The Filipino Population in Hawaii: A Historical Journey

Filipinos are the fastest-growing ethnic minority in Hawaii, due to ongoing immigration from the Philippines and high birth rates in the Filipino community. Every year, some 3,500 immigrants from the Philippines, mostly children, come to Hawaii. On a national level, Filipinos are second only to Chinese in terms of Asian immigration to the United States. There are approximately 2.5 million Filipinos in the US, not including undocumented individuals. Filipinos also lead in terms of foreign workers around the world.

As the sugar industry was the main source of income for the working class in Hawaii, there was a great demand for these jobs. The influx of arrivals also caused some negative reactions, and in the 1970s, Filipinos felt discriminated against. During this time, some 125,000 Filipinos were recruited from the Philippine regions of Ilocos and Visayas to work in Hawaii. The history of Filipinos in Hawaii dates back to the late 19th century when Filipino workers were recruited to work on sugar plantations. Their presence in politics has helped shape state policies and ensure that the interests of the Filipino community are heard and addressed.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, thousands of Filipinos in Hawaii suffered discrimination and were interned. Many talented Filipino musicians, singers, and dancers have emerged from this community, enriching Hawaii's cultural landscape. Many state requirements prevent Filipino professionals, mostly trained in the Philippines, from obtaining comparable jobs in Hawaii. Recruiters preferred Filipino workers who lacked education and had prior experience in agricultural work because they considered them easier to exploit and control. 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. Manlapit, a Filipino labor organizer, fought tirelessly for the rights of Filipino workers and played a decisive role in leading strikes and negotiations with plantation owners. Filipinos in Hawaii have brought with them a deep sense of unity and support that continues to shape the social fabric of the islands.

Filipino festivals and events showcase traditional dances such as tinikling and singkil, while local bands and musicians incorporate Filipino musical elements into their performances. 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. Hawaii's vibrant music and entertainment scene is largely due to the creativity and talent of Filipino artists. Over time, there has been a significant shift in demographics among Filipinos living in Hawaii. In 1960, Filipinos made up only 4% of Hawaii's population; by 2000 this number had grown to 20%.

This growth is largely attributed to immigration from the Philippines as well as high birth rates within the Filipino community. Today, Filipinos make up nearly 25% of Hawaii's population. The history of Filipinos in Hawaii is one that is deeply rooted in struggle but also one that is full of resilience and strength. Despite facing discrimination and exploitation upon their arrival to Hawaii, Filipinos have persevered and have become an integral part of Hawaiian culture. From their contributions to music and entertainment to their presence in politics, Filipinos have left an indelible mark on Hawaiian society.