Chinatown MuseumAs historian James G.Y. Ho leads visitors through the Chinatown museum he founded, he tells the story of his ancestors as if he's talking about an uncle or brother -- with affection and pride and a bit of anger over the bitter hardships they endured and overcame.
Organization seeks city space to
house its artifact collections
By Pat Gee
Some 14,000 people have visited the Chinatown museum on the first floor of the Pioneer Plaza at 91 S. King St. since its doors opened a year and a half ago, but a recent sale of the building is forcing the museum to find a new home by the end of the month.
Ho, president of the museum's non-profit parent organization, the Hawaiian Chinese Multicultural Museum and Archives, is petitioning the city for space in the police station complex at Maunakea and Hotel Streets.
The location would be much larger, have a lot of foot traffic, and it could mean 55 years of free rent. The museum was given $194,000 of seed money by the Legislature in 1998 and it has since run out of funds, Ho said.
He added, "The museum rightfully belongs in our Chinatown district, where it could continue to offer the Chinatown populace a place to gather for discussion, mutual cooperation and a place for academic enlightenment."
It is also part of the daily walking tour package created in cooperation with the Hawaii Tourism Authority and Roberts Hawaii.
The museum not only needs a place to relocate its artifacts, which include a thrashing machine, waterwheel, grain mill, crooked-shaft plow and a wedding carriage, but it also needs funds to operate, Ho said. The museum, staffed by only 12 volunteers, has received very little support from Chinese organizations and businesses, he said.
The museum is as much about Hawaiians as it is about Chinese since 90 percent of the 42,000 Chinese who came to the islands by 1900 were men, and they married Hawaiian women, he said.
"The Chinese played a major role in Hawaii's history, more than people know," he added.
Ho has spent hours pouring over old ships' logs and health department archives -- what he calls "the horse's mouth" -- to trace the history of Chinese since they arrived in 1888.
To say that the Chinese were treated as second class citizens is an understatement, according to Ho. For example, the Pacific Club on Queen Emma Street used to be known as the British Club. On its front lawn was a big sign that said, "No dogs or Chinese allowed" even though the cooks for the club were Chinese, he said.
With indignation and bitterness in his voice, Ho describes the burning of Chinatown in 1900 as he walks visitors through two rooms of enlarged archival photographs that illustrate the systematic block-by-block burning over a one-month period.
He says repeatedly, "pictures don't lie," and contradicts stories that Chinatown was burned down to rid the area of the bubonic plague and that wind spread the fire uncontrollably. In the end, 40 acres of homes and businesses "looked like Hiroshima" after the atom bomb was dropped, he said.
The destruction left 7,000 men, women and children homeless and they had to build "their own concentration camps next to Kawaiahao Church, where they stayed for 9 1/2 months, and were fed, not by the government, but the Hawaiians and other ethnic charities," Ho recounted.
"You bet I'm proud," Ho said, of the early Chinese pioneers who overcame those hardships to become successful business, political and social leaders. They believed in "sticking together, doing things on their own. They were very industrious and independent."