Filipinos make up the largest ethnic group in the islands, and many descendants of the first immigrants still have strong cultural ties with their native land.
Whether they were from Pangasinan, Zambales, Kalinga, or Nueva Vizcaya, most sakadas passed through the river port of Cabugao in Ilocos Sur on their way to ships that would bring them to Hawaii plantations.
Many would settle on Hawaii island, but on Sunday night, their descendants were in Honolulu to greet a VIP from their home province.
He may look like a high school valedictorian or the latest Filipino pop star, but Josh Cobangbang is the mayor of the city of Cabugao, elected last year at the age of 21, the youngest ever in the Philippines.
That isn’t the only milestone for this young politician. In his first bid for elected office, he garnered 98 percent of the vote.
Many in Salt Lake let Cobangbang know the margin would be just as high if he were ever to run for office here.
“He’s very young, but ambitious and persistent leader,” said Al Sabangan with Sons and Daughters of Cabugao.
The admiration is mutual.
“When I get to see my fellow Cabugaoans here in Hawaii, I see the happiness, the sense of ohana they still have although they are far from home,” Cobangbang said.
The mayor is reciprocating the visit of Gov. David Ige, who toured Cabugao earlier this month. He flies back next week to prepare for another arrival, when President Donald Trump visits Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.
When asked what he hopes the two presidents will discuss, Cobangbang replied, “Personally, I hope they discuss anything regarding programs that will benefit Filipinos and Filipino communities in the U.S., as well as tourism.”
Cobangbang’s campaign priorities are developing tourism, vocational training for youth, and providing a potable water system. He’s also pursuing a master’s degree in public management.
“All of the people are behind him and supportive of everything he has as a project,” said Emelyn Damo with Cabugao Association of Hawaii.
On Sunday, he was mainly dodging the ladies who want to fix him up with their daughters and nieces.
We asked, is his teen appearance a hindrance in either his professional or personal life?
“I don’t let it become a disadvantage,” Cobangbang said.