For many Filipinos born and raised in Hawaii, there is a sense of shame of being Filipino with such terms as “bukbok,” “pinoy,” and “Flip” existing. This is accentuated with the horrid ethnic jokes on the radio and the perception that Filipinos in Hawaii speak with accents.

But there is more to it than that. In the Philippines, skin whitening is a multi-million dollar industry. Being “kayumanggi” or brown-skinned is seen as not being as attractive as the mestizo or fairer skinned Filipinos.

This comes from the internalized colonization from over 400 years of Spanish and American rule. Unfortunately, some of internalized self-hate and sexism makes it into our local Filipino community to the point that some local Ilocanos resent being called Filipino.

But Filipinos have a proud heritage in the Philippines and in Hawaii — a heritage that often runs parallel to the experience of Kanaka Maoli. Like the shame felt by local Filipinos, there was a point too in Kanaka Maoli history where even the term “kanaka” was associated with being backwards (read: brown).

Bronze statue of Queen Lili'uokalani stands on the makai side of the State Capitol. Honolulu, Hawaii. 19 nov. 2014. photo Cory Lum.

The bronze statue of Queen Liliuokalani on the makai side of the State Capitol. Native Hawaiians and Filipinos have an intertwined history.

While many Filipinos here might be acquainted with the Sakadas or sugar plantation worker history, many may not be aware of the deeper connections that existed prior to the arrival of the Sakadas. Filipinos may have been in Hawaii around the same time as the Japanese and Chinese merchants began to come to Hawaii during the reign of Kamehameha I due to the Spanish trade (particularly the Manila Galleon Trade).

During that time, the Spanish East Indies (now the Philippines and Micronesia), the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) and Malaya were considered part of “Greater Polynesia.”

As “Greater Polynesia” became more integrated into colonial empires, “Greater Polynesia” became “Oceania.” But the fact that Greater Polynesia / Oceania was composed of related peoples and languages was not lost to Hawaiians like King Kalakaua, who created the “Star of Oceania” royal honor.

In the 20th century, however, with the effects of colonization and the Cold War, Oceania became a bordered region and this shared sense of Oceania / Austronesian / Pasifika / Pacific Islander identity was largely suppressed until the revival of navigation under such people as Mau Piailug. With that suppression, the pre-Sakada interaction between the mutual nationalism and shared experiences of Filipinos and Native Hawaiians was largely forgotten.

Naturalized Subjects

We know from naturalization records, there were Filipinos who naturalized as Hawaiian subjects in the 1850s and there were Filipinos in the Royal Hawaiian Band. One member in particular was Jose Sabas Libornio. Libornio is a forgotten hero.

When Queen Liliuokalani was deposed, members of the Royal Hawaiian Band were forced to take an oath to the new government. But most refused and Jose Libornio became leader of the new Hawaiian National Band, who then went around the U.S. and Europe promoting Hawaiian independence and popularizing Hawaiian music.

The refusal of Hawaiians and non-Hawaiians like Jose Libornio inspired Ellen Prendergast to compose a mele for a hula called “Mele ‘Ai Pōhaku.” In fact, Jose Libornio was one of the two people specifically mentioned by Ellen Prendergast to write a mele for them because he was “loyal to Liliu.”

In turn, Jose Libornio turned the lyrics into a musical composition and thus the song, “Kaulana Nā Pua” was born. Libornio was at one point arrested for his loyalty and eventually moved to Peru due to the heartache he felt at having both of his countries — the Philippines and Hawaii — absorbed into the United States. But in his photos in Peru, he still proudly wore the medals he was given by the Hawaiian Kingdom.

On the other side of the ocean at the same time period, Filipino nationalists such as Apolinario Mabini saw people such as King Kalakaua as a forerunner of a Pan-Malay movement and the Hawaiian Kingdom as proof that a progressive democracy could exist under a native Pacific Islander regime. In essence, Hawaii’s very existence was a threat to the propaganda that Spanish authorities insisted that the so-called indios or native Filipinos were incapable of self-rule.

People such as Libornio would have been aware of the events concurrently happening in the Philippines which while Hawaii was suffering under Republic of Hawaii, the Philippines launched the first successful anti-colonial revolution in Asia — and many in Hawaii was supportive of that. But as events unfolded, 1898 became not only a painful year for Native Hawaiians but also for Filipinos as both peoples lost their hard won independence to the United States within three months of each other.

Two Fledging Democracies

The fact that the United States had taken over two fledging democracies that shared ancestral links and was part of Oceania was not lost on Native Hawaiians. Robert Wilcox for example was in touch with the Philippine Independence Missions to the United States and wrote to General Antonio Luna in 1899 and again in 1900 that “I have already made up my mind to join with you and your country against America in the case they insist to ignore the right [of independence], the justice of your cause…”

Wilcox even had given though of raising a Hawaiian volunteer battalion to go to the Philippines to support Filipinos in their quest for recognition of their independence from Spain and the United States.

It was also an open secret at the time that Princess Kaiulani had supported Filipino and Cuban nationalists, hence a reason for her involvement in the Red Cross. Filipinos have been allies of Kanaka Maoli and Kanaka Maoli had been allies of Filipinos especially in the 19th century.

Filipinos in Hawaii have enriched our island’s history and likewise, there has been Hawaiians who had supported Filipinos in their quest for national liberation and democracy. Filipinos have also been at the forefront of activism and in the labor movement here (think Pablo Manlapit) and many Hawaiians — myself included — have Filipino blood. Even outside of activism and within establishment circles, there has been successful Filipinos in politics, in healthcare, in education and in the military.

“We are Mauna Kea” is more than a slogan.

Filipinos should not be ashamed of who they are and should be proud that they do have a rich history in Hawaii and people such as Libornio were aloha aina like their Kanaka Maoli cousins. Likewise, Kanaka Maoli should be proud of Kanaka Maoli leaders such as Robert Wilcox who understood the need for solidarity.

If anything, the recent actions on Mauna Kea have affirmed this history and it is fitting that a Filipino flag flies near the kupuna tent, as the Filipino flag was once banned by American colonial authorities and it serves to remind all of us in order to heal, we need to understand that we are who we once were.

While opponents may argue that that the TMT is needed for humanity, the Mauna has shown itself that it is humanity itself bringing back the peoples of the canoe from the Philippines to Micronesia to Fiji to Tonga and to all the indigenous peoples throughout the world.

“We are Mauna Kea” is more than a slogan. It is re-imagining Hawaii not as merely the “Aloha State,” but as the “Aloha Nation.”

Community Voices aims to encourage broad discussion on many topics of community interest. It’s kind of a cross between Letters to the Editor and op-eds. This is your space to talk about important issues or interesting people who are making a difference in our world. Column lengths should be no more than 800 words and we need a photo of the author and a bio. We welcome video commentary and other multimedia formats. Send to news@civilbeat.org. The opinions and information expressed in Community Voices are solely those of the authors and not Civil Beat.

About the Author