Celebrating 100 years of history
By Vicki Viotti
Advertiser Staff Writer
The passage of time puts distance between people and their history, so after 100 years of Korean immigration, many of the descendants no longer think of the centennial as their personal, family story.
Donald Kim and Duk Hee Lee Murabayashi, two people who have spent more than a decade immersed in the planning of the official centennial celebrations that finally are looming, have had the time to find their own place in history.
Kim, chairing the international centennial committee, and Murabayashi, the vice-chair, each have grasped a thread of their heritage they didn't expect to find.
Kim's father, Yu Ho Kim, was among the first group of 102 Korean immigrants to arrive in Honolulu, disembarking from the ship Gaelic on Jan. 13, 1903. Only recently, Murabayashi learned that a great-uncle was among 1,000 of the early immigrants who went back to Korea within the first 10 years, unable to adjust to life here.
"I never knew that!" Murabayashi said, seated amid stacks of documents and Korean artifacts that have accumulated during her research odyssey. "I'm having fun."
Most of what Kim now knows about his father's journey to America he discovered 12 years ago during the "dry run" of the present observance: planning for the 90th anniversary of the first immigrants' arrival.
"When we were working for the 90th celebration, I got to learn more about our Korean roots and history," said Kim, who was a somewhat reluctant draftee to head the committee to plan even the warm-up events 10 years ago.
It's a position he retained by default: Five years after that celebration, which produced its own commemorative book and calendar of 26 activities, Kim put out a call for a centennial chief. Nobody answered, and when people fixed their gaze on him imploringly, Kim stayed on.
Work on the centennial events began in earnest three years ago, and preliminary events have been taking place since 2001.
It wasn't long before South Korean government officials pointed out that the observance should be planned on a national scale: When the first immigrants stepped off the ship in Hawai'i, Kim said, they also became the first to set foot on American soil.
Kim agreed to the notion of a national celebration.
"In retrospect," he said, half-jokingly, "that was a mistake on my part."
Once again, Kim ended up at the helm of what became an international committee, traveling to South Korea and from coast to coast to meet with Korean community leaders in Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and other cities, coordinating the plans among 11 regional subcommittees.
One payoff for all this work will be a monumental promotion for Hawai'i, he said.
"We are thinking about 30,000 people might show up throughout the year," he said. "If they come, they can see with their own eyes not only the beauty of Hawai'i but they can see how we're living cohesively.
"We're going to showcase Hawai'i as a place where all the ethnic groups can work together."
But the primary mission is education, not public relations. It's a mission Kim hopes will persist well beyond 2003, through cultural exchange fellowships between South Korea and the United States, underwritten by foundation grants. The $2.5 million the committee has raised so far will help cover anticipated expenses of $3.4 million for the celebration, Murabayashi said, but planners still hope to garner a total of $6 million by year's end. What remains after bills are paid will help create an endowment for continuing exchanges and improved international understanding.
"We're throwing a stone into a pond, and then seeing the ripples move out," Kim said. "Our small effort will do something to plant the seed."
More immediately, Murabayashi added, the hope is to bring people, Koreans and everyone else, closer to history.
"For most people, other than kim chi and bulgogi, what do they know about Korean culture and history? Not much," she said.
"People ask, why are we so hung up on this 100-years thing," Murabayashi added. "But if we don't find out what Koreans did, what the early immigrants accomplished, who would know? Who would include Korean history in American history? We're responsible for that."Jan. 13 marks the centennial of the arrival of the first Korean immigrants in Hawai'i, but the preliminary celebration has been under way for two years. Here are some highlights from the first month of events:
Tonight and Sunday
- Centennial Concert, Honolulu Symphony Orchestra, with violinist Han-Na Chang and South Korea's gayageum artist Byung-ki Hwang, 8 tonight and 4 p.m. Sunday, Blaisdell Concert Hall.
- Centennial Memorial unveiling, sculpture by artist Bou-Chan Pak, 1 p.m., Pawa'a Park.
- Parade, Fort DeRussy to Kapi'olani Park, 3-5 p.m.
- Ceremony, 9 a.m., Hilton Hawaiian Village Coral Ballroom.
- Banquet, with keynote address by Washington state Sen. Paull Shin, entertainment featuring Brooke Lee, emcee; 5:30 p.m. cocktails, 6:30 p.m. dinner, Hilton Hawaiian Village Coral Ballroom, 5:30 p.m. cocktails, 6:30 p.m. dinner, 8:15 p.m. show. Tickets: $125. 864-9812.
Jan. 13 and 15
- "Arirang: The Korean-American Journey," centennial documentary premiere, broadcast at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 13, KHET; screening at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 15, Doris Duke at the Academy. 956-7041.
- Korean Broadcasting System Open Concert, featuring stars from South Korea and Hawai'i, Waikiki Shell, 6:30 p.m. Free, but tickets required; availability to be announced.
- Second Annual Korean Festival (food, entertainment, cultural exhibits, products for sale, games); 9 a.m.-9 p.m., Kapi'olani Park Bandstand.
Jan. 25-March 16
- "Century of the Tiger," centennial exhibit, Bishop Museum; opening reception 5:30 p.m. Jan. 24. 848-4148.
His best-known works feature the 12-string plucked zither, and his styles range from the more traditional to the avant-garde. Hwang has released four albums and has toured widely since 1964, performing both traditional pieces and his own compositions in major venues, including Carnegie Hall.
Born in Seoul in 1936, Hwang studied gayageum and composition at the National Center for Korean Traditional Performing Arts from 1951, continuing to learn traditional music while taking a degree in law at Seoul National University.
He received first prizes in the National Traditional Music Competition in 1954 and 1956, the National Music Prize in 1965, the Korean Cinema Music Award in 1973, and the prestigious Jungang Cultural Grand Prize in 1992.
In 1990, he led a group of South Korean musicians at the Music Festival for Reunification in Pyongyang, North Korea, and was named Performing Artist of the Year by the Korean Critics' Association. Since 1974 Byung-ki Hwang has been professor of Korean music at Ewha Woman's University. He has served as a visiting lecturer at the University of Washington and a visiting scholar at Harvard University.
He serves on the government's Cultural Properties Preservation Committee, and in 2000 was appointed to the National Academy of Arts.