After dropping out of high school in the Philippines, Angel Ramos made the arduous 17-day trip by boat to Hawaii to reunite with his uncle and brother. Ramos worked tirelessly at the Kahuku Sugar Mill from 1949 until it closed in 1971. He and his wife raised 13 children, all of whom were born on the plantation, and is happy to call the islands his home.
Ramos was one of many Filipino plantation workers, also known as sakadas, honored Friday by Gov. David Ige and several legislators in a ceremony to proclaim every Dec. 20 as Sakada Day.
The ceremony marked the significance of the arrival on Dec. 20, 1906, of the first 15 Filipino plantation workers, who eventually "paved the way for the great legacy of the Filipino community in Hawaii," according to legislation passed in the state House and Senate and signed by the governor.
"The immigrants from the Philippines who came to work on the plantations, like so many other groups, came and were welcomed to Hawaii and have added so much to our community, to the vibrancy of our cultural traditions," Ige said at Friday’s ceremony. "As you know, they (Filipinos) continue to come even today and add so much vitality and cultural richness to our community."
Several legislators, including Senate President Ron Kouchi; Sen. Will Espero; and Reps. John Mizuno, Joy San Buenaventura, Henry Aquino and Romy Cachola, also touted the sakadas as hard workers, who future generations should continue to honor and recognize.
"It was a very hard life as a sugar worker," said San Buenaventura (D, Puna), whose grandfather settled in Hawaii around 1918 to work in the Maui sugar fields. "Their struggles, their losses and the legacy they leave behind — we are beneficiaries of them."
The early 1900s marked the start of a campaign by the Hawaiian Sugar Planters’ Association to recruit Filipino farm laborers to work on the state’s thriving sugar plantations, where waves of Chinese, Japanese and Korean workers had already settled. Between 1906 and 1934, about 120,000 Filipino farm workers arrived in Hawaii.
Many sakadas came to Hawaii for a better life for their families.
"You don’t have to be rich. It’s what you give from your heart," said Carol Ramos, Angel Ramos’ second-oldest child, who recalls growing up on the plantation and always doing what was best for the entire family. She said she is proud of her parents for instilling the value of hard work in her and her siblings.
Angel Ramos, 86, who still lives in Kahuku and remembers working eight-hour shifts every day as a laboratory analyst and machinist at the plantation, emphasized the importance of preserving the history and stories of the sakadas.
"Don’t forget us. Don’t forget our forbearers," Ramos said. "We learn from them."