The Filipino Education in Hawaii: A Historical Overview

The Filipino population in Hawaii has the lowest percentage of high school graduates (51%) and the second lowest percentage of college graduates (11%), and their attendance at university has been gradually declining in recent years (Office of Institutional Research, 2004; Okamura, 26% Agbayani, 199). Filipinos are the fastest-growing ethnic minority in Hawaii, due to continued immigration from the Philippines and the high birth rates of the Filipino community. Some 3,500 immigrants from the Philippines, mostly children, come to Hawaii every year. Nationally, Filipinos are second only to Chinese in terms of Asian immigration to the United States.

There are approximately 2.5 million Filipinos in the United States, not counting the undocumented. Filipinos also lead in terms of foreign workers around the world. Recruiters preferred Filipino workers who lacked education and had previous experience in agricultural work because they considered them easier to exploit and control. Filipino professors at the University of Hawaii at Manoa are underrepresented, compared to the state population, especially tenured or continuing education professors. The roots of Hawaii's current Filipino community can be traced back to 1906, when the Hawaii Sugar Growers Association (HSPA) recruited 15 sakadas (contract workers) from the Philippines to work on sugar plantations in the then U.

S. territory of Hawaii. A large number of them are hotel workers, and many prominent union leaders from the hotel sector and other sectors have been emerging from the Philippine ranks over the years. For example, the book Temperament and Race, published in 1926, focused on the temperamental qualities of people and used it to compare the traits of several races, more specifically Filipinos. The majority of Filipino workers were predominantly men, and upon their arrival, stereotypes such as that of “knife” and the derogatory use of their terms of kinship (in the native Filipino language) emerged.

The importation of Filipino workers called “sakadas”, which roughly translates to “Filipino migrant workers” and also refers to the actual importation of these workers, began in 1906 and continued until 1946. Subsequently, these stereotypes frequently appeared in which Filipino men were more likely to be charged with misdemeanors and murder, in addition to being the number one race in Hawaii to receive the death penalty in the first half of the 20th century. The United States Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 allowed more Filipinos to bring family members to Hawaii and this allowed more arriving Filipinos, in particular Filipino women, to enter the state. There are no wealthy Filipinos in Hawaii, unlike other ethnic groups such as Chinese, Japanese, and Koreans. The increase in arrivals also caused some negative reactions, and in the 1970s Filipinos felt discriminated against. These ethnic groups were segregated so that Filipinos would not be influenced by striking Japanese workers, and therefore Filipinos could be used as leverage against striking Japanese workers. 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.

In the Hawaii State Legislature there are five state senators (out of a total of 2) and nine representatives (out of a total of 5) of Filipino descent. In addition, Hawaiian media such as Honolulu Daily newspaper (Honolulu Star-Bulletin) and radio specifically consider Filipinos to be primarily responsible for violence, publishing their convictions on front pages which encourages denigration of Filipinos. Over time, there have been significant changes in education among Filipinos living in Hawaii. Despite this progress there is still a need for further improvement as there is still a large gap between them and other ethnic groups when it comes to educational attainment. It is important for policy makers to recognize this issue and take steps towards providing better educational opportunities for Filipinos living in Hawaii.