Monday, November 30, 2009

Filipinos Maintained Hawaii's Economy

Prior to the Great Depression Hawaii and California required a constant supply of inexpensive manual labor. Hawaii’s economy depended on this labor to support their sugar plantations. Hawaiian Sugar Planters Association (HSPA) recruited Filipino laborers as well as Japanese and Korean plantation workers. Recruiters established recruitment centers in Vigan, Ilocos Sur, and the Cebu regions in the Philippines. Recruitment campaigns advertised the “land of opportunity” by using "success" stories of the first fifteen repatriated Tagalog Filipino sugar laborers in 1906. These successful Hawaiian Filipino or "Hawayanos" encouraged Filipino exodus; by the 1930s Filipinos had taken over the Japanese as the largest ethnic group of plantation workers on the Islands. During the early 1930s Great Depression resulted in a total of 7,300 Hawayanos being repatriated to the Philippines. Despite the amount of profit these plantations made from hard cheap migrant labor the Filipino Nationals remained expendable commodities. In 1935, the Tydings-McDuffie Law allowed the Philippine Commonwealth to undergo ten year transition into a Philippine independence. This however restricted immigration to fifty Filipinos coming to America annually.

Many of migrant workers worked in Hawaii to save money and live comfortably on their return home. Their dreams commonly consisted of purchasing homes and farmland, so they would be eligible bachelors for marriage. HSPA paid Filipino migrant workers the lowest wage in comparison to different ethnic groups on the sugar plantation. As a result importing Filipino laborers cost less for plantation owners but the poor wages and high expense of travel made it next to impossible for these pinoys to return home, those who didn’t remain permanent residents returned home decades later as senior citizens. Despite this discrimination in the workplace Filipinos were fortunate enough to be immune to exclusion laws that affected “Orientals” like the Chinese, Japanese, and Koreans. They were also commonly leverage against Japanese workers who threatened strikes as Filipino workers were paid less and would gladly work for equal wage under the same working conditions. The Filipinos also had difficulty working with their Japanese and Chinese co-workers as racism was rampant among both ethnic groups, which wasn’t helped by the language differences that further separated their groups from forming a joint union. Filipino workers used as a solution to weaken the resolve of ethnic workers, maintain higher profits, and ensure American cultural superiority. They were brought in the United States under the impression of opportunity and utilized as a commodity to maintain the Hawaiian economy.

Ty Tran Nguyen

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