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The islands of Hawaii are home to a rich blend of cultures from around the world. If you’re wondering about the history and impact of Ilocano immigrants in Hawaii, you’ve come to the right place.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: Ilocanos from the northern Philippines began immigrating to Hawaii in the early 1900s to work on sugar plantations. Today, Ilocano culture continues to thrive in Hawaii through food, festivals, arts, and customs.

In this comprehensive article, we’ll explore the waves of Ilocano immigration to Hawaii, their working and living conditions on sugar plantations, the growth of the Ilocano community, and how Ilocano culture has shaped and been shaped by the islands over the past century. We’ll also highlight famous Ilocano-Hawaiians and look at traditions that are kept alive today.

The First Waves of Ilocano Immigration

Ilocano immigration

The history of Ilocano immigration to Hawaii dates back to the late 19th century when sugar plantations in Hawaii faced a labor shortage.

Recruiters were sent to the Philippines in search of workers, and many Ilocanos were enticed by the promise of a better life and job opportunities. As a result, thousands of Ilocanos made the long journey across the Pacific Ocean to work in the sugar cane fields of Hawaii.

Recruitment By Sugar Plantations

The recruitment process was often facilitated by labor agencies working on behalf of the sugar plantations. These agencies would visit different provinces in the Philippines, including Ilocos Norte and Ilocos Sur, to recruit workers.

They would offer attractive wages and benefits, enticing many Ilocanos to leave their homes and families behind in search of better opportunities in Hawaii.

It is estimated that between 1906 and 1930, over 30,000 Ilocanos immigrated to Hawaii to work in the sugar plantations. This massive influx of Ilocano labor played a significant role in shaping the cultural landscape of Hawaii and establishing a strong Ilocano community in the islands.

Working and Living Conditions

Life on the sugar plantations was not easy for the Ilocano immigrants. They faced grueling work hours, often laboring from sunrise to sunset in the hot Hawaiian sun. The work involved cutting, harvesting, and processing sugar cane, which required physical strength and endurance.

The living conditions on the plantations were also challenging. Workers lived in cramped and basic housing provided by the plantations, often sharing small rooms with multiple families. Sanitation facilities were limited, and access to healthcare and education was scarce.

Despite these hardships, the Ilocano community in Hawaii persevered and found strength in their shared culture and traditions. They formed close-knit communities, establishing social organizations, churches, and schools to preserve their heritage and support one another.

Today, the Ilocano community continues to thrive in Hawaii, contributing to the vibrant multicultural fabric of the islands. Their rich history and cultural traditions are celebrated and cherished, serving as a testament to the resilience and spirit of the Ilocano people.

Also read: The History And Impact Of Filipinos In Hawaii

Formation of the Ilocano Community

Settling On Oahu and the Big Island

The Ilocano community in Hawaii has a rich history that dates back to the early 1900s. Many Ilocanos, who come from the region of Ilocos Norte and Ilocos Sur in the Philippines, migrated to Hawaii in search of better opportunities and a brighter future.

The first wave of Ilocanos arrived in Hawaii as contract laborers to work on the sugar plantations. They settled primarily on the islands of Oahu and the Big Island, where the majority of the sugar plantations were located.

Life on the plantations was not easy for the Ilocano immigrants. They faced challenging working conditions, long hours, and low wages.

However, they persevered and formed tight-knit communities within the plantations. They built small houses, known as “barracks,” where multiple families would live together and support one another.

Despite the hardships, the Ilocano community in Hawaii thrived. They embraced their culture and traditions, while also adapting to their new surroundings. Today, the Ilocano community has become an integral part of the rich cultural fabric of Hawaii.

Cultural Life in the Camps

Within the plantation camps, the Ilocanos created a vibrant cultural life that helped them preserve their traditions and pass them down to future generations. They organized social gatherings, religious processions, and community events where they would come together to celebrate their heritage.

One of the most important aspects of the Ilocano culture is their cuisine. Ilocanos are known for their delicious and unique dishes, such as pinakbet (a vegetable stew), bagnet (deep-fried pork belly), and empanada (a savory pastry filled with meat and vegetables). These traditional dishes are still widely enjoyed in the Ilocano community in Hawaii today.

Music and dance also played a significant role in the cultural life of the Ilocano community. They would gather for traditional folk dances, accompanied by live music played on instruments like the guitar, banduria, and accordion.

The Ilocano community in Hawaii has kept these traditions alive through various cultural organizations and dance groups.

Preserving Ilocano Traditions

The Ilocanos have a rich cultural heritage that is deeply rooted in their traditions and practices. Despite being thousands of miles away from their homeland, the Ilocanos in Hawaii have made significant efforts to preserve their unique customs and way of life.

This article explores how the Ilocanos in Hawaii have managed to keep their traditions alive, especially in the areas of food and cooking, language, and festivals and celebrations.

Also read: How To Travel From Hawaii To The Philippines: A Detailed Guide

Food and Cooking

One of the most prominent aspects of Ilocano culture is their cuisine, which is known for its bold flavors and use of local ingredients.

Even in Hawaii, Ilocano families continue to prepare traditional dishes such as pinakbet, bagnet, and dinengdeng. These dishes not only bring a taste of home but also serve as a way for the Ilocanos to pass down their culinary heritage to the younger generations.

Through cooking classes and community events, Ilocano elders share their knowledge and techniques with the younger members of the community, ensuring that the flavors and techniques of Ilocano cooking are preserved for years to come.


The Ilocano language, also known as Iloko, is an integral part of the Ilocano culture. Despite the challenges of living in a predominantly English-speaking society, the Ilocanos in Hawaii have made efforts to teach and promote their language.

Community organizations and cultural centers offer language classes and workshops, allowing both Ilocano youth and adults to learn and practice the language. By keeping their language alive, the Ilocanos in Hawaii are able to maintain a strong connection to their roots and pass on their linguistic heritage to future generations.

Festivals and Celebrations

Ilocano festivals and celebrations are vibrant and lively, showcasing the rich cultural traditions of the Ilocano people. In Hawaii, the Ilocano community organizes various events throughout the year to celebrate their heritage.

One of the most popular events is the “Ilocano Festival,” which features traditional dances, music, arts and crafts, and of course, mouthwatering Ilocano cuisine. These festivals not only bring the community together but also serve as a platform to educate others about the Ilocano culture.

Through these celebrations, the Ilocanos in Hawaii are able to share their traditions with the wider community and ensure that their cultural heritage is appreciated and cherished.

Preserving Ilocano traditions in Hawaii is not just about holding onto the past; it is about celebrating and embracing a culture that has shaped the identity of many Ilocanos. Through their dedication to preserving their food, language, and traditions, the Ilocanos in Hawaii are keeping their heritage alive and thriving.

Their efforts serve as an inspiration to other communities who are also striving to preserve their unique cultural identities in a rapidly changing world.

Famous Ilocano-Hawaiians


The Ilocano community in Hawaii has made significant contributions to the entertainment industry.

One famous Ilocano-Hawaiian is Bruno Mars, whose real name is Peter Gene Hernandez. Born and raised in Honolulu, Bruno Mars is a Grammy-winning singer, songwriter, and producer. His catchy tunes and energetic performances have made him a global sensation.

Another notable Ilocano-Hawaiian in the entertainment industry is Nicole Scherzinger. She is a talented singer, actress, and television personality who gained fame as the lead vocalist of the Pussycat Dolls. Scherzinger’s Ilocano heritage is something she takes pride in and often celebrates in her music and performances.


Ilocano-Hawaiians have also made their mark in the political arena. One prominent figure is Senator Mazie Hirono. Born in Fukushima, Japan, Hirono moved to Hawaii at a young age and became the first Asian-American woman elected to the United States Senate.

Hirono’s Ilocano heritage has influenced her political career, as she has been a vocal advocate for immigrant rights and social justice issues. Her dedication to public service has made her a respected leader in the Ilocano community and beyond.


The Ilocano-Hawaiian community has produced exceptional athletes who have excelled in various sports. One such athlete is Tua Tagovailoa, a talented football quarterback who was born and raised in Hawaii.

Tagovailoa, who is of Samoan and Ilocano descent, gained national attention during his college career at the University of Alabama, where he led the Crimson Tide to a national championship. His skills and leadership on the field have made him a role model for aspiring athletes in the Ilocano community.

These are just a few examples of the famous Ilocano-Hawaiians who have made significant contributions to entertainment, politics, and sports. Their achievements not only highlight the talent and resilience of the Ilocano people but also serve as an inspiration for future generations.

Also read: Why Are There So Many Asians In Hawaii?


The story of Ilocanos in Hawaii is one of challenges, hard work, and preserving cultural roots far from home. Over 100 years after the first Ilocano arrivals, their legacy lives on as an integral part of Hawaii’s rich multicultural heritage.

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