By Rich Figel
I tricked you. This is actually a blog post about immigration and human trafficking in Hawaii. But it does involve a Burmese pop-up kitchen at Pacific Gateway Center, so let me tell you about that before I explain how the cucumbers above are connected to the "Shaved Ice Salad" dessert beside it.
The next one is Saturday, June 30 at 6 pm, Lemongrass Cafe (83. N. King Street). It's a 5-course dinner for just $20 per person. Seating is limited to about 50 people, assigned tables, and reservations are a must. Call 851-7010. If the one tomorrow night is sold out, you might be able to make a reservation for a future pop-up dinner.
It's really more of a tasting menu with small servings that emphasize fresh local produce and different flavors. Take the shaved ice salad pictured above. It had chopped up Jello, fruit, and other ingredients that made it colorful, fun and delicious. Yet the story behind this pop-up restaurant is even more intriguing. And this is where the immigrants angle comes in.
As you may know, I've been producing a series of videos about human trafficking in Hawaii for the 808HALT.com project in conjunction with the Pacific Gateway Center, which secured a grant from the federal Rescue & Restore program to stop modern day slavery. You can see our latest segment by clicking here. I should tell you though that if you're a parent, this mother's story will be gut-wrenching for you to listen to. More on that and the State politics involved next week.
Anyhow, PGC is all about helping immigrants and low income people in Hawaii. Their latest project is setting up former farm labor trafficking victims with 5-acre plots of land in Kunia to grow produce and start their own farming businesses. PGC loaned them the money, leased the land, and is giving them guidance on how to run a business. I happened to be there when the first harvest was brought in... the cucumbers above. If you knew what some of these immigrant farm workers went through, it would bring tears to your eyes to realize what that picture represents. (Click here to see the piece we did on one such trafficking survivor named Samian.)
After I took the photo, Dr. Myaing of PGC, mentioned there was an upcoming Burmese pop-up dinner and that Aye Aye would be using fresh produce supplied by the new Kunia farm venture. I thought it would make a great segment for a future Career Changers TV show, showing how the human trafficking projects are actually making a difference in the lives of not just the immigrant workers, but for residents too. So when I hear about how on the Mainland, some states are doing all they can to turn away immigrants, it makes me grateful that most of us in Hawaii embrace people from other countries and cultures. In return, they make real contributions to our economy -- and our lives.
While we filmed Aye Aye as she prepared her Burmese dishes, she told us about coming to Hawaii and working seven days a week for very little pay. Yet she wound up starting the packaged sushi franchise in Honolulu that supplies stores like Foodland at Ala Moana, and many other places... yep, most of the store sushi is actually made by Burmese workers hired by Aye Aye! However, she said she "comes alive" when cooking, which is her true passion. The pop-up dinners are a way for her to develop her cooking and restaurant management skills. Don't be surprised if she opens her own place some day.
I didn't mean for this to be a pre-Fourth of July blog post on the meaning of Independence Day or the American Dream. But in rereading this, that's kind of what it is, isn't it? We are a nation of immigrants, united by the desire to live free and to build our own dreams with hard work and imagination.
Please support the Pacific Gateway Center. Call 851-7010 and make a reservation for the next pop-up dinner.
Beginning July 2, Career Changers TV will have a new daily viewing schedule! Thanks to the increasing popularity of our show, OC16 has given us better time slots, which will be posted next week. Until then, you can still catch the current episode or watch segments from past shows on the CCTV YouTube Channel.