Aloha and Mahalo, Emme

Aloha and Mahalo, Emme

Alfredo G. Evangelista | Assistant Editor

Television reporter. Anchor. Producer. Multiple award winner. Proud Pinay. All these words aptly describe Emme Tomimbang Burns, who died on February 19. In this era of social media, her passing became the Breaking News of the day. Many folks on Maui posted photos with her and recalled their relationships with her on various online platforms.

“I am saddened to hear of Emme Tomimbang’s passing. I first met her via email, and then in person in 2014. We saw each other at Willie’s gigs on O‘ahu and here on Maui throughout the years till before Willie died. Rest in Peace Emme. You are now reunited with your beloved husband, Jim,” posted Lyn Adzuara Alpuro, recalling the close relationship Emme had with Maui entertainer Willie K.

Emme Tomimbang Burns
Photo courtesy Emme Tomimbang

“I had an opportunity to travel with her to San Francisco on her Island Moments Tour with HAPA,” wrote Michelle Santos. “Our bus got stuck and she covered the cost to get all of the tour members back to their hotel. She waited with us to make sure we were OK. Such a generous and caring person. The best in the business.”

“God bless Emme, thank you for being so kind,” recalled former television broadcaster Rod Antone. Elmer Baggao noted “Fond memories working with you!” while Ryan Piros published, “One of the best Filipina broadcasters I knew…will miss your voice!” Marcia Cabebe Paranada also chimed in: “She was a very humble Filipina. We should all learn from her.” Alfred Cantorna observed, “Emme Tomimbang blazed the trail in television broadcasting for Filipinos in Hawai‘i.”

The common theme of many posts describe Emme’s pioneering role and her steady humbleness.

Emme with Lyn Adzuara Alpuro.
Photo courtesy Adzuara

Emme’s connection to Maui’s Filipino community began with her father. As she recounted for The Fil-Am Voice last year, “I kept hearing about Mill Camp—and it brought back forgotten memories my Dad shared. Tommy Tomimbang lived there and worked at the Lahaina plantation when he first arrived here in the late ’30s.”

Lahaina held a special place in her heart. “During my early TV years, I would fly to Maui—to interview celebrities like George Benson, Kenny Loggins, Jim Messina and Jim Nabors,” Emme said. “I loved the restaurants, shops (vintage and ultra chic) and the simple but electrifying energy of the town. I even saw Elton John at the Blue Max!”

After the August 8th fires, Emme reached out. “The Lahaina fires were an unspeakable tragic moment in our island history,” she said. “Lost and gone is the local—yet Hollywood celebrity town—that all came to love and enjoy. Everyone loved the Aloha Spirit—it became home to many.”

Mark Paranada, Ryan Piros, Herman Andaya, Michelle Santos and Alvin Santander (rear); Marcia Paranada, Emme, Rowena Dagdag-Andaya and Chastity Baysa.
Photo courtesy Ryan Piros

In the first five months after the fire, we spoke almost daily about helping the kababayans of Lahaina. Although she was facing many health challenges, she wanted to help in so many different ways. When asked for permission to use her name and photo in ads supporting Binhi at Ani’s Tulong for Lahaina® Fund, she immediately consented and replied “My honor.” Later, she would tell me how folks told her they donated to the Tulong for Lahaina® Fund because they saw her photo in the full-page ads.

“Binhi at Ani is grateful that Emme supported the Tulong for Lahaina® Fund,” said Melen Agcolicol, president of Binhi at Ani. Agcolicol pointed out how Emme helped many Filipinos throughout the State and on Maui simply by being a positive influence and an inspiration to Filipino youth.

Emme’s last televised production was a reprise of her interview with the late Willie K and included an exclusive interview with Philippine Senator Imee Marcos, who had just visited Maui. “Maui is so beautiful,” Marcos said to Emme. “I was very sorry I couldn’t go to Ground Zero of Lahaina. It was forty minutes away and I had only an hour or so on the ground. But our reception at Tante’s in Kahului gave me a close up look at the families affected by the wildfires.”

Emme at Mike White’s campaign event with Candace Baisa, Sherman Baisa and Basilia Evangelista.
Photo: Alfredo Evangelista
Molokai Chamber of Commerce President Barbara Haliniak and Emme Tomimbang model two outfits from the Island Moments by Emme clothing line.
Photo courtesy
The Filipino Summit

Marcos would tell Emme, “I met with survivors and heard their emotional and mental struggles trying to cope with their loss of loved ones, homes and friends. At first, they couldn’t believe it was me—we cried, hugged and they shared their immeasurable grief. I had no idea so many of them were Filipinos from our part of the country.”

I recall perhaps Emme’s first foray to Maui for a Filipino event around 1977 when she was the emcee for the Maui Filipino Community Council’s scholarship awards luncheon. A highlysought host for events, Emme even presided over the campaign kickoff for Mike White’s council campaign in 2010.

In a story written by Alvin Santander that appeared in the June 2004 issue of The Filipino Summit, titled “A Summit Moment,” reprinted here with the author’s permission, Emme’s life story was detailed.

Emme Tomimbang
speaking at the Molokai Small Business Summit.
Photo courtesy
The Filipino Summit
Emme with her Grandpa, Dad and Mom.
Photo courtesy Emme Tomimbang

It has been ten years since local TV personality Emme Tomimbang decided to leave her post as the co-anchor of the Channel 2 News. For many people, Emme’s departure at the height of her career came as a big surprise. At that time, their ratings were good, her pay was good, and her Island Style segment was a true hit with Hawai‘i’s television viewers.

So why did she decide to leave during that time? “My father had just passed away in 1994,” recalls Emme. Emme’s father was and continues to be a great source of inspiration for her. He moved to Hawai‘i to work as a plantation worker in the 1930s from Siquijor, which is one of the smallest provinces in the Philippines. His passing was truly one of the major defining moments in Emme’s life. She remembers that it was then when she started to ask herself, “How much time do I really have in my life to do what I want to do?”

Later that year, Emme founded her own business called EMME, Inc. which is an acronym for Emme Tomimbang Multi-Media Enterprises.

Emme interviewing Senator Imee Marcos.
Photo courtesy Emme Tomimbang
Emme with Senator Imee Marcos after the interview.
Photo courtesy Emme Tomimbang

In her 20 years as a broadcast journalist, Emme grew tired of trying to squeeze in local stories in a minute and a half. She realized the importance of these local stories to Hawai‘i’s community and felt that these stories deserved to be told in full. So for her first project, Emme decided to produce her own series of TV specials featuring local stories. The show was to be called Island Style, after her popular segment with the Channel 2 News, but due to copyright restrictions she was not allowed to use the same title.

One day while doing a story on board the voyaging canoe Höküle‘a with her father’s passing still fresh in her mind, Emme looked out to shore and began to marvel at the beauty of the ocean, the beach, the sun, and the trees. At that instance she exclaimed, “What a great moment…what a great island moment!”

Today, Emme is probably best known for and is likely to forever be remembered for her series of TV specials that she decided to call Emme’s Island Moments after that eventful day while on board the Höküle‘a. For Emme, it’s all about sharing these special island moments to the people of Hawai‘i.

In September 2023, Emme attended the birthday party of her close friend Mila Medallon Kaahanui.
Photo courtesy Mila Medallon Kaahanui

So what exactly is an island moment? Emme defines it as, “something in time when you are touched by everything around you, and it touches you from the inside out.” “It’s a lasting memory, a lasting moment, something you are going to remember that is triggered by some thought…that’s an island moment,” she explains.

Over the years, EMME, Inc. has managed to live up to its name as a multi-media company by branching out to all sorts of different projects. “The company name means that we do a variety of things,” says Emme. “From my TV specials, my health shorts, to airline vignettes on Hawaiian Air and Continental Airlines. I’ve also done PR for events, press kits for various companies, served as an emcee for events, coordinated and collaborated with various non-profit agencies, and produced commercials for Kapi‘olani Community College and Territorial Savings. We also have a clothing line for Macy’s and Hilo Hattie.”

Compliment Emme on her success as a businesswoman and she’s likely to humbly reply, “Am I successful? I’d like to say that I’m successful at surviving.” As with most business owners, Emme did not get to where she is now without going through some rough times. Apart from starting out from scratch which is difficult in itself for most business owners, Emme also recalls her business’ difficulties after the tragic events of 9/11 as one of her major struggles.

“After 9/11, TV sponsorships were hard to come by, so EMME, Inc. had to diversify by looking at other revenue producing aspects. It’s all about the entrepreneurial spirit and how to make it work in all ways,” said Emme. Such diversification is apparent as Emme talked about her company’s future projects which include putting the Island Moments name on branding products that she would like to endorse. “One of them is from Maui but I can’t mention it right now,” she adds.

Also in the works is the production of somewhat of a Martha Stewart concept of island home wear articles which will be an island lifestyle design of home products. Speaking of Martha Stewart, Emme is often compared to either Oprah Winfrey or Martha Stewart for obvious reasons. “It is of course extremely flattering to be likened to Oprah Winfrey and Martha Stewart. I admire both of these women for their accomplishments in the media and related industries,” says Emme.

Emme continues, “Although Ms. Stewart is going through some difficult challenges, I still think her products and name brand are quite strong.” As for Oprah she says, “I would love to meet her someday and perhaps do a joint project…Emme on Oprah in Chicago and Oprah on Emme in Hawai‘i!”

In celebration of EMME, Inc.’s 10th anniversary, Emme plans on doing a lot of neighbor island events. “I thought it best to bring Island Moments to all islands—not just O‘ahu. It is a celebration of all that is Hawai‘i and all that are great island moments. Some of us (including me) have had ‘tunnel vision’ with only our own island in view. We should be extending our reach to more islands, sharing and giving back in the best way possible.”

Screenshot of Emme hosting the Mabuhay with Aloha – The Hawai‘i Filipino Experience 1906-2006

So far this year, Emme has already made numerous appearances here on Maui. She was here for the Hula Bowl in January, in February she was in Läna‘i for her first ever Island Moments Concert, in April she had an Island Moments fashion show at Macy’s and also co-chaired the Willie K. Golf Tournament that benefited the Maui Memorial Medical Center.

At the recently concluded Molokai Small Business Summit where Emme and I met for this interview, Emme told the Molokai residents of her plans to have an Island Moments Concert in Molokai later this year. She also shared some business lessons that she’s learned over the years such as having a sound business plan and having a good banker, accountant, and lawyer. In addition, she also shared the most important business lesson she’s learned so far which is to stay on top of your financials. “Look at profit & loss statements quarterly. Watch what you spend and spend wisely,” she said.

On top of her busy schedule, what’s truly admirable is the fact that Emme has always stayed true to herself and her roots by remaining active within the Filipino community. She proudly said, “I’ve always been close to my Filipino community. My father brought me up in it. I watched the elders build the community to what it is today. We’ve come a long way from the plantation days to the prominent positions Filipinos hold today in all sectors of the mainstream community.” “For that, we must look back and remember where we all came from—and the efforts of the Sakadas who came here nearly 100 years ago,” Emme adds.

To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the arrival of the first group of Filipino plantation workers who came to Hawai‘i, Emme plans on doing an Island Moments special documentary tracing the plantation workers in 1906 and their tenacious journey to Hawai‘i. She also plans on doing another special on the journey that her own father made to reach Hawai‘i.

Emme’s autograph on the Mabuhay with Aloha – The Hawai‘i Filipino Experience 1906-2006 DVD.

As I wrote this article for our June issue about my brief encounter with Emme and how her father played a major role in her life and in her decision to open her own business, it dawned on me that Fathers’ Day is just around the corner. “How appropriate,” I thought to myself. I hope that Emme and her father’s story serves as an inspiration to all of us.

Anyway, I think all these talks about Emme’s TV career and her specials have made me all the more interested in possibly landing a career as a TV news reporter. I think I’ll give it a shot! Reporting from the Molokai Small Business Summit with Ms. Emme Tomimbang, this is Alvin Santander reporting for The Filipino Summit. Now that’s what I call a Summit Moment!

Emme’s greatest contribution to Hawai‘i’s Filipino community was probably her role in producing and co-hosting (with Maui boy Larry Ordonez) “Mabuhay with Aloha—The Hawai‘i Filipino Experience 1906-2006” as part of the Filipino Centennial Celebration Commission’s celebration of the first one hundred years of Filipinos in Hawai‘i. The 90-minute segment, broadcast on television, captured on a DVD and now remains available on YouTube.

“As part of the celebration of the Filipino centennial in Hawai‘i, we wanted to share with you stories of courage, hope and dreams,” Emme says in the introduction. The Feature recorded local history including the waves of immigration, pivotal moments of early plantation worker unrest like the infamous Hanapëpë Massacre, the formation of multi-ethnic unions, Statehood after World War II, the growth of tourism, and Filipino movement from labor to business, the immigration law reform allowing family reunification, the creation of Operation Manong in local higher education, the exile of the Marcos family after the People Power Revolution to Hawai‘i, various success stories, youth, the Centennial trip to the Philippines as well as historical photos, videos and interviews.

Emme with her husband Jim Burns.
Photo: Emme Tomimbang Facebook page

A sizable portion included interviews of Maui folks including the Sevilla family, Claro Capili, Artemio Baxa, the Filipino Summit team and the Andrion family. Except for the Andrion family interviews, Emme conducted all those interviews in the Binhi at Ani conference room. The Feature also included segments on the Pu‘unënë Mill to Lahaina Mill Relay Walk featuring interviews of the Bagoyo family, the Barrio Fiesta and Maui Land & Pineapple Company. (Segments also featured the Filipino communities on Läna‘i and Molokai.)

“Filipino pride was built piece by piece by those who made their mark on their people and their State. In this the Filipino centennial year we hope we’ve learned the lessons of their life experiences and we honor our past and look beyond to our future,” Emme narrated at the end of the Feature. “In this our Centennial year we have much to cherish, much to applaud, much to nurture and cultivate as we look forward to our next century in Hawai‘i. To the people that came before us, to those who will come after us, to all who have welcomed all of Hawai‘i’s Filipinos into your lives, Mahalo and Mabuhay!”

Now, it is our turn to say our thanks to Emme for making your mark in Hawai‘i, for helping us to honor our past and for inspiring us to look to the future. Rest in Love, Peace and Aloha, Emme, for you are now with your beloved Dad Tommy and husband Jim. Maui, especially its Filipino community, will be forever grateful to you and we say, Mahalo and Mabuhay.

Alfredo G. Evangelista is a graduate of Maui High School (1976), the University of Southern California (1980), and the University of California at Los Angeles School of Law (1983). He is a sole practitioner at Law Offices of Alfredo Evangelista, A Limited Liability Law Company, concentrating in estate planning, business start-up and consultation and nonprofit corporations. He has been practicing law for 40 years (since 1983) and returned home in 2010 to be with his family and to marry his high school sweetheart, the former Basilia Tumacder Idica.
When Evangelista was installed as President of the Filipino Chamber of Commerce of Hawai‘i in 1994 by then Lt. Governor Benjamin Cayetano, Emme was the host of the event.