Looking Back

Traces of Filipinos in Hawaii

Upon arrival in Honolulu last weekend, my new friends from the Philippine Consulate took me to Chinatown not for dimsum but for a quick visit to Dr. Jose Rizal Square where a statue of our National Hero was dedicated by the Filipina Society of Hawaii, the Oahu Filipino Community Council and the Laoag City Lions Club in 1983. The concrete base of the statue had two additional plaques one installed by a group of Masons and the Knights of Rizal, the other contained an English translation of “Mi Ultimo Adios.” For the sculptor’s name, all I could see was a monogram incised between Rizal’s feet. Some online digging in the Smithsonian Institution website unearthed the name Carl Ruiz, as well as two other Rizal statues by Anastacio Caedo, apprentice to National Artist Guillermo Tolentino, that can be found in Chicago and Seattle.

It is not well known that Rizal visited the US in 1888; actually he was in transit on a long voyage from Japan to Great Britain. He arrived in San Francisco on April 28, 1888, where he and other passengers were not allowed to disembark right away due to quarantine and this first experience soured his trip. Rizal then took the train to New York where he sailed to London on May 16, 1888. His diary entries for the period are unusually sparse, and the impression that jumps out of the pages states: “America is the land par excellence of freedom — but only for the whites.” With large Filipino communities spread throughout the US, little wonder there are outdoor Rizal sculptures in Chicago, Honolulu, and Seattle with more to sprout elsewhere. While there are no outdoor monuments to Rizal in his ports of entry and departure, historical markers indicate the places where he stayed: the Palace Hotel in downtown San Francisco and a building on Fifth Avenue and 23rd Street that used to be the Fifth Avenue Hotel. Unfortunately, the New York marker, installed by the Philippine Centennial Commission in the 1990s when the building was known as the International Toy Center, was taken down when ownership of the building changed and has not been seen since.


These Rizal statues and markers made me wonder what Filipino immigrants have brought to their adopted country in terms of Filipino culture and identity. I sampled some Hawaiian food in an attempt to find the Filipino flavor. I was disappointed that there was no link between the Hawaiian “ahi poke” and the Ilocano “poki-poki” aside from the name, the former being a raw fish salad and the latter an everyday egg and eggplant dish. I guess these are what learners of French know as “false friends” or words that look and sound alike but differ in meaning. When I saw “haupia” on the menu, I thought it was the Chinese “hopia” that was either mongo or “baboy”. What was served turned out to be a dessert that resembled our maja blanca made of coconut milk thickened with corn starch and served chilled and cut in small squares. Hawaian Kahlua pig was different from the Pinoy lechon.

Pinoys were the last in six waves of immigration of sugar cane plantation works that started in the mid-19th century when the US Civil War and the California Gold Rush created a demand for Hawaiian sugar. They came to work in the sugar plantations in waves of migration starting with the Chinese in 1852 who brought with them rice, soy sauce and tofu that influenced the cuisine of Hawaii. The Japanese arrived in the second wave in 1868 introducing other ways with rice and soy sauce. Third wave were Portuguese that introduced sweet bread and soup. Fourth wave were Puerto Ricans in 1900 introducing yam, beans, tomato, garlic and olive oil. Fifth wave were Koreans in 1903 who brought kimchi. Sixth and last wave were Filipinos in 1906 that the menu in Highway restaurant said were “mostly single men who don’t cook extensively, thus limiting their influence. But as time goes on, the traditional flavors used in Filipino cooking, such as vinegar and fish sauce, became more influential.”


In the Ala Moana mall food court, I noted that three Hawaiian food stalls served adobo as a traditional dish, and they even have Jollibee Chickenjoy. Not all the customers at Jollibee are homesick Pinoys, I overheard one Latino customer tell his companion: “This chicken is better than Popeye’s!” Someone should write on the history of Filipino food immigrants to Hawaii.

Comments are welcome at [email protected]

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TAGS: Ambeth R. Ocampo, Filipinos in Hawaii, Looking Back
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