Celebrating 100 years
By Zenaida Serrano
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Zenaida Serrano
So much more than a mere pictorial display, the scores of black-and-white photographs gracing the walls of the See Dai Doo Society headquarters in Honolulu tell a story of hope, perseverance and pride.
The framed faces of times long past — head shots of distinguished-looking men in sharp suits, and group portraits posed in front of long-demolished structures — offer a glimpse into the roots of Chinese immigrants who sailed thousands of miles to Hawai'i for a better life.
"We owe a lot to our founding forefathers," said Honolulu resident Gregory W.L. Leong, president of the See Dai Doo Society.
The organization, one of the largest Chinese benevolent societies in Hawai'i with nearly 1,800 members, celebrates its 100th anniversary this year with dozens of festivities, including a sold-out centennial banquet tomorrow.
See Dai Doo was a district in China that today is part of Nan Lang County; the society membership is open only to individuals with a direct ancestral lineage to See Dai Doo. (See Dai Doo was a combination of two villages — See Che Doo and Dai Che Doo.)
Many of those villagers who immigrated to Hawai'i suffered financial and physical hardships, so in 1905, a group decided to create an organization to support fellow See Dai Doo immigrants in need.
"We're an organization established for fellowship, mutual assistance and benevolence," said Leong, 56, a retired chief financial officer.
Its mission today is the same as it was then: to promote the welfare and education of members, to foster understanding and appreciation of Chinese culture and heritage, and to help members in need, Leong said.
Since the inception of the See Dai Doo Society 100 years ago, the welfare of members has been its primary concern.
Each year, the organization provides college and Chinese-language school financial aid to members, as well as donations to the Palolo Chinese Home and Aloha United Way, among other organizations.
The See Dai Doo Society also aims to perpetuate the Chinese heritage, said Betty Leong, who served as the organization's first woman president, in 1997 and 1998.
"I got involved because I like to keep up the traditions and culture of our society," said the Honolulu resident, a retired airlines reservationist of 34 years.
The society headquarters — situated blocks from Chinatown in downtown Honolulu, where Pali Highway turns into Fort Street — offers members a venue for cultural activities, including Chinese-language movies, mah jong (a game of strategy) and tai chi (a form of exercise).
Such activities are also meant to encourage younger members to continue cultural traditions.
"My goal has been, and still is, to bring the young members out," Betty Leong said, "to teach them the importance of the culture, to work together among their own 'villagers,' and to understand where they come from."
Cherilyn Lai-Kadooka, 37, has been a member since she was in high school. The Honolulu resident and optometrist also emphasized the importance of younger members.
"We want to see the organization carry through to the next centennial and help the next generation perpetuate and flourish," Lai-Kadooka said.
Throughout the year, members have celebrated with activities, such as marching in the Night in Chinatown Parade; organizing the Taste of See Dai Doo, a demonstration of the culinary skills of members; and holding an open house featuring heritage displays of 16 villages of the See Dai Doo district.
"But our biggest accomplishment this year was the trip to China and having people feel the need to come together," Gregory Leong said.
In March, 180 members — many had never traveled to China — journeyed to the homeland in Zhongshan City (formerly Chungshan) and Nan Lang County. The Chinese government welcomed the group with parades, pageantry and endless banquets.
"What was really significant was the people who went to the villages really felt the need to return to their roots," Gregory Leong said.
The yearlong anniversary celebration will be capped off with a Christmas party, when members will bury a time capsule filled with items from the organization's first 100 years, including a souvenir book, cookbook and newsletters. The capsule is to be unearthed in 2055.
"This will be for the next generation, to continue our mission," Gregory Leong said.
Reach Zenaida Serrano at firstname.lastname@example.org.