How Filipino ‘sakadas’ realized the American Dream in Hawaii

HONOLULU, HI — From 1906 to 1946, about 120,000 Filipinos were recruited from the Visayas and Ilocos, regions of the Philippines, to work as laborers for Hawaii’s sugarcane and pineapple plantations.

They were known as “sakadas,” a Filipino word meaning “lower-paid workers from out of the area.”

The annexation of the Philippines to U.S. through the treaty of Paris in 1898 made it possible for Filipinos to come to work in America without any immigration restrictions.

But they worked under tough conditions.

“They were recruited to work on the plantation to do all the menial tasks, uh, whatever needed to be done, what was happening if they needed more workers, um, a lot of the Chinese, Japanese immigrants or Korean immigrants were still working, but some of them had already, their terms had expired,” said board president Deanna Espinas.

Sugar planters became desperate for more workers, and by the 1930s, the sakadas had become the majority of the plantation workforce.

A typical workday lasted up to ten hours and was interrupted only by a 15-minute breakfast, a 30-minute lunch and occasional water breaks.

They also had to contend with loneliness and alienation.

“So a lot of them, these bachelors who came here as young men stayed here in their elder years and died alone without family. So I think that’s a significant sacrifice a lot of them made.”

Despite their tough life, the sakadas made sure their families back home knew they were aiming for the American Dream.

“They also would pull their money and buy a vehicle so that they could drive around and take photos and show their families back home that they were somewhat of a success in their own eyes.”

During the late 1950s, immigration laws allowed Filipinos living in Hawaii to bring their families to the United States beyond the quotas.

This paved the way for the Filipino population to grow to be one of the largest in Hawaii, with 1 out of 4 people in the aloha state being Filipino.

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