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Hawai'i Heritage Center celebrates 25 years

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Hawai'i Heritage Center celebrates 25 years

Hawai'i Heritage Center volunteer Don Hibbard checks a display of artifacts that were found during excavations in Chinatown.

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Source: Honolulu Advertiser

The Hawai'i Heritage Center is marking 25 years of celebrating the Islands' cultural blending.

"What we're here for is to preserve the history and heritage of the various groups that have come to Hawai'i," said Karen Motosue, vice president of the heritage center board and one of its founding members.

As the center's board members prepare for anniversary festivities set for tomorrow, they are also gearing up for a $4 million fundraising effort for a new complex. The center maintains operations without government funding, although it does receive grants for special projects.

"Basically, the board members and others do all the work," Motosue said of the all-volunteer staff that operates the center's 2,000-square-foot exhibit area in the Dan Liu Building, 1040 Smith Street, which it rents from the city.

A colorful hodgepodge of exhibits greets visitors. Dominating one side of the area's main hall is a turn-of-the-century four-poster bed that once belonged to the family of Anin Young, founder of Chinatown's Oahu Market.

One display features fragments of dishes, pipes, medicine bottles and other artifacts dug up in the Chinatown area as the region was redeveloped. The city gave the center an estimated 100,000 pieces in all, Motosue said.

Nearby are exhibits about various ethnic groups that have streamed through Chinatown over the years, including the Filipinos, Puerto Ricans, Portuguese and Jewish communities. The center has also displayed exhibits highlighting Hawaiians, Greeks, Koreans, Irish, Japanese, Germans, Samoans, Scots and others. Nearly all exhibits travel to the Neighbor Islands. Some have traveled as far away as San Francisco and Puerto Rico.

"Most of the groups who work with us, they want to be known for their own cultural traditions, their own history, their own heritage in Hawai'i which they see as separate and distinct from everyone else," Motosue said. "Of course, once these exhibits go up, whether it's the Greeks, or Puerto Ricans, or Filipinos, what you see is a lot of commonality."

One of the most pervasive themes among the groups is economic struggle.

"A lot of us, our grandparents went through a lot of poverty, a lot of struggle, a lot of working two jobs, a lot of sacrifice," she said. "You see that really throughout almost all of the ethnic groups. What they're doing is working hard for the next generations.

"So we don't want today's generation to forget what they went through because we didn't get here by ourselves. All of us got here because of our parents or grandparents."

Motosue noted that since many of the groups putting together exhibits lack federal nonprofit and tax exempt status, the center sometimes deals with their finances. Also, because of space constraints, the center now shows less than 5 percent of its collection at any given time.

The center has gradually become a repository of everyday items that might otherwise end up in the trash

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