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We Are Idaho: Sam Hui

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Sam Hui grew up in Boise. This spring, he helped put together a memorial honoring the contributions of Chinese railway laborers out west.

My name is Sam Hui. I moved to Boise, Idaho in 1972. I was born in Hong Kong. My mother's maiden name is Louie, and the Louie's have been in Idaho since probably the 1870s.

The Louie's first came here for mining. Through the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the Chinese weren't allowed to even own property in Boise.

After they quit mining, they went into Chinese restaurants because most of the Chinese here couldn't speak English and that was an easy business to get into.

"Boise, Idaho, in particular, is a rich cultural amalgam of all these different races coming, immigrating from all these different countries. But you never hear about the Chinese."

My family owned a Chinese restaurant called Nam King Restaurant for 38 years. We didn't start ours until 1978. It was not an easy life — you basically you live there if you own a restaurant. We didn't get to go to school dances or play sports because we were always at the restaurant.

I graduated from Borah High School in 1984. I learned absolutely nothing about my own heritage there and I didn't know how rich it was until probably the last 10 years.

Boise, Idaho in particular is a rich cultural amalgam of all these different races coming, immigrating from all these different countries. But you never hear about the Chinese. 

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Credit Sam Hui
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Memorial honoring the contributions of Chinese railways laborers out west.

It's just kind of sad that there's really no relics of the old Chinese in Boise anymore. None of the buildings, none of the businesses are left anymore. When I was a child, pretty much all the Chinese families here knew each other or we were related somehow and we were pretty much all in the Chinese restaurant business back then. And a lot of those families are dying off or have moved away. So, that's definitely changed in the last 10 or 20 years. 

Hopefully going forward, something may be built or what have you for the Chinese that have been here before Idaho even became a state. By me putting my money where my mouth is, I'm just kind of doing my little part to keep that going for future generations. I don't want it to be forgotten in any way.

Copyright 2020 Boise State Public Radio

We Are Idaho features Idahoans from all walks of life telling their stories of living here in their own words.