Filipino Housekeepers in Maui Face Uncertain Future

Individuals of Filipino descent comprise about 70% of the local tourism labor union.

September 12, 2023

An article by the Associated Press (AP) recently explored the possibility that hotel workers on Maui, Hawaii, the majority of which are Filipino, might consider leaving the island in the aftermath of the devastating Lahaina wildfire.

According to the labor union UNITE HERE Local 5, which represents hotel, healthcare, and food service workers, about 70% of its membership is Filipino. Filipinos are the second-largest ethnic group on Maui, AP reports, and comprised 40% of Lahaina’s population before a deadly wildfire hit the town in early August.

Now, many of the region’s housekeepers, after having lost their Lahaina homes to the wildfire, are finding themselves living in hotels themselves and are asking themselves what the future holds.

One such housekeeper of Filipino decent, according to AP, is 61-year-old Elsie Rosales, who is now staying with members of her family at the Sands of Kahana resort, where her 72-year-old sister, Evangeline Balintona, who also lost her Lahaina home, currently works as a housekeeper.

Rosales’ three sons don’t want her to sell her destroyed Lahaina property, but she is finding it difficult to think about rebuilding. Balintona is considering moving to Ilocos Norte, the family’s hometown in the Philippines, worried that the dwindling number of tourists, who have avoided Maui resorts since the wildfire, will mean the eventual loss of her job.

A number of hotels on the west coast of Maui will remain closed to tourists at least through the end of September, as lodging is being reserved for emergency disaster workers as well as displaced Lahaina residents.

Hawaii State Senator Gilbert Keith-Agaran, whose district includes the island of Maui, told AP that he would not be surprised to see Lahaina’s Filipinos leave the state for more affordable places, such as Las Vegas.

AP also discovered from longtime Lahaina residents a fear that, as wealthy real estate buyers purchase fire-ravished property to renovate, the “new” Lahaina that rises from its ashes won’t similarly embrace Filipinos and other ethnic groups who were the working backbone of the community. 

“The new Lahaina should be the old Lahaina,” said Maui resident Alicia Kalepa. “Mixed culture.”

But Keith-Agaran, whose father came to Hawaii from the Philippines in 1946 to work on a plantation, expressed more hope, telling AP, “I think it’s hard to take the Filipinos out of the fabric of our community.”

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