Kumu Hina

Native Hawaiian leader traces her roots in southern China

By Stephanie Lum - Hawai'i News NowPublished: Feb. 3, 2024

HONOLULU - Kumu Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu is widely known in Hawaii as a Native Hawaiian cultural leader. She is also deeply proud to be half-Chinese.

“I used to be ashamed of it, but the more I understood Chinese culture in my family, the more I understand how lucky to be of that heritage,” said Wong-Kalu.

The sister of famed chef Alan Wong was raised by her late Popo Edith Gum Gew Look.

“It gets emotional for me to talk about it because she was, she was key in my growing up,” recalled Wong-Kalu as tears welled up in her eyes. “She would wake me up, and she would say, wake up, go make breakfast, hurry up, go!”

“My father, his name is Henry Dai Yo Wong, and he’s going to be 92.”

Family is what drew her to Southern China. In 2014, Wong-Kalu went to find her distant relatives in Zhongshan.

“When I traveled to the ancestral homeland of my great grandparents, I saw such a beautiful country. I took with me a photo, and it showed my great grandparents and all of their children and grandchildren.”

Wong-Kalu showed the photo to a man on the street who began to recognize certain members of her family. He motioned for her to follow him down an alleyway to a home.

When she went inside, she couldn’t believe her eyes. She realized the same photo in her hands was also hanging on the mantel of her ancestral home.

She found her long-lost relatives at last.

“That photo was in my ancestral home in Zhongshan, in the village of Gumsat. My family’s village, the last village standing,” said Wong-Kalu. “I fell to the ground, and I put my head down, and I cried because it was my family’s picture.”

“Researching your roots can be a daunting task. It’s not easy, but when there’s a will, there’s a way, and if you have affection and love for your ancestors, those who have gone before us, they might be able to help you find the way,” said Wong-Kalu. “And I believe when I went in 2014, my Popo was there with me, ushering me along.”

“I am proud to be Chinese,” said Wong-Kalu. “I’m proud to be of my father’s heritage even though to another Chinese, I might not be Chinese enough. Remember where you come from; remember who you are.”

Our series picks back up on Monday. Join Stephanie Lum as she goes in search of her great-grandfather’s village in Zhongshan.

Copyright 2024 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.

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