Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, January 10, 2002

Ethnic festival celebrates centennial arrival to Hawai'i

By Dan Nakaso
Advertiser Staff Writer

Saturday's festival will include traditional dancing.

Photos courtesy Korean Centennial Commission

Korean Festival

10 a.m.-8:30 p.m. Saturday, Kapi'olani Park

Featuring traditional and modern singing, dancing, music, speeches and traditional

Korean foods; sponsored by the Korean Centennial Commission

For details: 375-2799

Ninety-nine years after the first wave of Korean immigrants arrived in the Islands, Hawai'i's Korean American community is organizing its first large-scale festival.

Saturday's event will serve as a prelude to next year's centennial celebration, when organizers will truly pull out the stops.

Koreans have been a part of other ethnic festivals, but only now has an organization been built to pursue this kind of grandiose goal.

Internal problems sometimes kept them from establishing a long tradition of their own, said Andre Lee, co-chairman of this and next year's festivals.

"Everybody wants to be chief," Lee said.

"Koreans have too much pride sometimes."

In the last few years, however, Korean Americans forced themselves to work together to pull off next year's centennial celebration, Lee said.

"People were saying constantly ... that everybody has to work together," Lee said. "That was always stressed."

They entered floats in the last four Aloha Festivals parades and won the grand sweepstakes in 1999 and 2000.

"To beat the Outriggers and Hilton Hawaiian Villages was huge," Lee said. "People were crying."

They also decided to organize this weekend's festival at Kapi'olani Park as a fund-raiser and dress rehearsal for next year.

Dora Moon, grandmother of musician Peter Moon, was among early Korean immigrants to Hawai'i.
"It's almost like a practice run," Lee said.

He and co-chairman Alice Park say they hope to draw 15,000 people Saturday and raise $10,000 for next year's festival.

Festivals are important in Hawai'i for galvanizing ethnic pride, said Edward Schultz, director of the Center for Korean Studies at the University of Hawai'i.

The festival tradition in the Islands began at the end of the 19th century with the kenjinkai celebration among Japanese plantation workers. "People from different provinces got together to reconnect and commiserate, to share stories of adventure and hardships, of working on the plantations," Schultz said. "Out of that, you had the idea of different ethnic festivals," among Portuguese, Filipinos and Chinese immigrants.

The first Korean plantation workers — 86 men and women — arrived in Hawai'i aboard the ship Gaelic on Jan. 13, 1903.

They had followed Chinese, Japanese, Portuguese and Okinawans to Hawai'i. Soon after, the immigrants would learn that their homeland had been overrun by the Japanese.

"No sooner do they get here than their country disappears," Schultz said. The turn-of-the-century plantation workers often sent wages back home, hoping to finance the independence movement.

Japan cut off Korean immigration in 1905, and Hawai'i's Korean population never grew as large as other ethnic groups. Today, there are an estimated 100,000 people of Korean ancestry in the Islands.

Kim chee, in its many varieties, is among popular Korean foods in Hawai'i.
By 1910, Korean communities had developed on the 'Ewa Plain, in Wahiawa and Waialua. Other immigrants settled in Honolulu to set up shop as furniture makers, tailors and store owners, Schultz said.

Today, the work of organizing the first large festival has fallen on people like the 33-year-old Lee, who immigrated with his parents to Hawai'i at age 5.

In advertising the festival, organizers are trying to promote better understanding of Korean American culture while honoring their ancestors.

They're promoting popular and lesser-known Korean foods, dance and dress, as well as focusing on prominent Korean Americans in Hawai'i, such as Ronald Moon, chief justice of the state Supreme Court, and Pat Hamamoto, the new state schools superintendent.

This and next year's festivals could be critical in "helping Koreans maintain their identity," Schultz said. "It's important for empowering second-, third-, fourth- and fifth-generation Koreans, as well as first-generation immigrants. Koreans have a sense that nobody knows they're here, let alone that they've been here 100 years."

Reach Dan Nakaso at 525-8085 or dnakaso@honoluluadvertiser.com.