Ethnic Studies Anniversary : Celebrating 50 Years of Our History Our Way

Dean Alegado BOR Testimony

Testimony AGAINST stop out of Ethnic Studies Major

Dean Alegado, former chair, founding faulty, and professor of the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa Department of Ethnic Studies who led the department to national prominence in the field of Asian Pacific American studies, died on November 6, 2020, at the age of 68. Alegado was also former director of the UH Mānoa Center for Philippine Studies. He wrote this testimony just before he passed away.  You can find out more about Dean's life and his career in ethnic studies here.  

From: Dean Alegado on Tue, Sep 15, 2020 at 3:47 PM:

Dear Chair Kudo,

Aloha, my name is Dean Alegado, one of the founders of the Ethnic Studies Department. I came to Hawaiʻi in 1975 and found a job as a .25 FTE in the fledging Ethnic Studies Program, being paid
$350. The mid-1970s was a very dramatic period for Hawaiʻi as the political landscape began to change, inspired primarily by the Native Hawaiian movement. But that wasnʻt the only thing that inspired hundreds of community and student activists to become radicalized and demand changes - more than 35 plantations throughout the state were shutting down as sugar and pineapple industries left Hawaiʻi and even the iconic pineapple water tower in Iwilei is gone. If you can, imagine the impact that it would have on these communities, many of whom were being ousted and evicted from their residences for real estate development and the emerging hotel-tourism industry. In response, many locals organized the anti-eviction movement, not just on Oʻahu but throughout the state and some of these radicalized community activists and students would enter the University of Hawaiʻi and would have many powerful questions such as, “Who does the university serve? How does the community benefit?” Many asked, “why donʻt we know the history and contribution of our grandparents and parents?” who were the backbone of Hawaiʻiʻs economy.

At that time, there were no classes at the University that talked about these things, and hardly any research or writings about the contributions of the local Japanese, Filipino, Portuguese, Puerto Ricans, Chinese and a strong movement began to develop demanding a program that would address these issues. But that wasnʻt the only problem. At that time, there were few local people who were tenured or held teaching status. On top of that, most of the administration were what we would call “Haole”, who really didnʻt have a sensitivity toward the desires of locals and Hawaiians to have their history and culture be taught at the University. And this is what started the movement for Ethnic Studies with the slogan, “Our history, our way”.

It took many years, but finally after many sit-ins, and a major occupation at Bachman Hall, we finally achieved a semblance of a victory – because our funding was manini (miniscule). I spent 35 years of my life at the University of Hawaiʻi, painstakingly working from being a lecturer to being the Chair of the Department. Iʻm proud to say that we built Ethnic Studies to become prominent not only nationally but also internationally as one of the best Ethnic Studies programs in the Asia-Pacific region.

Once again, because of the pandemic and the damage itʻs done to the economy and revenue, the most vulnerable programs are under attack. For example, elimination of critical programs such as Philippine Languages would be a huge mistake. These programs have a function in effective communication of health outreach and social services information. We know that Filipino communities are more vulnerable to COVID-19 and need more, not less resources from experts about these cultures. While it may seem like hard economic decisions need to be made, we have to think outside the box. I would suggest that the University make hard decisions to even go into deficit because the pandemic is not going to last forever. We need the Board of Regents to bite the bullet and sign a Social Contract with these programs to restore the funding when things get better in a few years. We can ask the Governnor to do that – because thatʻs what the State did in the 1980s when the Japanese real estate boom busted. We have to make decisions that even vulnerable programs are important. It would take a courageous stand by the Board of Regents to support these programs no matter how dire our budgets are. I challenge the Board of regents and the adminstration at the University to support these programs.
Ethnic Studies I would say has produced as many outstanding political, community, and government leaders as any other program at the University of Hawaiʻi. Thatʻs why we have the support of the community. We will also be calling on our friends and allies in the State Legislature and Congress, and the communities, the labor unions and other civic organizations to support us.

But thatʻs why we need the support of the BOR too. We need an agreement that while budget cuts cannot be avoided, funding can be restored when the economy bounces back. This is a stand that the BOR needs to make as an investment in the people, culture and community of Hawaiʻi. Thatʻs a solemn pledge you should make to the people of Hawaiʻi.

Mahalo and salamat, Dr. Dean Alegado

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