For 50 years, Operation Manong has been helping boost diversity in higher education

For 50 years, Operation Manong has been helping boost diversity in higher education
Published: Nov. 27, 2022 at 4:31 PM HST|Updated: Nov. 27, 2022 at 8:32 PM HST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The state’s first university program to address diversity and equal access to higher education celebrates its 50th anniversary.

A group of community leaders and members of the University of Hawaii at Manoa created Operation Manong in 1972 to help newly arrived immigrant children of Filipino and Pacific Islander heritage build confidence and a path to college and career.

“They were really being bullied and harassed and really needed a little extra support. And our college students wanted to be that to be Manongs, older brothers and older sisters,” said co-founder Amy Agbayani.

Manong and manang translate to older brother and older sister in Ilocano, a language spoken in northern Philippines.

“It’s a term of respect. But at the time, 50 years ago, it was used in a derogatory way. It’s a put down on the elderly, Filipino plantation workers in A’ala park and elsewhere. And so they would fight when you call a Filipino kid manong. So we said no, let’s use it the correct way. The term of respect and honor for our older brothers and basically the first Filipinos they came to Hawaii,” she explained.

“As an immigrant myself, I was born in the Philippines. And we needed some help along the way. And it was a way for, for us who have been in the system and kind of knew the ropes to share that experience with new students from the Philippines, and also locals that were born here who are not really doing that well,” said Rommel de la Cruz, a mentor alumni who was attending the UH school of public health. He moved to Hilo at the age of 8 more than 70 years ago and lived on a plantation.

“We also contributed the betterment and the adaptability of new immigrants that came not only from the Philippines from other parts of the world as well,” he said.

“It’s programs like these that helped to cultivate and facilitate those transition, especially to higher ed, because it does so much change, right?” said student alumni Leon Florendo, who became the first and only one in his family to go to college and is now an educator himself at Leeward Community College. “When you ask, what does this program mean to me, it means everything, it’s who I am. It’s what I do. And I’m so grateful for that.”

In 2000, the program became the Office of Multicultural Student Services and still advocates for inclusion and social justice.

Mentors and student alumni of the program gathered for a reunion to celebrate the milestone at the Filipino Community Center. Many are now judges, lawyers, engineers, educators, and medical professionals.