On Sakada Day, a recognition of first Filipino immigrants to Hawaii who paved way for others

Sakada Day in Hawaii is a time to recognize the contributions of the first Filipinos who immigrated to Hawaii more than 116 years ago.
Published: Dec. 20, 2022 at 5:20 PM HST|Updated: Dec. 20, 2022 at 6:00 PM HST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) — Tuesday marks Sakada Day in Hawaii, a time to recognize the contributions of the first Filipinos who immigrated to Hawaii more than 116 years ago.

Sakada is a Filipino term for farm laborer and is used to refer to the plantation workers brought to Hawaii by the Hawaiian Sugar Planters’ Association from 1906 to 1946.

The first 15 workers were young men from Candon City in Ilocos Sur in the northern part of the Philippines.

A monument in the main square in Candon honors their memory — their legacy and many sacrifices — to leave everything to go to Hawaii and start a new life.

Inside the historic Cariño House, the story of Candon’s people is carved into a tree, memorialized in the ancestral home of Fiilpino revolutionary leader and national hero Gabriela Silang.

It’s now a museum with a section devoted to the first Sakadas from Candon, filled with artifacts donated by families — relics from a life many know nothing about.

Among them, a trunk that belonged to Severino Sagun.

His daughters — 44-year-old Fernandina, 41-year-old Agnes and 39-year old Myrna —say their father returned to Candon when he was 70 years old, married their mother and had them. He’s since passed away.

“My father is a member of the Kekaha Sugar Corporation Band. And this is my father,” said Agnes Sagun, pointing to an old picture.

“I wish to go there mam to see how he started, the beautiful places where he worked there,” said Fernandina Sagun. “He’s a good man and he sacrificed just to have us a good life.”

They don’t know much about his life as a Sakada, but strive to live with the same courage and strength.

“He has the determination to have a better life. So I know my father worked so really hard,” said Agnes Sagun, who also holds a watch their father gave them.

On the back is an inscription: “Severino Sagun 30 years loyalty service Kekaha Sugar Corporation.”

Florenzo Ramos never met his great grandfather Apolonio — who was among the first 15 Sakadas in 1906.

“Because of poor living here in the Philippines. Sometimes they recruit just go port Cabugao, go on the ship. Go there. Come what may,” Ramos said.

He passed away in Hawaii and never reunited with the family he left behind.

Port Salomague in Cabugao town is where their journey began. A monument marks the place where the first 15 boarded the SS Doric bound for Hawaii — a symbol of heartache and hope.

“The lives of their grandchildren, their great grandchildren have all been uplifted because of the sacrifices that they’ve made,” said Cabugao Mayor Josh Cobangbang. The town has had a sister-city agreement with Hawaii County since 2017.

Former Hawaii lawmaker Jun Abinsay is among the hundreds of thousands of Filipinos who benefited from that first wave of migration.

Now the jobs aren’t on plantations.

“They’re now doctors, lawyers, nurses and the like,” said Abinsay, who led the 2006 Centennial Celebration to honor 100 years and beyond of the Sakada story.

Museums, monuments, and education — both in Hawaii and in the Philippines — are all efforts to share the Sakada legacy with future generations.

“So they could appreciate even more, what those who came before us have done for us right now, they have built the road for the generations that follow them,” said Raymund Liongson, community advocate and retired educator, who recently produced “Kired: A Re-enactment of the Life of the Sakada” at the Filipino Community Center.

The hope is one day, young Filipinos from Hawaii can visit the place that started it all.

Philippine officials are planning a global homecoming event in 2024 to welcome back Ilocos Surians across the world to visit their motherland.