Frank De Lima once said that one of the best things about Hawaii folks is that we take all of the worst smelling and best tasting food the world has to offer and make it our own, local style.
For me, food always played an important part of growing up in Hawaii. Indeed, it wasn’t until I was in intermediate school that I came to understand that not everyone in America ate dumplings, long rice, and musubi along with turkey and stuffing on Thanksgiving.
A fond memory I have about growing up in Hawaii has long been Sunday dim sum in Chinatown. Since I was a child, my parents took my brother and myself to one Chinese restaurant or another on Sunday for dim sum. The Sunday dim sum in Chinatown was an opportunity for family bonding and an opportunity for my parents, who emigrated to the U.S. from Asia, to use their native language skills.
Although I was terrible at foreign language in school, the one thing I did manage to pick up was how to order food in Chinese. Indeed, when I went to college on the mainland someone had to explain to me the English translations of shiu mai and har gau.
What’s impressive about Hawaii and its Chinatown is that it has been and continues to be the place where hard work still counts. Honolulu’s Chinatown, and America in general, have long been the place where immigrants with no connections and even minimal proficiency in English, can make a living and pull themselves up from nothing.
As a child, it was immigrants from Hong Kong, like my father, who defined Chinatown. Today, it is often the immigrants from Vietnam or Thailand, like my mother, who are making Chinatown thrive. Yes, it might not be the cleanest and it might smell a little, but Chinatown is one place where the heart and soul of hard work and the spirit of opportunity thrives.
I am proud to be a child of immigrant parents. As our nation struggles with a debate over immigration reform I sometimes think it would help the formation of public policy if more of our national lawmakers sat down over dim sum to think things through. The act agreeing to not just eat together, but also to eat the same dishes is not just a good family bonding experience, but also symbolic of mutual trust, respect and understanding.
Today, as a parent myself, I still enjoy going to Chinatown for dim sum. Some of the same restaurants are still there and the same good food is still found. For me, it is a great experience to have the Sunday dim sum with my parents and my children and I hope this is one thing that never changes in Hawaii.
Charles K. Djou is Hawaii’s newly elected Congressman for Hawaii’s 1st district and a former Councilmember for the Honolulu City Council and former Hawaii legislator.
Growing Up in Hawaii is a series focusing on childhood memories in the islands. Submit stories and photos to mailto:Malia@hawaiireporter.com – children are invited to submit stories and photos to the “Still Growing Up in Hawaii” series at the same email address.