Hawaii Village Interpreters – 4 seniors: Esperanza Gabriel Garcia, Domingo Los Banos, Moses Pataki, Amy Sekuma
Interview by Dmae Roberts & Robynn Takayama
Disc 1 – 76:03 – 1 Track
Disc 2 – 72:48 – 3 Tracks (Second two tracks on disc. First is Gaylord Kubato of Alexander & Baldwin Sugar Museum)
DMAE: Each of you say your names starting with ‘I’m’
DOMINGO: My name is Domingo Los Banos, and I’ve been a docent here since the beginning of the camp and beyond that and I come on Wednesdays, I spend all day Wednesdays and to me it’s like reliving the days of my youth, whenever I come here. The camp is really a story of my life.
ROBYNN: Can you say which camp.
DOMINGO: I grew up on Kauai on a pineapple plantation, but it’s the same. The pineapple, the camp system for pineapple and sugar cane are the same and so we have the same stories but we concentrate on different products. But I grew up here on Oahu at Wihuwa, next to Scofield Rags and then moved to Kauai, but I grew up on Kauai. And graduated high school there and then came to university and soldiered.
DMAE: What is your nationality?
DOMINGO: I am Filipino. You can tell by my nose. I am Filipino. And my mom came from the northern part of the Philippines, so she’s very good in Yunokano, Tagalog, Visah and the three major groups. My father came from Ligasby and my father came to San Francisco as a navy man. So and they fathered seven children, five boys and the five boys have either been in World War II, Vietnam War and Korean War, so we’re a bunch of soldiers.
ROBYNN: Can you introduce yourself?
AMY: My name is Amy Sekuma and I’m Japanese. I grew up right here in Waipahu. And my dad worked in the pump department office and he used his abacus for all his work daily. And I never learned to do it. He tried to teach me but I never did learn how to do it. And my parents came late to Hawaii. I think in 1923 before the agreement that no Japanese could enter. So my dad had quit college and gone to Seattle because he had friends there and he tells us while working the salmon fishing during the summer and he had to play the organ at the Sunday school because there was no one to play that. He was a frustrated musician because people of that era, the men don’t go into music and the arts, they expected to go into medicine and law and those courses, you know? So then he came to Hawaii because my aunt was here at Hawaii at the consulate. And my mother had come with them and I have a cousin who went to kindergarten here at Hanawole school, he tells me and so she came with them to help take care, and help around the household. And then they were going to be transferred back to Japan and they didn’t want to leave a bachelor brother here and so they’re first cousins and they were married here at St. Andrews Cathedral. And so it’s kind of unusual because even my high school teachers tell me because we’re Christians. Very few Christians among the Japanese. But my mother was baptized as a child in Tokyo and so my dad is of Buddhist background but he had to become a Christian to be married at St. Andrews Cathedral, and so that’s why we ended up. And there was only one church, which was a Methodist church in Waipauhu, a Japanese language church, and so that’s where we grew up. Now it is a UCC church but it has a long history.
ESPY: I’m Esperanza Gabriel Garcia. Very Spanish but I am Filipino. And I was born and raised on the island of Kauai. We lived in a small plantation camp of eleven houses. We were multi-ethnic when we were based in that camp, but when we transferred over to Oahu, my dad was transferred over into a Spanish camp. I did not understand why it was that, but I realized our last name Gabriel, or Gabriel, was Spanish, so we were placed in a Spanish camp. Normally we are placed in Filipino camp or Japanese camp depending on your ethnicity. But we were in a Spanish camp. And this is where in the town of Waipauhu where I finished my schooling, graduated, and still live here. A walking distance from the Hawaii Plantation Village. And I joined this particular group to be a docent, never knowing what that word meant until I saw it in the dictionary it meant ‘interpretive guide’ and the only thing I could do as a guide was talk about my life as a plantation laborer’s daughter. And I come here three Mondays a month. Not the second Monday because I golf and everybody knows that. I do a lot of cooking, cooking is my ministry, and my husband supports me 100% financially so I can cook and give away that food. And so I’m involved with church, golfing, and here, cooking all the time. I give food away constantly because I love to cook. And my momma was an excellent Filipina cook. She always believed in inviting people when she did a lot of cooking, just cook. If she saw a stranger passing by she’d invite them and I used to ask Mama, ‘Why you do that Mama?’ she says oh, and she quoted the bible, I didn’t know what that meant at the time she said ‘You invite somebody who might be an angel, and you’re not aware of them.’ And when I saw that, when I became a Christian, in Hebrews 13:2, that’s exactly what she had said, but she said it in Filipino. And she loved the Lord so much that she was always a positive woman. She encouraged us to do the best things, and she always looked for the strong point of a child. And she said mine was cooking and mine was playing.
DMAE: About your parents?
ESPY: Okay. My dad was hired in the Philippines in 1926. and so he was assigned to the island of Kauai, to the town of Kekaha. The Kekaha Plantation. And he left my Mama with six children and she joined him in Kauai in 1928, but in that two-year interim period, she lost four out of the six children and two infant children within a week’s time, of dysentery. That blew her mind, she just wanted to die. She walked straight to the river to drown herself. But neighbors pulled her out and every time she tells that story goose bumps come on me and I always used to tell her ‘Mama, I’m so glad neighbors pulled you out because there were four of us that were born on Kauai and I’m the youngest of ten. So it’s like the bible story of Job, where he lost everything and then got replenished and I told Mama that’s how it is. And she was a positive woman, she never cut us down. In fact, there’s an incident about cooking that she really was an encourager because when I tried to make my first batch of cookies my Papa was the official taster, he could not bite into that cookie. My brother was the second one to eat it and he couldn’t bite it. He gave the dog the cookie and the dog spat it out because he couldn’t bite it. My brother picked it off from the floor, threw it against the wall, it bounced on the cement floor and it did not crack. And I cried, I cried Mama, the wise woman she put her arms around me and she said that’s okay, you can always make again. But she said don’t ever forget that recipe. You had the recipe for cement.
MOSES: I’m Moses Pekake. I was born on Maui. Paea, Maui, to my parents did not work for the plantation. I did not live in the plantation camp. But we were surrounded by plantation camp: Portuguese camp, Puerto Rican camp, Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, Puerto Rican. And all of my friends were plantation, my friends were all plantation. I went to school and all of the school students were plantation students. So I was surrounded with plantation life. I knew about the Japanese school that they had. I knew about the shows they used to bring from Japan to the plantation community. I used to attend all of those activities and Maui was famous for the county fair and all of those shows that came to the county fair came to the plantation village also. So we had a lot of people that act there, cultural, Chinese had their own acting shows and Japanese, and the Puerto Ricans, like Espy had mentioned, did a lot of the music, and we always had Puerto Rican music and I used to go to their shows and there was always fight, always having fight, but that was part of the Puerto Rican culture. They always had to be right with everybody else. But yes, we had Hawaiian camp also and all of my friends’ family lived in this Hawaiian camp. The community was divided, they had a lower Paea, which was the town part of Paea and upper Paea, which was the plantation part of the community. Which had a sugar mill, right close by. All of the sugarcane was surrounded around the whole community, including the area where I lived. I lived not exactly in lower Paea but about a mile away. And we lived close to the ocean, but sugarcane fields were all on the upper side. When they harvested we could tell they were ready to harvest the sugarcane field because they had flags set up and the track would come and do a fire break. They would move the sugarcane towards the center of the field and then they would start the fire. And if you’ve ever tasted burnt sugarcane, you can’t beat that. All of us can attest to that. The taste is you cannot describe the taste.
DMAE: Good or bad?
MOSES: Good. It’s tasty.
DMAE: Like caramel?
MOSES: Sweet, it’s really sweet. If you tasted the raw sugar cane first and then tasted the cooked sugarcane you can really tell the difference.
DMAE: You saw people harvesting too? Describe.
DOMINGO: I tell you the symbol in the cane field is a cane knife. It’s a broad blade with a hook so you can pick up the cane and cut. And all the fields are burn first so that you can pick up all the opalla, the dried leaves are burned out, leave only the stalk so it’s easier to cut, see? Early on, there was cutting by hand. Then eventually they came with tractors that had clippers. Machination came in. So the plantation went through manual labor through industrialization. From oxens pulling the cane to the trains and to trucks. So all the evolution of the coming of mechanization, we saw that. Biting sugar, it lasted me a whole year, my whole lifetime. I lost my two front teeth because I was chewing it. You try to break it with your teeth when you pull the cane from the cane trees, or the cane cars, and you try to bite it, to shred it. Well, that thing is hard. And so I lost my two front teeth and forever in my whole life I don’t have two front teeth. I have a plate. Do you want to see my plate?
AMY: I have all my teeth. But they are well-worn because we used to take our teeth and pull the skin out. Especially when you’re going home from school. You went to public school, you went to Japanese school at the other end of town, we had a long way to walk because we lived in the valley that goes all the way to Waiwai, the stream Waikale stream goes all the way to Waiwai. And the pump department office was there and there were about four pumps over there. So the office was there and we had a long walk home, and you’re thirsty and hungry so that’s what you did. You’d break it on the tracks, and then get the part you want to chew.
DOMINGO: For us, the pineapple field. Go out in the field early in the morning and we know just the right pineapple to pick and you cut the top and throw that away but the very bottom is where the sweetest part is. So we knew all that so we were very choicy in how we slice the pineapple. So we ate off the land.
AMY: And sugar takes about eighteen months to grow. So you can tell which fields are going to be harvested soon because of the tassels that you see on the field. Then they harvest that.
ROBYNN: Sounds like you could interact w/ the ethnicities. Were they segregated?
MOSES: We went to school together so we grew up together and I was always going to my friends’ house which was in a plantation camp. And we spent most of our time in the camps. So you get to know the lifestyle, you get to know the Puerto Rican, the Portuguese, even the Hawaiian camp. You had family. Hawaiians you can say we’re all family because sooner or later you’re going to find out that this Hawaiian family from Oregon, maybe, might be related.
DOMINGO: The great equalizer was the public school. We came and if we achieved they recognized us for what we were worth. For example, I grew up in a community where predominantly Japanese and Portuguese. But I was a good athlete. In the morning we would always play games Portuguese against the Japanese. So where do I go? They all want me. If I want to eat noodles, I go Japanese side. If I want to ride horse, I go Portuguese side. They had the horses. If I want to get a pickup truck to go to the movie I would go the Okinawan side because they had a model T ford where they would pick up the slop. So that’s how we learned to adapt to our best advantage, see? Another thing that brought us together was sports. Waipauhu had Filipino ball teams, Japanese ball teams, Puerto Rican ball teams. But when one plantation plays against another plantation, Waipauhu against Wailuke, they take the best. And there’s the mix. And the other thing that caused us to become multi-ethnic. Just imagine when a Japanese girl is washing the clothes of a Filipino man and they have to deliver the clothes. So you touch hands, you touch hearts and pretty soon you forget ethnicity and you get married and you run away to Sacramento. Exactly happened.
DMAE: Was there ethnic tension.
AMY: Not when we were growing up. And in our camp, because we were so isolated from the town, we were only two Japanese families. Behind us was a Hawaiian man with a Portuguese wife. Behind us were Portuguese, several Portuguese families, and then the boss of our area was Caucasian, name of Strolin, and his wife was Hawaiian and they had a large family. And so it was a mix. And beyond that there was a Portuguese man that had a dairy at one time and there was a Japanese camp of the people who took care of the fields around us. And they had a big public bath. And when we were growing up we’d put sweet potatoes in ashes and bake them and eat them and things like that. And we wanted to watch them milk the cows and there was a big pipeline that took the water to the fields. And we’d stand on the pipeline and watch them milk and they’d shoot milk at our faces.
MOSES: Talking about school. In those days everybody was the same. There’s no rich people, there’s no poor people, we’re all the same. But when you go to school, most of us take lunch, home lunch, and I used to take what they call Saloon Pilot Cracker (?) and jelly to school. And when we got to school we would look at maybe the Japanese and they’d bring rice so what we did was exchange with them. We gave them the cracker, we took the rice. But sometimes they don’t want to do that and so when they’re not looking we’d grab their lunch and leave the cracker there. So that was part of the fun of going to school with plantation kids.
DMAE: How many people spoke Pidgin?
ESPY: We all did. In fact, when the teachers started to hear us talk, they couldn’t make heads or tails of what we were saying because they came from the mainland, generally. We had developed a lifestyle that was so unique that whatever we said she could not listen to what we were saying at all. Like for instance, I’m going to say oh you go stay go. You go when over there. And when we say the word dakaine, you understand exactly what we’re saying. The word dakaine is universal. We mention that for everything. For example I would tell you ‘Did you see dakaine that I pointed out in the Japanese house or Filipino house or even underneath the tree?’ That’s how we used to talk. But we had to learn English eventually because that was a detriment to us.
DMAE: What is dakaine?
DOMINGO: But watch how we write. Perfect English. How we write and how we speak, two different things. My first year at Springfield college I used to apologize to my professor that I spoke in some Pidgin. He said you know, you keep that. Because every time you speak, they all listen to you. So we should not lose this Pidgin. But when we write we write perfect English.
AMY: I had a little different experience in Elementary school. They had English standard schools, like Lincoln and Roosevelt, like English standard schools in Honolulu. Well, Waipauhu is so far away they had one section, one class for each, one class for each grade and Augustine’s, Waipauhu went to fourth, fifth, sixth, and Augustine’s went only to third. But I don’t know how but some of us were selected to fill that class because I guess they didn’t have enough children to fill that English standard class. So I went to Augustine’s for six years which was a little different. I don’t think my father was too happy with that because it was farther away from where we lived. That’s what I did. Transported us. A little truck to take us to school.
DOMINGO: This phenomenon of English standard schools, that was the beginning of some segregation because the union people put a stop to that. They said you should treat everybody all together. Therefore there came a time with territorial legislation. They debunked the English standard schools and everybody had to go to the school where they were. So there was a history of that. But the main people that objected to that were the union boys, with the coming of the union. And the coming of the union is another thing that brought us together. When the Chinese struck the lunas would pull them by their pigtail early on and run them with the horses. The Portuguese women struck alone, the Japanese struck alone, but in ’46 when they harmonized all the ethnic groups we struck. And for the first time we won. We won four dollars a day, eight hours a day, equal work equal pay. From then on you pay rent for the houses and so that killed the paternalism of the managers. Where they had bands sponsored by the plantation, or boy scouts, girl scouts sponsored by the plantation, all that’s gone. It became a strictly boss and labor situation. The ’46 strike made us the highest paid agricultural workers in the world and that was the beginning of the demise of the plantation system. In ’46, ’47 when we had 48, 49 plantations and maybe five pineapple, now there’s only one plantation on Kauai, one plantation on Maui, and one plantation of sugar on Kauai, no more, it’s gone. The whole island of Lanai is wiped out. The only, oh, there’s pineapple on Maui and there’s pineapple here on Oahu.
ROBYNN: ’46 strike and community supporting the strike.
DOMINGO: I was away in college ’46. I was away. But I do know it pulled all the communities together. You see, to prepare for a strike you have hunting teams, fishing teams, soup kitchen, people who go and be the ones if they have problems you see them. We’re all mixed and as you again touch hands, touch eyes, touch hearts, you forget ethnicity and you fall in love. And as long as you have a boy and a girl together it’s going to explode. And this is part of the things that made Hawaii so unique and so united. And the fact that we’re all in a couple of islands. The only thing different with our immigration here is that we’re all slant-eyeds mostly and flatnosed. Whereas, but we’re in one island, concentrated. That’s why it becomes so dynamic. And what state in the union can boast. We had a Japanese governor followed by a Polynesian governor followed by a Filipino governor and now we have a woman governor who is a Republican and that broke the Democratic chain. But that’s the uniqueness. When you go behind the lines and say how did Hawaii with its machination, come up with a Japanese governor. How can that be? There must have been terrific cross-currents. And as you watch that that’s the keenness and that’s the magic of ‘I come from Hawaii.’ People sit up and look. And that was all built by our old, by the Filipinos, the Japanese, the old-timers who came early on and were the pioneers in making Hawaii profitable. And a place to reckon with as it comes to how to live together.
AMY: I was in college then so I offered to leave school and take a job to help. But my dad said no, continue school so I did. And one of his jobs during the strike was to work in a store, it was like a store that distributed food to families that needed. And I think the supermarket and things must have contributed like rice and canned goods and things like that and distributed them to families that needed it. Of course we were all encouraged to plant vegetables at home so we had a big backyard so we grew a lot of tomatoes and things like that and survived that way.
ROBYNN: Why not an inter-ethnic strike before ’46?
AMY: I don’t know. The Japanese struck, the Filipinos on Kauai struck first and then in the 1920s all the Japanese workers on Oahu went on strike, and that was not successful. And then the two Japanese papers supported the workers so the editors were thrown into jail. So not until as I said 1946 when they went island to island, plantation to plantation and organized all of them.
DOMINGO: That was the unity, that strike. Another item that really brought the people together – they knew that they had to pull together in order to fight the managers and that encouraged people coming together, working together and that’s a value that’s universal.
AMY: The plantations had an organization. They were the big five and they had an organization where they could pull ideas together. Whereas the workers on the plantation, each one community was by itself and there was nothing to tie them together until the strike. That was another reason I think for the strike.
ROBYNN: Describe the conditions that would make you want to strike.
AMY: I don’t know. My dad was a salaried person because he had a white-collar job so it’s hard to say but I think all the other people were suffering so we would be supportive. Because he was not in management as such.
DMAE: Were they getting by?
AMY: I think we did. And by growing a lot of the vegetables we needed. Everyone had chickens in the backyard for eggs and meats.
DMAE: Had to be farmers too.
AMY: Yeah. But you were given months of preparation time.
ESPY: What we had to do was plant our vegetables, we had to interchange some people had vegetables, you could exchange with other things, some people had chickens, some people raised pigs, and we on Kauai at that time, way before the strike we were raising goats and when we came here we had vegetables to share and I remember the strike because it was 79 days long, we had to stand in line to buy rice from the store, but mainly as a young person I remember, even the song that said ‘I owe my life to the company store’ was exactly what it was because being a plantation laborer we had to charge a lot of our groceries and that built up. Just like today with our plastic cards, that builds up and builds up so when we came to Oahu my oldest brother got a job at Pearl Harbor and because of his pay he finally paid off our bill and my mom was so grateful eventually that that bill was wiped out completely. Because it just didn’t seem that my Papa’s pay was enough to pay off the bill. Because every month you were charging and you had to survive. But after that bill was paid, somehow my mom and dad, we planted vegetables here at least a three-quarter acre farm. And we used to sell our vegetables on Sundays and save that money so when my Mama and Papa went back to the Philippines to retire and he took his retirement money, he had enough money to build two apartments in the Philippines. But before that they never could have done it if that bill was never paid up.
ROBYNN: Describe farming and plantation work.
ESPY: My dad was the only worker, apart from my brother eventually. But my Mama being very frugal, she knew how to plant vegetables between the sugar fields and use the water from the stream or the little ditch that was coming. She had a long pole, attach a one-gallon can to it, nail it, and use that as a bucket to water our vegetables. She was very innovative with that. She raised pigs, she raised cows and goats. And sold it. And because she could do a lot of good cooking people ordered food from here. And it was just awesome to watch her do that. She taught us that you can live off the land, you can still make a living from it. And that was so awesome to watch that, because as she planted plants she said it’s going to feed us and it’s going to feed others, and I believe that and that’s why I have cooking as my ministry today because you do feed people.
ROBYNN: What roles did they play on ’46?
ESPY: My dad was concerned because when they said we’re going to strike for a reason he was glad they were going to be united, going to be stronger. But we had to tighten our belts and help each other. And because my Mama was a good cook she would help cook for other people and that was so interesting because some people were not as innovative as she was. Because us Filipinos are known to eat mysteriously. Because you plant weeds in your yard, it seems, but it is food for us. So that’s how they did it. Both of them put together the resources and that’s how we survived during the strike.
DOMINGO: If you were to go to the supermarket now you will know who grew up in a plantation because they will buy these things. Two cans of corned beef, two cans of spam. Two cans of Vienna sausage, and pork and beans. That was staple, mixed with the garden things that we grew. This was how we stretched the food. This is how you know a guy comes from Hawaii, by what he buys. To this day you can say oh this guy is plantation, by what he buys.
DMAE: Was the strike hard for families?
ESPY: Not with my Mama because she has taught us that eventually when we get married, she says the first thing you have to remember is have enough food in the house to last you until the next paycheck and that’s why we never had to worry. We never starved. We always knew that we had a certain meal. Like you said it was stretched out or pulled together. But like I said my Mama was a good cook so whatever she put on that table, it was awesome.
AMY: Even during the war we were encouraged to grow our vegetables and things because everything was shipped over from the West Coast. So we even grew celery and things that normally you would not grow, to help make Hawaii self-sufficient for food. Rice and flour had to be imported but fresh things, and meats and things had to be imported. Of course they were rationed. Butter and meats were rationed during the war.
DOMINGO: How hard were the strikes? There were about three major strikes. But in some of the earliest strikes the people had to work from Waipauhu, thirty miles to Alapauk. They walk. During strikes you could not live in the camp. You got to live in tents outdoors. And during that early strike in the Japanese influenza hit. 1000 kids died. When the Filipinos struck in the ‘25s there was a big battle, a riot. I think about thirty people died. But these were all separate. Not until ’46 when they combined and stood toe to toe that they beat the plantation system. But again, that was the demise of the plantation system.
DMAE: When you were kids. Life growing up.
ESPY: The ditches were our swimming pool. It was right in our front yard. And whether it had rained or stormed I mean, my Mama knew which kid could swim, that was my brother and I, my other sisters could not. But that was so awesome because we could catch fish and whatever was in there we could eat. There was fresh seaweed that we ate and different types of fishes that we harvested and ate them too. So it was life-giving and when my Mama planted some plants around the tree and when they came back in 1973 we took them back to that camp. The camp is still in existence but no houses, but her trees had flourished. The day we arrived there all the Tamarin trees were in full-bloom and they were all harvesting, seed time. The mangoes were, and we realized that she had planted those trees near the ditch so that it got fed by water and it has sustained itself all these years. And she stood at that ditch and cried and in her Filipino dialect she said ‘I never remember leaving this place,’ cuz we were born in the houses. We had midwifery birth us. And because we were a plantation camp with only eleven houses we had games that we played with the single men and I mean we had all kind of things to do and it was never dull. We were a camp of just being family. We were multi-ethnic in that particular camp. So we ate different foods, we got to know their customs and traditions, and we got total enjoyment because we learned about each other.
DOMINGO: Talking about growing up. We all had slingshots. And the best ammunition was ripe tomatoes because you could hit someone, you don’t draw blood but it hurts like hell. We had rubber guns. We learned windage. We had fight swords. And we learned Hara-kiri. If you lost a battle, because the Filipinos had banners, we would fight against the Japanese, and when we grew up this was the time of the rape of Nanking, the rape of Manchuria, the invasion of Burma. So the boys that we played with had comics and magazines of war, of the navy, of the Japanese navy and Imperial army. We were always in battle. We had frying pans, we learned to live off the land. Shoot chickens and sukiyaki them. These skills destined us to be warriors. So when December 7th came and we went to battle, do you know the history of the 442nd? You know the history of the Filipino boys in the 442nd infantry who went by submarines behind enemy lines to scout for MacArthur? You know in all the services the Hawaii people, the Hawaii kids, they excelled as soldiers because we knew Jujitsu, we knew Kiendo, and whenever we have fight against another, the haoles, we were all for one and one for all. We would just fight and band together. We had tremendous esprit de corps. And this esprit de corps was built by teasing. We tease everybody by the stink of their food. The Filipinos, buchaho?. The Chinese, hamah. The Japanese was takawang or you bowlegged turnip leg. And then the Koreans were kimchee. And we have a song that we sing but we tease, we tease.
You come my house / you eat dicho / that’s the Japanese styles / you come my house / you eat hamah / That’s the Chinese style / you come my house / you eat sandwich / that’s the haole style. On and on, we tease each other all the time. So we have a sense of humor. We need to and Hawaii guys can understand that. That make us, that’s the esprit de corps we had. And the statistics will show you that this state has about the greatest veterans’ population. This state has it so we know. And this was all part of growing up for us. And those playthings, slingshots, fights, all of that. It’s all there. I’m preparing to talk to a group in two days and you’re doing all my speech. It’s right here. Growing up and what values we learned from living together.
AMY: Frank Lima used to tell a lot of the Portuguese jokes and things like that, and you know, when we were growing up nobody felt offensive. It was all in fun and tease each other but recently people are very sensitive so you are very careful of what you say. But when we were growing up people just accepted those things.
DMAE: acknowledge the differences.
DOMINGO: Yes. Nicknames. Tarzan, Skinny, Obake, means the devil, Fatso, Screwball, Diamondhead. These were all nicknames. Sometimes when we talk about Lefty, we don’t know who they are, Lefty, you know the guy Lefty? We don’t know their name, but we know their nickname. We always use all nicknames.
AMY: Like among the Okinawan people Higa is a very common last name and so this from Mrs.…this very good friend of ours Mrs. Higa told me there were so many Higas on the plantation they would say this is Black Higa or something so they would know which particular man they were talking about. By giving them a nickname before their last name because there were so many with a similar last name.
DMAE: Nicknames start?
DOMINGO: Some by physical fitness. Or their physical features and someone would start it and pick it up there. When I went to college, I was called Black. Hey Blackie! And I never felt bad. I was darker than the other guys. So somebody started and it hooked. So in college I was known as Blackie. It started in the plantation, but the idea of guys and calling them lefty or righty or you fat guy and all that, all came from growing up. And if I call you that. But if a haole call you that you’re going to fight. So it depends on who you’re talking to.
DOMINGO: It’s endearing, but it depends who’s giving it.
DMAE: what are your nicknames?
DOMINGO: Mine was Black, Blackie.
AMY: I didn’t have any.
ESPY: I was Puto.
DOMINGO: Means ‘short.’
ESPY: Puto? That means short. In fact, when my husband to be introduced me to his mama on the island of Kauai the first thing she said was ‘How come you choose somebody puto?’ and it hurt me. It was coming from a future mother-in-law. And the beautiful thing was my husband put his arm around me and said ‘but I love her mama. I love her’ and that was so neat. And I turned out to be her best daughter-in-law because I can cook.
MOSES: I had no nickname.
DMAE: Do you have relatives with nicknames?
AMY: We have no relatives here at all. Very unusual because only my mom and my dad came here. So all of our relatives are in Japan. But the closest family we have are the Higas. Because they when they first got married they were neighbors so all of their children, now they have great-grandchildren and only Mr. Higa survives, Mrs. Higa passed away some time ago, but we’re still Auntie to all of their children and grandchildren which is kind of unusual.
DOMINGO: Another nickname was Pluto, from Disney. There’s Pluto, there’s Minnie, we use that also.
DOMINGO: Because they had long ears. Had a long nose. The dog…even now I have a fetish of long ears, I like to touch ears. But that’s, it’s really endearing terms.
ESPY: The unique thing about nicknames that came about is because some of the children could not pronounce certain things. I have a cousin that we call him Chocoya and people wonder why we call him Chocoya, because he wanted chocolate but he couldn’t say chocolate, ‘chocoya,’ ‘chocoya.’ Now when my husband I asked him how did he get his name Clark, his real name is Marcelino. I said how did you get the name Clark and he just told me when we were young we used to go watch Clark Gable movies but all those years something set wrong with me. Something said he wasn’t telling me the truth, so when I finally got to meet his mama I said mama, how did he get his nickname? She said ‘ah,’ in her broken English, ‘Ah, him he like cracker.’ He couldn’t say he wanted ‘cracker’ he’d say ‘clacka’ ‘clack.’ So that’s how come his name is Clark. When he found out I knew he was so embarrassed. He said how did you find out? I said, your mama. But these are the names you pick up as children when you say certain things it sticks and that’s how we remember people by their nicknames.
DMAE: Do people still do that here?
DOMINGO: It’s the opposite. I meet my friends as Richard. ‘Your name not Richard, your name Yasoichi.’ They forget their names. ‘Hello. Your name not Richard, you’re Yasoichi.’ And they get embarrassed. Here. I went to the Philippines and went to San Francisco and saw this pretty, pretty Filipino girl. And I said where are you from? Oh, she’s from the island. Oh, what part? Waipauhu, Waipauhu. Oh, give me your name again. My name is Bering. Where do you come from? Waipauhu. What is your name? Bering. Oh, you mean your name is Bering. And she get so embarrassed. The pronunciation of Bering, that’s the English, is Bering, so they try to hide their identity. But we know them with their own nicknames. We come back with their nickname and say who the hell are you?
DMAE: Do you think people are too sensitive now?
DOMINGO: Very much so. Unless you’re old like I am in 79 you don’t get embarrassed. You just straight out.
ESPY: In school when we have our teachers that came from the mainland and they do the roll call, they see the word, like what they see. Like one of my classmates, her last name was R-O-O-T. ‘Root.’ And she didn’t answer, because in Filipino it’s ‘ro-ot.’ And ‘Ro-ot’ means ‘grass.’ And then there’s another one, B-A-C-O-N, Loretta was her first name. and when the teacher said Loretta Bacon, she wouldn’t answer. Because the way it’s supposed to be pronounced is Bacon. So these are the things that we used to laugh and make fun of and now some people get offended because it’s now but in before-time we just enjoyed it totally. Even today we see each other and go hey, Loretta Bacon, she go hey.
DMAE: Were most of the teachers haole?
AMY: Yeah. You know what happens because the teachers couldn’t say some of the long Japanese first names and things like that, they gave them English names, so many of the English names they went by were given by the teachers. Because we’re Christian, we all have Christian names and my brother is Paul and the teacher called him Yoboyasuda and he didn’t answer. She called several times and oh, that’s me. He didn’t recognize, never being called by his Japanese name, it was always Paul everywhere he goes, so funny things happen sometimes with names.
ESPY: Didn’t they have changes of names during World War II? The Japanese? We had quite a few classmates who changed their Japanese names. Kyoko changed her name to Stella. We had several that did that and even to this day when you call the person Kyoko you’re classmates. But when you call them Stella that was later, they had picked that up. Mine is Esperanza, so anybody that calls me Esperanza is my classmate. But when they call me Espe, that’s because I went out of school already.
DOMINGO: Here’s a story that I’ve always had a sense of humor since growing up. My first principalship I used to teach grades five, six, seven, eight. And I had to teach reading. And these Hawaiian kids in Onohola, fishing village, had very difficulty reading, so they would say these, they, this, they were eating fish and they had eggs and they had bacon and me I’m getting so bored and I would say no, that’s not bacon, that’s bacon. So he would read it ‘eggs and bacon’. I said, that’s right, that’s bacon. So pretty soon these kids were whispering. I said what is it they said it’s a joke, I said all right, tell us the joke. And so he said this Filipino man went to the store and he’s buying bagpodopeet. I said bagpodopeet, what’s that? Bags for the feet, that’s socks. I said oh, I’m going to tell you another one. A man went to the store and he wanted cow in the tin. What is that, cow in the tin? That’s corned beef. And so we go on and on. But it’s just part of my makeup that I go back to my old days because I get bored. I teach them my Pidgin, see? But that’s part of growing up.
DMAE: Can you have a conversation in Pidgin?
ESPY: Can you pick it up?
DOMINGO: What you like? What you want talk about? What would you like talk about?
ESPY: We can talk about any kind. We can talk about maybe nakai what we cacao this morning.
DOMINGO: This morning I had egg and bacon.
ESPY: Egg and bacon. I had finafle juice. On top the ice and put its in cup. And then I went stirring with the stirrer, you know that look kind of like the whipping kind. Yeah, I whip them.
DOMINGO: You whip ‘em good.
ESPY: I whip ‘em good. Come kin all in a frenzy.
DOMINGO: You save sometin for your mama?
ESPY: Yeah, give ‘em. You Hawaiian, you can give ‘em too. That’s how we talk all the time and it’s so much fun because then we can switch over to good English. That’s the key. Because some people, when they were young, they could not switch over. And when they went into the military they had to have somebody be an interpreter.
DMAE: You had that problem?
MOSES: I had that problem, yeah. A lot of my friends, they speak Pidgin English, so when they went in the military, they spoke to each other in Pidgin English and haole guys used to say ‘What are they talking about?’ and they couldn’t understand what they were talking about so I had to in a way interpret what they were talking about. In a way it’s good because when you want to talk about another person you can talk in Pidgin English and they wouldn’t understand what you were talking about.
ESPY: And that was one of the key things with the 442nd. They had codes in Pidgin so that the Germans could not pick it up at all.
DOMINGO: It was like the Windtalkers of the Indians. Amongst the Hawaiians they could speak in Pidgin and nobody else could understand.
DMAE: So they would broadcast in Pidgin.
DOMINGO: On radio to the squads through speakers. But you had to have two Pidgin speakers on the other end. So they understood.
DMAE: I sense a lot of pride.
ESPY: It really makes us very unique because we have this thing that we can interact with each other, interject every day. Daily in our lives, as soon as we meet each other, the people who come from Hawaii that know how to speak Pidgin and then switch over to good English, then you know that person has really arrived.
DOMINGO: Here’s an example. I took some Filipino boys, young guys, to the Filipino camp and I told them the story that the single Filipino men used to combine, twenty-five dollars and they would buy a car. And all the owners would sit in the front and be looking over and all the other guys with the chickens in the back. But they took good care of the car, spit-polish all the time, nice. So I told my visitors these young Filipino boys had such pride in what little they had, they had such great pride in it. So these young Filipino boys said that’s right, they got pride, man. They got pride fish, they got pride rice. That’s the story. That’s Hawaii sense of humor.
DMAE: What is Hawaii humor?
ESPY: Okay, when I am sent to Kauai to do a food demo every July, and this year was my eleventh year, one year when I was doing all the different ethnic foods, I was explaining and it’s a courtyard in the town of Kaloah. And I was talking about the different Hawaiians, according to how they came, the different foods, and all of a sudden this black dog came into the courtyard and I said wait, wait everybody, how many of you are Japanese and they raised their hands. I said oh yeah you Japanese have this special dish called Saimin. And I said how many of you are Chinese? This couple that came from Miami that I had just met, they raised their hands because they were Chinese. I said you Chinese have this special dish called Gon Lo Min. But how many of you are Filipinos? They raised their hand. I said you know us Filipinos, that includes me, you saw that black dog come in the courtyard? Us Filipinos we eat black dog and we call that Doberman.
DMAE: Do you have to go?
DOMINGO: Soon. Six o’clock deadline. Can we get copies of this?
DMAE: Oh yeah. I have to have you sign something too.
DOMINGO: Because this is rich stuff. In 2006 we’re celebrating the 100th anniversary of the coming of the Filipinos. And all these interviews of life on the plantation from everyone’s perspective are important to us. We want to have panels and show this.
DMAE: when is this happening?
DOMINGO: In 2006. In July of 2006. We have a national convention of the National Filipino Historical Society and we’re inviting them to Kauai. To Hawaii. And if your panel’s ready to report, we can put them on the panel.
DMAE: We’ll have the program you can play it. When you talk about growing up, did you celebrate each other’s festivals?
AMY: Your neighbors, if they’re having a Filipino birthday celebration or something, maybe just within the family, they’ll bring you the food they’ve prepared you, la dobo or whatver. And the Japanese families, they made sushi and things. You’d always share with your neighbors. That’s why people here eat all the different ethnic foods. They’re familiar with them. They grew up with them.
DMAE: Did you celebrate the New Years together?
AMY: Generally they were invited. And the Hawaiian, you would eat the Hawaiian food. Everyone grew up enjoying poi.
DMAE: What about the obon festival?
AMY: Yes, there’s always food for the obon festivals and people all come in.
DOMINGO: In the obon dancing we all jump in and we just follow. It’s easy to follow.
ROBYNN: Can you describe what obon dance is?
DOMINGO: You better describe obon dancing.
AMY: The obon is a season where they honor the people who have passed on and there’s a special ceremony at the church first. And then they have obon dance. And usually they have a lot of food booths and live music to dance to and some of the dances have changed, they try to put in the electric slide to keep the young people interested, but they still do the old traditional dances, especially the folk dance type of thing, especially the Fukishima group and the Okinawan dance group and things like that. We begin obon season here in the plantation village on the first Saturday of June and then after that in Hawaii every Saturday there’s obon dance someplace. In Japan it’s only a two-week period in August that they have obon season. But in Hawaii it’s celebrated all year long. And one of the last obon dances Okon festival labor day weekend at the Waikulane park. On a Saturday night.
DOMINGO: Fortunately when they do obon dance it’s routine dancing. So anybody who has some rhythm can jump in except you got to wear a kimono. So we go in and we join and make our own steps. It’s participatory and when you participate in a group, somehow you get socially intoxicated. There is a term called social intoxication. And this is what happens when you put groups together and let them move together. They become intoxicated. Hypnotized. If you want. But it’s part of a natural phenomenon.
AMY: Temples like the Humgongee, they have it for two nights, they have practice sessions during the week. One or two nights a teacher will be there to teach them how to do the steps. So you can, when the night comes you can follow them better. That’s what they do.
DMAE: Is there a Filipino festival? Risou?
ESPY: Yeah. Well, Jose Risou was one of the martyrs of the Philippines. In fact we have the Filipino Community Center with his statue that was just opened recently. But we have Christmas with all those puddles? That you see that I’d mentioned in the single Filipino men’s house. And again every festival no matter which ethnicity, food is always the central focal point. People will always come to eat the foods because
DOMINGO: And bring their own food to the table. For example in our home in the Filipino, the theme of that is a baptismal party. So for the Filipinos if you have a party you’re going to have food, you’re going to have music, so the food is laid out, a roast pig. The Japanese will come and bring their sukiyaki. The Chinese will come and bring their noodles. So it’s all together. They come and join us and we eat together. That’s another way that amalgamated us into something very unique. In Hawaii you got to eat. You got to love to eat. That’s one of our traits.
DMAE: How much did the homeland affect your families especially during the wars?
DOMINGO: Most groups were very frugal. They got by on practically nothing, especially the Filipinos. Why? Because they were saving money to send home. That was the only money they had in the Philippines. All that money went home. So the Filipinos, the single men, were very, very frugal. They work hard, five days a week, but Saturday comes they put on their best silk shirt, they put on the pomade alongalong? And they will go to the dime-a-dance. And the dime-a-dance girls were blonds, brunettes, etc and I’d pay ten cents to dance with them. So not until the war came and some of the boys that were in the war went to the Philippines and got married and then they started families. Otherwise, many of the Filipinos would join the army from the mainland. They were destined to be bachelors until the war came. The war, by the way, December 7th, was the great emancipator. It took us from Hawaii to the mainland and for the first time we saw white guys do menial tasks. It changed the whole complex. When the war was over we knew how good we were, that we were just as good as anybody at soldiering. When we came back we went to college on the GI Bill, we came home and we were never satisfied. We got into politics and that’s why the beginning of the emancipation of the plantation system.
DMAE: What was the dime-a-dance like?
DOMINGO: Saturdays you go downtown on Park street. And they have nice music, saxophone and all that. Not Hawaiian music, that’s American dance music. Foxtrot, waltz. Pretty girls are there, dressed real sleek and you have favorite dancers so you meet every Saturday you go and oh Manong. As long as you don’t know the name you call them Manong. And then you remember me? You say and I’ll buy a ticket. And then she take the ticket and put it in her brassiere and you can’t take it out. So it was colorful.
DMAE: It was only the boys who’d go.
AMY: Men, yes. There was one in Waipauhu, on Waipauhu street, I remember. Going by, driving by, right? On Waipauhu Street. You’d see some of the girls sitting outside sometimes. And in the Filipino dormitory there’s a picture, we have a picture of some of the girls. We have a picture of some of the girls.
DMAE: What did the girls think about it?
ESPY: I came from a family that never danced. So.
DOMINGO: Let me tell you a story. I tell the story of the Japanese, they have picture brides. And the picture brides was introduced because the managers felt if your family was stabilized you were a better laborer. So they brought picture brides. The Chinese had picture brides, the Koreans had picture brides, the Filipinos had no picture brides. They stole brides. Because of the ratio. And one docent friend of mine, he said my aunt was cowboy, cowboyed, which means kidnapped, five times! Which tells me she enjoyed it. And it was part of life. The Filipino boys would cowboy cowboy. My own father cowboyed. Until I went to college I never knew I had a half-brother. My mother was already married and her first husband was in the sea. My father comes and cowboys her. Now why cowboy cowboy. Filipinos like to go to movies and like to watch cowboy shows. And they see the lasso and them kidnapping the women. That’s what they did. It’s a true phenomenon. And it’s called cowboy cowboy.
AMY: I never heard that term. I guess only among the Filipino people probably.
DMAE: The war opened up a lot of eyes regarding social hierarchy. Talk about the plantation hierarchy.
DOMINGO: Back in plantation, if you’re white, you’re the boss type. You’re the boss or you’re luna. So you wore breeches and leggings and you don’t do menial tasks. But all the other guys we pick up rubbish and everything, pick up slop. So that was evident. But when we went to the mainland and saw white guys do this, we couldn’t get over it. It was a shock to us.
AMY: On this plantation for instance they had beech land out on the kuliway where the Hawaiian Nectar Power Plant is. And there’s one for the supervisors and one for the other employees and they had separate facilities for them. So in a way it was segregation. And they had the haole club house with a tennis court. The Japanese had their own clubhouse and a tennis court also there. The other ethnic groups, I’m not sure about the Filipino group, but that’s the way it was.
DOMINGO: The Filipinos were too busy fighting chicken. Chicken fights. It’s illegal but we knew where to go and fight.
DMAE: A lot of gambling too.
DOMINGO: Of course. People in Hawaii love to gamble. They gamble in ? they gamble in fightsword, they gamble in fishing, or rather chicken fights. We gamble with marbles, with milktops. Everybody loves to gamble. That’s why everybody loves to go to Las Vegas. We’re all a bunch of gamblers but we don’t want the gamblers to come here, it’s a strange phenomenon.
DMAE: Would you read that sign?
DOMINGO: Yeah. As I’m going to talk to some high school kids, I want to show them what the grandpa and grandmother had to work, their work day. And this is the typical work day. At 4am the women wake up to prepare breakfast and lunch. The siren goes. At five o’clock is the wake-up whistle. At 5:45 they gather at the train or walk to the field. At six o’clock the day begins. At eight o’clock, small cacao time, ten minute break, you eat. 11:30, cacao time, that’s half an hour. 12 o’clock, cacao pau, go work again. 4:30 pau hana whistle. This was the eight hour. And it went to ten hours. Eight o’clock, lights out in the whole camp. And they did this for 100 years.
DMAE: How could you do any recreation?
DOMINGO: So the Hawaiians, who loved the sand, the sun, the surf. They began working six days a week. And only Sunday to take in the tarot? And go fishing. They didn’t like the industrialization. So that’s why the Hawaiians did not stay with the plantation. So the story we tell here is the story of cheap labor. You lose the Hawaiians, you get the Chinese, the Chinese go and open restaurants so you go to you couldn’t go because of laws, you couldn’t go to Asia because of the yellow peril, the immigration law, so they went to Europe where they had devastation and they wanted to improve their life. The Portuguese. Then you go to Puerto Ricans. Our story is all search for cheap cheap labor.
AMY: The other reason why the Hawaiian population declined was in 1820 the first white people to live permanently in the Hawaii islands came. And they were missionaries and graduates of the Ivy League schools who brought Christianity to the islands because of this Hawaiian boy who went back east with the whaling boats and then became a Christian and he wanted Christianity brought to his people. So that was in 1820. and they knew about economics and things like that and they found the conditions in Hawaii good for growing cane. So the first plantation was on Kauai and James Dole started the plantation on Waihiwa. But the white men also brought diseases to which the Hawaiians had never been exposed, like measles and chicken pox and things like that. So many of them died and sugar was profitable and no one to work in the fields so they had to turn to Asia for labor. And the Chinese came twenty years before the Japanese.
ROBYNN: You said you avoided the plantation. Why wouldn’t you want to?
MOSES: I had seen how hard plantation workers had worked in the fields. All day in the sun, it’s not very easy. Not very easy work. So I told myself I’m not going to do anything like that. I’m going to try to get education and move away from here and find a better job and raise my family somewhere else, not here. Because of the time where there was a lot of labor work, I didn’t want any labor work for my family and that’s why I thought no, I don’t want to do anything like plantation work.
DMAE: Did any of your family work on plantations?
MOSES: None did.
ROBYNN: Is that because they had options?
MOSES: They had, well, let’s start at the beginning. There were three…
END OF DISC ONE
(TRACK 1 IS GAYLORD KUBATO OF ALEXANDER & BALDWIN SUGAR MUSEUM)
TRACK 2 – 7:36
ROBYNN: We were just talking about how none of your family members worked on the plantation and I was wondering that Asian immigrant laborers came because they had a desire to make money so why did your family not feel compelled to work in the plantation?
MOSES: I was raised by my grandparents and he was a minister so I was pretty well off. I didn’t have to take lunch. I could buy lunch, I dressed nice, and I was exposed to a lot of my grandfather’s people that came from religious people came from the mainland. So with that thought I got spoiled, in other words I didn’t want to be poor so I decided I wanted to better myself and get a better job and raise my family in a better situation.
DMAE: Last thoughts.
DOMINGO: The Hawaiians, many of them that stayed with the plantation, they became office managers, many of them went to the railroads and became train men, a lot of them worked in the mill, and a lot of the people became police officers and they were the ones that used to tip us off hey, the cops are coming, get out of the chicken fight pit. We had it was all because they grew up and they understood. Because whenever you have a chicken fight it’s like a festival, food is being sold, lots of gambling, very vivid viciousness, people mad at one another, but it was a carnival atmosphere every Sunday but it shifted from cane field to cane field. So the police knew when to come, if the chickens are gone they showed up.
DMAE: We’re showing people are not victims.
DOMINGO: The way we agitated was to go slow time, don’t go double-time, go slowly. The second was arson, burn the cane field. Those are the way that we got angry. I have a list of people who were, because during contract if you break your contract the police come after you. I have a list of all of these, one guy recaptured and deserted. Another guy recaptured and deserted. There’s terrific amount of desertion which told you that people hated to work in this harsh community. I have that in preparation for my speech, it gives the bongo number and all these guys escaping. But and the plantation on the other hand, in the early days, if you broke a wagon, they charged you five dollars. If you were late, one dollar. If you were drunk, five dollars. If they caught you gambling, five dollars. Every behavior that they want to impinge on, there was a penalty. And I have this documented.
DMAE: Explain the bongos.
DOMINGO: The bongos. Well, the managers had difficulty saying Watanabe or Joaquin or Juarez or Hachizumi. They had so much difficulty with names they chose a better system – they went to numbers. Called, and ‘bongo’ in Japanese means a number system. So every family had a number. With this bongo number you got paid. With this bongo number you charge in the company store. So it made things very easy, this bongo number. And I think this idea of dog tags in the army is bongo numbers. And I still have my dog tag from my war years. There it is, there’s the bongo system. But of course, Filipinos have a square head, that’s why their bongo number is square. Japanese have a round head, that’s why their bongo number is round.
DMAE: Is that true?
AMY: There’s some that are similar in shape, but that’s your identity. Some would say it’s almost like slaves because when you went to the doctor, you had to know your bongo. To get your paycheck you had to know your bongo and everything was by your bongo.
ESPE:And us children had to remember that too because when you went to the infirmary or something with your papa would just say 2028, that’s my papa’s number. And that’s all we used.
MOSES: In the village did you notice the store? And the camp office? Notice it’s right across. So you get paid in the office and you go right across pay your bill. With your bongo number.
AMY: Also if you had a big bill, part of it was deducted for payment of your bill.
DMAE: How could families send money home?
AMY: As we said they grew a lot of the things, their fruits and vegetables, so they could keep expenses to a minimum, and they really lived frugally, I think that’s the only reason.
DOMINGO: I have another chart which showed in preparation for the 1909 strike, it has a listing for the expenses of this Japanese lady over her monthly income. And in it was an item of travel. So with what they have they take money out to send home. But it’s all prioritized. And if you look at this expenditure as over the income, for socks, for rain, for oil for the raincoat, for food, for socks, and shirts and suits and laundry. All they had left from fourteen dollars a month was two dollars and seven cents. This is what they used to fight for higher wages. This was in preparation for the 1909 strike.
DMAE: We probably have to go. If you would be open…
TRACK 3 – 2:00
AMY: They must have had some kind of game. But they were allowed to send one package a month to each family in Japan. And it was a family operation. My mother would stitch up these rice bags so if the cardboard got broke open things would not fall out, you know? And we could buy army surplus canned foods like butter and corned beef and milk and things like that and so my dad would buy these things, we’d make a package and my job was to write down what went in, five pounds of sugar, so many cans, a can of butter and all of that. And not too long ago I came across a whole book of that. And when I went back to Japan and I saw some of the relatives they said oh, that really. I remember my aunt telling me when the doctor came to the house because somebody was ill, you offered him a cup of coffee from Hawaii with a cup of sugar and he didn’t want to be paid. That was more than enough payment because those things are really short in Japan. So that was payment for his visit. To the patient. And my mother used to wear kimono often when we’d have visitors from Japan before the war. So she sent all her kimonos back to Japan. So when I went back that’s why they treat me so well when we go to Japan to visit. I just came back a week ago Monday and they wouldn’t make me pay for anything. They’d give me telephone cards, they give me tickets for the train, just everything because of the things that happened right after the war when they were really, really in need.