History: Hawai’i’s Sakada Soldiers
Not all of Hawai’i’s earliest Filipino immigrants came to work on plantations.
Anastacio Daguio can’t even count how many times he’s been asked what plantation he grew up on. As a 72-year-old Wahiawa-born Filipino, he can understand why locals usually make that assumption.
“I say, ‘No plantation. My father was a soldier,’” Daguio says. “They say, ‘Nah, can’t be,’ because everybody who came to Hawai‘i back then worked in the field.”
|Several Philippine Scouts belonged to this Schofield Barracks regimental band, circa 1928. photo: courtesy of Anastacio Daguio|
This year, Hawai‘i celebrates the 100th anniversary of Filipino immigration to the Islands, marked by the arrivals of the first sakadas, or Filipino plantation workers, in 1906. In the first half of the 20th century, these laborers and their families made up nearly all of the thousands of Filipinos who immigrated to Hawai‘i. But lesser known is the story of about 100 Filipino soldiers who came to the Islands in the mid-1920s for a different purpose.
These soldiers were Philippine Scouts, a military unit created in 1901 to bolster U.S. forces in the Philippines. After World War I, Congress approved the induction of 6,000 of these soldiers into the U.S. Army. In the mid-1920s, around 100 Scouts, including Daguio’s father, Eugenio, were assigned to Hawai‘i and, in most cases, stationed at Schofield Barracks as part of the Army’s Hawaiian Division.
|FILIPINO-AMERICAN FRIENDSHIP DAY DINNER
JULY 5, 6 P.M.
Guest speaker: U.S. Army Gen. Anthony Taguba
The Army didn’t bring these soldiers to Hawai‘i strictly for their military experience, Daguio says. “They were soldiers first, but they were recruited especially because they were good musicians and cooks,” he says. At Schofield Barracks, each of these soldiers was assigned to one of eight regimental bands, performing at military ceremonies and athletic events. Many of these musicians did double-duty in the kitchen, cooking meals for the troops.
Single Filipino soldiers lived in the barracks with the general population, while most soldiers with families lived in Castner Village—a cluster of wooden houses near Wheeler Army Air Field—located at least a mile away from other families on base.
“Castner Village actually was a Filipino barrio,” says former Castner resident Phil Soriano, whose father, the late Cpl. Galo Soriano, was a Philippine Scout. “Were we segregated? I think so, because there was not a single puti (white person) within a mile of us. To me, though, it was a blessing in disguise, because I learned about my Filipino culture.”
Daguio agrees, noting that Ilocano was the primary language spoken in the village. “It didn’t really occur to us that we were segregated, because we felt comfortable being among our ethnic group,” he says. “We had Filipino parties, where men wore barong Tagalog (formal dress for men in the Philippines), women wore Filipino dresses. Of course, our fathers were all musicians, so they played in a combined band and just jived together. They also made time to teach us kids music.”
Today, there are few tangible reminders of this little-known piece of Filipino history in the Islands. In the early 1940s, the regimental bands were disbanded when the Hawaiian Division was reorganized into the 24th and 25th Infantry Divisions and, by the late 1950s, nearly all of these soldiers had retired—most of them with at least 30 years of service.
At the onset of World War II, residents of Castner Village were relocated to other quarters or chose to live outside of Schofield. The village’s wooden houses were eventually torn down, replaced by a public park.
|Sgt. Eugenio Daguio (back row, third from right) with his friends and family, including baby Anastacio (center) at their Castner Village home, circa 1934. photo: courtesy of Anastacio Daguio|
There are no known surviving soldiers today, Daguio says, but their story should be preserved. The achievements of these men continued long after they retired from the U.S. Army. About a dozen of them became members of the Royal Hawaiian Band; another dozen joined the Honolulu Symphony, including Soriano’s father, who played the French horn. Many of their children and grandchildren also contributed to Hawai‘i’s music scene. Daguio, for instance, also played with the Royal Hawaiian Band. Renowned pianist Rene Paulo is the grandson of one of these soldiers.
In additional to musical talent, patriotism also ran in these soldiers’ families.
“I’d say about 90 percent of the male offspring of these soldiers served in the U.S. military, some of them in their tenure becoming the highest ranking soldiers of Filipino ancestry in the U.S. Army, including Tony Ventura—the first American of Filipino ancestry to command an entire battalion,” says Soriano, a retired colonel himself.
This month, these soldiers will be honored with all Filipino-American veterans at the Filipino-American Friendship Day Dinner. The July 5 celebration will also feature a photo exhibit coordinated by Daguio and Ben Acohido, chairman of the Wahiawa Neighborhood Board, who has known Daguio and Soriano since childhood.
“The story of these soldiers and families is unique—their military, social and cultural contributions to Hawai‘i,” says Acohido, who has come to call this obscure group of Filipino arrivals “sakada soldiers.” “We just want to make sure that this story is told.”