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"Coming of Filipinos in Hawaii"


1765 marks the first coming of Filipinos to America. Hawaii in spite of its closeness to the Philippines was never settled till the beginning of the 19th century. The Manila galleon trade route never stopped in Hawaii because the Spanish navigators never found their way here. This is the reason I suspect that the early Filipino pioneers lived in the bayous of Louisiana way before the manongs were farming in the sugar plantations. The first known native from the Philippines landing in Honolulu were a band of musician just before the end the 18th century.



In 1906, the very first group of Filipinos arrived in Hawaii. However, the major migration to this American territory occurred a couple decades later. As a matter of fact, it was galvanized by a labor situation first experienced by the Japanese immigrants in Hawaii. In October 1919, a group called the Japanese Young Men's Association sent seventy-five delegates who conferred in Hilo and called for a fairer working environment, with demands ranging from an 8-hour workday to increased wages. Another group of Japanese workers, called the Japanese Federation of Labor, met with Pablo Manlapit, the leader of the Filipino Labor Union, a small and somewhat underrepresented group, that included a number of Puerto Rican workers as well. Together, these unions rose more detailed demands to the Hawaii Sugar Planters Association, such as a wage increase from $0.72 to $1.25 and even paid maternity leaves for women workers. Ray Stannard Baker, an American journalist, supported their cause and spread the word that their labor conditions were like that in "serfdom." On the 19th of January the following year, Manlapit's group went on strike. Reluctantly, the Japanese Federation did as well, while laborers on other islands continued to work and raised $600,000 in support. The government countered this with what could be called a "divide-and-conquer" tactic. They charged the Japanese Federation with attempting to make Hawaii an Oriental province. Despite Yasutaro Soga's, editor of the Nippu Jiji, retorts that the strike called only for economic justice, the Filipinos fell for this. In February, Manlapit called back his union and accused the Japanese of wanting to take over Hawaii. Later on the year, the Japanese changed their union name to the Hawaiian Federation of Labor, in a last effort to counter the racist accusations, and invited all workers of every race to join. After even more rumors spread that Manlapit could have possibly accepted a bribe and that the Japanese Federation's strike fund was being embezzled, the leaders of both groups urged any strikers to return to work in June. However, by this time, the number of Japanese sugar workers decreased about 50%. In 1924, Manlapit, with the help of George Wright from the American Federation of Labor, organized a seven-month long strike. This allowed Filipinos to demonstrate their courage and tenacity. Thanks to Manlapit, the Filipinos were able to continue the fight for economic equality, even when the Japanese provided only minimum support. Manlapit organized new arrivals from the Philippines into a Filipino Higher Wages Association.

These Filipinos were much like the early Chinese immigrants in the way they arrived. Filipino men left their wives and children at home in the hope that they could earn money and return home or send back for their families. This was a difficult dream thanks to the Depression, which would let the Filipinos be the first ones to go. In the 1920's, these Filipinos could be considered a lonely bunch of men. They entertained themselves with things like cockfighting, gambling, and traveling brothels. They appeared to be gentle and affectionate men, but other immigrants still looked at them with distrust. In Kona, a rumor got started there that Filipinos would attack any girl walking alone on the road. Girls would panic when they saw a Filipino approach, as reported by Koji Ariyoshi, editor of the Honolulu Record, even though his own experience with Filipinos was like that of family. Activity in unions, such as those started by Manlapit, provided the lonely Filipinos with both a social outlet and a just cause.

Manlapit’s second strike in 1924 galvanized further animosity against the Filipinos. Planters used racial division once again to try to break it up, this time bringing in Ilocano strikebreakers to overcome the predominantly Visayan union. In September of the strike, two of these strikebreakers were captured. They were released, but upon their release, violence broke out. Governor Farrington ordered the National Guard on the group to try to physically force them to end the strike. However, Delbert Metzger was there when they arrived. Metzger, out of a mainland law education, was the magistrate in Hilo. He declared he would try each one of the forces for attempted manslaughter if they so much as pointed a gun at the Filipino marchers. Although it stopped the ambush, it did not stop the injustice. By the end of the strike, Manlapit and many of his followers were imprisoned. Filipino workers were avoided. Jim Dole, who purchased the island of Lanai with the intention of creating "the world’s largest pineapple plantation," refused to hire Filipinos or allow them to land at his harbor. The educated Filipinos were especially disliked. In 1928, a group of newly arrived Filipinos were sent back when it was discovered they were literate. Those who came with degrees or professions had to fake stupidity to remain in the American territory.

In the 1950s, things were different. The Filipino bachelor was no longer a norm in Hawaii. On the other hand, more Filipinos were there with whole families and were taking pride in their heritage. The rise of the multi-racial middle class in the 1950s included the Filipinos, who were making upwardly mobile status in jobs and professions.




Judging from this story you are wrong to assume that our nature is of the silent minority and not of the labor activist. The word "blackball" was applied to a lot of Filipinos in the Philippines and Hawaii because of heavy strike and labor activity. The word was later corrupted to our language "bulakbul" meaning lazy and later to a kid who did not want to study or work. These are the "bulakbul" of different kind.
  Plantation Legacy in Hawaii

Oldest Fil-American  Feb 20, 1999

1995 Nestor Palugod Enriquez