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Introduction: Partial Views

You could do worse than a partial view, not just in terms of a south-facing hotel suite, but for the stories that go along with the photos we keep for ourselves. Photographs conceal as much as they reveal, misdirect as often as they clarify. Many times, they’re the only records we have of long-lost relations or forgotten places. The photos by and about Filipinos in Hawaiʻi that we have assembled in this book span the last sixty years of the “Filipino Centennial” in the state, which commemorated the first significant arrival of colonial subjects into what was then known as “the Territory”—from one outpost of America’s empire to another. The years after World War II offer a bright dividing line between the plantation era that dominated the islands and the tourism-dominated period which replaced it.

Filipinos are an indelible part of Hawaii’s three main economic engines: tourism, the U.S. military, and agriculture. On any given day, more than 170,000 tourists (more politely referred to as “visitors”) arrive; another 100,000, by cruise ships. Of the six billion arriving every year, 73% are from the continental United States. Combined with their international counterparts, tourist spending in one year amounts to $10 billion. That doesn’t come close to how much the U.S. Federal government spends—nearly $25 billion a year—on what is geographically the largest of the U.S. unified service commands, with authority over assets that cover more than 50% of the earth’s surface from California to the Maldives, and from the Arctic to the Antarctic. Anchored in Honolulu, this command encompasses a world that tourists are largely unaware of during their vacations—over 350,000 personnel attached to various services, five aircraft carrier strike groups, 180 ships, 1,900 aircraft, five Stryker brigades, and two Marine Expeditionary Forces. Most on holiday wouldn’t know as they stumble back to their Waikiki hotel suites that one out of four persons in Hawaiʻi is connected to the U.S. Military. While no longer playing the same role it did prior to World War II, agriculture continues to be a major player in the island chain’s economy, with a $44 million sugar crop. The total $600 million in crop and livestock sales involves sugar production, and the sale of pineapples, flowers and nursery products, seeds, macadamia nuts, and coffee.

Paradise lost was the title of the first theme
But now in a dream, you know I’m dreamin’ a new dream

Hawaii’s reputation as a paradise is partly maintained by a multicultural, melting pot myth, “post-racial” before the term became fashionable, in a locale where no single racial group is numerically dominant: where 17% of the population was born outside of the United States, 57% were naturalized as U.S. citizens, 24% of the so-called “foreign born” entered the state after 2000, where 86.5% of the same trace their ancestry to Asia or Oceania, and where 21% speak an Asian or Pacific Islander language at home. One version of Filipino histories in Hawaiʻi contrasts the trials of the plantation era with greater socioeconomic mobility found in the post-World War II era, more easily digested as a tale of rags-to-riches, the march towards the American Dream. The measures of success for the arc of this kind of story almost always turns to select individuals who became exemplary Filipinos—a governor, a beauty pageant queen, or athletes and entertainers. If history were only about individuated achievements, then there would be quite a lot to “celebrate,” probably no end, really, with all the coronation balls and award dinners scheduled in any given year. But Filipino histories in Hawaiʻi are more than tallying up brown faces in so-called high places. For the majority, paradise might as well be like how it’s sung in that song, “Anywhere But Here.”

The sobering realities of Filipinos’ stunted occupational statuses, stagnant income levels, and frustrated educational achievements disturb any carefully crafted fantasy of immigrant success and upward mobility. The fiction of the “Aloha State” masks the facts: Despite the material gains that individuals have made and use as measures of success against everyone else, Filipinos, as one of the largest populations on the islands, along with Native Hawaiians and Samoans, are vastly underrepresented in management and professional ranks, while overrepresented in blue-collar sectors of production, transportation, and service industries as food processors, truck drivers, seamstresses, laborers, retail clerks, and hotel staff.

Life been defined by nights under skies
Next to the line, where the sea meet land
Got both feet planted in the sand


I came directly from the place
Seen a whole lotta homes erased
Faced with an ice epidemic so large it’ll put global warming on pause
Warning all frauds
No, it’s not a walk on the beach


News flash jerk! Hawai’i ain’t free
And I vowed on the day I became an MC
Never not say what I’m made to speak from
The same rock Barack walked and breathed
And be the smoke signals from them wowie trees
And more information is what we need

Blue Scholars, “HI-808,” Oof! (2009)

When changes have occurred, the evidence is not to be found in any one person’s attainment of an office or a starring role. Dignity, resources, and life chances and choices have bettered and widened when Filipinos in Hawaiʻi challenged authorities, disputed unjust conditions, laid claim to long histories of resistance from the Philippines that have echoed throughout the diaspora, and offered themselves as allies to movements for sovereignty. Partial views may be all that we have, so we’ll need your help in describing what was left out of the frame.

The book’s organization was inspired by our classroom experiences. While we have not co-taught courses together, we have, over our combined 31 years of teaching, assigned our students versions of the following tasks: either to narrate their history through family photos or to choose a theme that can be illustrated through various found images such as advertisements or political cartoons. In Filipinos in Hawaiʻi, we’ve paired a handful of those topics with photographic selections that we hope will link biography with history, personal stories with larger (sometime impersonal) frames of reference. We have also chosen to take on our own assignments, by working with two individuals to help narrate their families’ journeys to and through Hawaiʻi. The accompanying website, FilipinosInHawaii.info has additional galleries of photos not included in this book, along with an historical timeline of Filipino history in the Philippines and Hawaiʻi.