The Young family includes daughter Haven Rafto, left, parents Barbara and Joseph W.C. Young, daughter Shelby Goo, and sons Emory and Collyer.

Family upholds
cultural ties

The Young family plans a summer trip
to China to explore their roots

When their grandchildren serve tea to Joe Wah Chow and Barbara Chun Young for the Chinese New Year, the tradition helps the family keep in touch with their Chinese heritage.


This summer the family, including four children and seven grandchildren, will travel back to their roots in the Zhongshan area of China where Joe's father, Young Fong, came from.

The family hopes to strengthen its connection with descendants of the brothers of Joe's father in Sun MingTung Village in Lung Doo, Zhongshan.

On his first trip to China in 1980, Joe recalls being struck with the relative simplicity of life in his cousins' village. But he also was struck by the physical resemblance among family members that, until then, had never seen each other.

"It was pretty exciting seeing the home my grandfather grew up in," Collyer, Joe's son, recalls from his first trip to China. And a real chicken-skin moment came when he looked on the wall at a relative's house and saw the photograph of his father, Joe, and his siblings in front of their house in Honolulu in the 1920s.

For this summer's trip, oldest daughter Haven Young Rafto's son Sheaffer, 7, has been learning some Chinese phrases to communicate with the kids there.

"We're a Chinese-American family," Collyer Young says. "We still have some Chinese traditions, but we try to simplify."

Joe Young notes that his father, Young Fong, had the opportunity to move from "abject poverty" in South China, to Sydney, Australia; San Francisco; or Hawaii.

"I've always been glad he chose Hawaii," Joe Young says. "I've been to the other places and we have better weather."

After working off the price of his passage, Young Fong worked with two of his brothers delivering produce and groceries. Between 1937 and 1947, he was the caretaker of Kuapa Pond in Hawaii Kai, where he raised awa, mullet, shrimp, crabs and papio for sale.

The Young family story is that of many immigrants: hard work, long hours and an emphasis on the children getting an education.

Joe can remember as a youngster working for his father, helping to shore up the pond banks or catch fish. But after leaving high school early to work at Hickam Air Force Base and serving in the Army Air Corps in the Philippines, Joe pursued a career as a dentist.

Both sons, Emory and Collyer, followed in his footsteps, working alongside him in the family practice and continuing it after his retirement. Emory, 45, is married to Megin Ching and their daughters are Marina and Madisyn. Collyer, 43, is married to Lindai Dang.

Daughter Haven, 48, is married to Stein Rafto, with son Sheaffer and daughters Sierra and Savanna. Daughter Shelby Young Goo, 42, a veterinarian, is married to Matthew Goo and they have a son, Connor, and daughter, Skyler.

Joe Young was named Chinese Citizen of the Year for 2005 by the United Chinese Society, recognizing his extensive work on Chinatown improvement projects and other civic work that benefited the Chinese community in Hawaii.

Among the civic projects Joe Young is particularly proud of is raising money for renovations to the Palolo Chinese Home and getting new Chinatown street signs that are readable by both Cantonese and Mandarin Chinese speakers.

"It wasn't a complete surprise, but it's a very nice thing, the crowning of many years of community service and involvement," Collyer says of the title bestowed on his father last December.

"It's an honor that not only reflects on my father, but on every child and on my mother," Haven says. She recalls that on a school field trip to Chinatown, one of her daughters was showing classmates the new paving stones in the sidewalks as a project her grandfather had championed.

"It reinforces for our children the importance of our Chinese culture, and from what their grandfather does in Chinatown, it teaches them civic involvement," Haven says.

Joe stays active, running and swimming several times a week. Barbara Young, a former teacher who spent many years helping at the family dental office, plays an active role baby-sitting and carpooling grandchildren to their after-school activities.

They'll celebrate his 80th birthday and their 50th wedding anniversary next month. And then, the trip back to Joe's ancestral home.

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