A Century of Change: Immigrant Mobility in Hawai’i, 1900-2000

Sabrina Nasir, University of California, Irvine

Hawaii’s 20th century witnessed unprecedented immigration from Asia, an expanding plantation economy, and the installment of a US military-backed government after the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy. Absent a robust manufacturing sector and reliant on low-wage immigrant labor, Hawaii’s 20th century is a case study in examining the commonly held assumption in immigration theory that manufacturing was the means for historical mobility. Hawaii’s dependence on low-wage industries for workers – agriculture in the first half of the 20th century and tourism in the latter half – begs the question that this research asks, which is: did Asian immigrants who came to Hawai’i at the turn of the 20th century - many of whom started as precarious agricultural laborers - experience upward intergenerational social and economic mobility, and if so, how do these mobility patterns compare with those of Whites and Native Hawaiians? The significance of examining Hawaii’s historical mobility is twofold: assessing a preconceived belief commonly referenced in immigration literature but also using the past to set forth a better understanding of what has changed for the present. Recent years in Hawai’i have seen a 2015 state of emergency declared for the rise in homelessness, immigrant groups from Micronesia filing lawsuits for alleged disparities in healthcare, and a crisis in the cost of living resulting in first-ever net out-migration. This research uses historical Census data to create longitudinal cross-tabulations that operationalize mobility through income, employment, education, and housing. Findings indicate that while general patterns of upward mobility occurred over the century, racial/ethnic stratification remained, with Native Hawaiians and Filipinos consistently on the lower end of mobility indicators and Chinese and Japanese groups at the top. This paper concludes by discussing what these patterns suggest in terms of mobility pathways and immigration theory.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 268. Understudied Racial Populations