January 25—The Mayor’s Office of Culture and Arts and the Center for Korean Studies at the University of Hawaii at Manoa recognize the 120th anniversary of Korean immigration to Hawaii this month.
The Mayor’s Office of Culture and Arts and the Center for Korean Studies at the University of Hawaii at Manoa are recognizing the 120th anniversary of Korean immigration to Hawaii this month.
The UH center is scheduled to host a symposium on Thursday highlighting Korean immigrant leaders who made significant strides in education, social work and promoting Korean culture when their community settled in Hawaii.
The Office of Culture and Arts has set up a photography exhibit in the Honolulu Hale courtyard that will be open through February 10. The photos, taken by Marie Ann Han Yoo, depict Korea’s postwar period and Korean immigration to Hawaii. Also on display at the city’s Lane Gallery are 40 rubbings of the headstones of early Korean workers, taken from cemeteries on Oahu and Maui.
The challenges for the first Koreans to arrive here were unique among immigrant groups, said Duk Hee Lee Murabayashi, president of the Korea Immigration Research Institute in Hawaii. “They fought here and at the same time they had to help Korea become an independent country,” he said.
The successful establishment of their community in Hawaii was especially notable, considering that their numbers were significantly fewer than other ethnic groups at the time, Murabayashi added. According to him, Koreans made up 2.5% of Hawaii’s population, while Chinese residents accounted for more than 11% and Japanese residents 41.5%.
Many early Korean immigrants worked particularly hard to send money back to their families in Korea to support their country, which had become a protectorate under Japan. They also saw their children’s education as a vital part of their recovery efforts, Murabayashi said.
Some of the women to be discussed at the symposium also contributed to these efforts in various ways, said Tae-Ung Baik, director of the UH center.
“They were very active in social work and activism, especially since Korea had completely lost its own sovereignty to Japan in 1920,” Baik said. “They had been through a lot of different challenges, and especially in a kind of statelessness situation… Their lives will be very inspiring” to hear at the symposium.
The photo exhibition on display in the Honolulu Hale courtyard shows the spirit of Koreans as well as the social and political conditions of their immigration, according to a press release. In addition, it highlights important aspects of their daily life, such as the importance of the family, intergenerational coexistence, social clubs and churches.
According to the press release, photographer Yoo is the only Korean-American known to have documented the Korean postwar period from 1956 to 1957.
Though they make up a smaller portion of Hawaii’s population, the Korean community in Hawaii has come a long way since their first immigration here, Baik said. Over generations, he established his own unique culture and identity while laying the foundation for today’s successful Korean-Americans.
The symposium is a free event and open to the public. It is scheduled to take place from 11:30 am to 3:30 pm in the auditorium of the Center for Korean Studies. For more information, visit.——Linsey Dower covers ethnic and cultural issues and is a staff member of Report for America, a national service organization that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on issues and covert communities.