>January 1, 2006, 5:45 a.m., Sunday Morning
People thought we were crazy. The morning after celebrating New Year’s should be spent in bed, sleeping and recovering from all of the the champagne and fireworks. While people were fast asleep, a number of us woke up in the wee hours of the morning to take part in a 30-mile walk in commemorating the first 100 years of Filipinos in the islands. The walk was to honor the Sakada, contract laborers brought to work in the sugar and pineapple plantations of Hawaii, and was the first Filipino Centennial event of the year.
Walkers began their journey at the Paia Mill and headed toward the Puunene Mill near Kahului. From there, they treaded toward Honoapiilani Highway and on to Lahaina, finishing the walk at Pionneer Mill. My dad(in the grey sweater and shorts)and his friends participated in the walk. Did I walk?..No. I should’ve though. My dad had a great time walking and talking with his friends, and being sneaky by cutting through the sugar cane fields. The “Deputy” joined my dad at the last leg of the walk and enjoyed it as well. I was actually working with a film crew and interviewing the walk participants for a documentary that Emme Tommimbang is currently working on.
My dad’s oldest brother was a Sakada from 1946 and the first one in his family to come to Hawaii. Because of him, my dad and his brothers and sisters were able to come to Hawaii and begin a new life for themselves.
What was nice about the walk was being able to see the mills up close and walking next to the sugar cane that the Sakadas once tended to. I interviewed a Sakada who pointed toward the mountain and said that he once cut cane along the mountain side. “All of that(pointing toward the mountain) was sugar cane, and I work in those fields, all day..Even Japanese, we work together,” he said.
With bare hands and a bolo knife, he and other men would cut and carry long stalks of sugar cane in the hot sun, just to be paid $1 a day. Whatever they earned was saved and sent to their families back in the Philippines.
I can only guess what my grandfather and my other uncles must have felt when they boarded their ships for Hawaii. I spoke with several people who said that they remembered a bit of chaos at the docks in Salumague (in the Philippines). There were wives, mothers, fathers, and children crying; fearing an uncertain future for their loved ones. People were taking on aliases and lying about their ages in order to board ships. But there must have been a feeling of hope among the Sakadas and their families. Hope that one day they could all live better lives…..(I’ll finish this thought later in a different blog…It doesn’t match up to the title).
Anyway, the rest of the walk was fine. I’m glad that no one got hurt, maybe a few blisters here and there. Teams made it a point to relieve members and take turns in completing different portions of the walk. Amazingly, there was one participant who completed the entire 30 mile course all by himself.
Attorney Tony Ramil (shown in the picture), felt an obligation to walk the entire course without quitting. I worried about him and often checked to see how he was doing, offering him some water and a ride to bring him closer to the finish. When I interviewed him, he told me that there were times when he thought about stopping, but was moved by the thought of Sakadas and how they never gave up. I was impressed at how determined and focused he was. He was truly an inspiration.
I guess there are several things that I observed at the walk. I saw how families and friends come together for a cause. For some reason, the walk bonded people together and some of the families did mention how close they became. I also have a different sense of appreciation for the geography of Maui. Once upon a time, plantation workers helped shape the landscape of our island. I’ll always think of the Sakadas when I look at the green leaves of sugar cane as I drive past them.
Finally, the walk served as a metaphor to me, and proved that if people worked together and moved forward together, a lot could be accomplished in such little time. There can only be so much progress by one person, but if you have a group working together, many wonderful things can happen as a result. In the next 100 years, Filipinos in Hawaii must understand that teamwork is really key to moving forward as a people.
The walk gave me inspiration to forge ahead in this new year and to keep my head up, even in the most difficult situations.
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