Hawaii is an American state, but the history of Filipinos in the islands stretches back more than 100 years when men first came as laborers to work on Hawaii’s sugar plantations.
They were called “Kanakas” then; many today still refer to themselves (and not in a derogatory way) as “Hawaiian nationals.”
The number of Filipinos in Hawaii began to increase in the 1970s with new labor laws.
In 1974, President Gerald Ford signed amendments to the Labor Standards Act, or “Taft-Hartley,” which allowed certain foreign workers [in this case from the Philippines] to work in the U.S. temporarily if they promised to return home when their contracts were complete.
These amendments allowed families to be reunited, and workers could leave troublesome working conditions without fear of persecution or deportation.
The mass exodus of Filipinos to Hawaii started in 1906. Although there were 72 documented Filipino immigrants in 1901, the number had risen to 21,000 by 1920. The reasons why they came are varied. Some came for adventure, while others came to escape poverty or political oppression. Many simply wanted a change of environment.
When did Filipinos arrive in Hawaii?
Filipinos first arrived in Hawaii over a hundred years ago. They were the first Asians to come to Hawaii as farm laborers. The first Filipinos came from the island of Luzon, and they began arriving in Honolulu around 1901.
They came to work on sugar plantations before working their way into other fishing, construction, and retail industries. These days, Filipinos work everywhere in Hawaii.
What was the purpose of their arrival?
For many Filipino immigrants, their main reason for coming to Hawaii was making money and returning home to the Philippines.
They were attracted by the prospect of making three times as much as they could in the Philippines.
The plantation owners needed workers willing to do the arduous clearing wildland and planting sugar cane for harvest under a hot sun.
Filipinos were perfect laborers because they had already been working this type of job in their home country.
The plantation owners also recruited Filipino immigrants because most Filipinos were Roman Catholic, which meant they could have their own churches on the plantations and not interfere with Protestantism, which was very strong in Hawaii.
What was their reception like?
The arrival of Filipino immigrants positively impacted the sugar industry, stabilizing the number of workers on the plantations.
In addition to this, many Filipinos jumped at the opportunity to come work in Hawaii because they believed that they would have a better life here.
However, the laborers who arrived in Hawaii faced difficult and sometimes unfair working conditions.
Plantation owners like Gaylord Wilcox and Lorrin Thurston were known for providing housing and food to Filipino immigrant workers under terrible conditions.
In fact, many Filipino immigrants became indebted to these plantation owners after taking loans to pay for their travel expenses.
The debt then forced many Filipinos to work on the plantations until they had paid off what they owed.
What were their living conditions like?
Living and working conditions were harsh. Laborers worked long hours and lived in overcrowded houses with poor sanitation and minimal furniture.
Many laborers lived in bunkhouses built to house four or five people, but sometimes over twenty men lived in one room.
The bunkhouses had no cellars and often flooded when it rained. There was also a lack of ventilation, so the houses were either too hot or cold.
This led to outbreaks of tuberculosis, which took many lives because treatments were not readily available to Filipinos.
Many Filipino immigrants began to experience health issues such as beriberi, pellagra, and other vitamin deficiencies because they were only given rice to eat for months at a time.
Their diet was also deficient in vegetables, causing them to contract diseases like scurvy. There were even reports of men eating rats and dogs to avoid the illnesses brought on by malnutrition.
What was their experience like during World War II?
Filipino immigrants were treated as second-class citizens regarding wages, living conditions, and social life.
A turning point for Filipinos in Hawaii happened when they began serving in the United States military during World War II.
Filipinos fought bravely for the United States. This newfound bravery gave them a new sense of pride, which caused many Filipinos to ask for better working conditions from plantation owners who were now facing a shortage of workers because so many Filipinos were fighting in the war.
In addition to this, Filipinos had higher allowances as part of their compensation because they were now considered soldiers.
After the war, Filipinos continued to ask for better working conditions and a higher wage from plantation owners, who were unwilling to pay them more money even though there was a labor shortage.
Soon tensions between Filipino laborers and plantation owners grew even worse after the Philippines gained independence in 1946.
This caused many Filipino immigrants to campaign for the United States to grant them full citizenship rights, including voting. By 1959, Filipinos were allowed to become U.S. citizens, and many began choosing to leave plantation work and find jobs in other fields such as retail or service industries.
What was their experience like after gaining citizenship?
By 1959, Filipinos became full U.S. citizens, and many began choosing different professions from the farming industry.
This eventually led to a decrease in the Filipino population as more Filipinos chose to leave plantation work and find jobs in other fields such as retail or service industries.
In addition, many Filipinos who had been working on plantations decided to move back to the Philippines after gaining U.S. citizenship and seeing how much better life was for immigrants in other parts of the world.
Today, Filipinos make up around 15% of Hawaii’s total population, and many Filipino Americans continue to live and work in the state. Many also choose to retire in Hawaii because of its tropical weather, providing a comfortable environment.
What percent of Hawaii is Filipino?
In 2008, Filipinos comprised 25 percent of Hawaii’s population. In 2000, they made up 23 percent of the state’s population. In 1990, about 30 percent of Hawaiians were Filipino. Census figures show that from 1980 to 1990, the number increased by one million people from 1.3 million to 2.3 million — a 63 percent increase.
Is Filipino related to Hawaiian?
Yes and no. Yes, because Filipinos immigrated to Hawaii. No, because Filipinos are not Hawaiians, even the Filipino people don’t consider themselves as such.
The Filipinos who came to Hawaii were either recruited or migrated there in search of opportunities.
So it’s like taking a Rotuman person from Fiji and bringing them to New Zealand; they may have been from the same ‘cultural group’ but is not ‘native.’
In ancient times, Hawaiians began to migrate to Guam and the Philippines. In fact, Filipinos are remotely related to Hawaiians because there has been proof that Filipinos migrated from Hawaii.
And it’s possible that people of the same cultural group (Polynesians and Micronesians) migrated to different islands/countries.
It’s like the Samoan and Tongan peoples who live in New Zealand and Australia,
their cultures are similar, but they aren’t from the same country.
They’re related because people came from Tonga and Samoa, respectively, who formed communities in New Zealand and Australia.
It’s the same case with Filipinos in Hawaii.
Originally posted on November 3, 2021 @ 5:09 pm
As a lifelong traveler and founder of lovefortraveling.com, I, Alex Deidda, have always been driven by my passion for exploring new places and cultures.
Throughout the years, I have had the opportunity to live in various countries, each offering unique perspectives and experiences.
My love for traveling led me to create lovefortraveling.com, a website and blog dedicated to helping people plan their trips.