By Assunta Ng
Northwest Asian Weekly
Last weekend, nearly $170,000 was raised in the International District (ID) to benefit Japan’s disaster relief effort.
This record-breaking amount is historical for the Chinatown/ID area. The event was probably the fastest organized fundraising event ever held in the community. There was also an Artists for Japan benefit, which was held at KOBO over the course of two days with more than 80 artists donating artwork to sell, raising $91,000 with $10,000 matched by Higo Variety House.
On Sunday night, House of Hong donated a 10-course dinner for close to 500 people for the relief effort, raising $76,712 through auctioning items, dinner proceeds, and also through donations after the dinner.
Chinese and Japanese Americans work together
If there is one positive situation that came out of Japan’s disasters, it would be that the disasters caused Chinese and Japanese community members to work together, holding a benefit dinner for Japan’s relief effort at the House of Hong. It’s a story of how Chinese immigrants brought the Japanese community together to do something meaningful to help the ancestral land of Japanese Americans. This bold move raised eyebrows among some Chinatown old timers, due to the Sino-Japan relations surrounding World War II.
“[But] that was 60 years ago!” said a supporter of the dinner, Jerry Lee, in disbelief.
“Those people [from World War II with ill-feelings] are all dead,” said Tony Au, an organizer of the event.
These days, many younger Chinese Americans are well connected to the Japanese community. There are marital relationships, business relationships, and deep friendships between the Chinese and Japanese.
“We need to build bridges in the community instead of isolating one another,” said Au. “We need to have a broader vision. Chinatown is small, only a few streets. If we cannot even get along, we cannot develop power to do bigger and more important things.”
A lion dance team leader, Au, who became restless after seeing the deaths, pain, and suffering of the people in Japan on television, called on his Chinese American friends to act.
He was surprised to find that they were already on the same page, ready to help.
House of Hong owner Tan Tho Tien, a Vietnamese-Chinese and boat refugee, has always been generous toward community causes. He was already thinking about organizing a dinner himself when other Chinese Americans approached him with the same idea. Tien said he’d donate all of the proceeds of the dinner.
In four days, 55 tables were sold. However, House of Hong can only fit 48 tables on its main floor, and additional guests would have to sit upstairs. The organizers thought of another strategy. They asked donors to donate and give up their tables. For instance, Vietnamese Chinese Sandy Huynh, partner of Asia Discount Center, told her siblings to stay home and to donate money instead. Her father inspired members of the Ming Ya Buddhist Temple to donate a total of $12,000. Again, her dad asked that members not show, just to give.
Huynh also donated bottles of red and white wine for the dinner, $1,500 of the proceeds of which went to the American Red Cross. She and her husband volunteered throughout the entire evening. They did not even have seats for dinner.
When asked why she is motivated to give so much, Huynh said, “Because we are so blessed.”
It was a common feeling among the event organizers. One said, “We don’t view the tsunami victims as Japanese people. We just want to do our best to diminish human sufferings with our compassion for other human beings.”
Donors were exceedingly generous
In less than 10 days, 20 auction items were collected, resulting in close to $16,000 in donation money for the American Red Cross. Letters begging for donations weren’t utilized.
All it took were quick phone calls and short e-mails. When someone called Frank Lau, of Frank Lau Jewelry, and asked him to donate three items, he not only said yes but suggested five valuable items that he could donate, which were estimated to be worth $8,500 in total.
At the end of the auction, he whispered to the volunteer auctioneer, “I still have a pearl necklace in my car. You want it?”
“Bring it,” the auctioneer replied.
Lau even went onstage and appealed to his friends to bid. A tanzanite ring was sold for $1,988.
When organizers approached the Chinese restaurants for gift certificates of $100 and $300, they asked the owners for three times the amount, just in case. The answer was always yes.
The biggest donor of the night was Tien, who bought auction items in addition to donating the dinners. His total contribution was $14,000.
Even the kids were inspiring. Ryoji Maeda and his sister, Chisako Maeda, brought in their pennies, nickels, and dimes, which they had saved over the years, and donated them at the dinner. Anna Edelman and Pallas Garvey went door-to-door selling handmade cards, raising $218. They brought the money to the dinner and handed it over to the American Red Cross Japan Relief Fund.
More than 50 volunteers helped the House of Hong set up, serve, and clean up for the event.
Many of them were Au’s students from his martial arts school. They hassled the potential bidders to bid high for the auction. They sold them snacks and fruit drinks at $2 each.
The first, not the last
“You (organizers) worked hard. I was impressed how the dinner was done so quickly and people gave so generously,” said Haru Nishimura, one of the guests. “We were amazed that the House of Hong owner would donate 100 percent to the cause. How could you do that?
You have to pay for the ingredients and to cook the food and more. It was a nice event, and we all had a good time, catching up with friends.” She appreciates the work of the Chinese community.
Not only that, the wait staff donated labor and all of its tips. Jerry and Charlene Lee had given $300 to the wait staff in tips. For your info, Jerry, that money went to the Red Cross, too!
This is the first time in recent decades that Chinese Americans had formally collaborated with Japanese Americans in a significant project. The project was a big success. Hopefully, this is just the beginning of more such projects.
And Jeff Hattori, CEO of Nikkei Concerns and also one of the planning committee members, said with gratitude, “From now on, I will eat more at the House of Hong.”
“The goodwill between the Chinese and Japanese community is incredible,” said Au. “No money can buy that.” ♦
Assunta Ng can be reached at email@example.com.