Tale of five families:
 • Moon family
 • Kim family
 • Woo family
 • Lee family
 • Choi family


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Top: Ronald Moon is chief justice of the Hawai'i Supreme Court.

Center: Moon at age 1.

Above: His grandparents, with father Duk, immigrated in the early 1900s.

Ask Hawai'i Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald Moon about his Korean heritage, and he'll tell you he's "110 percent Korean."

His grandparents on both sides came to Hawai'i in the first wave of Korean immigration, between 1903 and 1905. His father's father, Moon, came from North Korea. His mother's father, Lee, came from Seoul.

Their lives were filled with hard work and sacrifice and a determination to make things better for their children and community.

Judge Moon's paternal grandfather went to work on the plantation in Honoka'a on the Big Island. He married a picture bride from Korea. They had four children together before she died at age 26. After that, the family moved to O'ahu, where Moon's grandfather got a plantation job in Wahiawa. He worked as a harvester and made 69 cents a day.

Judge Moon's maternal grandfather worked on the plantation in Waialua, but later opened a pool hall and barbershop in Wahiawa. He had left his wife and daughter in Korea when he came to Hawai'i. It was 15 years before he had the money saved to send for them.

"I think it shows endurance and patience, on both his part and his wife's part," Moon said.

Though his grandparents became American citizens, Moon remembers they kept their language. "They lived here for so many years and they never spoke English well. It was very broken English. And as a result, I could understand them and I could speak to them as a child, but as I grew older, it just went away. And so people ask me, 'Do you speak Korean?' and I say, 'Yeah, like a 2-year-old.' "

After leaving the plantation, grandfather Moon opened a tailor shop in Wahiawa that became the family business for two generations. The shop catered to the military at Schofield Barracks. Later, after he died, the shop was expanded to include clothing for men, women and children and toys. Judge Moon and his three younger siblings grew up living above the store.

"My father's name was Duk, but the soldiers had a really difficult time pronouncing that, so he just added an 'e' and they called him Duke. The store out there was named 'Duke's Clothing,' and that was the source of our livelihood for many many years."

Moon's father died in 1970 at age 65, and his mom continued working the store for 15 years.

Besides long hours in the store, the other big part of family life was church. Both grandfathers helped establish the Wahiawa Korean Christian Church, and Judge Moon's parents were very involved in the parish activities.

"Sundays, it was like mandated we had to go to church," Moon recalled. His father was president of the congregation, choir director, Sunday school teacher and leader of the Christian Endeavor group. Moon's mother, Mary, played the piano for the services.

"We spent almost all day Sunday in church. On Wednesday, we had choir practice. On Fridays, we had Christian Endeavor meetings," Moon recalled. "That really was a meeting place for the Koreans. It was an ethnic church."

His father also believed in the value of community service. He was a member of the Rotary and the Lions' Club, and president of the Wahiawa Korean Businessman's Association. He took care of anyone who asked for help.

"The old Korean folks would come to the store and he would translate letters for them, fill out forms that they had to fill out, take them to doctor appointments," Moon said. "I remember on Sundays he'd go to other families' homes to pick up children to bring to Sunday school — a very community-minded man."

Judge Moon said race and identity didn't seem to matter much when he was a kid, but when he went away to college on the Mainland, he saw discrimination firsthand.

"I wasn't served in restaurants; taxi cabs would pull on the side, look at me and take off. I asked a white girl for a date and she referred to her sorority policy of not dating anybody but whites. But you know, it was somewhat understandable. Those people had lost their sons and fathers in the war. Everyone who looked Asian looked like the enemy."

Through each hardship the family faced, the underlying belief was that hard work would bring rewards.

This New Year's, Judge Moon was invited to sit in the Korean Centennial float in the Rose Bowl Parade. His mom watched him on TV from home. Afterward, he called her. She said, "You know, there was a straight-on shot of you on the float and you waved at me, so I waved back!" Then she added, "See, you worked so hard and that's why you got to be there."

In 1971, Moon visited Korea for the first time. He met an uncle who, like his father, worked as a tailor. The experience put much of his family's story into perspective.

"He lived in a building made of cardboard and plywood, maybe 20 by 20 feet. It served as his store as well as his home, and he lived there with his wife and children.

"To look at something like that, you realize the risk and the sacrifice your grandparents took to come to a foreign land for a better life and to give you all the opportunities you have today." KIM FAMILY>>

— Lee Cataluna



THE TALE OF FIVE FAMILIES: Moon | Kim | Woo | Lee | Choi
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