Siberian Immigrants in Hawaii

October 9, 2015 1:15 pm
by David Jakeman

When most people think of immigrant to Hawaii, they think of those coming from the neighboring Pacific islands and countries. Hawaii immigration attorneys often work with immigrants from the Philippines, Samoa, the Marshal Islands, Japan, and Korea. Hawaii also has a long history of immigrants coming to work in agricultural production over the past dozen decades. It is not surprising to hear stories from individuals telling about their immigrant heritage from around the Pacific.

It’s a bit more of a surprise to hear of Siberian immigrants to Hawaii. There were actually a number of Siberian immigrants who did make the journey in the early 1900s. While they may have been leaving the frozen tundra behind, their time in Hawaii was far from paradise. They came as agricultural workers, and even though they, like many other immigrants, hoped for a better life, they found that things were not quite nice as imagined.

Immigrants to Hawaii

The Hawaii Board of Immigration sought to bring Russians from Siberia to work on the island plantations. While earlier Japanese immigrants and Chinese immigrants had come to work in Hawaii to work on the sugar plantations, Hawaiian officials had become concerned about unrest among members of these populations. Several thousand Japanese immigrants who worked on the plantations had gone on strike in 1909. They wanted better pay and better working conditions.

As an effort to remedy this situation, Hawaiian officials offered incentives to persuade Russian immigrants to come. It was also an effort to get more white labor and make the island whiter. Not surprisingly, these Russian workers received a higher wage—about one-third more than what their Asian immigrant counterparts received. The effort was led by an entrepreneurial Honolulu man. He helped spearhead a Russian propaganda effort with pamphlets promising good pay, nice weather, a little house, not too many hours to work, and wages.

Tough Times in Hawaii

Immigration attorneys know that life in a new country often doesn’t live up to expectations, but these Russian immigrants had been deliberately lied to. And like their Japanese immigrant counterparts, they started to strike. They also fell prey to measles and found themselves quarantined. The language barrier also created a problem, and the Russian immigrants found it difficult to adapt. They got in trouble for bathing naked on a public beach.

Many left Hawaii for other places, like California or New York. A few returned to Russia. When the Bolshevik Revolution took place seven years later, Russian officials sent a representative to try to get them to come home. A few did, while others wanted to avoid a country torn by civil war. Those who returned kept memories of Hawaii with them for the rest of their lives. 1 Hawaiian officials came to see the immigration scheme as a failure, and the Russian immigrants and their descendents integrated in ways those of other backgrounds could not.


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