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A story of early Filipino immigrants

Island History for Friday, January 20, 2012

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Posted: Thursday, January 19, 2012 11:30 pm

 In 1927, sugar plantation contract laborer Tomas Beralas (1899-1984), his wife Mercedes  (1899-1982), and their 4-year-old son, Alfonso, of Abra Province, Philippines, arrived by steamship in Hawai‘i and were assigned to Lihu‘e Plantation on Kaua‘i.

Their home was in the old Lihu‘e Camp, which comprised about 54 plantation houses situated immediately south of Poinciana Street, and another 20 houses located in the remaining part of the camp, which extended southward nearly to the sugar mill.

In that home, Tomas and Mercedes raised eight children. Tomas, a man of few words, worked mainly as a kalai man, hoeing weeds around irrigation ditches and in the canefields until he retired in 1967.

He would listen to the Filipino language program on KTOH Radio in the early morning. Then a plantation labor truck would pick him up, along with other workers, and drive them to assigned canefields, where he worked 10 hours a day, six days a week, for a dollar a day in the early years, with Sunday being his day of rest.

By the 1950s, plantation workers were given Saturday and Sunday off, and this was when he had more time to go fishing on weekends.

His wife Mercedes never worked a job outside of her home.  Her household chores and raising her children consumed most of her time. 

Mercedes would beat Tomas’s dirt-stained work clothes with a wooden paddle, boil them in an iron barrel, scrub, rinse and dry them. Her babies were rocked in indayons,  hammocks strung across beds for safety’s sake.

She made delicious cancanen from mochi rice, brown rice, sugar and grated coconut. Every so often, as was customary, she’d put the lit end of her homegrown, rolled tobacco in her mouth.

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