Filipinos have a rich history in Hawaii, with roots dating back to at least the 19th century and later, an influx of laborers who came to the islands to work on the sugar and pineapple plantations in what was then a U.S. territory.

Today, the Filipino community makes up some 16% of the population of the 50th state, having surpassed Japanese as the largest Asian ethnic group more than a decade ago.

The Philippines, an ethnically diverse nation with some 114 million people, also is the oldest U.S. treaty ally in Asia. As a democratic state located near the South China Sea and south of Taiwan, the Philippines has an important role in U.S. foreign policy.

So we’d like to learn more about the country and the people who are from there.

Jia Jung has joined Civil Beat after getting her master’s degree in journalism at Columbia University. David Croxford/Civil Beat/2022

Enter Jia Jung, who joined our staff this week as a reporting fellow from the Li Center for Global Journalism, a position supported by the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and the Institute for Nonprofit News. The program, established in 2020, seeks to encourage serious journalism on international issues.

Jia, who’s with us for the next three months, will be focusing on the Philippines as well as the Filipino community in Hawaii. Born and raised in Massachusetts to Korean parents, Jia has developed a strong interest in Asia and the Pacific region.

She has lived and worked in the Marshall Islands, South Korea and India, and her portfolio includes stories for news outlets, including VICE Creators, PRI, The Korea Times, Atlas (Gastro) Obscura and Saveur. You can read more about her here.

Jia, an open-water swimming and Polynesian dancing aficionado, also visited the Philippines before coming to Civil Beat.

“It was important to be there to get a sense of the place and establish trust with sources,” she says. “The culture is very complex.”

The new beat comes as Civil Beat expands its coverage beyond the borders of Hawaii to include Pacific island nations and territories. We remain sharply focused on local news, our main mission since the nonprofit site was launched in 2010. But we also want to bring readers stories about other countries and places that have an impact on the islands and may have lessons that we can learn from.

Jia starts her new role as the Philippines has a new administration with President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. in power for just over three months. He’s the namesake son of the former president who was ousted in a 1986 pro-democracy uprising and fled to exile in Hawaii, where he died in 1989.

A Hawaii court later found him liable for human rights violations and awarded $2 billion from his estate to compensate more than 9,000 Filipinos who filed a lawsuit against him for torture, incarceration, extrajudicial killings and disappearances.

His widow, Imelda Marcos, and her children were allowed to return to the Philippines in 1991, paving the way for the family’s political comeback.

Jia plans to focus her Philippines coverage on a broad range of topics including human rights issues and cultural affairs that will provide a window into the country.

“I think a lot of times, especially with Asia, there are so many political and strategic angles that overpower other issues,” she says. “I want to do the types of stories that bring it all together by using culture, which might make it easier for people to digest.”

She also hopes to increase our outreach to the local Filipino community. She started over the weekend by attending the inaugural Filipino Cultural Summit at Leeward Community College.

“I actually would tend to have as big of a spread of topics as I can because that is a way I think I can bridge audiences together,” she says.

If you have a story idea for Jia, don’t hesitate to reach out to her at .

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