The Filipino Economy in Hawaii: A Historical Overview

The Filipino community in Hawaii has been profoundly impacted by the needs of the plantation-based economy since its inception. Native Hawaiians and Filipinos worked together on sugar plantations, as the sugar industry was the main source of income for the working class. American plantation owners were unable to get native Hawaiians to work for them, so they had to rely on importing people from other ethnicities. At present, tourism is the main driver of the economy in Hawaii, and Philippine authorities are looking to Ilocanos in Hawaii to help promote the return home of Ilocos Sur around the world. Filipino immigrants from the 7,000 islands of the Philippines have settled in communities such as Kalihi and Waipahu, where there is a strong support system.

About 85% of Filipinos in Hawaii are Ilocanos, meaning that their roots go back to the Ilocos region in the north of the Philippines, mainly to the provinces of Ilocos Norte and Ilocos Sur. In the 1940s, working in Hawaii became a source of pride, so more and more Filipinos wanted to stay in Hawaii. The Honolulu Daily newspaper (Honolulu Star-Bulletin) and radio stations specifically focused on Filipinos as perpetrators of violence, exposing their convictions on the front pages and denigrating Filipinos. According to HawaiineNewsNow, approximately 1 in 4 residents of Hawaii has some type of Filipino descent and most come from a specific region of the Philippines. The leaders of the Waipahu Filipino Community Center are trying to reestablish that connection, including through events and workshops such as one on eskrima, a Filipino martial art. In 1926, a book called Temperament and Race was published which compared temperamental qualities among different races, with a particular focus on Filipinos.

Recruiters preferred Filipino workers who lacked education and had previous experience in agricultural work because they were easier to exploit and control.

In 1906, the Hawaii Sugar Planters Association

(HSPA) recruited many Filipino agricultural workers to work on Hawaii's sugar plantations. Most of these workers were men, and upon their arrival, stereotypes such as “razors” and derogatory terms of kinship (in native Filipino language) emerged. Former President Ferdinand Marcos spent his last years in Hawaii after his family overthrew 21 years of marital dictatorship in the Philippines in 1986 through the People's Power Revolution. The importation of Filipino workers called “Sakadas” began in 1906 and continued until 1946. During this time, some 125,000 Filipinos were recruited from the Philippine regions of Ilocos and Visayas to work in Hawaii. The United States Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 allowed more Filipinos to bring family members to Hawaii, which allowed more arriving Filipinos - particularly women - to enter the state. Community leaders believe that Filipino heritage is being reborn in Hawaii as young people gain a greater appreciation for their ancestors' language and traditions.

The economy of Filipinos in Hawaii has changed drastically over time due to various factors such as immigration laws, recruitment practices, media representation, and cultural influences. The Filipino community has been an integral part of Hawaiian society since its inception. From working side by side with native Hawaiians on sugar plantations, to promoting tourism today, Filipinos have played an important role in shaping Hawaiian culture. The influx of Filipino immigrants has also had an impact on Hawaiian economy over time due to various factors such as immigration laws, recruitment practices, media representation, and cultural influences.