Filipino Migration to the U.S.

Notes: Filipinos in the United States

Founded in 1895, the Hawaiian Sugar Planters’ Association (HSPA) was an unincorporated, voluntary organization of sugar plantation owners in the Hawaiian Islands. Its objective was to promote the mutual benefits of its members and the development of the sugar industry in the islands. It conducted scientific studies and gathered accurate records about the sugar industry. The HSPA practiced paternalistic management. Plantation owners introduced welfare programs, sometimes out of concern for the workers, but oftentimes designed to suit their economic ends. Threats, coercion, and divide and rule tactics were employed, particularly to keep the workers ethnically segregated.

The HSPA also actively campaigned to bring workers to Hawaii. For instance, they opened offices in Manila and Vigan, Ilocos Sur, to recruit Filipino workers and provide them free passage to Hawaii. Similarly, the HSPA became a powerful organization that its tentacles reached as far as Washington, D.C. where it successfully lobbied for legislation and policies beneficial to the sugar industry of Hawaii.

The Tydings-McDuffie Law, passed by the U.S. Congress on March 24, 1934, provided for the establishment of a ten year interim government by Filipinos preparatory to the granting of Philippine independence on July 4, 1946. The transition government, called the Philippine Commonwealth, was democratically-elected and run by President Manuel Quezon and Vice President Sergio Osmena, Sr. It operated on the basis of the 1935 Philippine Constitution that was created by the constitutional convention called for by the Tydings-McDuffie Law. The Law also restricted Filipino immigration to the U.S. by imposing a quota of fifty a year. The economic provisions of the law stipulated the continuation of free trade relations between the U.S. and the Philippines. But this arrangement was unequal, since quotas were imposed on the Philippine products entering the U.S. free of duty while American products received no restrictions in the Philippine market.

Pablo Manlapit was born on January 17, 1891 in Lipa, Batangas to a working class family. Melinda Tria Kerkvliet in her study of Manlapit states that his sojourn to Hawaii covered roughly two periods. During the first period (1910-1919), Manlapit experienced employment difficulties. He started his own family and completed his education. He eventually became the first Filipino lawyer to practice law in Hawaii, an impressive achievement since he had barely completed his elementary education when he left the Philippines nine years earlier. The second period (1920-1934) covered his transformation as a labor leader and his participation in the 1920 and 1924 strikes. In the aftermath of the 1924 strike, he was jailed and was deported from the islands.

In the 1920 strike, Manlapit believed that the Japanese and Filipinos workers should be united. The Oahu strike lasted for two months and the strikers had to contend with a variety of methods utilized by the planters: eviction of strikers from their homes, hiring of strikebreakers, and prosecution of leaders for conspiracies. Manlapit was not prosecuted but he was subjected to a smear campaign. He was accused of extorting money in exchange for calling off the strike.

Manlapit was once again at the forefront of the 1924 strike by Filipino plantation workers. The strike involved more than 2,000 plantation workers on four islands and lasted for five to six months. It ended tragically in a clash between the police and strikers in Hanapepe, Kauai, resulting in the death of 20 people. Sugar planters hounded Manlapit. They filed various charges such as his failure to provide adequate water closets (toilets) for the evicted strikers who were lodged temporarily in Kalihi. A conspiracy charge was filed against him after he was said to have coached a striker (Pantaleon Enayuda) to lie and state that his (Enayuda’s) sick baby died after the Oahu Sugar Company, which managed the Waipahu hospital, ordered the removal of the baby. Manlapit was found guilty of libel and Enayuda turned witness against Manlapit for the conspiracy case. Enayuda later retracted and claimed that he was bribed. Nevertheless, Manlapit’s conviction remained. Manlapit was imprisoned and later deported. He went to the mainland then back to the Philippines, where he started a new life working for the government in different capacities. Meanwhile, the Hawaii courts did not pardon him until 1952.

Carl Damaso, born in Zambales, Philippines, came to Hawaii during the height of the Great Depression. He was 17 when recruited by the HSPA. In 1934, he was part of the Filipino workers who went on strike at the Ola’a Sugar Plantation, also known as Puna Sugar Company, in the Big Island. The Filipinos, comprising 70% of the plantation workforce, protested the reduction of wages and the employment discrimination policy. The strike failed and Damaso was branded as a labor agitator. He was placed on the list of "do not hire". He moved to Maui and found work at the Wailuku Sugar Company but was soon fired for attempting to start a union. He then moved to Molokai where he survived by fishing and playing pool. He became a prominent labor leader after the war when he became an organizer of the International Longshoremen’s and Warehousemen’s Union (ILWU) and was at the forefront of the labor strikes.

The Filipino Federation of America (FFA) was formed on December 27, 1925 in Los Angeles by Camino Moncada, a Cebuano who worked for a while on a sugar plantation in Kauai before he moved to the West Coast. The members of the Federation included thousands of Filipino sakadas in Hawaii and former sakadas who have moved to California. According to Steffi San Buenaventura, the FFA was a mutual aid society as well as a "quasi-religious" organization with strong mystical symbolism that was derived from Filipino folk beliefs and practices. The FFA members, more popularly known as Moncadistas, numbered to about 800 in the 1930s, although the Federation records claimed as many as 11,000.

The spiritual beliefs of the FFA centered on Moncada, the political leader as well as the spiritual master. His followers believed that he was the Filipino "brown Christ", the savior who when the time came would deliver his followers into paradise. The Moncadistas underwent spiritual initiation such as reciting prayers to obtain power and protection from all dangers and temptations. As part of their purification, they underwent sacrifices or sacripisyo such as fasting, abstinence, and trekking to the mountains purposely to cleanse their inner being. These indigenous rituals of the Moncadistas were ways in which they responded to the challenges and problems of surviving and adapting to a foreign land.