LIHUE — At first, Graham Ellis of the Big Island was not going to come to Kauai over Father’s Day weekend.
But he changed his mind, and on Saturday, Ellis and his family with Cirque Ohana were part of the Father’s Day Celebration at Kukui Grove Center.
“At first, I didn’t want to do anything,” said Ellis, who was taken into custody by U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Enforcement and Removal Operations Field Office in Honolulu on June 1. “They wanted to deport me immediately. But the community responded by writing letters, and through the help of the Big Island senator, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard and Sen. Brian Schatz’s office, we have until July 19 before we leave for England.”
Since Ellis had committed to events here, he decided to come to Kauai one more time before going to England.
“I wanted to spend this Father’s Day with my family,” Ellis said. “I thought of all the other fathers who are in the federal detention center who are not able to do what I am doing. I am lucky to have gotten out to spend this Father’s Day with my family, but I left behind how many others who have family and are waiting to be deported. This is the first time my daughters are visiting Kauai, and they will be back with the circus. Right now, I’m in paradise.”
Cirque Ohana opened its Kauai tour with a performance at the Storybook Theater during Friday Art Night in Hanapepe before doing two shows at Kukui Grove Center, where they were joined by Storybook Theater and artist Evelyn Roth and her living coral reef.
Today, they are scheduled to perform a free show at the Palm Court at The Shops at Kukuiula for dads and their families. The remainder of the week will have Cirque Ohana doing workshops with groups like the Boys & Girls Club Hawaii and preschools in Hanalei.
“Hawaii is the only place I consider home,” said Ellis, who has been described as the Father of Circus in Hawaii. “I lived here for 36 years on the Big Island, and started teaching kids about circus. Cirque Ohana started in 1992 after all these kids would come up while I juggled and ask, ‘How you do that?’ Circus gives them a way to advance, to travel even if they’re not part of a sports group or band.”
Ellis said when he leaves for England, he faces a lot of work.
“My mother is 86, and I plan on caring for her,” he said. “My family — my wife Dena works and has a good job, my kids all go to school here. I have to apply for visas for all of them to come visit. That takes time. If they want to live (in England) — I am banned entry into America for at least 10 years — they need resident visas. That also takes time. To have to set a whole new life at 67 years old is hard.”
While in the federal detention center on Oahu, Ellis learned there are about 40,000 undocumented aliens in Hawaii.
“I only got to meet about 50 of them,” he said. “Some were like myself, being picked up and held for deportation. Others have been in the center for more than a year, waiting to be deported. I was lucky to have been able to get out, and be here. When we get back home to the Big Island, we’re going to have a wedding we never had when we got married. On July 4, at the SPACE (Seaview Performing Arts Center for Education), a multi-use community center I worked to fundraise and build, we’ll celebrate our wedding and a ‘A Hui Hou Pau Hana.’ I’m in heaven right now.”