RAMON, ISABELA– A Hawaii-based Filipino-American author said that the most notable aspect of the history of the Ilokano diaspora is their settlement in Hawaii, where the first arrivals in the early 1900s were hired sugarcane plantation workers. Ilokano migration continues until now as relatives of these people petition those left behind in the Ilocos.

In fact, the last mass Pinoy migration to Hawaii started in Cabugao, Ilocos Sur when 1,523 young male Ilokanos left Port Salomague aboard the SS Maunawili on Jan. 11. 1946. They had been recruited to work in the sugar plantations in Kawaii.

The SS Maunawili returned three times the following months and left with more than 6,000 workers including women and children.

Today, there is an Ilokano sub-culture in the Aloha State, where 15 percent of the state’s more than a million population are Filipinos, 18 percent of whom are of Ilokano blood. It is said that Ilokano is the lingua franca of Hawaii Filipinos.

In 2006, Hawaii honored the first 15 hired Ilokano workers who came in the 1900s by holding the Filipino Centennial Celebration. A sakada statue was unveiled at the old Ola’a plantation in Keeau, Big Island of Hawaii Grande, where the 15 Ilokanos first worked.

Dr. Jaime Raras, a mannurat in the Ilokano weekly magazine Bannawag, also made a study of the diaspora in Victoria, Oriental Mindoro, where there is a heavy concentration of Ilokanos, mostly from Ilocos Sur. He posited the question: did they bring with them their cultural practices?

Yes, they did, Raras said, and their “Ilokanoness” in their new-found land is still intact, taking into account such variables as kinship gathering, culinary arts, beliefs in the supernatural, recreation and other Ilokano values.

Raras’ finding are similar in countries where Ilokanos settled, whether in New Jersey or New York or even in Singapore, Spain or Paris or Rome although the dominant cultures therein continue to challenge their cherished values, practices and norms.

In a paper presented before a gathering of scholars and linguists under the auspices of Nakem Conference, Dr.Noemi Rosal of the University of the Philippines discussed the phenomenon of separation and return, a basic pattern of human behavior as applied to Ilokanos.She averred that those who left home and never returned remain in their minds as exiles “in the place where they now live.”

In Madrid, Spain, expatriate Northerners who have found jobs there as domestics, restaurant workers, among others, are ever-ready to give assistance to the towns and villages they left behind for good.

Ilokano poetess Delia Caguioa Guran of the 60-member Balungao Association of Madrid said that her group has funded a great number of projects in their Pangasinan hometown, and even gave money and goods to the victims of Typhoon Yolanda.

“We may be exiles here, but we never left our Ilocos roots,” she said, adding that most of them have become Spanish citizens.

They may be exiles in their respective adopted countries, but the Ilokanos always come back to their roots, a Tokyo- based Ilokana mentor said. Originally from Gabu, Laoag City in Ilocos Norte, she has been teaching young Japanese for several years in many disciplines including the Ilokano culture.

And when they visit, these Ilokanos, like other Filipinos always, leave something behind, some money or in kind to help the old hometown, she said. Guerrero Coloma/NortboundPH