ROD THOMPSON / RTHOMPSON@STARBULLETIN.COM
Sculptor Fred Soriano stood yesterday beside his statue of a 1906 Filipino immigrant sugar worker.
Sculptor forges people’s history
The stonecutter’s own biography reflects that of the Filipino immigrants he honors
KEAAU, Hawaii » Sculptor Fred Soriano created his statue of a self-confident Filipino immigrant sugar worker by gouging it out of a 2-ton slab of the hardest lava rock.
Then he set it up in Keaau village, south of Hilo, at a modest height where the worker will look any viewer straight in the eye.
The East Hawaii Filipino community begins a year of celebrating the 1906 arrival of the first sakada laborers in Hawaii with a ceremony and statue unveiling starting at 10 a.m. at the Keaau Village Market.
Speakers will include Gov. Linda Lingle, U.S. Rep. Ed Case, Mayor Harry Kim, Filipino Centennial Commission Chairman Elias Beniga, W.H. Shipman President William Walter, state Sen. Lorraine Inouye, sakada Marcos Julian and sculptor Fred Soriano. The event will be followed by a noon lunch with entertainment at 8 1/2 Mile Camp.
Soriano and other dignitaries were to unveil the statue formally in ceremonies fronting the Keaau Village Market at 10 a.m. today.
The occasion is one of a number of events that kick off a year-long buildup to the 100th anniversary of the arrival of the 15 sakadas, migrant contract sugar workers, at the nearby Olaa Sugar Mill in December 1906.
The story has been told that the workers came to Hawaii to escape poverty, found a life of hard work and often spent their lives here without wives and family, Soriano said.
The story is only partly true, said Soriano, an amateur sculptor and sociology professor at the University of Hawaii at Hilo.
Workers were already moving from one plantation to another in the Philippines in 1906 when the first sakadas came to Hawaii. Often the motivation was not poverty, but adventure, Soriano said.
On a marble slab at the base of Soriano's sculpture are 15 names of the original sakadas. But the first name, Marciano Bello, was really Feliciano Bello, Soriano said. He was only 17, too young for a work permit, so he adopted another man's identity and had "Marciano" tattooed on his arm, Soriano said.
Plantation management knew him by that name. His friends knew him by his real name.
The sculptor's own father, Irenio Jose Soriano, was also 17 when he came to Hawaii in 1925, so he borrowed the name of Juan Pasion.
Irenio's family had enough land to support them in the Philippines, Soriano said. He came to Hawaii for adventure.
Another stereotype is the harsh luna, or overseer. But Irenio became a luna, too, and used his sixth-grade education to help illiterate Filipinos, writing letters for them at their request and adding his name to their bank accounts and even property deeds.
In the late 1940s, when a series of strikes took place, Irenio was part of management, but he told his children, "You've got to respect the strikers."
In his own youth, Soriano was urged to study hard but also to do manual labor on the family coffee farm.
His interests led him to become a social worker, then obtain a doctorate in sociology so he could teach. But he also had recurring dreams in his childhood of becoming a sculptor.
He has being doing human figures in stone for six years.
Soriano took a year to transform a 2-ton rock into the 600-pound sakada statue, grinding it with "many, many, many" diamond blades. It represents the "struggle and determination" in the family stories he tells, he says.
Soriano also has a Zen description for the sculpture. Waves crash on the rock, he said, but the rock retains its identity down to its last particle. The same is true of Filipinos, he said.