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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Youth aspiring to achieve the top rung

Voices of youth: Filipino teenagers speak up
 •  What they are saying
 •  Resource list
 •  Centennial events
Filipino community photo gallery
 •  Economic, political challenges lie ahead
 •  Torn families a generational reality

By Zenaida Serrano
Advertiser Staff Writer

From left, Rechie Naira of 'Ewa Beach, Abe Lagrimas of Waipahu, Rouel Velasco of Kapolei, Alyssa Calasicas of Kaimuki and Brandon Dela Cruz of Salt Lake share their visions of a promising future for Filipinos in Hawai'i.

Photos by REBECCA BREYER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Number of Filipinos and part-Filipinos in Hawai'i


Percentage of the state's population that is Filipino or part-Filipino



Percentage of Filipino immigrants to the U.S. who chose Hawai'i as their final destination from 1973 to 2004


The average number of Filipino immigrants to Hawai'i every year from 1973 to 2004


Percentage of those foreign-born in Hawai'i who are Filipino or part-Filipino



Number of Filipino and part-Filipino households


Average household size for Filipinos and part-Filipinos


Median household income, in dollars, in 1999



Percentage of Filipinos and part-Filipinos older than 25 who have at least a high school diploma


Percentage of Filipinos and part-Filipinos older than 25 who have at least a bachelor's degree


Percentage of the state's 25-and-older population who have at least a bachelor's degree and are Filipino or part-Filipino



Percentage of residents older than 16 who are employed and Filipino or part-Filipino


Percentage of the Filipino and part-Filipino community that works in a service occupation


Percentage of the Filipino and part-Filipino community that works in management or other professional job


Percent of Filipino and part-Filipino women who work in sales or in an office



Percentage of families below the poverty level who are Filipino or part-Filipino


Percentage of the state's inmate population who are Filipino or part-Filipino

Source: U.S. Census Bureau; state depart-ments of Business, Economic Develop-ment & Tourism; Public Safety; Health; federal Office of Immigration Statistics; Asian American Network for Cancer Awareness, Research and Training

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In 10 years, Brandon Dela Cruz, 26, director of marketing for L&L Hawaiian Barbecue, aspires to be a high-level executive within the rapidly growing company.

Rouel Velasco, 23, a graduate student at the University of Hawai'i, hopes he'll be well on his way to becoming the next UH president of student affairs.

Registered nurse Rechie Naira, 29, envisions a family-owned restaurant specializing in Filipino cuisine.

And Richardson Talavera, 17, of Mililani, sees himself as a doctor in the next decade or so.

"I think our (generation's) greatest contribution will be more educated Filipinos, and this will lead to more open doors," said Talavera, a Maryknoll School graduate who will major in pre-medicine this fall at St. John's University in New York.

Experts and young people alike are optimistic about the future of the community as the Filipino population grows. Filipinos are expected to become a dominant force in Hawai'i within the next 10 years, and more Filipinos than in generations past pursue degrees and aspire to join the ranks of professionals and entrepreneurs. Bolstered by their numbers, Filipinos also exert growing political influence.

Still, hurdles remain.

The rapid growth of Filipinos in Hawai'i is "both good news and bad news in that it requires the Filipino community to assume a lot more responsibility," said Amy Agbayani, director of the Student Equity, Excellence and Diversity Program at UH.

While U.S. Census data shows that Filipino household income is higher than the state average, personal income lags far behind. Statewide, Filipinos are much less likely to pursue undergraduate and graduate degrees. The proportions of Filipinos who are executives and professionals are also below state averages. The state economy presents some hurdles, with its emphasis on the service sector.

In response, the community is marshaling its resources. Efforts to mentor youths are evolving. Cultural pride is being emphasized more than ever.

Many Filipino youth welcome the challenges before them, said Dela Cruz, a former president of the Honolulu Filipino Junior Chamber of Commerce. Their drive to succeed stems from valuing hard work and understanding the sacrifices their families have made for them, Dela Cruz said.

"It's those challenges of generations past that fuel the ambition of this generation, as well as future generations," Dela Cruz said.


UH grad student Velasco welcomed a break from his airconditioned office last month, warming up at a picnic table near UH's Campus Center. The Kapolei resident has held several on-campus jobs, with the money earned going toward his pursuit of a master's degree in educational administration in higher education.

Velasco, whose parents are Filipino immigrants, is the first in his family to pursue a master's degree.

"One thing I want to see more of is more Filipino-Americans pursuing graduate school," said the a spiky-haired Velasco. "... It's an amazing experience."

While more Filipinos are graduating with high school diplomas and college degrees than in generations past, numbers are still low, Agbayani said.

"Our Filipino traditional culture values education, and that's true for both immigrants and Hawai'i-born Filipinos," Agbayani said. " ... But we still don't have enough receiving a baccalaureate (and graduate) degree."

The percentage of Filipinos statewide who have at least a bachelor's degree is 15.1, far lower than the state average of 26.2 percent, according to Census Bureau numbers. The percentage for those who have a master's degree is 1.5, less than one-third of the state average of 5.4 percent.

Most immigrant and many Hawai'i-born Filipinos continue to earn lower incomes, while in-come and education are directly correlated, Agbayani noted.

However, there are signs that this dynamic is in flux. The number of Filipinos seeking graduate degrees is slowly but surely on the rise, Agbayani said and women are pursuing higher education at a greater proportion.

In the UH system, Filipinos made up 4 percent of students who received a master's degree in 2003-04, up from 3.1 percent in 1995-96 and from 2.6 percent in 1990-91.

Michael Esquibil, 35, of 'Ewa Beach, encourages fellow Filipinos not to settle for a bachelor's degree. Esquibil, a social worker, received his master's degree in social work from UH last year and is interested in pursuing a doctorate.

"When I got my degree, a lot of doors opened and I had a lot of great opportunities," Esquibil said.

Christianne Liongson, 15, of 'Ewa Beach, is confident that more youths of her generation will pursue higher levels of education. Like other children of Filipino immigrants, Liongson is encouraged daily by her parents to make school a priority.

"My mom went to nursing school and my dad went to a university in Manila, so both of them worked very hard for their education," said Liongson, a Maryknoll School student. "Ever since I was little, they always expected me to do the same."


During a hot day earlier this spring at Waipahu High School, students BJ Ibe and Maria Udasco hung out after school in their Filipino Club adviser's breezy classroom. The giggly pair, both immigrants, talked about their career aspirations.

Ibe, a soft-spoken freshman, sees himself as a hair stylist or interior designer. Udasco, a junior, dreams of becoming a nurse.

"I don't want to be, like 10 years from now, I'm just working at a Burger King or a McDonald's," said Udasco, who had a slight Filipino accent and a self-assured presence. "I want to (succeed) because it's for my own good, and it's for my future family. A better life."

Census numbers show that within the Filipino community in Hawai'i, the highest proportion of men 31.4 percent are service workers, a category that includes hotel employees, cooks, janitors, police officers and home health aides. Among women, 39.3 percent are sales and office workers, which include cashiers, customer service representatives and administrative assistants.

A majority of Hawai'i's service-industry workers, among men and women of all ethnicities, are Filipinos.

Given Hawai'i's dominating tourism industry, the data reflect where the jobs are, said Dean Alegado, associate professor and chairman of the UH Ethnic studies Department.

"Other kinds of jobs are just very limited as a whole ... and they're a great deal more highly competitive in terms of what's (educationally) required," Alegado said.

Per capita income for Filipinos was $14,313, as compared to a state average of $21,525 in 1999 (the most recent year reported), the Census reports. Median family income was $53,942, also somewhat below the state average of $56,961. The Census defines "family" as two or more people who reside together and who are related by birth, marriage or adoption.

But the median household income for Filipinos a "household" includes all the people who occupy a residence was $51,985, above the state average of $49,820.

This is because Filipinos often live in a household with extended family members, many of whom carry more than one job, Alegado said.

Still, Filipinos are underrepresented in high-level, high-paying positions, such as architects, doctors and top business executives, said Stephen Callo, incoming president of the Filipino Chamber of Commerce of Hawai'i.

Callo, a certified public accountant in his early 50s, immigrated to Hawai'i 25 years ago. He owns three businesses: an accounting practice, mortgage firm and telecommunications company.

"I see all these banks, big corporations in Hawai'i, and I don't see a Filipino name. That's what's missing," Callo said. "I feel inside of me, 'What can we do to change that?' "

Callo said Filipino youths need more role models and mentors in such high-level professions. Providing mentorships to Filipinos will be a priority for the Filipino Chamber of Commerce of Hawai'i when Callo's term begins next month, he said. (See Resource List, right).

Nevertheless, more and more Filipinos are entering the medical and healthcare professions; travel, restaurant and entertainment industries; and business management and entrepreneurship sectors, according to Alegado.

"The trend is Filipinos are entering areas where, maybe a generation ago, they were hardly noticeable," Alegado said. "All of those are growing every year, and they'll continue to grow at an even faster pace as the critical pool continues to expand."

Naira, the registered nurse at The Queen's Medical Center, imagines herself in the fold of Filipino entrepreneurs. Naira said she and her husband would love to open a Filipino restaurant in their growing 'Ewa Beach community.

"It's my dream," said Naira, 29, who came from the Philippines in 2001. "I've been to a lot of restaurants (here) and I'm not satisfied." Naira is driven to start a business that offers traditional, quality dishes such as adobo, pancit and dinuguan, she said.

Iolani School graduate Brandon Tucay, 18, of Waipahu, will attend the University of North Texas to major in business and jazz studies with a minor in business administration or financing.

Tucay said he believes in the capabilities of his generation.

"I just hope that Filipinos find more inspiration, and realize that we can achieve greater things than just average jobs," Tucay said. " ... We have so much potential, that's the thing. I would really like to see a lot more Filipinos higher up there."


At a recent lunch break at Maryknoll School, four fresh-faced students met in a classroom to discuss the importance of becoming successful Filipino adults.

Talavera, the Mililani teen who will attend St. John's University, talked about the future contributions of his peers.

"We already had a Filipino governor, but (there could be) more ... senators, congressmen and even a president," said Talavera, a bright-eyed and confident student. "That would be cool."

In politics, Hawai'i has reached major milestones with the nation's first Filipino-American governor, Ben Cayetano, and first Filipina mayor, Lorraine Rodero Inouye of the Big Island.

Three of the nine Honolulu City Council members and 12 of the 76 state legislators are of Filipino ancestry.

"We have more legislators of Filipino-American ancestry in Hawai'i than in any other state," said Belinda Aquino, a UH professor of political science and director of the Center for Philippine Studies.

Sheer numbers give Filipinos a powerful voice as voters, Alegado added.

"Registered voters are determined by citizenship, so the rate of naturalization is important, and Filipinos are beginning to do that in a growing, large number," he said.

Filipinos will continue to be major players in politics both as voters and elected officials.

"They've moved from the periphery to the thick of the political arena now," Alegado said.

In addition to politics, Filipinos have established a significant presence in the labor movement, Aquino noted.

Filipinos "took a lot of abuse during the plantation years, but they eventually became militant and formed the backbone of the union movement, strengthening the process of transforming the relationship between management and labor," Aquino said, "not only in agriculture but in subsequent basic industries in Hawai'i."

Filipinos have carried leadership roles and are well represented among labor organizations, such as Unite Here! Local 5, the hotel workers union; International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 142; and the Hawaii Carpenters Union.

"That's what has given them a voice," Alegado said.

The pattern of influential Filipino leaders in the community will continue through the next generation, said Velasco, the UH graduate student.

"I definitely do see Filipino-Americans emerging," he said. "I think if we continue to have that system of support for each other, anything is possible."


Laughter filled an Iolani School classroom, where nearly a dozen members of the Filipino Club met for their last social of the school year in May. The students' spirits were high as they spooned down bowls of Magnolia Ice Cream, a Filipino treat in flavors such as mango, ube, halo-halo and buko-pandan.

Among the celebrants was Cassandra Bagay, 16, of Salt Lake, who plans to attend Williams College in Massachusetts. Bagay, like many of the other students, said one of the biggest issues facing her generation's success is the lack of education.

"I've (known) some people who haven't stayed in school, and I think it's really important to get a high school education and ... a college education, whether it be in a community or four-year college," said Bagay, after finishing her bowl of ice cream.

Higher levels of education is what leads to better opportunities, the teen said.

"One important thing to succeed is to not let anyone put you down for who you are," said Kaysha Ribao, 17, of Kapolei, who was the senior class president at Maryknoll. "I think a lot of people tend to do that because, you know, we're Filipino, (and) they're like, 'Yeah, you know, you guys aren't that smart.' "

Ribao said she and her family have experienced those harsh characterizations in the past.

"When you think about those criticisms, you just think, 'I'll show you. I'll prove to you that I'm better than you. I can work harder than you,' " she said. "Just remembering those little things will help you succeed."

With success should come the responsibility to give back to the Filipino community, Agbayani added.

"I think the problem with success for a community that has an immigrant base is that one often loses one's ties to one's heritage ... and that is a very unfortunate and costly payment for success," Agbayani said.

It's crucial for Filipinos to be role models, integrating ethnic pride with participating in mainstream activities, she said.

Liongson, the Maryknoll student, agrees.

"If you do something completely great, but you forget where you came from or your roots, it barely adds up to anything," Liongson said. "So I think it's also important that Filipino-Americans today, even our generation, we join Filipino clubs and we join groups that speak out about our culture."

And embrace each other, Velasco suggested.

"Filipino is Filipino," Velasco said, whether you're an immigrant or fourth-generation local, from Wai'anae or Hawai'i Kai. "One of the biggest things that is necessary is just a genuine effort to come together as a community ... to support each other, no matter what."

Reach Zenaida Serrano at zserrano@honoluluadvertiser.com.