Georgian's lost sister in Hawai'i
By Lee Cataluna
Valentine Chong Hughes grew up in Georgia, a part-Hawaiian girl with images of her birthplace patchworked together from stories her mother told. Plantation ditches, pineapple fields, Pearl Harbor.
"I have a Georgia accent, but I'm Native Hawaiian," she says.
She was born at Queen's Hospital on Feb. 14, 1953.
She was 4 when her mother remarried and moved to Georgia.
"My mother's father died when she was 4, and her mother died when she was 14, so she was kind of shifted from sibling to sibling," she says.
"My father grew up next door to her, and he always loved her, though she didn't like him. But he proposed to her, and said that he would take care of her so that she wouldn't have to be shifted around anymore.
"She said, 'But I don't love you,' and he said, 'Well, I love you enough for both of us.' He told her if she met someone else that she loved instead of him, that he'd give her a divorce. And then she met my stepfather, who was in the military, and that's how I got to Georgia."
Hughes lost touch with her father, Alfred Anthony Chong, for many years.
"When I was 16, I found out I had a half-brother in Hawai'i I didn't know about," Hughes says. She and her brother, Pfc. Robert William Benjamin, started writing to each other. They planned to meet when he came back from Vietnam, but Benjamin was killed in combat near Thua Thien 10 days before he was supposed to come home.
In 1995, Hughes saw her father for the first time in 38 years. He was living in California, and Hughes traveled there to meet him.
"I found out where I got my flat feet, my short fingers and my looks. All my mannerisms. Even though I didn't grow up with him, we had a lot of mannerisms that were alike."
Two years ago, Hughes' father called to tell her he was dying.
"He called me to tell me goodbye, and that was the last I heard of him."
But he also told her she had a sister, Bonnie — and little else. It's the thought of this half-sister, who would be around 40, that has kept Hughes searching for two years.
Hughes has lost touch with family members in Hawai'i and run out of leads. After she left as a child, she never got the chance to come back to her birthplace. She's hoping someone will recognize her family names and help her connect to her last blood relative in Hawai'i.
Hughes is a nurse who cares for terminally ill children. Her work often reminds her of the fragility of life and the importance of family.
"I think about that. That's one reason why I wanted to see her. I'm 51 now and I would like to meet my sister before something happens to either one of us."
Seen at http://the.honoluluadvertiser.com/current/ln/lee
Cross-posted to hawaiians