Hong helps Chinatown become a little more Chinese

Faye Hong speaks at the unveiling of Chinatown/International District’s new Chinatown gate to a crowd of supporters including Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels. Hong is one of the people who spearheaded the Hurricane Katrina fundraising in Seattle.

By Ryan Pangilinan
Northwest Asian Weekly

Helping to cultivate and build a community is no easy task. It takes individuals coming together with their ideals, and it can take a lot of time and effort.

Since immigrating to Seattle from Hong Kong in 1952, Faye Hong’s family has made an impact on the local Asian American community. Now at 67, Hong continues a longstanding commitment, not only to the Asian Americans, but also to Seattle.

The Hong family began with a modest restaurant in the International District (then Chinatown) called Atlas, which was located in the same place where Ga Ga Loc now stands. In the early 1980s, Hong owned the House of Hong, one of Seattle’s most popular Chinese restaurants — a sentiment often repeated throughout the awards that currently adorn the business. Though Hong’s involvement with the House of Hong ended in 1993, he’s still proud of the indelible mark it has left.

“It’s one of the few destination restaurants in the whole city of Seattle,” said Hong. “People will come down here to patronize the House of Hong.”

His latest restaurant endeavor, Hong’s Garden in Renton, has fast become one of the more popular eateries in the south end, taking the same charming aesthetic that has made the House of Hong so popular.

Helping to popularize the concept of dim sum in the 1980s isn’t Hong’s only contribution. As a board member and a fundraiser chairman, Hong was also instrumental in the fundraising for the Chinatown Gate.

“For the last 40, 50 years, there were several attempts to raise the money to build the gate and it’s always fizzled,” said Hong. “After a few months or years, nobody hears anything about it. Then a few years later, someone tries to start another (fundraiser).”

“When I first got involved, we really tried to raise the money for the gate, and a lot of people were skeptical. But we pulled it off. We raised the money from the city, the county and the community. Everybody who gave a hundred dollars or more got their name on the gate. So we really rallied the younger and older people of the community.”

Within the span of four years, the Chinatown gate was erected and since its opening day on Feb. 9, it has stood before thousands of people who finally got to see a longtime symbol of conviction come to fruition. “It’s a dream come true,” Hong said.

Hong’s involvement hasn’t ended with the Chinatown gate. He’s also a co-chair for the Kin On Community Health Care Center and helped form the Business Improvement Area (BIA) to help attract more businesses to the area. He still has ideas to keep the International District alive and wants to prevent it from falling into disrepair like Detroit’s Chinatown, which has all but disappeared.

“We need to have people invest and do things besides just having eating places,” said Hong, laughing.

Hong’s history with the International District, which also includes serving on the International District Review Board and the Seattle Chinese Chamber of Commerce, has allowed him to gain a vision for where real change can begin within the community.

Though modern apartments and condos now contrast the ethnic zest that has given the International District unique characteristics, compared to Seattle’s other residential (and homogenous) neighborhoods, Hong feels like there is still more to be done around here.

“People need to get together and build a community project. They want to talk about the lack of parking, but nobody wants to get together and build a garage to help solve the problem,” he said.

Never to be discouraged, Hong continues to move and be a voice for the community, allowing the residents of the International District to one day have a safer neighborhood and a place that is both part of the spirit of Seattle yet independent from the city’s other popular tourist attractions.

For all his efforts, Hong is an honoree at this year’s Northwest Asian Weekly Top Contributors Dinner, a credit that Hong is taking with stride and pride.

“My involvement has changed something (around here),” Hong says. “I feel very proud.”

Times have dramatically changed since Hong came to Seattle in the 1950s. His efforts have been to restore the neighborhood back to its halcyon days, when people could walk around without a sense of danger.

As a senior leader at Hop Sing Tong, one of the oldest fraternal clubs around, Hong’s peers cite him as a man who is kind and humble. Hong has been known to grab a broom to sweep the streets because he loves to roll up his sleeves and help in any way he can. ♦

Due to the current economic climate, the meeting scheduled in January 2009 for the second Chinatown gate has been deferred indefinitely.

Ryan Pangilinan can be reached at info@nwasianweekly.com.

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