Filipinos celebrate first hundred years

LIHU‘E n Saturday was a time for celebration, but with underlying feelings that kept hearts from truly rejoicing.

Florencio Agcaoili was a Filipino migrant who was among the participants of the Filipino Centennial Parade that started a two-day celebration at the convention hall.

“He (Florencio) came to Hawai‘i in 1946,” said a friend of the family who was trying to assemble the huge group of family members. “He and his brother Manuel came here from Vintar in the Philippines, and his brother would’ve been here today, but he has cancer.”

Coinciding with the American Cancer Society’s annual “Relay for Life” event, many of the centennial celebrants could not whole-heartedly enjoy the celebration as they remembered their personal friends and family who have been affected by cancer.

“One of my relatives died of cancer,” said Sonia Topenio, one of the leaders of the Filipino celebration. “I should be at the Relay (for Life). In fact, I’m going to be there before 5 p.m. But I need to be here, too.”

The juggling of schedules due to two major events was not an isolated one as Cathy Agoot, one of the vendors at the Filipino Fiesta that took place following the parade, said she would be making her way to Hanapepe Stadium for the Relay for Life as well.

Agoot, who is part of the county’s team, said last year her brother came here from the mainland to be part of the Kaua‘i event.

“He was walking for a friend who was a cancer victim,” Agoot said. “Between then, and now, he was recently diagnosed with cancer, too. But he said he was still coming for the Walk, and I’ll see him tonight.”

The somber overtones were brightened by the color, music and dance that painted Rice Street as the Santa Cruz unit highlighted the parade that opened up the Filipino Centennial celebration.

Sheryl Visitacion and Elizabeth Lagundino are ninth-grade students from the Waimea High School Junior ROTC Saber Unit that performed in the parade as well.

“The other people are at a field day on O‘ahu, but we’re Filipinos so some of us are here,” Lagundino said. “This was not easy. I have a blister from all the (saber) twirling.”

The Waimea Junior ROTC also fielded a color guard for the event as did the 150th ACS, which presented its all-girl color guard that included Margaret Nunes, Kehau Kato, Grace Bacsain, and Ronnie Ramos.

At the convention hall, Jennifer Gonzales, deputy executive director for the Commission on Filipinos Overseas, was kept busy by the steady stream of people who stopped by to inspect her offerings that included a variety of information for Filipinos and the programs that are available to them.

Gonzales was also showing off some postage material that came out of a commemorative contest.

The Hawai‘i Centennial Committee launched a Hawai‘i centennial commemorative stamp design competition in the Philippines in September, 2005, to generate public awareness on the centennial of Filipino migration to Hawai‘i.

Promising Filipino artists, designers, illustrators, and students came together in interpreting “100 Years: The Filipino Legacy in Hawai‘i.”

Baptiste was the guest of honor when winners of the competition were announced in the lobby of the Manila Central Post Office.

“I remember the ceremony. It was in the lobby of their biggest post office where the winning entries were on display.”

Baptiste initiated a Kaua‘i contest that resulted in special Filipino Centennial stamps that are currently available in the Philippines.

Entries came from both students and professionals, and Gonzales had sheets and first-day issues of the resulting postage materials. People eagerly snatched up the collector items with Gonzales reminding them that it can only be used in the Philippines.

Among the features of the art exhibit which will still be available when the Filipino Fiesta reopens this morning is the history of Filipino migration to Hawai‘i since the ship SS Doric docked at Honolulu on Dec. 20, 1906, carrying 15 Filipinos along with a handful of Chinese, Japanese, and Sikhs.

The artwork exhibit includes 175 entries to the Hawai‘i Centennial Stamp Design Competition and also adds the 10 winning entries to the Hawai‘i Centennial Editorial Cartoon Competition, many of which include not only the original submission, but a published copy as well.

When the 15 Filipinos set foot in Hawai‘i, 11 were single, four were married with the oldest member being 56 years old and the youngest being 14 years old.

All came from the coastal area of Candon in Ilocos Sur, and none of them knew they were making history by being the first group of Filipinos to settle in Hawai‘i.

Two months after the Dec. 20 arrival, the second group of recruits from the Philippines touched Hawai‘i. This group of 30 Filipinos arrived on Feb. 27, 1907 and included two women and two children.

This was followed by the third group, which arrived on July 19, and included 43 recruits including eight women and eight children.

Today, the United States of America hosts more than 2.7 million Filipinos, nearly 276,000 of whom reside in Hawai‘i, according to information in one of the handouts made available by Gonzales.

That accounts for 24 percent of Hawai‘i’s population who have made a permanent mark in the state’s political, economic and cultural life.

The Filipino migration to Hawai‘i paved the way for the continued migration of Filipinos to the United States of America where it has provided opportunities for self-fulfillment, determination and excellence.

The Centennial Celebration continues today highlighted by the finals of the Texas Hold ‘Em poker tournament that can earn the winner a trip to Las Vegas.

Additionally, a second show for the Society of Seven will take place this evening before the entertainment group leaves for a world tour.

• Dennis Fujimoto, photographer and staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 253) and dfujimoto@kauaipubco.com

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