FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Leonides Ramones poses with a photo of the Waialua Sugar Mill at his home in Waialua. He came to Hawaii from Ilocos Norte when he was 20 years old.
Filipinos look back
Immigrant laborers recall their tough start in Hawaii as Plantation Village turns to the sakada experience
PENNILESS, Leonides Ramones set sail aboard the SS Maunawili for 17 days from the Philippines to Hawaii in March 1946 to work in the plantation fields.
"That was my intent -- to work and gain a better life," Ramones said.
Ramones and other sakadas (Filipino contract plantation workers) will share their struggles and experiences of working and living on a plantation at the event "Relive the Plantation Days: Celebrating the Filipino Heritage Group" at Hawaii's Plantation Village in Waipahu on Saturday.
Since the beginning of the year, the plantation village has focused on a different ethnic group every first Saturday of the month. This week's focus on Filipinos also ties into the year-long festivities celebrating the 100th anniversary of Filipino immigration to Hawaii.
Studying up to the fourth grade in the Philippines during World War II, Ramones said he could not speak English when he arrived in Hawaii as a 20-year-old to work at the Waialua Agricultural Co., later called the Waialua Sugar Co.
"We were very poor," he said.
He worked eight hours a day, six days a week, for 49 cents per hour. Ramones said he and other laborers took part in strikes calling for better wages, a 40-hour workweek and overtime. "Every strike, we gain," he said.
Ramones eventually became a supervisor overseeing new workers, most of whom were local-born. After 39 years with the company, he retired in 1985.
Now 80, Ramones owns two homes in Waialua, including the one he resides in. Framed photos of his only son, Edwin -- founding member of the group the Krush, known for songs such as "Waialua Sky" and "More and More" -- and of his seven grandchildren adorn the glass cabinet in his living room.
"It's amazing how much knowledge he has. He loves to read. It was self-attained," Edwin Ramones said of his father.
Leonides Ramones said he is grateful he made the decision to move to Hawaii 60 years ago. "What I have today, I'm very thankful. To be brave and honest is a result of what I am today," he said.
Like Ramones, Angel Ramos of Kahuku arrived during the second wave of Filipino immigration to Hawaii.
Ramos, of Ilocos Norte, was 17 when he arrived, on the same ship as Ramones but a month later.
He said he claimed to be 18 so he could work in Hawaii, also the destination for his father and uncle, who came as plantation laborers before he did.
In the Philippines, Ramos' uncle had told him Hawaii was a good place to live. But "he didn't tell us about the hard work," he said, laughing.
Ramos started as a laborer in Haiku, Maui, picking pineapples. He later moved to the Kahuku Plantation Co., where he started as a laboratory analyst and later became a journeyman machinist.
"Everything was self-taught," said Ramos, 77. "We make the parts. ... If you make a screw or make a knot or fabricate a metal, that's what we did."
He spent 21 years working at the sugar mill before it shut down in 1971.
Life on the plantation was "laid back," he said.
"Everybody knew each other. We were all friends. We all worked together. It was like one big family. Whether they were Portuguese, Puerto Rican, Hawaiian, Japanese, we were all one," Ramos recalled.
He said he had saved a lot of memorabilia from his days on the plantation. Some items in his collection include photos, cane knives, "kau kau" tins and plantation field maps. "I have a plantation collection. Anything that deals with the plantation worker, I have it," he said.
"Relive the Plantation Days: Celebrating the Filipino Heritage Group"
Sakadas Leonides Ramones, Angel Ramos and others will share their experience working and living on a plantation for a panel called "The Sakada Legacy" to be held at 12:30 p.m. Saturday in Hawaii's Plantation Village's social hall in Waipahu.
When: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday
Where: Hawaii's Plantation Village, 94-095 Waipahu St.
Cost: $7 general admission, $4 for kamaaina and military (with ID), no charge for children 12 and younger or Hawaii Plantation Village members
Saturday at Hawaii Plantation Village:
» 10:30 a.m. Moira Maeda-Nakamine tells "local-style" ghost stories for children and families.
» 11:30 a.m. Authors Mike and Karen Yamamoto share excerpts from their book "Waipahu ... Recollections of a Sugar Plantation Community in Hawaii." Singers, dancers and escrima students will perform throughout the plantation village during the event. Attendees can also visit the Filipino family house to dress in Philippine costumes and have their photo taken (for a fee).
Other activities include mah-jongg, bonsai and plantation plant display, taro demonstration, Hawaiian crafts and hula, origami crafts, buzz saw game; fish and release in the plantation village's pond.
The Goro Arakawa Exhibit Rooms in the Okada Educational Center featuring the display "From the Philippines to the Plantation and Beyond" will be open for attendees.