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October is Filipino History Month

October is Filipino History Month, and Hawai‘i has a rich, working-class history involving the Filipino community. In 1906 the first “Sakadas” (contract laborers) were brought to Hawai‘i. Between 1906 and 1946, more than 125,000 workers (mostly men) were “imported” from the Philippines to work on Hawai‘i sugar and pineapple plantations.

This history was rife with labor conflict. For example, there was a strike in 1920 that was a failed attempt at coalition with Japanese workers. In a 1924 strike at Hanapepe, Kaua‘i, 16 Filipino workers were killed in a police attack. In 1937, the Vibora Luviminda group led a strike at the Pu‘unene Plantation on Maui (the last of the big ethnic strikes). Later Filipino workers would become important leaders in the formation of the multi-ethnic International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU).

Unlike immigration of Japanese laborers, Filipino workers were not permitted to bring their families from the Philippines when they migrated to Hawai‘i. Consequently the initial Filipino community was comprised mostly of bachelor males. Of course, some would eventually marry outside the Filipino community, but many remained single for their entire lives.

While they were denied their Filipino families, they did bring their culture of which music was a significant part! In 1987 we produced a Rice & Roses television segment, Music from Filipino Camp, that sampled stories about this music and musicians. We were fortunate to be aided in this production by long time radio and television broadcaster, journalist and producer, Emme Tomimbang!

Emme introduced us to her father, Eutiquio “Tommy” Tomimbang. Tommy was a musician and impresario and a major force in perpetuating Filipino string bands and music. In the early 1950s, he pioneered the first Filipino television program in Hawai‘i, bringing bands and performers together from all the Hawaiian Islands. Emme started her television career at the age of 4 singing on this program. The following is an excerpt from our 1987 program.

Tommy was also a pioneer in other ways, raising Emme as a single father. Emme shared a poignant tribute to “Mr. Mom” in a 2001 Honolulu Star-Bulletin essay:

Now, persons of Filipino ancestry are the fastest-growing segment of the Hawai‘i population, and may comprise more than 23% of the total (note: experts disagree on Hawai`i’s ethnic composition due to high percentages of intermarriage).

Current events remind us that the struggle for equality never ends and that music and the arts continue to be important elements of this struggle!

Mahalo Nui Loa,

Chris Conybeare, Executive Producer

The Struggle Never Ends

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