January 29th, 2006 (on the 425-year-young Gregorian calendar) marks the Chinese New Year. Chinese people everywhere - along with their friends - will celebrate this occassion in a big way with many customs. Hawaii, with its large population of people of Chinese ancestry is no exception. About 4.7% or 60,000 people in Hawaii are Chinese, not including people of mixed ethnicity including Chinese, which, if included, account for neary 1/3 of the population. Hawaii is a true melting pot of cultures. As the Fijians say "one salt water".
The first Chinese contract laborers arrived in Hawaii from Kwantung Provence in 1852. They worked for the plantations at a wage of $3 per month. Mark Twain, who visited the islands, wrote of Chinese labor in the Sacramento Daily Union newspaper on September 26, 1866 - an interesting historical read.
Another intriguing, if obscure, contribution to American culture by a Hawaiian Chinese man is that involving the famous detective series "Charlie Chan". Movies about this detective were very popular from the early 1930's to the late 1940's. Ironically (and sadly), due to the racist hiring practices in Hollywood at the time, the movies starred caucasians made up to look Chinese (sort of!). Yet, in testimony to the popularity of the character in the USA, the part was played alternatively by some of the best actors of the era - Boris Karloff, Leo G Caroll, and Cesar Romero to name three. What I find most fascinating however, is that the character of Charlie Chan was not entirely fiction, but was based on a real dectective: Honolulu Police Department Detective Chang Apana, who joined the force in 1898. Energetic and fearless, Apana was renown for remarkable achievements as a detective. He retired in 1932 after serving 34 years. Chang Apana died in 1933, and is buried at the Manoa Chinese Cemetery in Honolulu.
On the island of Maui, Pandabonium's home for some 28 years, it was Chinese contract labor that built the system of tunnels that brought water from the wet north-eastern coast line to the arid lands of central Maui to make the large sugar plantations there possible. Starting in 1876, they used dynamite and pickaxes to tunnel through the solid lava rock and create a water system that is still in use today.
If you visit Maui, stop in at the Wo Hing Temple in Lahaina. Built in 1912 by a local chapter of Chee Kung Tong, a Chinese fraternal society, the building is now a museum dedicated to the history of Chinese immigants to Maui. It displays many interesting artifacts and even has a theater which shows movies of Hawaii taken by the famous inventor Thomas Edison between the years of 1898 to 1903.
The largest Chinese population in Hawaii today is to be found in Honolulu on the island of Oahu, and thus the biggest public celebration is held on Honolulu's Hotel Street - the heart of "Chinatown".
Click on the title of this post to visit the official Chinatown Hawaii website. It has a lot of interesting articles about Chinatown and the history of Chinese people in Hawaii.
I have only touched upon a few points in the very rich heritage of Chinese people in Hawaii. It is worth doing more research on your own to learn more of the contributions by the Chinese perople who make up an important part of the beautiful cultural rainbow that is Hawaii.
Whatever your family backgound or location on our planet, I wish you all a very happy and healthy "Year of the Fire Dog".