The replacement of Japanese by Filipinos as the largest single ethnic Asian group in Hawaii is not surprising to some in the Filipino community, but the demographic shift happened sooner than expected.

According to a U.S. Census report released last week, Filipinos constitute 14.5 percent of the state’s total population of 1.36 million people. Those who identify as Japanese now make up 13.6 percent—meaning their population dropped by about 3 percent from what it was in the 2000 census.

The growth in numbers could eventually translate into greater political clout.

“Politics is a question a numbers, but it’s also a question of educating the people,” said Toy Arre, president of Hawaii’s Filipino Community Center. “Numbers don’t mean anything until our people are educated…It’s a question of how we exercise our ability to vote.”

Hawaii’s Filipino population swelled by almost 27,000 between 2000 and 2010, according to the census.

Indeed, interim census surveys in 2008 and 2009 indicated that Filipinos already made up a larger percentage of Hawaii’s population than did Japanese.

Arre said while he wasn’t completely surprised, he did not expect the shift to happen so quickly.

“It happened sooner than we anticipated,” he said, noting that continued Filipino in-migration and the growing birthrate among local Filipinos have contributed to the group’s growth.

Arre says Filipinos will become more integral to the state’s economy “in all fields,” he said. “Not only business, but also in education, in government.”

A look at the Hawaii Legislature shows that the growth in numbers has already begun to translate into greater political representation.

For that trend to continue, Arre says that more education of Filipinos is necessary.

The voting decisions of younger-generation Filipinos are most pivotal in determining the political weight of the ethnic group in Hawaii, he said. They vote differently than Filipinos in other age brackets, he said, sometimes diluting the group’s political leverage.

Still, Arre says the demographic shift is a welcome change.

“I recall 50 years ago as a student at the university, some people would deliberately deny that they were Filipino,” said Arre. “Not so anymore. I see a great deal of pride – people are not ashamed to say they are Filipino. That change in attitude to me is important.”

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