Division of early Korean community in Hawaii
One of the most famous figures from the earliest Korean community in Hawaii is Dr. Syngman Rhee (1875-1965), the founding President of the Republic of Korea.
A new book on the origins of Korean immigration to Hawaii shows some intimate details about Rhee’s independence activities against the Japanese occupation (1910-1945).
“When the Korean World in Hawaii was Young 1903-1940” contains essays based on interviews with 19 descendants of Koreans who settled in Hawaii at the turn of the 20th century.
Questions regarding their families, childhood schooling and religious affiliations, invariably resulted in discussions regarding Rhee’s role in Hawaii. Of the 19 interviewees, 10 had
The Ewha Institute for the Humanities at Ewha Womans University in Seoul with the support of the Korea Research Foundation has been collecting and preserving materials related to Korea’s political history, its government, people and culture. The Institute published the book by Roberta Chang and Lee Seon-ju last month.
The collection of interviews is gripping for those interested in modern Korean history.
Chang, a Korean-American born in Hawaii donated 35 copies of interviews with the second generation of the first Koreans who immigrated to Hawaii between 1903 and 1924. The interviews had been taken over a span of nearly 20 years in Hawaii starting from 1993. After studying the documents, Lee selected and transcribed them.
“The 19 oral histories in this book show how in a foreign land similar people gather together and depend on each other; how fear in people evokes religious faith; how they firmly unite to help their homeland in need; and how they turn against each other according to opposing leaders,” Lee wrote in the introduction.
“The liberation of the homeland seemed to rest more on the efforts of people living abroad than from within. The Hawaiian-Koreans supported the March First Independence Movement in 1919. The Korean Military in Manchuria was first supported by funds gathered in the form of tithes coming from Korean churches or the Korean National Association and subsequent Korean organizations. The leaders of Korean society in Hawaii appealed for political help directly to Washington.”
The book shows that interviews are not all sad.
“Although the historical circumstances were somewhat sorrowful, the Koreans in Hawaii enjoyed freedom and self-realization, a contrast from life in the homeland. They believed that they could do anything or become anything according to their efforts and willpower,” Lee said.