The first contingent of immigrant Puerto Rican sugar contract laborers — 56 in number — arrived in Honolulu aboard the S.S. City of Rio de Janeiro on Dec. 23, 1900, and were sent to Lahaina, Maui, on the steamer Lehua to work at Pioneer Mill Company.
These Puerto Rican laborers, and others to follow, had been recruited by agents of the Hawaiian Sugar Planters’ Association primarily from Adjuntas, Aguadilla, Utuado, Lares, Arecibo, Penuelas, Yauco, Ponce, and Mayaguez, Puerto Rico.
A second group of nearly 400 Puerto Rican immigrants — about half being women and children — arrived at Honolulu on Jan. 16, 1901, on board the S.S. City of Peking and were transported to Maui and the Big Island aboard the steamer Helene, or were sent to Waialua and Ewa plantations on Oahu.
It was not until Feb. 25, 1901, when the S.S. Zealandia docked in Honolulu with 765 Puerto Rican men, women and children aboard ship, that the first Puerto Rican immigrants destined for Kauai sugar plantations arrived in Hawaii.
Hawaiian Sugar Co. at Makaweli, Kauai, was allocated 40 families that sailed for Kauai aboard the steamer Waialeale.
Another 75 families assigned to Lihue Plantation made sail for Kauai on board the Hanalei.
Initial wages for field laborers were $15 monthly for men, and men were paid a bonus of 50 cents per week provided they worked a 26-day month, while women, boys and girls were paid between 35 cents and 50 cents per day. Free housing, medical care and schooling for the children was provided.
Lihue Plantation noted in March 1901 that its Puerto Rican employees, serving mainly as field laborers, were doing well.
Immigration continued and by Oct. 17, 1901, about 5,000 Puerto Ricans resided on 40 sugar plantations on Oahu, Maui, Hawaii and Kauai.
And, in the fall of 1902, Puerto Rican sugar workers were employed, not only as field hands, but also as clerks, overseers, mechanics, teamsters, wharf men, railroad men and mill hands.
Currently, around 30,000 residents of Hawaii are of Puerto Rican ancestry.