Photographs of dancers by Tom Haar fill the Korean Centennial edition of Manoa, "Century of the Tiger."

Out of the shadows

'Century of the Tiger'
finally shines light on Koreans'
struggles and achievements

Excerpt: 'Lost Names'

By Nadine Kam

By the time the local Chinese and Japanese communities celebrated their centennials, there was no doubt they had made it. Their contributions are visible in the form of public buildings, businesses, and traditions observed and embraced as a part of growing up "local." In 2006 we will observe the centennial of the equally visible and accomplished Filipino community.

"Century of the Tiger:
One Hundred Years
of Korean Culture
in America 1903-2003
Edited by Jenny Ryun Foster, Frank Stewart and Heinz Insu Fenkl (University of Hawai'i Press), 260 pages, hardcover $45, softcover $24.95

But in this year of the Korean Centennial, those outside the community are suddenly realizing how little is known about Koreans in Hawaii. Save for the colorful dances, music and drumming kept alive by the Halla Pai Huhm School, and prevalence of kim chee and kalbi at local drive-ins, Koreans have done the impossible by maintaining a low profile in a place where there is a tendency to know everyone's business.

Like the fictional lands of Brigadoon, Germelshausen or Shangri-La, the centennial affords a rare glimpse of a world at once acknowledged but that even after a hundred years remains a mystery.

So when the staff of Manoa set out to create an issue of the 6-by-9-inch literary magazine to coincide with the centennial, they didn't know what they would find. By the time they were through, it had grown to 10 by 10 inches of glossy stock, with artwork illuminating the text.

"The Century of the Tiger" -- named for the creature caught between two worlds, as the messenger between humans and the divine -- hits bookstores this month in soft- and hardcover. It is a beauty, edited by Jenny Ryun Foster, Frank Stewart and Heinz Insu Fenkl; designed by Elsa Carl of Clarence Lee Designs; and featuring the work of dozens of artists and photography by Tom Haar, who taught at the Seoul Institute of the Arts and traveled the Korean countryside in the 1980s.

"It started off a year and a half ago as something modest," said Stewart, editor of Manoa. "The more we saw how important the centennial was, the more we talked about telling the whole story of Korean immigration.

"We were looking for novels, poems and memoirs that told the story in a personal way. We were trying to do two things at once, which was telling the story of immigration, and through the voices of Korean-American writers."

Some of the most poignant works reflect Korean Americans' struggle to liberate Korea from Japan through a grass-roots campaign based in Hawaii, and the World War II years. In "Faye," from Kim Ronyoung's "Clay Walls," a Korean girl watches helplessly as a Japanese friend is driven away to an internment camp. Before a neighbor, Mr. Watashi, boards the truck, he is seen watering his plants for the last time.

In Richard E. Kim's "Lost Names: Scenes from a Korean Boyhood," excerpted at right, a Korean family is forced to give up its name following Japan's annexation of Korea.

Images of everyday objects such as the dolls shown here are part of "Century of the Tiger."

IN WORKING ON the book, Stewart said he learned that Korean immigrants differed from other immigrants from the start. Many had adopted Christianity in Korea and were acclimated to Western beliefs and ideals.

"Most of the people who came out here were farmers, but the Koreans came from a very high culture and came from all kinds of professions," Stewart said.

And there weren't many of them. About 7,800 arrived between Jan. 13, 1903 -- the time the SS Gaelic deposited the first 56 men, 21 women and 25 children on our shores -- and 1905, when Korea was declared a protectorate of Japan and immigration ceased.

Cut off from their homeland, the overseas Koreans had little access to their culture. Esther Kwon Arinaga, a contributor to "Century of the Tiger," said that while Chinese and Japanese were able to travel back and forth from Hawaii to their native countries, many Koreans felt they had no country to return to.

Arinaga, whose father arrived in Hawaii in 1905, marvels at younger Koreans' access to Korean-language television, radio, film and newspapers, saying: "We didn't have any of that. The Japanese had their films, and more importantly, they had each other."

The early Korean arrivals were dispersed on all islands, on different plantations. "So you can imagine Koreans didn't have a large community on the plantations," said Arinaga, whose father left the plantation after two years and whose sister Margaret K. Pai is also a contributor to "Century of the Tiger."

"All immigrant groups focused on education as a way to bootstrap their way up, but the Korean Americans were really amazing," Arinaga said. "Within five years you saw them at Mid-Pac, which was then Mills Institute and Kawaiahao Seminary for girls.

"They left the plantations and gravitated to the cities and started businesses and churches," Arinaga said.

Immersed in diverse endeavors and without the large community or familiarity bred from living in close quarters with the many ethnic groups that remained on the plantations, Koreans became invisible to the point where the Chinese or Japanese communities were sometimes given credit for Korean achievements.

Ming's jewelry store, widely assumed to have been run by a Chinese family, was started by Wook Moon, the eldest son of Dora Kim Moon, who was among the first group of Koreans to arrive in Hawaii. Shunned by her in-laws due to her Christian beliefs, Moon set sail for Hawaii as a Bible woman at the request of the Methodist Church, with her 8-year-old daughter Wihla.

Dora Moon, the great-grandmother of book designer Elsa Carl, was one of the first Korean women to arrive in Hawaii in 1903. She's shown with her daughter Wihla, who came to Hawaii at age 8.

DORA MOON WAS designer Elsa Carl's great-grandmother, so working on the book became a matter of personal pride.

"She was a tough woman," said Carl, who is of fourth-generation Korean and Japanese ancestry. "People always say she spoke like a man; she spoke her mind. I heard that she converted a lot of people on the ship. They were probably seasick and had no place to go.

"It was an enlightening experience. I knew some of her experiences, but I grew up in a family that did not talk about their past and I didn't realize the importance of it until I saw the whole perspective. I learned the bigger picture out of the family connection, seeing how she came here like so many others, and how they survived and thrived to where I am and where my daughter is now," Carl said.

The project left her with another family mystery and the desire to learn more, for while Dora married Hong Suk Moon and had two more daughters and three sons in Hawaii, no mention has ever been found of Wihla's father.

"I wonder if I still have family in Korea," she said. "My grandmother went back to Korea, and I have her photo albums full of people but I don't know who they are, and nobody's left who can tell me."

CARL READ THE entire book in order to integrate text and artwork. The book is divided into five chapters that capture the beauty of the old world, the journey to Hawaii, the struggle for Korean independence, the war experiences and the flood of new arrivals that came with Congress's 1965 elimination of quotas based on national origin, when most of America's 1.2 million Koreans arrived.

"Century of the Tiger" editor Jenny Ryun Foster was among the later waves, arriving as a 6-month-old orphan in 1974, and grew up in Michigan.

"I didn't know any Korean history," she said. "At my school, 50 percent of the students were black and 50 percent were white, and there were three Asian kids. There were so few of us, we could move back and forth between the big groups. To this day I don't know what they thought of me."

So it wasn't a culture shock when she arrived in Hawaii five years ago and found the same lack of a Korean presence.

"In the general population on the mainland, Koreans are overshadowed by the larger Asian groups, so I'm used to that, but theirs is a beautiful story just waiting to be told," Foster said. "It's like scratching the surface and finding gold."

Dora Moon, third from left, arrived in Hawaii in 1903 with her daughter Wihla, second from front right. Dora married Hong Suk Moon, top left, and raised five children, including Wook Moon, top center, who founded Ming's. Wihla's husband Won Myeung Chung is at top right, and her daughter Ai-Young Chung is designer Elsa Carl's mother. Dora's mother Laura Kim, center, holds Sylvia Moon. Other family members, from left, are, Sook, Ina and Alan Moon.

THERE IS, in the front of the book, a poem by Rabindranath Tagore that reads: "In the golden age of Asia, / Korea was one of its lamp-bearers / and that lamp is waiting to be lighted once again / for the illumination in the East."

Arinaga said: "I was struck by the fact that Tagore, in a few words, captured every Korean's desire for the light to go on in Korea again. I think the 'Century of the Tiger' arrived at the right moment."

Given the current events involving tense relations with North Korea, she said, "There needs to be in the United States a better understanding of Koreans -- not only of Korean Americans, but of what Korea has gone through with centuries of armies occupying their lands.

"Koreans are a very hardy people, very spirited, very passionate. They have survived and they will survive again."

Such passion carried over to the creation of the book. Even when it seemed that there would be a budget shortfall, there was never a doubt the work would be published, she said. Local foundations and individual donors "came through, not knowing what this book was about," she said. "They just had great faith.

"So many wonderful things happened along the way. When we had no money, money came. Individuals were making $1,000 gifts. I remember thinking it's like the field of dreams: If you have this vision, it will come, it will become reality.

"One of the things I hope is that Korean Americans everywhere will appreciate their culture and take pride in it, and realize how the early immigrants made it easier for the new group."


‘Lost Names:
Scenes from a
Korean Boyhood’

This excerpt was taken from
a story in "Century of the Tiger:
One Hundred Years of Korean
Culture in America 1903-2003."

By Richard E. Kim

My father takes a piece of paper from his vest pocket. He hands it to the Inspector. "I assume," he says, "this is what you want, Inspector. I hope you will be pleased."

The Inspector looks at the paper. "Yes, yes," he says. "Iwamoto ... Ah -- it is a very fine name, sir. It does justice to your person. It reminds me of your house by the mountain and, also, of your orchard, with all those rocky mountains around it. I will have it registered. You needn't wait for the certificate, needless to say. I will have someone bring it to your house later."

"Iwamoto ... Iwamoto." I mouth the name. Our new name. My new name. "Iwa" -- rock. "Moto" -- root ... base ... foundation. "Rock-Foundation." So this is our "new" surname, our Japanese "family" name.

"Come," my father says to me.

The Korean detective leads us out, with the Inspector by my side. At the front door, which the detective holds open, the Inspector gives my father a salute. "I thank you, sir, for taking the trouble to come in person."

We step out into the cold. The snow is turning into a blizzard. The long line of people is still standing outside, hunched and huddled, rubbing their ears and faces, stamping their feet in the snow. My father pauses for a moment on the steps, one arm around my shoulders, and says:


Afraid, bewildered and cold, I look up at his face and see tears in his eyes.

"Take a good look at all of this," he whispers. "Remember it. Don't ever forget this day."

I look at all those people lined up, from the steps all the way to the gate and outside. I feel a tug at my hand, and I follow him down the steps. We walk by the people slowly, my father not speaking. They bow to him, some removing their hats. My father, bowing back, approaches the group of his friends still in line. In silence, they shake hands.

Then, we move along the line of people standing in the snow. Some shake hands with my father; most of them merely bow; without words. We are outside the gate. There, too, a long line has formed and is still forming, all the way down the hill, past the gray stucco Methodist church ... and I am thinking, "We lost our names; I lost my name; and these people are going to lose their names, too, when they walk into the police station, into that half-empty large hall, when a 'new' name, a Japanese name, is entered in the big ledger with a pen dipped into a dark-blue inkwell ..."

"What does our new name mean, sir?" I ask my father when we are down the hill and on the main street.

"Foundation of Rock," he says, shielding my face from the bitter-cold snow with his hand. "On this rock I will build my church ..."

I do not understand him.

Do It Electric
Click for online
calendars and events.

E-mail to Features Editor


Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Calendars]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]
© 2003 Honolulu Star-Bulletin --