Okinawans in Hawaii
While immigrants from mainland Japan had been coming to Hawaii since 1868 (and more regularly since 1885), Okinawans first began emigrating to Hawaii in 1900. Though initially recruited as contract laborers, in June 1900, mere months after their arrival, the Organic Acts passed by the US Congress had outlawed contract labor, freeing Japanese and Okinawan plantation workers alike (along with those of Chinese, Korean, Filipino, and Hawaiian descent, among others) from their contracts.
Tôyama Kyûzô is generally regarded as the "father" of Okinawan immigration to Hawaii. With economic conditions growing increasingly dire in Okinawa prefecture, which had been annexed by Japan in the 1870s, Tôyama, a leader of the Freedom and People's Rights Movement (Jiyû minken undô) in Okinawa, petitioned the Japanese government to allow Okinawans to emigrate overseas in search of better lives. The first group of Okinawans to arrive in Hawaii numbered 26, and began work on Ewa Plantation on O'ahu a week later.
Once in Hawaii, Okinawans formed their own community, separate from that of the Japanese, who observed somewhat different customs, spoke a different language, and showed prejudice against the Okinawans. They would later go on to form separate social organizations, separate Buddhist temples, and the like.
By 1924, when the Asian Exclusion Acts passed by the US Congress outlawed the immigration of all East Asians into the United States, there were already nearly 20,000 people of Okinawan descent in the Hawaiian Islands.
- Franklin Odo and Kazuko Sinoto, A Pictorial History of the Japanese in Hawaii 1885-1924, Bishop Museum (1985), 80.
- Odo and Sinoto, 200.