history of Filipinos in the Hawaiian Islands dates back to 1906, when the Hawaiian Sugar Planters Association recruited 15 sakadas—contract laborers from the Philippines—to work on sugar plantations. By this time, Hawaii’s ethnic mix already included many Japanese and Chinese, who had come here to do the backbreaking labor required on vast sugar and pineapple plantations on all the major Hawaiian islands. As is the case with all recent immigrant groups, Filipinos took the role as lowest man on the totem pole. Renowned as diligent workers who would take on the hardest physical labor without complaint, they made their mark in Hawaii. They also contributed significantly to the diverse menu of favorite foods across the Islands.
Fortunately, many of the subsequent laborers who came to these shores made a good living for themselves and brought pride to local Filipinos, despite blatant prejudice. In December 2006, when the Filipino community celebrated its centennial in the Islands, Hawaii had already elected its first Filipino governor, Benjamin Cayetano, who served in that distinguished office from 1994 to 2002. Hawaii is also proud to be the home of native sons and daughters like baseball star Benny Agbayani, singer Bruno Mars, Wayne’s World babe Tia Carrere (born Althea Rae Janairo), American Idol contestant Jasmine Trias and local comedian Andy Bumatai.
At the top of the list of favorite dishes with a Filipino heritage are lumpia and adobo, which can be found at many plate lunch outlets on all the islands. Lumpia is a version of spring roll served as an appetizer, with pork and vegetables, and as a wonderful dessert, with bananas. Adobo is a style of cooking with vinegar and spices used as a marinade for pork and chicken. Other popular dishes are pork guisantes, halo-halo (“mix-mix,” a dessert with shave ice and mixed fruits), pancit noodles and pinakbet, a hearty dish of mixed vegetables. In neighborhoods like Kalihi, you can tell a special occasion is being observed when you see lechon, a whole pig being rotisserie-roasted on a bed of coals.
Filipinos and part-Filipinos account for nearly 23 percent of Hawaii’s population, slightly more than the population of Hawaiians and part-Hawaiians. On Lanai Island, once nicknamed “The Pineapple Isle,” they are a majority, tallying up at approximately 60 percent. Due to continuous immigration from the Philippines, along with high birth rates here, Filipinos are one of Hawaii’s fastest growing ethnic groups. Go Pinoy!
Photos by Brett Uprichard