Views Panel Discussion Pt. 2

November 27, 2008
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Despite some of the earlier problems, specifically those orbiting around my organizational and PR skills, everyone arrived on time and the room was prepared very nicely by the Manoa Grand Ballroom. Allicyn Tasaka, from the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii (JCCH), a co-sponsor of the event, was of invaluable help in that she really picked up the details that I had dropped the ball on. Lessons learned, I’m accepting volunteers to help out with the next discussion. Thank you again Allicyn!

Wifey Ruth helped with the last minute changes on the placards that Allicyn at the last minute printed out. Ginger helped arrange the placards on the table while Debbie offered leis and managed the reception table.

‘Olelo, the cable network broadcasting the event was set up (as was Gregg Detwiler who provided audio) and ready to go while Ann Misawa, the director for the Statehood Documentary, and her crew from the Academy for Creative Media (ACM), was arriving and getting release forms signed.

It was a real effort that came together with the co-operation of many.

Having met many of the panelists for the first time, it was an honor having them there.

The event started a few minutes late, but I don’t think anyone noticed except Judge Riki Amano, the moderator who struggled to make sense of how all those panelists could possibly cover each question in the time alloted for the event.

Judge Amano intoduced Robert Buss who opened the event talking about Hawai’i Council for the Humanities’ partnership with Statehood Hawaii and the “We the People” grant that helped to provide the initial funds that made this partnership possible.

Tom Coffman spoke first, describing the historical context by which immigrants initially came to Hawai’i. Then Judge Amano went through– in order of when each immigrant group arrived– and allowed a few minutes for each panelist to descibe the historical context and conditions of the country the early immigrants left behind.

Ginny Young described how Chinese settlers first came in 1789 to trade sandlewood and eventually started the first sugar plantation. She listed many of the successful early Chinese landowners who upon arriving amassed much land through marrying Native Hawaiians and threw lavish balls for the kings. But she also spoke about how the mass of migrant workers left the Guangzhou region in search of opportunity and touched upon the blight that China was experiencing in the mid-1800s.

Laura Figueira discussed how many of the first Portuguese settlers arrived from the Azores in search of work and was surprised by Hawaii’s similar climate. She examined the mainly three waves of Portuguese immigration beginning in 1778, the early 1900s and again in 1960. She mentioned that one of the reasons that Portuguese generally held positions as luna (managers) of the plantation workers, had to do with not only being closer to the white elite because of their European heritage, but also because they could bridge the language barrier between the land owners and the workers, communicating through and contibuting to the pidgin that had evolved between the different ethnic groups over the years.

Brian Niiya said that 150 Japanese migrants first arrived in 1868, and that the years 1885-1900, were when the bulk of Japanese immigrants came for work. Citing a 1920s census, he said that 40% were Japanese, and also cited that Japanese migrant immigration ended in 1900, the year that Hawaii was “annexed” by the United States.

Jon Itomura described how Okinawans struggled to get out of Okinawa during Japan’s early occupation, and that there were four large waves of Okinawan immigration beginning in 1899. Detailing the conditions of unemployment in Okinawa, he introduced the reason why so many saw Hawaii as a place of opportunity, and referred to the overwhelming support Okinawans in Hawaii had given to Okinawa during WWII when nearly 1/3 of the population was descimated.

Toy Arre wrote that the first 15 Filipinos arrived in Hawaii on December 20, 1906 on board the SS Doric. All were from Candon, Ilocos Sur. By the time the Tydings-McDuffy Law granted Commonwealth status to the Philippines in 1935, it is estimated that between 120,000 to 150,000 Filipinos had migrated to Hawaii. Most were employed in pineapple and sugar plantations. About 60 per cent were Ilocanos . Another 25 per cent were Visayans and the rest were Tagalogs and others.”

“The Filipinos in this first wave of migration were mostly single men whose main goal was for a better life for them and their families with the intent of going back to the Philippines.

The Tydings_Mc Duffy Law severely limited Filipino immigration to about 50 visas per year. There was an exception clause. In case of a labor shortage the Governor of Hawaii was authorized to hire Filipino workers.

“It was not until the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act, which struck down nationality-based restrictions did Filipino immigration grow and diversify. More came with the their families and they came to stay. There was also an increasing proportion of females and professionals. The passage of the Labor Code of the Philippines in 1974, where it became government policy to export labor, immigration has exploded. There are now 8.1 million Filipino working in 200 countries and territories around the world, but only 1.6 per cent of these end up Hawaii.

“The experience of the Filipino in Hawaii is parallel to those who preceeded them – starting with agriculture or whatever job is available to them. In Hawaii today, many are in the hotel and care-giving industries. They are also in small business enterprises.

The primary reason for Filipino immigration into the US and other countries, in 1906 through today, is mainly economic or in search of a better life.”

Nancy Ortiz, representing the 23 different countries considered Hispanic, but specifically the Puerto Ricans, cited that Hispanics came in 1793-4 and brought cattle for King Kamehameha. In 1813, the first pineapple too, was brought. Kamehameha III, in 1836 invited 200 Mexican cowboys and 5000 workers. She mentioned that today there are roughly 30,000 Puerto Ricans living in Hawaii.

Dr. Yong-Ho Ch’oe also described the various waves of immigration, while highlighting the 2nd wave when many Koreans arrived after the Korean War to raise money to send back to Korea to help fund an independence revolution that would under the leadership of Sigmund Rhee, reunify North and South Korea. He describes how many of the businesses were already locked down by other ethnic groups, and the difficult time Koreans– as later immigrants– faced as they struggled to succeed in Hawai’i.

Gus Hannemann’s presentation included the colonization of Samoa in 1900 by the United States and its Deed of Cession, as well as introducing the several waves of migration that followed. He contrasted a difference between Samoa remaining as a territory and Hawai’i attaining statehood and describes how life in Samoa has remained relatively undeveloped unlike Hawai’i. He suggested that because of its territorial status, Samoans come and go across the United States, many of them through the Samoan Navy and have ended up in Florida, San Diego or Hawaii. He also mentioned that the Church of Latter Day Saints which has a center in Laie, as another of the locations where many Samoans have also settled.

Political Science instructor at UH-Leeward, Eiko Kosasa, introducing the perspective of Asian Settler Colonialism from a new anthology published by University of Hawaii Press, “Asian Settler Colonialism: From local Governance to the Habits of Everyday Life in Hawai’i,” was applauded by several in the audience for challenging what many saw as settler hegemony adversely impacting Native Hawaiians.

While many of the immigrant group representatives were not prepared to engage in that perspective, clearly, this introduced a controversial topic that will be debated in years to come.

One point that came across was that Hawaii was seen as an opportunity for the betterment of lives for many immigrant groups from the years of Kamehameha I through the kingdom years, and well into the territorial years. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to address the statehood years, but nevertheless, having established the frame by which we can look at Asian/Pacific islander settlers in Hawaii, we were painted a picture beyond the shores of Hawaii, and saw, how from the very beginning of the Hawaiian kingdom, Hawai’i embraced an international relevance that extended throughout the world. As an early cosmopolitan center, Hawai’i was unique in that unlike the United States at the time, Asian immigrants were invited and welcomed.

But beyond Hawai’i shores, the panelists also described struggle internationally, many a result of colonialist policy at that time. The effects of British, European and US expansionism in the 1800s seemed to touch every corner of the globe, and while eventually leading to WWI and II, the competition for administering control over territories culminated into the creation of a United Nations in 1946, when these administering countries were entrusted to mandate the territories toward self-governance. Much of the tensions that exist now in Hawai’i is seen as a result of colonialist policy. And the battle over lands are still heated as is the current case in the Supreme Court over Hawai’i “ceded” lands. This colonialist policy has resulted in movements of either Native Hawaiian sovereignty, independence, as well as the contoversial Akaka Bill that President-elect Obama has pledged to sign.

The impact of immigrants in Hawai’i cannot be taken out of the context of this larger picture, as all of our histories are intertwined. As Junot Diaz reminds us in the audio link previously posted in Panel Discussion 1, which I think beautifully applies to this discussion, “There is always a cost for someone to be somewhere. I know that my presence in the United States as an immigrant is predicated on the catastrophic suffering and the catastrophic sacrifices of the indigenous community here… you don’t love a country by turning a blind eye to its crimes and to a problem, the way that you love a country is by seeing everything it’s done wrong, all of its mistakes, and still thinking that its beautiful, and that its worthy. My greatest responsibility is to ackowledge the mistakes and the short-comings of the country in which I live, to acknowledge my priviledges and to try to make it a better place. In fact, looking at the darkest sides of the United States has only made me appreciate the things that we do right, the things that we do beautifully. We are for all of our mistakes, all of our crimes, a remarkable place…”

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