Molokai Honors Sakadas at Centennial Celebration
At 15 years old, Enrique Toquib Molina arrived in Hawaii and stepped off a boat which bore a name he couldn’t read. In his hand was a rattan suitcase filled with three pants and three shirts. The year was 1929.
“Hawaii was the place I wanted to go to,” Molina said. “There were promises of a better life, where I would be able to make money and start a new life.”
Molina’s new life began in Hilo, Hawaii, but he was destined for Moloka’i. In 1935, he was told about an island called Moloka’i, where there were more jobs and the living conditions were better. He accepted work with the Libby McNeil Company in the pineapple fields. They worked hard, long hours, and were paid less than a dollar a day.
Molina worked for 42 years in the pineapple fields. After he retired, he worked as a janitor at the Misaki Store in Kaunakakai, and then accepted custodial jobs with two banks.
Molina continued working till he was 83.
Molina is just one of 125,000 Filipinos brought to Hawaii by the Hawaiian Sugar Planters Association between 1906 and 1946. These workers had no idea what to expect from Hawaii, other than long, hard work. Most suffered not only the pain of leaving their culture and families behind, but also the pain that came from discrimination and prejudice because of the differences in their culture, manners, and speech.
By the 1920s, Filipinos became the backbone of the sugar and pineapple industries, outnumbering all other ethnic groups. These first workers carry a special place in the hearts of Filipinos in Hawaii, as it is through their dedication, hard-work, sacrifice, and perseverance that the Filipino community of Hawaii is what it is today.
They are called the Sakadas, and this year marks the 100th Anniversary of their arrival.
On Saturday, at the Mitchell Pauole Center, hundreds from the community and many representatives from Hawaii’s political arena gathered to celebrate and honor the Sakadas.
“It’s up to us to continue their work – they laid the foundation – and strive for the betterment of the Filipino community,” Rowena Dagdag, Vice President of the United Filipino Council of Hawaii, said in a moving introductory speech.
Today, at 98, Molina is one of the two oldest living Sakadas on Moloka’i. Juan Nervaza, also 98, is the other oldest living Sakada.
The two gentlemen were honored each with a medallion, presented by Congressman Ed Case. Inscribed upon the medallion were the words, “Lucky You Live Hawaii.”
Several of Nervaza’s 12 children came to witness the event, some traveling from Honolulu and Maui.
“Our Dad is one true hard worker,” Nervaza’s daughter, Florence Pelekai, said, reflecting on the past. “He wanted what was best for us; he wanted us to have a better life than him.”
Nervaza came to Hawaii two years before Molina, in 1927, to work in the sugar cane fields in Honolulu. Nearly 15 years later, he came to Moloka’i and worked in the pineapple fields of Maunaloa. Just after he arrived, Nervaza witnessed the bombing of Pearl Harbor. He remembers hearing the explosions and seeing the lights from the bombs.
At the Moloka’i Centennial Celebration all Sakadas were paid tribute. A Memory Wall listed all the known Sakadas, both living and those who have passed away. Booths commemorating Sakadas filled the center to the brim.
For many, it was like walking into a family album Generations upon generations were gathered in groups, looking into the future with shining smiles. Poems, letters, historical accounts, and messages like “Our number #1 Papa” proclaimed the pride and respect Filipino families have for their Sakadas.
But the fun didn’t stop there. Long lines formed for food plates of mouth-watering manapua, pancit, lumpia, cascaron, and kutsinta. Tables exhibited museum-quality hand-crafted items such as wine baskets, jewelry boxes, and woven hats.
Outside, upon a narrow bench, a Filipino folk dance from the province of Pangosinan was performed. The dance couple energetically swirled and twirled upon the foot-long expanse as if it was the biggest dance floor in the world. At one point, the female dancer, Estrelita Cabael Cacatian, was swung up high and spun around. To the delight of the crowd, she landed like a feather upon her toes.
The dazzling events of the night continued on, with special messages from US. Senator Dan Akaka, U.S. Congressman Ed Case, Filipino Centennial Celebration Chairman Vince Bagoyo, and Councilman Danny Mateo. Intermixed was more entertainment from Tanya Manaba-Will, Former Miss Moloka’fi Filipina, and Dagdag
Jordan Segundo crooned to the audience under a starlit sky, making at least one young community member swoon to the ground.
Guest speaker Governor Linda Lingle took center stage and shared about a trip she recently took to the Phillipines with Felix and Cresencia Befitel of Moloka’i.
“The entire town came out,” Lingle recounted. “They hadn’t been back for 40 years, but it was like we were all family.”
Lingle first met the Befitels in the late 1970s, when she rented a room from them in Ranch Camp.
“I was able to watch first hand the sacrifices they made for their children,” Lingle said of the Befitels. “They worked literally day and night for the children. Not because their life would be better, but because their children would have better lives. They did anything for their children, and I admire them for that.”
“All the Filipino young people in this state must gain a new understanding, a pride, and respect for their heritage — and a gratitude for what their ancestors did for them,” Lingle said.
“For the non-Filipinos, we must have an understanding and respect for the Filipinos of Hawaii, and what they have done for the economy of Hawaii.”
In the fast-paced society of today, it’s not often that we step back to marvel and honor the efforts of our predecessors. This is one of those times, and that honor goes to Molokai’s Sakadas.
Maraming Salamat Po.