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Manoa 14.2 (2002-2003) 49-55

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Oahu and Riverside

Mary Paik Lee

from Quiet Odyssey: A Pioneer Korean Woman in America
[The Autumn Sky]

Life in Hawaii was not much different from that in Korea because all the people I came in contact with were Orientals. I don't remember seeing white people, at least not face to face. There was a small group of Koreans on Oahu, where we lived, and a small church. Father preached there sometimes when he was not working on the plantations. He must have done hoeing or weeding: since he had not had any farming experience, he could not do specialized work such as picking. Mother wanted to work as well, but Father would not allow her to. He said, "Even if we have to starve, I don't want you working out in the fields."

When I asked Father years later if we had eaten bananas in Hawaii, he replied that although a big bunch of bananas sold for five cents, he could not afford to buy any. Since we had arrived with only the clothes on our backs and our bedding, we never had enough money left over to buy bananas. We lived in a grass hut, slept on the ground, and had to start from scratch to get every household item. Fortunately, the weather was warm, so we didn't need much clothing, but we never had enough money for a normal way of life.

While we were living in Hawaii, Mother didn't have much housework to do in the grass hut, so she had time to talk to us about why we were the only ones in our family to have left Korea. She told me that I had begged Grandmother to come with us, but she wouldn't leave her school. Grandmother had said that her students were depending on her to teach and guide them. She was certainly a very remarkable woman, with much courage in the face of danger. It is women like her who get things started in spite of opposition, and who accomplish what seem like impossibilities. I'm glad she lived to see her dream come true. She loved all of her students as though they were her own children, and she wouldn't desert them in their time of need. Uncle said the same thing about the young boys in his high school. Also, he had a wife and several children of his own to care for. Of course, Grandfather would not leave without Grandmother. So only my father had no obligations to anyone except his own wife and two children.

Mother told me there had been a lot of discussion for several days before the final decision was made for my parents, my brother, and me to leave Korea to find a better life elsewhere. Father was reluctant to leave, but his parents insisted, saying that his presence would not help them. They knew what would happen to them in the near future. They were prepared to face great hardship or worse, but they wanted at least one member of their family to survive and live a better life somewhere else. Such strong, quiet courage in ordinary people in the face of danger is really something to admire and remember always.

My second brother, Paik Daw Sun, was born on October 6, 1905, in Hawaii. Father was desperate, always writing to friends in other places, trying to find a better [End Page 49] place to live. Finally, he heard from friends in Riverside, California, who urged him to join them: they said the prospects for the future were better in America; that a man's wages were ten to fifteen cents an hour for ten hours of work a day. After his year in Hawaii was up, Father borrowed enough money from friends to pay for our passage to America on board the ss China.

We landed in San Francisco on December 3, 1906. As we walked down the gangplank, a group of young white men were standing around, waiting to see what kind of creatures...


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