Filipinx American History: A Celebration of Community, Activism, and Persistence

Family Memories: Experiences and Legacies of the Domingo Family

Born in 1898, my great grandfather, Justo Guillermo Domingo, migrated from Piddig, Ilocos Norte in 1918, later finding work as a laborer at the Waimea Sugar Co. on the west side of Kaua‘i. A few years later he saved up enough money to go back and bring my great grandmother, Susana “Sanang” Corsino, with him. They had ten children together--of which seven survived until adulthood-- and their large extended family of descendants remember them fondly as “Apo Man” and “Apo Lady.” Justo worked first as a sugarcane cutter in the fields, and later at the Waimea Sugar Mill. Other Domingo family relatives and friends also worked for the nearby Kekaha Sugar, and many have been proud members of (and even organizers with) ILWU 142. 

Justo and Susana raised their children in the Waimea Mill Camp, a company owned community for plantation laborers and their families. Life in the camps was tough due to poverty and lack of resources, but almost universally my family members remember it fondly as a time of strong community and sharing. Several generations of Domingos grew up in and around the camp, and these community and family centered values continue to live on in my extended family. Apo Man was known for being able to fix almost anything, and would often fix and make new toys for neighborhood children. Apo Lady was a master fisherwoman and by all accounts an incredibly tough woman; my mother even remembers she would smoke her hand rolled cigars with the lit end in her mouth! Although with the decline of the sugar industry since the 1970s most original residents have moved away, the Mill Camp community remains tight-knit, and even had a reunion in 2017, which my grandmother Flo “Inshiang” Abrams and some of her siblings attended. Much of the camp has been today redeveloped into a resort called Waimea Plantation Cottages, where they even have a guest cottage named after Justo Domingo! 

Our large extended Domingo family is now spread out--across the islands as well as in California, Oregon, Georgia, and other places--but we still retain strong ties to each other and to Kaua‘i where we periodically hold family gatherings and reunions. Some of my best memories as a child were made during these visits, hanging out and talking story with family at potluck barbecues at Salt Ponds and bonfires at Kekaha beach, especially when my great uncles, aunties, and cousins would breaking out the ukuleles and sing their favorite mill camp songs, like “Pearly Little Shells,” “Beautiful Kaua‘i,” and “Dahil Sa’yo.” Although I grew up far away and relatively disconnected, these experiences taught me about community, care, and the importance of place. It is through my experiences with my family that I learned the importance of our histories as Filipinxs from Hawai‘i--beyond flags, nationalism, and cultural commodities--and to always walk with pride in our complex heritage. Today, as many of our elders are getting older, and some have become ancestors in recent years, I hope to forever carry with me and continue to renew their legacies in my own life and community organizing work. 


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