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Islanders in the Empire

Filipino and Puerto Rican Laborers in Hawai‘i

JoAnne Poblete

Publication Year: 2014

In the early 1900s, workers from new U.S. colonies in the Philippines and Puerto Rico held unusual legal status. Denied citizenship, they nonetheless had the right to move freely in and out of U.S. jurisdiction. As a result, Filipinos and Puerto Ricans could seek jobs in the United States and its territories despite the anti-immigration policies in place at the time.JoAnna Poblete's Islanders in the Empire: Filipino and Puerto Rican Laborers in Hawai'i takes an in-depth look at how the two groups fared in a third new colony, Hawai'i. Using plantation documents, missionary records, government documents, and oral histories, Poblete analyzes how the workers interacted with Hawaiian government structures and businesses, how U.S. policies for colonial workers differed from those for citizens or foreigners, and how policies aided corporate and imperial interests.A rare tandem study of two groups at work on foreign soil, Islanders in the Empire offers a new perspective on American imperialism and labor issues of the era.

Published by: University of Illinois Press

Series: The Asian American Experience


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Title Page, Copyright Page, Dedication

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pp. ix-xii

For more than ten years of my life, I have been lucky to work with many amazing people to develop, create, and publish this project. I was fortunate to gain critical funding for this multisite research effort from a variety of programs and institutions, including the UC Pacific Rim Research...

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Introduction: Defining U.S. Colonial Experiences: The Long History of U.S. Expansionism

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pp. 1-24

In 1901, Puerto Rican Alberto E. Minvielle played overlapping and contradictory roles as a hospital assistant, interpreter, and general helper for the Ola‘a plantation on the east side of the island of Hawai‘i while also unofficially leading Puerto Rican laborers at this location and contributing...

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1. Letters Home: The Failure of Puerto Rican Recruitment

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pp. 25-46

On August 7 and 8, 1899, the San Ciriaco hurricane swept through Puerto Rico with winds up to one hundred miles per hour. Twenty-eight days of torrential rain caused approximately thirty-four hundred fatalities, massive flooding, and at least $7 million dollars in agricultural damage. Tens...

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2. Flexible and Accomodating: Successful Recruitment and Renention of Filipinos

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pp. 47-74

On January 8, 1921, Matias Miguel arrived at the Port of Honolulu as a sugar plantation labor recruit from San Nicolas, Ilocos Norte, Philippines. In 1926, he returned to the Philippines to get married, then traveled back to the Hawaiian Islands with his wife Lorraine that same year. In 1930...

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3. Indefinite Dependence: U.S. Control over Puerto Rican Labor Complaints

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pp. 75-94

In 1919, after eighteen years of difficult sugar plantation field work, Pedro Guzman signed a labor complaint with twenty-five other Puerto Ricans at the Honoka‘a plantation about twenty-eight miles up the coast from Hakalau on the island of Hawai‘i. During this era of growing immigration...

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4. Tensions of Colonial Cooperation: Philippine Authority over Labor Complaints

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pp. 95-120

When boiling tar accidentally fell on Victorino Laino’s leg while he worked at the Ola‘a plantation, Laino sent a complaint about his treatment to Cayetano Ligot. As the new Philippine resident labor commissioner living and working in Honolulu, Ligot read Laino’s letter in his Honolulu office...

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5. Conflicting Convictions; Filipino Ethnic Minister Interactions with the Plantation Community

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pp. 121-138

In reaction to the low value of sugar in 1921, Hawai‘i sugar plantations cut worker wages up to 20 percent. Before such pay reductions, intra-colonial Filipino laborers already struggled to save enough of their salary to send monetary remittances to their loved ones in the Philippines. These...

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6. Limited Leadership: Roles of Puerto Rican Labor Agents in the Plantation Community

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pp. 139-162

In 1901, many Puerto Ricans on the island of Hawai‘i approached Florentin Souza for help. He said, “Knowing their country, their habits and their language, the Porto Ricans have found their way to me, with a great variety of requests.”1 As Spanish speakers in the English-speaking U.S. Territory...

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Conclusion: Current Struggles against U.S. Colonialism and Empire

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pp. 163-172

Islanders in the Empire challenges studies of U.S. history to move beyond the standard narrative that centers on the forty-eight contiguous states. Most people view the history of sugar plantation labor in Hawai‘i as an interesting sidebar to U.S. history. Such a marginalization of this chain of...


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pp. 173-198

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 199-216


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pp. 217-228

About the Author, Series Page, Publisher Notes

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E-ISBN-13: 9780252096471
E-ISBN-10: 0252096479
Print-ISBN-13: 9780252038297

Page Count: 248
Publication Year: 2014

Series Title: The Asian American Experience
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OCLC Number: 885892954
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Islanders in the Empire

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Migrant agricultural laborers -- Hawaii -- History.
  • Migrant agricultural laborers -- Government policy -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Migrant labor -- Government policy -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Puerto Ricans -- Hawaii -- History -- 20th century.
  • Filipinos -- Hawai -- History -- 20th century.
  • Puerto Ricans -- Legal status, laws, etc. -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Filipinos -- Legal status, laws, etc. -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Labor mobility -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
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