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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, June 4, 2003

Images, anecdotes tell Korean story

By Vicki Viotti
Advertiser Staff Writer

A lot of stories jostled for attention as Roberta Chang worked to develop a clear vision for her book, "The Koreans in Hawai'i."

Book signings

Co-authors Roberta Chang and Wayne Patterson sign their book, "The Koreans in Hawai'i."

Noon Saturday, Borders, Ward Centre

Noon Sunday, Borders, Waikele

Other books tied to the centennial celebration

"YOBO: Korean American Writing in Hawai'i," a centennial issue of Bamboo Ridge, the Journal of Hawai'i Literature and Arts, Bamboo Ridge Press, paper, $15.

"Century of the Tiger: One Hundred Years of Korean Culture in America 1903-2003," UH Press, hardback, $44.95; paper, $24.95.

The result is a compilation of anecdotes and memories, some of them her own. These shine a light on why Chang feels so passionately that these stories need to be told.

In one, Chang was a child growing up in Wahiawa, in the days when Koreans here longed for the emancipation of their ancestral home from Japanese occupation. The teasing was heartless, as the taunts of children often are, rife with ethnic slurs and insults.

"These kids used to tell me, 'You're not Korean any more — your government is Japanese,' " she recalled. "That would make me so angry."

Chang's just-released book ($27 hardback, $12.95 paper; University of Hawai'i Press) is subtitled "A Pictorial History, 1903-2003," paying tribute to the centennial of Koreans' immigration to the United States. The pictures, culled from Chang's impressive collection of some 1,000 archival prints, are indeed the centerpiece of this work.

The book was written with scholarly advice from Wayne Patterson, a history professor and Korea expert at St. Norbert College in Wisconsin (on the cover, the authors are listed as "Roberta Chang with Wayne Patterson").

But the text serves primarily to tell the personal stories behind the photos, many of them formal portraits of families who settled in the Islands beginning in 1903, shortly before their homeland became a protectorate of Japan (in 1905) and then an annexed territory of Japan (in 1910).

Many of the first immigrants were recruited as plantation labor from towns and cities in Korea, but they soon found Hawai'i's urban environments more attractive than the fields, Patterson wrote.

"In Honolulu and its environs, Koreans set up independent small businesses, opened schools teaching in both English and Korean, and offered social welfare assistance through churches and clubs," he continued. "Picture brides began arriving in 1910, an indication that Koreans were becoming settlers instead of sojourners."

But there were other pioneers, as well.

"We forget that there were 500 women to come to Hawai'i as dependents of sugar workers," she said. "With them were children ... They were the backbone of the community."

The images include faces familiar to the Korean American, such as Mollie Hong Min, whose work with the Methodist ministry of her husband helped to develop educational, welfare and business programs for the new arrivals.

But less-well-known figures also shine here: Maria Whang, for instance, escaped from an unhappy marriage to a wealthy man, arriving in Hawai'i in 1905 with three children. Whang was one of the early educators of plantation children, Chang wrote, forming the Korean Women's Association in 1913.

The book also outlines the rifts in the Korean community. One is the rivalry between factions in two community associations, the Korean National Association (KNA) and the Korean Residents' Association. These associations helped support the Korean nationalist movement in Hawai'i but also served other needs of an expatriate community normally handled by a consulate.

The most bitter fighting — battles creating resentments that still reverberate today — erupted in lawsuits over control of KNA assets, she said.

But the internal squabbling paled beside the intense hostility between Koreans in America and the Japanese government, Chang said. After Japan annexed Korea in 1910, the Japanese government provided financial aid for Koreans through the Japanese Consulate in Hawai'i, but most Koreans rejected it she said.

Chang says there's another book on her to-do list. Faced with the challenge of keeping the text within the space limitations of a pictorial history, Chang was forced to cut many interesting details, chafing after every snip.

"There are so many stories yet, there are so many stories," she said. "There are precious, precious things yet to say, from picture to picture."

Reach Vicki Viotti at vviotti@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8053.