Building Filipino Hawai'i

Building Filipino Hawai'i

by Roderick N Labrador

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Drawing on ten years of interviews and ethnographic and archival research, Roderick Labrador delves into the ways Filipinos in Hawai'i have balanced their pursuit of upward mobility and mainstream acceptance with a desire to keep their Filipino identity.
In particular, Labrador speaks to the processes of identity making and the politics of representation among immigrant communities striving to resist marginalization in a globalized, transnational era. Critiquing the popular image of Hawai'i as a postracial paradise, he reveals how Filipino immigrants talk about their relationships to the place(s) they left and the place(s) where they've settled, and how these discourses shape their identities. He also shows how the struggle for community empowerment, identity territorialization, and the process of placing and boundary making continue to affect how minority groups construct the stories they tell about themselves, to themselves and others.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780252080364
Publisher: University of Illinois Press
Publication date: 01/15/2015
Series: Asian American Experience Series
Edition description: 1st Edition
Pages: 192
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 2.20(d)

About the Author

Roderick N. Labrador is an assistant professor of ethnic studies at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa. He is the coauthor of Filipinos in Hawai'i and coeditor of Empire of Funk: Hip Hop and Representation in Filipina/o America.

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Building Filipino Hawai'i

By Roderick N. Labrador


Copyright © 2015 Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-252-09676-1


Overlapping Architectures

There are several neighborhoods in O'ahu that most local people identify as "Filipino neighborhoods." One of my interviewees, Antonio Buan, who was taking an Ilokano language class at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa and self-identified as Local, summed up his "Filipino" upbringing in the following way: "I went [to] elementary in Kalihi but middle school and high school in Waipahu. How much more Filipino can you get?" For many people on O'ahu, Kalihi and Waipahu are the prototypical "Filipino" neighborhoods, and from this perspective and given his residential history, Antonio grew up very Filipino. However, the naming and categorizing of Kalihi and Waipahu as "Filipino neighborhoods" perform the staking of a metaphorical and material claim to place. In this chapter, I examine the physical structure of the Filipino Community Center in Waipahu to provide a broad history of Filipino migration to the islands, which is dependent on two interrelated U.S. colonizations that occurred at roughly the same time, that of the Philippines and Hawai'i.

Waipahu is usually known first and foremost as a former plantation community that is currently a semirural, semisuburban neighborhood with residents who range from low-income to middle class. The presence of the old Waipahu plantation sugar mill smokestack is a continuing reminder of this plantation heritage, exhibiting a type of adaptive reuse—it is now the site of a YMCA. Waipahu is also a Filipino ethnic enclave. During the 2011 school year Filipino students comprised 67.6 percent of the nearly twenty-five hundred students at Waipahu High School. According to many of my interviewees, the neighborhood is lined with "Filipino houses," which can be characterized by their landscaping/vegetation (that is, they usually have marunggay trees in their yards) and architecture. (That is, they are usually large, two-story, brightly colored homes often extending to the edges of the property line and include tile roofs, stucco walls, wrought iron fences, and features that are reminiscent of the Philippine bahay na bato style popularized during Spanish colonization. This style also reflects the more contemporary homes of wealthier families in the Ilocos region, particularly those with relatives who work abroad—two-story concrete residences with balustrades and often having six or more bedrooms.) The Filipino Community Center, although not for exclusive use by Filipinos, is perceived as a type of "big Filipino house." As I discuss in a subsequent chapter, the Filipino Community Center reflects the community desire to be seen as equal (socially, politically, and economically) to the other plantation-based ethnic groups in the islands, namely the Japanese, Chinese, and Okinawans. Each of these communities has their own community centers, and with the completion of the Filipino Community Center in 2002, Filipinos could claim equality with their local Asian counterparts. In this chapter, I use the Filipino Community Center as my primary analytical site to suggest that through the physical building itself, Filipinos discursively construct identity territorializations that map out a collective sense of place and a sense of self along political economic and ideological coordinates. The Filipino Community Center represents overlapping architectures, a type of historical and political economic layering whereby the contemporary late capitalist, transnational world anchored to a multiculturalist ideology is built on top of the industrial plantation-based agri-capitalist system dependent on the racialization of its workers, which itself is constructed on top of an indigenous, communal land rights–based mode of production. In other words, the Filipino Community Center depends on what Ruben Alcantara calls "the sakada story," a narrative of development that positions indigeneity (represented as the Hawaiian past), racialization (depicted as the exploitation of Asian and Hawaiian labor during the plantation era), and multiculturalism (portrayed as the contemporary period of liberal inclusion in which the various racial and ethnic groups share power) in a linear historical progression that corresponds with changes in Hawai'i's political economy and modes of production. In this way, the completion of the Filipino Community Center embodies a settler Filipino developmental narrative in which Waipahu (and by extension, Hawai'i) is constructed and claimed as a Filipino "home."

According to Fujikane, narratives of development create a historical record that "can be used either to maintain existing structures of power or help us envision alternative forms of political organization" (1997: 43). In this way, narratives of development can challenge, conceal, and reproduce relations, structures, and institutions of power. Although Fujikane examines narratives and ideologies of development in relation to Local identity and Native Hawaiian struggles for sovereignty and self-determination, in this chapter I am interested in the ways developmental narratives are employed by Filipinos in Hawai'i to make claims about themselves in relation to broader structures and institutions of power in the islands, and in relation to other groups: whites, Japanese, Chinese, and Native Hawaiians, in particular. Developmental narratives construct a particular historical trajectory in the islands: "Many historians employ a developmental narrative that begins with the colonization of Hawaiians and ends with multicultural democracy in Hawai'i. The story of multiethnic diversity is thus cast as the triumphant 'resolution' to Hawai'i's colonial 'past'" (Fujikane 2008: 3). Narratives of development dovetail with assimilationist narratives, which function to reinscribe the broader, settler colonial structures and institutions but also reorganize them to allow for the incorporation of previously oppressed populations. In other words, the developmental narrative in Hawai'i works as a story of settler dominance that integrates populations who were historically oppressed and marginalized into the current structures of power. Along these lines, the Filipino Community Center envisions the full social, cultural, political, and economic participation of Filipinos in Hawai'i society, where they are no longer on the margins and through this logic of incorporation, and in so doing this narrative upholds the multicultural, settler order and hierarchy. Here, I use incorporation to capture the assimilationist narrative and developmental historicization and to point to the ways business (and entrepreneurship, in particular) is often the preferred path to upward mobility (re: assimilation). To extend the in/corporation metaphor, the building of the FilCom Center functions as a charter that grants or recognizes Filipino rights and privileges to fully participate in the settler colony, to take their place "in multicultural Hawai'i" albeit in the service of maintaining the superiority of the settler state. The charter (that is, the building) confirms the validity of Filipino existence and governance. The erection of the building is the staking of a settler claim, the metaphorical and material marking of Filipino territory.

The Filipino Community Center is a huge and beautiful building. The grand opening of the Filipino Community Center occurred in June 2002 and since then, it is often advertised as the largest Filipino community center outside the Philippines. The Center is a three-story Spanish mission–style structure reminiscent of colonial Intramuros, the "walled city" within Manila that was a complex of houses, churches, and a fortress and served as the seat of government during Spanish colonialism. In effect, the Filipino Community Center is imagined as a site of political and economic power in the islands. The Center exhibits many of the basic and common elements that characterize Spanish mission–style architecture. Usually there is a courtyard lined with potted plants with a large fountain near the entrance of the building. There are solid and massive walls, large square pillars, long arcades (these are the arched corridors that flank the interior and exterior walls), pedimented gables, wide, projecting eaves, broad, undecorated and stuccoed wall surfaces, and tile roofs. The belfry above the Casamina-Flores Ballroom suggests that the ballroom is the "chapel" usually found in mission complexes. Several of my interviewees remarked how the Spanish mission–style building reminded them of the large houses of "wealthy Filipinos" in the Philippines places like Vigan, in Ilocos Sur. In the Philippines, these types of structures are usually the homes of the elite; they are signs of status, wealth, and privilege.

The Filipino Community Center occupies fifty thousand square feet on the grounds of a two-acre site near the former location of the Oahu Sugar Company's administrative offices. The Filipino Community Center is on historic ground. Plantation history is literally beneath the Center; the Waipahu plantation is the site of toil and resistance, specifically the 1909 strike by Japanese workers and 1920 strike that involved Japanese and Filipino workers. This is also, reportedly, the site where the first fifteen sakadas, or Filipino plantation workers, signed their labor contracts in 1906. These first fifteen sakadas eventually went to the Olaa planation on Hawai'i island. The "sakada story" is literally buried underneath the Center. The Filipino Community Center pays tribute to the sakadas and the plantation history it is built upon. There are statues, plaques, and a mural dedicated to the sakada generation, celebrating and honoring this heritage. Ironically, it is this same legacy that has structured the contemporary social, political, and economic conditions that position Filipinos at the margins of Hawai'i society. Having the Filipino Community Center on the grounds of the Waipahu sugar plantation can be understood as a type of symbolic subversion of power (that is, the Filipinos, who represent the agricultural workers, are now on top) of the plantation past. But there is a layer that is buried deep down and is often missed: indigeneity and the native dispossession that serve as the conditions the possibility of agri-industrial plantations. Indigeneity in Hawai'i is often literally and figuratively interred, submerged beneath the plantation past (usually understood as the beginnings of "modern Hawai'i" and the multicultural present). Yet, it is the displacement and dispossession of Native Hawaiians that pave the paths toward a capitalism built on agricultural plantations. The Filipino Community Center embodies this tiered set of overlapping architectures; the building is a celebratory appeal to a multicultural Hawai'i that sits atop the racial and class oppression of the plantation era, which in turn rests upon native dispossession.

The old Waipahu sugar mill smokestack, the most recognizable community landmark, is only a few hundred yards away from the Filipino Community Center. Although the sugar mill closed in 1995, it continues to loom in the background. The Oahu Sugar Company began its operations in Waipahu in 1897, turning the community into a large sugarcane-processing area until the demise of the sugar industry, with the last harvest in 1995. The company initially hired workers from Hawai'i, Portugal, Japan, Spain, Puerto Rico, Philippines, and China to clear the land of rocks, plants, and other vegetation in preparation for the planting of sugarcane. Filipinos were first imported as workers in 1906, at a time when Hawai'i was firmly entrenched in supporting U.S. capitalist development. As Miriam Sharma suggests, "The migration of Filipino workers to Hawaii, from 1906 to 1946, took place within the context of an ever-increasing capitalist penetration of the islands and Hawaii's concomitant absorption into the world capitalist economy" (Sharma 1984: 579).

According to Native Hawaiian scholar Kapa Oliveira, "only by understanding the ties shared between various places and their names can we truly understand the meaning of individual place names and the collective story that they tell. Hawaiian place names also serve as mnemonic devices in their oral maps." Traditional Hawaiian place names could point to significant events, natural features of the terrain, or resources available in a particular area (Oliveira 2009: 104). The area of what is now called Waipahu traditionally covers the ahupua'a of Hoaeae to the west, and Waikele and Waipio to the east, but it was not administratively considered a separate outlying community until 1930 (Yamamoto et al. 2005: 7). Waipahu is in the Ewa district of leeward (or western) O'ahu, at the intersection of the West and Middle Lochs of Pu'uloa (or what is now known as Pearl Harbor) and is south of what is now called Schofield Plateau. Prior to the industrial plantations, the area was home to at least twenty-seven fish ponds and was known for its freshwater springs. In the Hawaiian language, Waipahu is derived from two words: wai, meaning freshwater, and pahu, meaning "to burst or gush forth." Waipahu then means something like "the land of gushing or bursting freshwater." At one time, Waipahu was considered to be the capital of O'ahu, with the Hawaiian ruling class establishing residences in the area where they would gather and enjoy the water from the nearby artesian springs (Munro 1983; Nedbalek 1984; Yamamoto et al. 2005; Moniz 2007). It was these springs that sugar planters eventually tapped, creating artesian wells that were used to irrigate the cane fields of the usually dry leeward area.

Waipahu also housed kalo (or taro) fields for the agriculture-based subsistence economy of Native Hawaiians that depended on a communal land tenure system. Marion Kelly explains the Native Hawaiian mode of production in the following way: "Although the land was controlled by the chiefs (ali'i), who expropriated food and labor from the cultivators of the soil, the commoners (maka'ainana), everyone had rights of access and use to the resources of the land and sea. Parcels of land (ahupua'a, 'ili) were divided into small units (kuleana) cultivated by families and larger units used in common. The people were sustained by a tradition of sharing and common use" (Kelly 1980: 57). This tradition of exchange and hospitality are important themes in mo'olelo (or stories) associated with the area.

According to J. Kuahiwi Moniz, a Native Hawaiian educator and cultural specialist whose work and expertise focuses on the Wai'anae coast, there are numerous mo'olelo from the Waipahu area that involve the shark goddess, Ka'ahupahau, and her brother Kahi'uka, who were guardians of waters along Pu'uloa. Although there are other stories (that involve an eel boy and oysters), perhaps the most well-known story associated with the area involves a kapa-maker from Kahuku. Moniz relayed the story to me in the following way:

There once was a woman from Kahuku, which is in the northern part of the island on other side of the Ko'olau mountain range, who was known for the kapa she made. One day while pounding kapa near a stream, she lost her beloved kapa board, or kapa kua. The stream took her kapa kua and it floated in the underwater springs that connect the windward and leeward sides of O'ahu. Using the natural elements and animals as her guide, the woman set out on a journey to find her beloved kapa kua. She traveled far and wide but was unable to find her kapa board. One day, right before she was ready to go back home to Kahuku, she heard the sound of her kapa kua while it was being struck by someone else. She looked for the source of the sound and found a woman, near the spring in Waikele, who was using her kapa kua. She tells the woman from Waikele about her journey to find her kapa kua and once she finished her tale, the kapa board was returned. The Waikele woman then asked her new friend to rest and spend the night before departing for her long journey back home to Kahuku. The next morning, the two friends walked together and stopped briefly near a cliff which overlooked the spring where they met. This area became known as Ke'one Kuilima Laula o 'Ewa, which means "the land of joining hands in 'Ewa."


Excerpted from Building Filipino Hawai'i by Roderick N. Labrador. Copyright © 2015 Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS PRESS.
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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations ix

Acknowledgments xi

Introduction: "Why do you want to go to Hawai'i?" 1

Chapter 1 Overlapping Architectures 27

Chapter 2 "What's so p/funny?" 49

Chapter 3 "Anything but…" 74

Chapter 4 "The Center is not just for Filipinos, but for all of Hawai'i nei" 98

Conclusion: Unsettling Hawai'i 129

Notes 137

Bibliography 149

Index 163

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