Gathering Places


Hawaii’s Filipinos
have finally arrived

The $14 million Filipino Community Center, or FilCom for short, will be inaugurated amid much excitement in a weeklong celebration tomorrow through June 15, appropriately called "Mabuhay Week." Adding to the significance of the occasion is the observance of the 104th anniversary of Philippine Independence on June 12.

Much of the celebration will be symbolic. The center has become an icon of sorts: a dream come true, a symbol of ethnic pride, an embodiment of collective Filipino consciousness in Hawaii. It debunks the stereotype that Filipinos in Hawaii are fragmented by ethnic diversities and regional loyalties. Here at last is proof that they can get their act together and achieve something that has eluded larger and richer Filipino communities on the mainland.

These accolades are richly deserved. The center's completion took several years of dreaming, planning, beating the bushes, fund-raising and hard work by a small but dedicated core of Filipino community leaders like Roland Casamina, Eddie Flores Jr., Lito Alcantra, Rose Churma and others too numerous to mention. "What would evolve as the FilCom Center," recalls Churma, an architect, "was an enthusiastic group of dreamers with very little resources, no land, no organization, no plan of action -- just big dreams and the audacity to believe that it will happen."

The breakthrough came in 1995 when AMFAC/JMB phased out its Waipahu sugar mill and two acres were donated to the center project. Construction began in December 2000.

By the mid-1990s, professional fundraisers were brought in and the city released $500,000 for the building's planning and design. The Filipino American League of Engineers and Architects reviewed the initial designs. Emme Tomimbang produced a video. Casamina's sister, Edith, and her husband, Roland Pascua, led volunteer groups to collect pledges and contributions. The state eventually kicked in a $1.5 million grant. The Consuelo Foundation, named after Filipina philantrophist Consuelo Zobel Alger, made a $500,000 donation.

The high point came in February 2001 when the Weinberg Foundation donated $3 million. Churma stayed up all night writing the grant and was incredulous. "It's not everyday that one can say, 'Yeah, I wrote a grant for three million!'"

It probably has not dawned on the Filipino community yet that beyond the material aspects of FilCom is a social dimension that, over time, will increase Filipino visibility in the larger scheme of Hawaii politics. The 2000 census lists 170,000 Filipinos, or 14 percent of the state population. This is clearly a gross underestimate, if not a mistake, because the 1990 figure was already 168,000. In any case, the latest census allowed a new category of "mixed-race," such as Filipino-Chinese, Filipino-Hawaiians and Filipino-Caucasians. Taken together, the Filipino total for single and multiple-race categories rises to 275,728, or 22.8 percent of the population.

Implicit in these numbers is the concept of "social capital," defined as the ability to gain access to needed resources by virtue of membership in larger social structures and networks.

"I think the Filipino community has so much 'social capital' which it doesn't yet fully realize it has," notes University of Hawaii ethnic studies professor Dean Alegado. "It should use it skillfully, the way the leaders and supporters of FilCom have."

The Filipino community has come of age, no longer the "invisible" or "forgotten minority." With the launching of its proud center, the more challenging task of achieving real Filipino empowerment can begin.

Belinda A. Aquino is professor of political science
and director of the Center for Philippine Studies
at the University of Hawaii.

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