Filipinos were the first Asians to cross the Pacific Ocean, as early as 1587 – fifty years before the first English settlement of Jamestown was established on the continent.
From 1565 to 1815, during the Manila-Acapulco Galleon Trade, Filipinos were forced to work as sailors and navigators on board Spanish Galleons. (CSU-Chico)
In 1763, Filipinos made their first permanent settlement in the bayous and marshes of Louisiana. As sailors and navigators on board Spanish galleons, Filipinos – also known as “Manilamen” or Spanish-speaking Filipinos – jumped ship to escape the brutality of their Spanish masters. (CSU-Chico)
During the War of 1812, Filipinos from Manila Village (near New Orleans) were among the “Batarians” who fought against the British with Jean Lafitte in the Battle of New Orleans.
Filipino’s Spanish connection came to an end after the Spanish-American War in 1898 when America wanted to control the Philippines. Unknown to Filipinos, through the Treaty of Paris (April 11, 1899,) Spain sold the Philippines to the US for $20-million, thus ending over 300 years of Spanish colonization.
In Hawaiʻi, shortage of laborers to work in the growing (in size and number) sugar plantations became a challenge.
Starting in the 1850s, when the Hawaiian Legislature passed “An Act for the Governance of Masters and Servants,” a section of which provided the legal basis for contract-labor system, labor shortages were eased by bringing in contract workers from Asia, Europe and North America.
Of the large level of plantation worker immigration, the Chinese were the first (1850,) followed by the Japanese (1885.) After the turn of the century, the plantations started bringing in Filipinos.
Over the years in successive waves of immigration, the sugar planters brought to Hawaiʻi 46,000-Chinese, 180,000-Japanese, 126,000-Filipinos, as well as Portuguese, Puerto Ricans and other ethnic groups.
For the first 15-Filipino sakadas (probably derived from the Ilocano phrase “sakasakada amin”, meaning, barefoot workers struggling to earn a living) who got off the SS Doric on December 20, 1906, amid stares of curious onlookers, the world before them was one of foreboding.
The 15-pioneers would soon be joined by thousands of their compatriots, thanks to the relentless recruitment of the Hawaiʻi Sugar Planters’ Association (HSPA). (Aquino)
Upon arrival in Hawaiʻi, Filipino contract laborers were assigned to the HSPA-affiliated plantations throughout the territory. Their lives would now come under the dictates of the plantation bosses.
They had no choice as to which plantation or island they would be assigned. Men from the same families, the same towns or provinces were often broken up and separated. (Alegado)
Between 1906 and 1930, the HSPA brought in approximately 120,000-Filipinos to Hawaiʻi, dramatically altering the territory’s ethnic demographics. (Aquino)
By the 1920s, Filipinos in Hawaiʻi were still largely male, men outnumbered women by nearly seven to one, and unmarried. They represented, at one point, half of the workers in the sugar industry. Initially the Filipinos tended to be “peasants” of lower education than other groups. (Reinecke)
Comprising only 19-percent of the plantation workforce in 1917, the sakadas jumped to 70-percent by 1930, replacing the Japanese, who had dwindled to 19-percent as the 1930s approached. (Aquino)
These Filipino pioneers were known as the “manong generation” since most of them came from Ilokos Sur, Iloilo, and Cavite in the Philippines (manong is an Ilokano term principally given to the first-born male in a Filipino nuclear family who serves as one of the leaders in the extended family.)
During this later time, particularly during the Great Depression, Filipinos had to compete against other ethnic groups to earn a living. Tensions grew.
This eventually led to the passing of the Tydings-McDuffie Act of 1934, which officially provided for Philippine independence and self-government; it also limited Filipino immigration to the US to 50-per year.
The work was hard, it was dirty work (literally with soot and mud) and monotonous and dangerous work; there was no future in it, in that as one grew older and weaker one earned less money, and that the work was tiring and thus the need to recuperate often.
Among Filipinos, when they got paid they would go to Honolulu by train and not come back for a week. Not to worry: “We could always get our jobs back because it was the worst job working in the fields and nobody else would do it.” (Alcantara)
Working conditions and wage disparities lead to worker unrest, eventually leading to the formation of labor unions; they formed the Filipino Labor Union.
In 1924 and again in 1935 the Filipinos struck along racial lines; the Filipino workers and their families were evicted from their homes and left to fend for themselves, their leaders were jailed.
Then, in 1935, President Roosevelt, as part of his New Deal legislation, passed the Wagner Act giving workers the legal right to organize unions that could demand employer recognition.
Following WW II (May 21, 1945,) pro-labor legislature passed the landmark Hawaiʻi Employees Relations Act, popularly called the Little Wagner Act, which extended the rights of collective bargaining to agricultural workers. The legislature extended the provisions of the wage and hour law to cover agricultural workers and set minimum wages.
The International Longshoremen’s and Warehousemen’s Union (ILWU) proceeded to organize on all sugar plantations, and by the end of 1945, the ILWU had contracts industry-wide.
Bargaining on the employers’ side was conducted by the Hawaiʻi Employers Council (non-profit and voluntary,) formed to conduct the bargaining and negotiate contracts with unions – thus the ILWU bargained not with the plantations but with the Hawaiʻi Employers Council.
Over the years, the Filipino community has largely been working class; but there is now a growing number of management, professional and related occupations (including professionals such as doctors, nurses, therapists, teachers, lawyers, engineers and business executives.) (hawaii-edu)
In 1959, the “First Annual Convention of Filipino Community Associations of Hawaiʻi” was held under the theme, “Statehood and the Filipinos in Hawaiʻi.”
Concurrent with the convention, a Fiesta Filipina celebration was held where Leticia Quintal, a UH history major, was crowned as “the first Miss Philippines-Hawaiʻi.” (That pageant award was later changed to Miss Hawaiʻi Filipina.) Out of the convention and fiesta was born the United Filipino Council of Hawaiʻi.
In an editorial entitled “The Filipino Contribution,” the Honolulu Advertiser of June 19, 1959, noted: “There is a sense of urgency as able Consul General Juan C. Dionisio encourages Americans of Filipino ancestry – and Philippine nationals too – to organize and play a bigger part in Hawaiian affairs.” (United Filipino Council of Hawaiʻi)
With a note of optimism, the editorial further pointed out: “The Filipinos, who have been doing right well under individual steam, now can be expected to progress even faster.” (United Filipino Council of Hawaiʻi)