Filipino Heritage Month

A brief look at 113 years of Filipino culture in Hawaiʻi

Staff Writer: Victoria Jose
Graphic Designer: Naomi Lemieux

Filipino Flag graphic

In South East Asia spread out across 7,100 Islands lies the Philippines. Prior to outside influence, each island had its own identity, language, and kingdoms. It wasn’t until colonization that they were grouped under one name. They were first colonized by the Spanish in the 16 th century and named after King Philip II, the ruling monarch of the time. Then on December 10, 1898, after 333 years American colonization began and lasted for 48 years until gaining their independence in 1946.This allowed 150,000 Filipinos to bring their culture with them as they settled in Hawaiʻi and the mainland.

Like many other immigrants in Hawaiʻi, it was the prospect of work on the Hawaiian sugar plantations that brought 24,000 between 1907 and 1919. From 1920 to 1929 another 48,000 followed. There was the promise of three years’ work with $18 monthly payments. The work on plantations was conducted under the blazing sun, dealing with the fine red dust and sharp needles of the sugar cane plants. Despite their status as U.S. nationals, Filipinos would still face discrimination in the plantation hierarchy.

While some made it to the mainland the majority were in Hawaii where they hoped to make their fortunes and travel back home. Those who did,earned the nickname Hawaiianos and spread the wonderful news. Kasla glorya ti Hawaiʻi: “Hawaiʻi is like a land of glory.” Although many chose to stay behind in the islands to buy land and begin their families. For those choosing to stay and continue at the plantations, rising through the ranks was very rare. Reyneto Devera from Hawaiʻi Island was one of the few hard workers that eventually attained the position of supervisor after 25 years of working in the fields.

Candace Karvas is the president of the Asian Culture Association on campus, a club that aims to expose students to Asian culture through the media. Coming from a Filipino family and growing up in Hawaiʻi, Karvas has seen firsthand the influences of Filipino culture in the islands with huge family gatherings, music, and foods such as chicken papaya, lumpia, and halo halo. Although, throughout her college career she has seen only a handful of events representing Filipino heritage. While this might be the case, there are multiple different classes students can take as electives. Ranging from how to speak Filipino, culture, philosophy of the Malay world, and even a class on Filipino film, one could learn about the Philippines to their heart’s content.

October is known as Filipino Heritage month, which is hosted by the Filipino American National Historical Society. First introduced in1992 by Doctors Fred and Dorothy Corodova, it was officially recognized by Congress in 2009. This year’s theme is The History of Filipino Activism. It highlights how Filipinos have participated in social justice movements. Almost everywhere they go they seem to fight the good fight and that is also true for those who were in Hawaiʻi. Throughout the 20th century there were many attempts to improve the quality of life by various minority workers in the area. However, the sugar strike of 1946 served as a catalyst for change. More than 26,000 Filipino plantation workers rallied with other minority groups for better housing, wages, pensions, and medical care. The strike wouldn’t have been nearly as successful without the Filipino’s participation and contributions.

Filipinos have helped to create a culture so unique and diverse throughout the world and islands of Hawaiʻi. Whether it is a grandparent teaching about the preparation of a traditional meal to the next generation or someone taking their time to read about Filipino history, their culture continues to influence people to this day. Filipinos' heritage is not something that should be overlooked. As the saying goes, No sáan nga makaammó nga nangtaliáw ti naggapuánna, saán a makadánon ti papanánna : He who does not look back on his origins will not reach his destination.