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Christmas Eve with Children as Angels

December 28, 2011 - Ray Tsuchiyama

On Christmas Eve I accompanied spouse C. and my daughter T., who returned from a Mainland college for the winter break, to a children’s pageant service at an old Wailuku church. It was a cool very Wailuku-like evening, with a shower or two.

I was impressed by the various children readers of the Scriptures, and also liked the enactors of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem – in Middle Eastern costumes of the period more than 2,000 years ago (which is a long time ago).

There were grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, friends – many taking photos, plus bored and tired babies. Many were of Filipino ethnicity, and most probably, a high percentage of them had linkages to Ilocos Norte, a northern province on the island of Luzon in the Philippines. In the province about eight million speak Ilocano, the dominant language of Ilocos Norte province -- the third-most spoken language in the Philippines -- and there are probably two to three million more citizens in the surrounding region who speak Ilocano as a second language. Cebuano as a first language has 18.5 million speakers (Cebuano-speakers are very loyal to their language); other languages include Hiligaynon with 7 million speakers and Bicol with 5 million, respectively. Tagalog as a mother tongue has 22 million speakers. Most Ilocano-speakers speak Filipino, based on Tagalog, spoken in Manila, yet almost no native Tagalog-speaker will speak Ilocano. Filipino and English are the two official languages of the Philippines.

Even “Filipino” food in Hawaii (featured, say, at Star Paradise Supermarket in Kahului) has often more Ilocano nuances, ranging from adobo to traditional pancit noodles to a very Ilocano vegetable dish called pinakbet, flavored with bagoong ("bugguong" in the Ilocano language), made with fermented, very pungent salted anchovies. In an earlier blog I wrote about the drawn-out, extended, very intense Christmas in Manila. Growing up in Hawaii, I was not unfamiliar with the Philippines (my next-door neighbor was a Filipino family). I became familiar with Filipino people, customs, languages (and continuing issues), and food during my childhood in Kalihi-Palama in Honolulu (people from Oahu rarely say “I am from Honolulu” – they say more often “I am from Kaimuki or Manoa” – the neighborhood defines you more than the sprawling city).

My high school, Farrington, has among its graduates the first Filipino-American Governor of Hawaii, Ben Cayetano, and Emme Tominbang, a television personality who first appeared on the long-running Hawaii TV series “Filipino Fiesta” hosted by the late Faustino “Tata” A. Respicio, the veteran broadcaster born in Ilocos Norte province with a great love of all things Filipino, especially singing.

In Kalihi-Palama I even watched a Filipino TV star named Sharon Cuneta, and Filipinos were often surprised that I knew so much about her – although I been to the Philippines only a few times on business. (I used to speak some Tagalog phrases, and they return to my mind when I am walking in Makati, a business district.)

Maui population demographics have changed dramatically in the past 20 years. According to the latest Maui Data Book, now there are more Mauians of Filipino ethnicity than Japanese. The demise of Shirokiya and Ooka’s Supermarket were significant signposts in this population change – in my father’s childhood, Japanese composed nearly half of the population on Maui; some Wailuku landmarks are named for Japanese-American legends, like Ichiro “Iron” Maehara baseball stadium or the Soichi Sakamoto swimming pool, next to the War Memorial Stadium – both named for Mauian Japanese-American sports stars in baseball and swimming.

Watching the children frolic in white angel costumes in the Christmas Eve pageant, there is no doubt the Filipino population will grow even more in coming years. This group will influence Maui society, including more Filipino markets and restaurants. What this also means in the future regarding voting, political leadership, and directions for Maui growth and development -- construction, hotel jobs are highly important to the Filipino-American community -- is a fascinating question.


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