History shows the awakening came earlier at the time when freedom started blooming after the signing of the Treaty of Paris (December 10, 1898), which ultimately transferred Spanish sovereignty over the Philippines to the victor—the United States, thus, effectively ending the 333 years of Spanish rule. This new relationship between the Philippines and the United States at the turn of the 20th century became the bedrock of labor migration. The valiant worker applications from the northern region of Luzon, all the way to the Visayan islands, signed up to move to another land that might hold their destiny—the sugar fields in Hawai‘i.
Everything about Hawai‘i was more likely unknown to any prospective Filipino migrants then, except for the lure of free transportation, subsistence and clothing, a 10-dollar advance, a 3-year job commitment, and laborer’s pay equivalent to $0.72 dollar per hour for working under the Hawai‘i Sugar Planters’ Association. Never mind homesickness and lack of faster communication back and forth. The first Filipino migrants and the succeeding waves of workers coming to Hawai‘i were driven basically by economic hardship in their homeland. Forced labor under colonial rule of Spain was finally over and it became more appealing to accept the offer of “paid labor” thousands of miles away from home.
In January 1946, my Dad Daniel Urban left his home in Magsingal in the province of Ilocos Sur in the Philippines to come to Hawai‘i. Single and just 24 years old, my Dad decided to come to Hawai‘i to work in the sugar cane plantations on the Big Island. As one of six siblings in a family who lived on a farm, my Dad boarded the S.S. Maunawili with 1,000 other Filipino men to look for a better life in Hawai‘i—the first of four trips the S.S. Maunawili would eventually make to Hawai‘i, bringing more than 4,000 new Filipino immigrants.
My Dad and his compatriots were called Sakadas or “pioneers.” Though not the first Filipinos to come to Hawai‘i’s shores, they were perhaps the largest post-war influx of immigrants to the Aloha State.
Life among Filipinos in Hawai‘i was far from being a sugar-coated lifestyle. It was a continuing struggle for better working conditions, as exemplified by the first Filipino labor leader, Pablo Manlapit.
The influx of Filipino migration in Hawai‘i continued to rise, especially when the quota for workers was relaxed in 1965. By 2010, the Filipinos became the largest ethnicity in Hawai‘i (25.1%), an increase from being the third largest ethnic group (22.8%) in 2000.
The challenge of working at HC&S has been to “ride along” for the Filipinos, with the vision that at this point in time, they have more skills and training than ever, with jobs not limited to farming, but extending to the hotel industry, food and culinary, health, education, and to the various levels of government. Now the Filipinos are deeply rooted, diversified, educated and multi-talented, in spite of the demise of the sugar cane industry for which they took as the initial bait to find their destiny in the land of Paradise. This chain of events is not the end but the beginning of a better and stronger Filipino community showing its resilience to the winds of history.
Every change, be it social, economic or political, seems to always bring out the best in Filipinos, to demonstrate their innate industry, sacrifice and values no matter what the future brings.