Leila Cielo Sinfuego Huynh
Lucy Peros | All photos courtesy Sinfuego Huynh ‘Ohana
American author/writer Ruth Goode said, “Grandparents are always being told that they are living history to their grandchildren, that they give the children the reassurance of their roots. For me and many grandparents I have talked to, it works the other way as well. They give us continuity.” This month’s featured Sakada Offspring, Leila Sinfuego Huynh, granddaughter of Sakada Cirilo Sinfuego “Cirilo,” is now doing just that. She is expanding the continuity of the roots of the Sinfuego family.
Leila was born in Wailuku, Maui, Hawai‘i. Her father, Cirilo Sinfuego, Jr., “Lou,” was in the military and they moved around a bit as a family. Some of the schools she attended include Kīpapa Elementary, Mililani, Hawai‘i; Ft. Sam Houston Elementary, San Antonio, Texas; Middle Schools, Robert G. Cole Jr. and Sr. High School, San Antonio; Kirby Middle School, San Antonio; High School, Baumholder American High School, Baumholder, Germany; College, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa where she received a B.A. in Broadcast Journalism and Political Science; and the William S. Richardson School of Law also at University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa where she received a J.D.
Leila is married to Dung “Joe” Huynh, a dentist. He attended Houston Baptist University for his B.S. and Boston University for his D.M.D. They have a daughter, Julia Cielo Sinfuego Huynh who is 13 years old. She is in the seventh grade at Christ Redeemer Catholic School.
Leila’s brother Elmar Jose “EJ” Sinfuego lives on Maui. He is a Sales Executive at Hertz. He is an Air Force veteran. He graduated from New Mexico State University in Business-Economics-Finance. He has a daughter Emily Sinfuego. Elmar’s partner is Lory Marques with children: Max and Lorissa Coleman.
Currently, Leila is part of several work committees: Aquent DEI Council member, Aquent Events Committee Co-Chair and Aquent Cooks Cookbook member.
Prior to the pandemic, Leila and family were actively involved at Prince of Peace Catholic Church and Christ the Redeemer Catholic Church in Houston, Texas.
Leila enjoys yoga, kickboxing, cooking and traveling with her family.
Leila has been in IT (Information Technology) staffing and sales for over 20 years, primarily supporting large oil and gas companies. For the last two years, she was a Program Delivery Manager/Account Manager for a software company. In her spare time, she invested in and advised several IT startups.
Leila fondly called her grandparents, “Wowo,” Grandfather Cirilo Sinfuego and “Wawa,” Grandmother Catalina Sinfuego. Both Wowo and Wawa were very proud of their grandchildren’s accomplishments.
In 2006, this writer had the privilege of interviewing Cirilo and his wife Catalina. They were so gracious in sharing the following information and experiences as a Sakada.
Cirilo was born in Paoay, Ilocos Norte, Philippines on March 16, 1913. With the encouragement and help by his brother, Francisco Sinfuego who was a 1927 Sakada, Cirilo came as a contract laborer for the Hawaiian Commercial and Sugar Company. He left the Philippines at age 33 on April 10, 1946, departing from Port Salomague, Cabugao, Ilocos Sur aboard the ship S.S. Maunawili for a 17-day journey until they reached Hawai‘i. Cirilo pointed out that everyone got seasick on the S.S. Maunawili.
Cirilo left behind his beloved wife, Catalina and their two-year-old son, Cirilo “Lou” Sinfuego, Jr. Catalina joined her husband in 1976 on Mother’s Day and Lou joined them in 1968 on Father’s Day after receiving his degree in dentistry from the University of the East in the Philippines. They had another son, Roger who unfortunately passed away at a young age.
Cirilo arrived on April 27, 1946 at the Kahului Harbor. Meeting him was his friend, Ciriaco Nefulda, also a Sakada. Mr. Nefulda helped Cirilo assimilate with the other Sakadas who were already here on Maui. Cirilo was ready to work as soon as he arrived. In May 1946, he started working at HC&S, first as a journeyman. He called himself a handyman, fixing ditches to irrigate the sugar cane fields. After three months as a handyman, he delivered milk to the families at the plantation camps. At that time, HC&S owned a dairy. Milk was free to all the employees. He was also assigned to be a milker, milking cows. Cirilo was on that job for a couple of years. Soon after, he was assigned to the Pu‘unēnē Meat Market as a meat cutter for a year which he claimed was his favorite job. Cirilo even worked at the Kīhei Plantation Store as a stock man as well as a delivery man. Because of his versatility as a worker, Cirilo was then transferred to the production department as a cane juice tender, as a seedman, processing the high- and low-grade sugar. Finally, he became a boiling house operator, the highest job at the mill until his retirement in 1978.
Cirilo was a life-long learner. He enrolled in typing classes at Baldwin High School in 1957 and Public Speaking classes in 1958. Cirilo was also a super tennis player. He played at the Pu‘unēnē Tennis Club with other Sakadas like Roy Torricer, Johnny Torricer, Faustino Simon, Angel Batoon, Julian Segundo and many others. Cirilo also played at the Wailuku Tennis Club with Jimmy Shaw, Joe Cardoza and others.
As a community minded person, Cirilo was involved in ILWU together with Pepito Ragasa as President and he as Vice President. He was also a unit editor of the ILWU bulletin from 1967–1978 which made him a recipient of many awards.
Cirilo was the founder of the United Sons and Daughters of the Ilocano Regions Organization (USDIRO). He was the president from 1963–2005 after which his son Lou took over because of health issues. The USDIRO used to celebrate Rizal’s Day every last Saturday of December at the old Territorial Building at the old County Fairgrounds. It was attended by many Filipinos and other nationalities. In fact the first Rizal Day queen was Annie Arcangel. They even had Mr. and Mrs. Philippines in which Mr. Elias Evangelista and his wife, Catalina Evangelista—Atty. Alfredo Evangelista’s parents—became Mr. and Mrs. Philippines. The audience was entertained by dancers dancing Philippine folk dances such as Rigodon. Some of the dancers were Mr. and Mrs. Cirilo Sinfuego, Mr. and Mrs. Elias Evangelista, Mr. and Mrs. Isaac Cacayorin, Mr. and Mrs. Ciriaco Nefulda, Mr. and Mrs. Santiago Dagdag, and Mr. and Mrs. Domingo Dagdag.
Cirilo’s advice to the Filipinos especially to the young is to get involved in the community. Words of wisdom from him were: “Be united because one cannot do much but together, we can accomplish a lot. Injury to one is injury to all. As a community, united we stand, divided we fall.”
Leila Cielo Huynh shared this heartwarming reflection on her Wawo and Wawa: “I am so proud to have come from a family that immigrated from Paoay, Ilocos Norte, Philippines. Wawo came to Maui, leaving Wawa and Daddy and an older brother (passed away young). They lived apart for many years until my Daddy went to college and ultimately Dental School. Eventually, Wawa could join Wowo on Maui. They both worked in the plantation and saved every penny. Our family moved to Maui when Mom (Cora Sinfuego) and Dad (Cirilo Sinfuego, Jr.) were pregnant with me (1971). My brother EJ was born in the Philippines.”
“Whenever I come home to Maui—it’s not the beautiful beaches that get to me. Yes, they are in fact some of the most beautiful views in the world but I know I’m home when I see the old sugar mill and the former sugar cane fields. They remind me of the sacrifices my grandparents gave so we could live a better life. They worked manual labor jobs in the fields so we (my parents and my brother and I) would never have to. And I can see in all the jobs I have held, I never had to work in a field or even in the sun. We were all sent to higher education because of Wowo and Wawa’s hard work. I am so grateful for their hard work and I don’t forget I am blessed to be part of an immigrant family. We come from a family which came to America so we could grow up free and have the opportunity this country had to offer us, the ability to be whatever we wanted to be when we grew up. I am truly humbled when I think I am who I am, because of my grandparents and parents. They put all their hard work and love into creating a better life for my brother and me. So when I come home to Maui, it’s the old sugar plantation and farm fields which warms my heart. Without that plantation and without my grandparents’ hard work, I wouldn’t be here.”
“Even though Wowo and Wawa had only my dad, Cirilo Sinfuego, Jr., they were everyone’s grandparents. All the Filipino families on Maui came to love them as their own including the Camposes, Monjes, Rancapollos and Maculams. Everyone loved them. There wasn’t a party without them. Wawo loved to cook especially for large family meals. He cooked all the typical Filipino dishes, such as adobo, dinuguan, pancit etc.”
“My favorite story about my Wowo was when one day I was running around playing with cousins and my brother and Wowo pulled me to the side in the kitchen and gave me a long john doughnut. There was only one and he hid it for me. I knew from then on how much he loved me.”
“Whenever we would visit or they would visit us, I always wanted to sleep near them. I moved to Hawai‘i after graduating from high school so I could be closer to them. Even when I came home from college, I always wanted to sleep in the room with them or have them nearby. It was so wonderful to love and be loved by them.”
“In 1999, my Daddy retired from the Army and he and Mommy moved back home to Maui to take care of Wowo and Wawa. They were able to provide care for my grandparents as they aged. We lost Wawa in June of 2004. Her loss hit us all hard but we bonded and helped Wowo deal with his grief. We lost Wowo in January 2007, a few months after Joe and I got married. I didn’t realize when Joe and I left Maui for our honeymoon that would be the last time we would see him alive. At 93, he had lived an exceptional life, filled with loving family and great memories. We celebrated all his accomplishments and were so proud he was a great leader with his organization and at work. His personality was so large it often filled the room. His laughter was so hearty and genuine. In November of that year, we also lost my dear Daddy. While we felt our family and dear friends’ love, our small family struggled to make sense of the many losses we endured in a short amount of time. The following year, 2008, we were extremely blessed with Julia, our daughter and Emily, our niece, being born, carrying on our family’s legacy. We share stories with our girls, talking about our wonderful Wowo and Wawa and their loving Papa as well. I want Julia to know our family story, where our family came from and how they struggled and worked hard so she can one day grow up to be whatever she wants to be. I want her to know even before she was born, her great grandparents and grandparents loved her so much and worked hard to give our family a better life.”
“There are two popular sayings about grandparents: ‘Grandparents are the perfect blend of love, laughter, and happy memories’ and ‘Grandparents hold our hands for just a little while, but our hearts forever.’ ”
Lucy Peros is a retired schoolteacher, having taught at St. Anthony Grade School and Waihe‘e Elementary School. Both of her late parents, Elpidio Cachero Cabalo (a 1946 Sakada) and Alejandra Cabudoy Cabalo of Hāli‘imaile, worked for Maui Land and Pine Company. Lucy now enjoys retirement and has time to join other seniors in the Enhance Fitness Program under the Department of Aging three times a week. She also attends the line dancing class and other activities at Kaunoa Senior Center and joins other Waihe‘e School retirees when help is needed at the school. Lucy also devotes some of her time to activities at Christ The King Catholic Church. She enjoys writing and reading in her spare time.