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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, December 22, 2003

Filipinos to mark arrival in Islands

By Vicki Viotti
Advertiser Staff Writer

The Filipino community in Hawai'i has begun organizing its next big birthday party two years in advance. Planners need that much time, especially when the celebrants number in the thousands and there are 100 candles on the cake.

2006 is the centennial year since Filipinos began arriving en masse to the Islands, joining eight earlier groups recruited as plantation labor and creating Hawai'i's multi-ethnic society.

The SS Doric docked here on Dec. 20, 1906, with 15 Ilocano men aboard. They were the first from the Philippines brought to work on the sugar plantations. However, the centennial launch is set for Dec. 15, 2005, tentatively at Blaisdell Center, said Amado Yoro, a member of the Filipino Centennial Celebration Commission.

Three days later, he said, a monument will be unveiled on the Big Island at 'Ola'a, the plantation where the 15 men started work, marking the spot where Filipinos joined the multicultural tapestry of Hawai'i.

A highlight of the year's events will be a global expo and trade fair, involving participants from the Philippines and Filipino-American organizations. Belinda Aquino, who directs the University of Hawai'i Center for Philippine Studies, is setting up the expo, which will showcase Filipino culture and art, as well as panel discussions on Filipino-American issues.

Unlike the just-completed Korean centennial, the celebration marks the first significant immigration of Filipinos to Hawai'i but not to the United States. The first known settlement of Filipinos in the United States is believed to be in New Orleans, during the Spanish galleon trade from the Philippines. Sailors jumped ship there in the late 17th century, Aquino said.

The first recorded appearance of Filipinos in Hawai'i was in 1853, with five individuals scattered on different islands as cooks and musicians.

The move toward mass emigration from the Philippines was initiated by the sugar industry, but at a difficult time for establishing business contacts: just after the Filipino-American War of 1899-1902, said Dean Alegado, chairman of the University of Hawai'i Ethnic Studies Department.

"It was very unstable, to say the least," Alegado said. "The resentment toward the U.S. was still strong, and there was still guerrilla fighting in the countryside."

By that time restrictions on immigration of other Asians were in place, and the Philippines was one available labor pool. But A.F. Judd, a Sugar Planters Association representative, was able to secure permission for only 15 laborers to emigrate, at a time when American business representatives were viewed with suspicion, he said.

Until about 1910 or so, passage to Hawai'i was paid as an inducement ("Information about how lovely Hawai'i was hadn't spread around yet," Alegado said). After that point, immigrants were willing to pay their own way, he said.

Although Filipino immigration continues to this day, Yoro's research has identified the five major waves, ending in 1965. A lot of history means many people have stories to share and perspectives to contribute, he said.

The centennial commission has been active since last year, Yoro said, but anyone interested in getting involved can call commission chairman Elias Beniga at 291-5797.

Reach Vicki Viotti at vviotti@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8053.