The Ilokanos of Hawaii, Part I


The Ilokanos of Hawaii
(First in a Series)

Aurelio Solver Agcaoili, PhD

A number of good things are happening one after another in this state, and a number of these concern the Ilokanos more and more.

The demographic of Filipinos in Hawaii is becoming clearer with the 2010 United States census telling us a changed scenario.

The Filipinos have overtaken the Japanese in terms of number, but not necessarily in terms of economic power, professional representation, and, political power.

A huge chunk of the Hawaii population—about one-fourth—is now of Philippine descent.

Between 85 and 90% of this chunk is of Ilokano descent.

But these numbers do not tell much about where the various peoples of the Philippines are in the state in terms of representation.

Even if historically the Ilokanos and the Visayans have come to Hawaii to help propel the state plantation economy by working in the fields rain or shine, there is not much that can be said with significance about them except for the proliferation of civic and cultural organizations that are, in some respect, duplicate each other.

The Ilokanos are notorious for this, with practically a small town sometimes having two or even three organizations, one splitting from another depending sometimes on which part the wind blows.

It is not true that the Ilokanos have dominated the Philippine scene in Hawaii.

The domination is phantasmagoric, and it is not for real.

The bluff is in the number, never in the substance.

At the University of Hawaii where Ilokano language, literature, and culture are taught, we have a hard time convincing children of Ilokanos to come and study with us, much less help us in promoting Ilokano language and culture.

The usual logic that we hear is that an Ilokano in Hawaii does not need to learn Ilokano because once you are an Ilokano, you already know everything about being Ilokano, and there is not anything that one can pick up from the Ilokano classroom, or from an Ilokano teacher.

The first person who has learned—and learned well—how to hate himself is the Ilokano in Hawaii.

It is not that this is new: in the Ilocos back in the Philippines, the same story is told over and over again.

There is no need to learn Ilokano because we already speak it, say our people down there, expressing that empty boast with an empty bluff about speaking and knowing critically and reflexively as one and the same.

The equation falls flat. It is vacuous, plain and simple.

The other logic, an extension of the same is this: ‘Adda ditoy American, lakay. No more Ilokano here, lakay.’ (‘You are already in America, old man. Ilokano is no longer needed here, old man.’)

We see here a skewed reasoning, one the UH Ilokano Program has to contend with each year.

That program has put in 40 years of service to the community as an academic program of the university, but during the last 40 years, we have only a repeat of the same logic of false cultural nationalism, and a false claim to a love for the Ilokano heritage.

In so many ways, the Ilokano in the Ilocos barrio is the same Ilokano who has transported his barrio to Hawaii, or any of those places where Ilokanos are concentrated.

Despite the 106 years of presence of the Ilokanos in Hawaii, they have yet to prove a lot if only to turn this presence as something that really makes a difference.

We have learned to use divide et tempera against each other—and all in the name of an imagined Ilocos that is as fractious as the Ilocos that has been brought here.

Somewhere, there is that almost paranoid talk about Ilokanos not trusting in another Ilokano.

Among the people—mostly the less moneyed, there is a popular talk that they share with each that it is better for them to get a non-Ilokano lawyer than an Ilokano one for reasons that have something to do with trust.

This is a perception, of course, and this perception can be wrong.

But the talk is there and it is going in circles, like a loose talk among the less moneyed Ilokanos talking about the more moneyed Ilokanos, this last one a group that pushes its members to populate banquets, to attend gatherings for raising funds for scholarships, and to participate in bangus-and-longganisa fund-raisers all in the name of the wretched and the downtrodden, in the Ilocos or in Hawaii.

At bottom, there are two kinds of Ilokanos in Hawaii: the socioeconomically able, and those who do not have the means to get to banquets every week except to put in more hours for a second job at the expense of their children, the measly pay from the second job a guarantee that the mortgage, the rent, or the electric bill is not left unpaid.

(To be continued)

Observer, April 2012


The Center for Philippines Studies of the University of Hawaii at Manoa hosts the House of Dance Company, a group of young and creative dancers based in the Philippines. The dance company will perform at the Mamiya Theatre of the St Louis School on April 21, with an afternoon show and an evening performance. Tickets are now on sale for $15 or $10. For more information, please call Clem at 956-6086.


The University of Hawaii Ilokano Program will hold its 40th anniversary on April 27 at Hale Koa. The anniversary celebration will also feature former instructors who have retired, formers students, and program scholars selected by a scholarship committee. The scholarship is under the auspices of donors who have helped this program, many of them without fanfare but have continued to pledge their support in educating the next generation of Ilokano scholars and cultural workers within and outside the academic community. For ticket information, please get hold of any Timpuyog officers.

No comments: