some people love them, they’re supposed to be really good for circulation in your foot. Some people are really annoyed by them, but then, don’t buy them. My name is Lei Ann Shiramizu. My store is in Seattle’s Japantown is Momo. When we opened Momo, I told my husband that I wanted to have gifts and I wanted to have women’s clothing and he said, “There’s no way I’m opening a store with only women’s clothing and gifts. You better have men’s if you want me to be a part of it.” So, now at Momo we are half-man, half-woman, half-old, half-new, and half-Asian, and half-Caucasian, which is basically the composite of what my husband and I are. We call it—the term is “hapa.” Hapa in Hawaii means half-Asian and half-Caucasian, and so therefore we are Seattle’s hapa shop.
Tom Kleifgen: I am Tom Kleifgen and I am married to Lei Ann Shiramizu, and we’re the co-owners of Momo.
LAS: I met him at a wedding.
TK: We were both late to the wedding.
LAS: Both slid in before the couple said, “I do.”
TK: Sat in the back and…
LAS: …It was a love story thereafter.
TK: That’s the start of it!
LAS: My heritage is Japanese by way of Hawaii. My dad’s parents came from Japan. My mom’s grandparents came from Japan.
TK: Lei Ann being Japanese-American, and me being a mongrel Northern European white guy, we have that flavor in our store as an expression of the hapa spirit, which is a Eurasian kind of world view, a mixing.
LAS: People come in, they see our Spam collection and they wonder why we have so much Spam, and whether it’s for sale or not. Well, the reason we have so much Spam is because Spam is consumed in the most quantity in Hawaii. Spam is made in Austen, Minnesota. I’m from Hawaii, my husband’s from Minnesota, so we say that we are united in Spam.
TK: Lei Ann’s a very upbeat person. I think she’s made me a little more social. She’s probably made me a little bit more active in the community. In this community I have to say, you open your door and you are part of this community, and for good or hell. And you know, we’ve become very active in the community in many ways. I’ve brought my talents from my creative past as an art director to do a lot of the things on the street, the street art, the street cars, the things like that.
LAS: Outside of our doors, we see more health and human services being pushed into our neighborhood because other neighborhoods don’t want them. So, sometimes our neighborhood—because of the literally not being able to speak up because of the language barrier—sometimes things are imposed on this neighborhood, and so they need to be championed by advocates in the city. So, you see a lot of homeless people. You see a lot of garbage in the alleys. These are all things that we are trying to take care of. You know, clean streets and safety for the older people who live in this neighborhood.
AH: It seems like you were sort of unsuspectingly handed the mantle of being a champion of something more than you expected to be.
LAS: When I opened Momo, I had the intentions of opening a shop. But never would I have ever realized that I was going to become such a part of a bigger community. It’s really been amazing being at this corner and becoming a cornerstone of Japantown. I probably would not have wanted it if somebody said to me, “Hey, you are going to become responsible for so much more than running a business,” but like frog and boiling water, it’s happened, but not in a bad way. It’s really been a wonderful learning experience. I’ve learned so much more, grown so much more than I would ever have thought possible before I opened this store.
LAS: (2021) That was three years ago that you did the initial podcast and, boy, so much has changed in the world, in the neighborhood, and at what I call now “Nomo-Momo,” because Momo doesn’t exist anymore. You know, the story of Momo ended in November of 2020.
AH: Talk to me about what went into that decision and maybe tell me about the day you closed shop. I mean, it must have been a complicated, bittersweet day for you.
LAS: Oh my God. It wasn’t… The day we closed shop was not a day. It was pretty much when the pandemic started, Tom and I knew that it was time to really get started on closing our business. We were contemplating closing for a number of years, but when the directive came to shut down businesses temporarily, we said, “Okay, well, now we need to start moving towards the door but we have a store full of stuff. So, what do we do?” So, quickly, we came up with this… I called it “Momo To Go,” and it was delivery of gift care packages. So, from all the things in the store, I put together care packages that people could either give themselves to make themselves feel better or give to people they love to let them know they were thinking about them, even though they couldn’t see them and get together with them. So, I did that solo for a few months and it was quite the success in that people really appreciated what I did. And then we went online. We put the rest of our larger items online, and so that helped divest us of some things, and then we decided finally to open our doors. Now, in the meantime, remember all of the activity that’s going on in Seattle--all of the protests that are going on. I’m sure everybody has seen all that footage of downtown burning and it was a pretty frightening time. And in the International District, where Momo is located, there was a lot of hate crimes against Asians even though, at that time, it wasn’t so publicly known. So, we were entirely boarded up. Our building was boarded up and we were sitting behind boards in what was, to me, sort of this sanctuary prison while I was doing the Momo To Go and the online business, trying to figure out how to open up and be more publicly accessible. So, we then started opening on Fridays and Saturdays, eventually taking off the boards, and then we announced our closing. Once we announced our closing, it was so incredible. People came in every day that we were open and they shopped like their lives depended on it. People would come up to the counter and say, “Okay, how much do I owe? Oh, that’s good, because that’s how much I budgeted for to support you.” And people were just so incredible. They brought us little gifts, they brought us flowers, they sent us nice notes, and we closed our doors at the end of October.
AH: When I met you, I remember you talking about how opening up your shop ended up kind of putting a bigger purpose in front of you in the sense of being an advocate for your neighborhood. It really connected you to the neighborhood. Are you still plugged into the community in that way?
LAS: I am still plugged into the community, hence this office upstairs of where Momo used to be. In exchange for the cost of this rent for this office, I do social media for the neighborhood under the address of @japantownseattle, so if you want to follow us, please do. And in the months that I’ve been doing it--so, that’s December, January, February, March, April, four months--I have doubled audience at least and helped to reach more people. I want to connect the Japantowns in the United States and other Japanese businesses within the city of Seattle and other parts of the neighborhood: Japantown, Chinatown, Little Saigon, and make a connection. I really believe in connecting the dots.
AH: I thought a lot about your neighborhood, Seattle’s International District, after the pandemic happened and all the anti-Asian sentiment backlash, and I thought you’re not only--as a business community--dealing with loss of business from the pandemic, but probably dealing with ignorant ill will from people as well as a community.
LAS: You know, it’s always been rumbling in the neighborhood. We have seen signs before of white supremacist posters on our telephone poles or what have you, on our street poles, but it was more apparent after it was in the media. You know, more pronounced in the media about Asian hate crimes. And we, in fact, had one incident of a Asian woman who was with a Caucasian man being attacked. Someone approached and smashed her face in with a heavy object in a bag and that was a real obvious crime against her for being Asian and I believe that this neighborhood is rightfully fearful of more crimes of that nature. But on the other hand, too, I wonder if our neighborhood boldly stepped out from behind their boards and said, “We’re here and we’re back and stronger than ever, and stronger together,” I wonder how whether it would actually strengthen our image in the media and strengthen our soul in our core. I sometimes think that fear attracts fear and I would like to see our neighborhood unboard and move forward, boldly.
AH: If I come to find you again in three years from now, what do you want to have going on in your life? What do you want to be doing? Where do you want to be? Who do you want to be?
LAS: [laughs] Aaron, your guess is as good as mine. That’s what I’m trying to figure out right now. What do I want to be when I grow up again? I don’t know. You know, I’m too young to retire. I don’t know. I’ll let you know if I figure it out.
AH: That’s a deal. I’m glad to know you, Lei Ann, and I’m glad I got a chance to catch up with you.
LAS: Aaron, I am so grateful that you came into my Momo life and you are here in my after-Momo life and you and your team have brought such an incredible gift to this neighborhood in that podcast and it took me back listening to it. I’m going to put it on Japantown Seattle so that people will take a listen.
AH: There you go. Some content for you as the social media... It sounds like you’ve been doing a good job earning your rent, though, getting those views up on social media. That’s good.
LAS: I must say that it’s thankfully pretty low rent, so I’m working for less than minimum wage, but what the heck! I hope I’m doing some good.
AH: Lei Ann Shiramizu. We first met her in Seattle’s Chinatown International District in 2018. And that’s gonna wrap it up for this episode of Out of the Blocks, an original production of WYPR and PRX. Big thanks this episode to Lei Ann Shiramizu and Arlo Iron Cloud. Thanks also, as always, to my co-producer Wendel Patrick, who creates an original musical score for each episode of the show. Wendel also photographs the people you hear in this series, and if you go to wypr.org/outoftheblocks, you can see then-and-now portraits of everyone we’re featuring on this final season of the show. Until the next time, I’m Aaron Henkin. Thanks for listening. Out of the Blocks is supported by PRX and produced with grant funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the National Endowment for the Arts, Patricia and Mark Joseph Shelter Foundation Inc., the William G. Baker, Jr. Memorial Fund, creator of the Baker Artist Portfolios online at bakerartist.org, and the Maryland State Arts Council at msac.org.