Hawaii is now Filipino

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Friday, August 15, 2014


IF YOU were asked the question, “what is the largest ethnic group in Hawaii?” Naturally you would say, “Hawaiians” or “whites” or perhaps “Japanese.” But no – in reality, 25 percent of the inhabitants of the island are Filipinos, according to a 2010 census.

Think about that. One out of every four people in Hawaii is a Filipino. Normally, displacing an ethnic group is something we would associate with Americans or British Imperials, but to displace a native ethnic group and the people that displaced them is something else.

How did this all happen? Well, the Negros sugar industry played no small part in it. During the American occupation of the Philippines in the early part of the 20th century, the United States realized that sugar production in Negros was slow and inefficient, not to mention the fact that the Ilonggo sugar planter seemed to be in trouble.

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The Agricultural Association of Panay and Negros reported that “the majority of property owners have their estates eternally mortgaged without hope of ever freeing them on account of the usurious interest (that they are paying for crop loans).” Worried that they might lose a good, cheap source of sugar, the US decided to ship over modern sugar machinery from Hawaii to save Negros’s sugar industry.

This new modernization in the industry turned the Negrosanon sugar baron from an incompetent whelp into an unstoppable behemoth, far richer than any other type of businessman anywhere else in the archipelago, and very capable of shaping Philippine politics, even in regards to relations with the United States.

In return, the Americans wanted to be able to hire cheap Filipino labor. Back in 1909, most of the sugarcane workers in Hawaii were Japanese. Since they dominated the workforce, they could afford to go on strike.

The solution, in the eyes of the United States government, was to hire another minority to take over. That way, if the Japanese went on strike, the Filipinos would be there to take their place.

The first 15 workers to arrive in Hawaii, who were probably Ilonggo-speaking sakadas from Victorias or La Carlota along with some Ilokano workmen, gradually grew to represent 50 percent of all sugarcane workers in Hawaii, with the other three ethnic groups being composed of Japanese, Koreans, Chinese and Portuguese immigrants.

Now, to the American sugar plantation owners at the time, the quality of life of their workers was not an issue. Filipino workers were considered “unskilled laborers” and were paid $20 per month, while the white plantation workers were paid $140 per month. Filipino workers were also housed in poorly built huts, and when they worked, the foreman would whip them while they worked for ten hours a day.

The Filipinos responded to this insane workload in two contrasting methods of protest: committing arson and attacking the foremen like the NPA, or resorting to intentional laziness in the fields while one guy served as a lookout for the foreman.

In 1920, the Japanese and the Filipinos realized that they were both being treated unfairly and initiated a well-organized joint strike. The Hawaiian Sugar Planters Association conceded and removed the race-based pay system, granting the workers better bonuses, and increasing their salary. This led to a greater desire for more Filipinos to come over to Hawaii.

But the real influx of immigration came in 1965, when the Immigration and Nationality Act was passed, which permitted Asians to become American citizens. Huge waves of Filipinos entered the country, mostly peasants and people from the lower strata of society looking for better lives.

Unfortunately, the background of the average Filipino immigrant was mostly rural, with very few of them having received any kind of formal education, so they were viewed as stupid second class citizens. The idea of the “stupid Filipino” was further reinforced when school statistics showed that Filipinos received the most failing grades compared to other ethnicities.

However, over time, thanks in part to the willingness of the Filipino to leave his homeland and the high Filipino birthrate, the Philippine community has grown to become the single largest ethnic group in Hawaii.

There are even things like sari-sari stores that are owned by Filipino immigrants being put up on islands like Oahu, and there was even a Filipino governor of Hawaii at one point, Ben Cayetano. With this growth rate, soon, the whole archipelago will be known as “Little Philippines.”

Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on August 15, 2014.

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