Ethnic mix benefits
all in community
From far and wide, newcomersBy George R. Ariyoshi
to Hawaii seek better lives for
themselves and their families
Special to the Star-Bulletin
The history of immigration to Hawaii provides a classic look at people working to make a better life and, in the process, contributing to a culture that is unique among the 50 states.
Beginning in the mid-1800s when the first contract laborers came here, Hawaii's immigrants worked hard and left an indelible stamp on the lifestyles and culture of the islands. Our daily lives are influenced by the many different immigrant groups that have settled in Hawaii over the years.
Immigration to Hawaii began in earnest when Hawaii's developing sugar industry, which was threatened by the lack of a large labor force, needed cheap and reliable workers. In this case, immigration was sponsored by the receiving community and used as a means of building the economy.
King Kamehameha IV first requested a treaty between Japan and Hawaii in 1860 allowing recruitment of Japanese sugar plantation laborers. Problems soon developed, however, and immigration to Hawaii stopped for 10 years. It was King Kalakaua's visit to Japan in 1881 and his friendship with Emperor Meiji that smoothed relations and provided a new beginning for Japanese contract laborers.
Immigrants from China came in substantial numbers in the late 1800s, as did Portuguese, Germans, Russians, and Puerto Ricans. Americans and Europeans also arrived in rising numbers. And, in the first part of the 20th century, Filipino workers arrived, to be followed by Koreans in 1903, and later by immigrants from American Samoa.
Immigrants settling in Hawaii wanted to provide a better future for their children. Those who had limited educational opportunities themselves pushed their children to get an education to reach greater heights. In turn, the children of those immigrants made a better life -- for themselves and the community. That legacy is carried on through today.
When I was governor of Hawaii in the mid-1970s, a new wave of immigrants arrived on our shores. These immigrants arrived for a different reason than former immigrants. They were refugees from war-torn Indochina. When the United States government began resettling refugees from Indochina following our involvement in Vietnam, they originally wanted to send a high proportion of this group to Hawaii. As governor, I had reservations about how the state could absorb such high numbers of new immigrants. We were a small island state, with limited infrastructure in place to handle such a large influx of people at one time.
In addition, I felt that government relocation of massive numbers of immigrants have a different kind of impact on a community than those who immigrate for more traditional reasons. When the Carter Administration initially proposed the plan, I received no assurance of long-term assistance from the federal government after the first year.
I made the case that immigration should be at a level that would allow the new immigrants to be readily assimilated, thus benefiting the community as a whole. I strongly believe that immigration can provide new impetus for improving our community, but this should be relative to what the islands can absorb.
In the end, the level of immigration was at a comfortable level for the state. I feel the community benefited in the long run as did the new immigrants who settled here and added their contribution to Hawaii's unique culture.
George R. Ariyoshi was the nation's first governor
of Japanese ancestry. He was born in Honolulu on March 12, 1926. He
was a member of Hawaii's territorial House, the state Senate, lieutenant
governor then Hawaii governor from 1974-1986.
The Honolulu Star-Bulletin is counting down to year 2000 with this special series. Each month through December, we'll chronicle important eras in Hawaii's history, featuring a timeline of that particular period. Next month's installment: August 9.
About this Series
Project Editor: Lucy Young-Oda
Chief Photographer: Dean Sensui