Lolo’s Letters of Love – The Departure

December 6, 2009

“My mother and father were only in their early 20s when they decided to leave the comfort of our small town back in Ilocos Sur. They had no education, no money, no work – all they had was  each other and they knew they wanted more in life. Hope came for them in the form of a small poster in the town square. It was a flyer advertising the need for laborers on a plantation in Maui, Hawaii. My parents took the chance, packed their bags and left for their nearly 3-month voyage to “happiness and prosperity” in America.”

The plantation stories of Filipino migration in Hawaii often go unheard of in many history books. In 1906, the first 15 laborers, all Tagalogs, came to Hawaii to work  on sugar plantations. They were called the sakadas and were jumping point of people towards a mass exodus of Filipinos in Hawaii.

The recruitment campaigns back in the day, with companies like Dole and Alexander & Baldwin, advertised in the Philippines the “success” stories and encouraged many people to take a chance in America. The recruitment campaigns worked. By the 1930s, the Filipinos had become the largest ethnic group of workers in the plantations, even larger than the Japanese or the Chinese.

To everyone in the Philippines, Hawaii became know as glorya, a paradise of happiness and prosperity. Many Ilocanos like my great-grandfather, who were known to be hardworking and experts with agriculture, saw working on the plantations as a way to provide for their families and build a new life. It was a chance to get away from the provincial life and day-to-day drag in the small town.


For most Filipino migrant workers, they came to Hawaii to earn and save money so that they could send some home. Eventually, their goal was to save enough to return back to the Philippines and live comfortably. They’d be able to buy their own farm land,  open up their own stores, and make a steady living. They were willing to do anything to escape the harsh living conditions in Ilocos.

The companies who hired these people took advantage of the lack of education and financial vulnerability. Filipinos were paid the lowest wage amongst all the other ethnic groups on the plantation. Also, since the Philippines was a US Colony at the time, it was easy to migrate them to Hawaii without dealing with any labor laws. Another key point these companies hit on were the fact that Filipinos were agrarian by nature, but most of all they were subservient and uneducated – which made for good business. The Filipinos were hardworking and would work for days to achieve their goal of prosperity.

The sad thing was the plantations companies took away this hope for the longest time. Until the Filipinos had had enough – they needed change and they were going to take it into their own hands.


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