Immigration between the Philippines and Hawaii was simple at that time. The Philippines was an American colony. So there was little red tape to export Filipino men to work on American-owned plantations in Hawaii. These contract workers were called sakadas who, as older men, are known today as the manongs.
My dad joined his father and brother in the fields—primarily the sugarcane plantations on the island of Kauai. Their intent was to make money for their families in the Philippines and then return. My dad remained behind when his father and brother went home. Then, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the occupation of the Philippines prevented him from returning. He finally did go home as a 56-year-old Filipino American, and by then his father and brother had passed.
My mother, Angelita Runes LaCuesta, had a different immigration story. She came to Hawaii as a five-year-old when her family left Ilocos Sur. Her father, Jacinto Runes, was a Methodist minister who came to the islands to serve the Filipino plantation workers. Her mother died in Hawaii in her thirties. My mother never told me the exact illness that claimed her mother’s life.
Angie or Pearl, as she was called, was a sickly child. She had a bad leg and spent more time in hospitals than with her family. That might be the reason why my mother did not speak her native Ilocano fluently. However, she did understand it. She told me she spent more time with haole or white doctors and nurses than with her parents. They encouraged her to speak “proper” English. That trait was passed on to her sons. None of us speaks Ilocano and my childhood memories include seeing my parents reverting to the Filipino dialect when they wanted to say something they didn’t want their sons to understand.
Her medical history may have been my mother’s motivation for choosing a career in nursing as a young mother. My father continued as an OFW in the early years of his marriage as he was gone for months on end as a construction worker building an airfield on Midway Island. An absentee father and a working mother resulted in my two brothers and I growing up taking care of ourselves. Cooking, washing and ironing our own clothes were part of our daily chores.
I was ten years old when I became a migrant. My parents decided to leave Hawaii for Los Angeles. My father thought he could make a better living on the Mainland.
Like everything in hindsight, I sometimes wonder how my life would have turned out differently if we had not left Hawaii. My father and mother likewise probably speculated about how their lives changed by leaving the Philippines. I am grateful that they chose to pursue the American dream rooted in our Filipino and Hawaiian foundations.
Lloyd LaCuesta was the South Bay Bureau Chief of KTVU/Fox Channel 2 in the San Francisco Bay Area for more than 35 years. He retired last June 2012 and is currently an adjunct professor at San Jose State University. LaCuesta visited Badoc, Ilocos Norte in 2010 to see the village where his father grew up and to connect with relatives, only to find out that these relatives were living in San Jose, California!
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