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Reviewed by:
  • Building Filipino Hawai‘i by Roderick N. Labrador
  • James Sobredo, Associate Professor
Building Filipino Hawai‘i. By Roderick N. Labrador. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2015. Xiii + 170 pp. Illustrated. Notes. Bibliography. Index. $90.00 cloth; $30.00 paper

The Filipino Community Center (FilCom Center) in Waipahu, Hawai‘i is the largest community project brought to fruition by Filipinos in the United States. It is surprising that a community center of this size was constructed in Hawai‘i, a society with a long history and background of plantation labor and working-class demographics. The largest Filipino center in America was constructed in Hawai‘i, instead of the “Mainland,” where the socio-economic resources of Filipinos in the San Francisco Bay area, Los Angeles-Long Beach metropolitan area, San Diego area, Seattle and King County, Chicago, and New York/New Jersey area are at a much higher income level.

At first glance, Labrador’s Building Filipino Hawai‘i is about the FilCom Center and its central role as an “overlapping architecture” in the redefining of the identity of the Filipinos in Hawai‘i. The Center symbolizes the transition of Filipinos from being immigrant sakadas (plantation workers) to legitimized and insider “Locals” in Hawai‘i. [End Page 156]

In Hawai‘i, there are mainly three social constructions of Filipinos: immigrant, Local and Mainlander. Labrador does an excellent job of analyzing and discussing the overlapping narratives and historical forces that collide and overlap in building the FilCom Center, which was constructed on property near the former administrative site of the plantation colonizer’s headquarter, the O‘ahu Sugar Company. Ironically, the architecture of the FilCom Center adapted the colonial Spanish motif found in Manila’s Intramuros (the “Walled City” of the Spanish colonizers) and the wealthy homes of Vigan’s elite in Ilocos Sur. The Center invokes memories of the Bahay na bato (“stone house”) homes of the Philippine elites, instead of the bamboo and nipa palm, thatched roof homes (bahay kubo) of rural Filipinos.

In adapting the more privileged Spanish architecture of the Philippines, the Center symbolizes middle-class and indeed “high brow” Filipino culture to mark its departure from a long history of working-class, plantation life and culture. Labrador skillfully discusses how these histories, cultural ideologies, and “architectures” overlap and collide as they compete to redefine what it means to be Filipino in Hawai‘i.

However, Labrador’s book is also a discussion on how the culture of “Mock Filipino” comedy, especially the “Local” comedy of Frank De Lima and DaBraddahs, is not “so p/funny.” Mock Filipino comedy, which is quite popular in tourist shows in Waikïkï, depends on the presumption of Hawai‘i as a “multicultural paradise,” where everyone is somewhat equal and, thus, it is permissible to “mock” Filipinos utilizing common racial stereotypes. Local comedians mock Filipinos for their “fresh-off-the-boatness,” and the assumption that Filipinos “eat dog and goats,” speak with a “heavy Filipino accent,” which also implies that they lack English language skills and comprehension, and they occupy “multiple low-wage and low-prestige jobs” (p. 59). Labrador notes that these “jokes” would be seen as racially offensive in the Mainland but are accepted in “Local comedy” and “multicultural paradise” of Hawai‘i. As one Local comedian explains: “On the Mainland, you can’t do ethnic jokes, people get all offended … But us local people … we real open, we share everything…We can laugh at ourselves” (p. 68). Furthermore, one Mock Filipino comedian argues, it is only the immigrant Filipinos who find the Filipino jokes offensive; in contrast, the “Local” Filipinos understand the jokes and are not offended.

Finally, Labrador examines the role of Filipino language (that is, Tagalog) in the construction of Filipino identity and politics and how they in turn influence each other. He focuses on the Katipunan Club, a Filipino/Tagalog language club at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, as his case study and interviewed Gabrielle, one of that Club’s student leaders, who organized a “Rediscovering Filipino Identity” conference in 2002. Gabrielle shared that [End Page 157] “Growing up, I wanted to be anything but Filipino. I didn’t want people to know...


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