MAUI, Hawaii—A local chamber of commerce recently launched a scholarship in honor of the first Filipino-American to be elected to a county office in the United States.
The Maui Filipino Chamber of Commerce Foundation announced the inaugural Richard Caldito Government Service Scholarship for a college student majoring in government, political science, or a related field.
Richard “Pablo” Caldito Sr. was the first Filipino-American to be elected to a county office in the United States. He also held the distinction of being the first Fil-Am politician to be elected as a Democrat in America.
In 1956, Caldito was elected to the Maui County Board of Supervisors. He continued serving on that body, which became the County Council, until 1972.
Caldito passed away at the age of 98 more than two years ago (in July 2011), in his home in Kahului.
“The Richard Caldito Government Service Scholarship was created to honor Mr. Caldito’s memory and to inspire our youth to pursue a career in government service,” said Elizabeth Ayson, chair of the foundation’s scholarship committee.
Atty. Alfredo Evangelisto, chair of the cultural committee, added, “Caldito’s advice to young people was to get educated by going to college as their future depended on their education.”
The “Tata” of Filipinos in Maui
Born on February 1, 1913 in Bacarra, Ilocos Norte, Philippines, Caldito was considered the “Tata” (grandfather) of the Filipino community in Maui.
He was very much involved in many community activities through the Catholic Church, Boy Scouts, and school and business groups. He was also one of the founders of the United Filipino Council of Hawaii in 1959.
In 1998, Caldito was named by Filipino Image Magazine as one of the 20 Outstanding Filipino Americans in North America and Guam.
He also received numerous other awards, including the UFCH Certificate of Recognition of Lifetime Achievement and the Maui Filipino Community Council Bini At Ani Achievement Award.
A hardy life
Maui News reported that Caldito was nine years old when his parents came to Maui in 1922 as sacadas (plantation contract laborers).
His long life was filled with trials, but Caldito persevered and never gave up so there were many triumphs as well.
The Caldito family found life as sacadas in Hawaii so hard that his mother, brother and sister returned to the Philippines after only one year.
Only Caldito and his father stayed on to continue working as laborers in the plantations on Valley Isle. He studied at the Waihee Elementary School while helping his father in the plantation.
In 1938, when Caldito was 25 years old, he and his father moved back home to Ilocos to join the rest of their family. Apparently, the pay they earned as sacadas in Hawaii wasn’t enough to sustain their family.
“You couldn’t live on $20 a month,” Kalani Caldito, Richard’s grandson, told Maui News.
Despite the hardships he encountered living in Maui, Caldito decided to move back to Hawaii several years later.
He was able to find work at the Japanese-owned Yamanaka store. He came to live with the Yamanaka family in Waihee.
He grew up with the family who treated him as “hanai” (a Hawaiian term loosely meaning “adopted” without any legal formalities; to take in like a family member).
Growing up with Nobu Yamanaka and Maggie Yamanaka Ikeda, whom Caldito considered his hanai brother and sister, Caldito was able to learn Japanese, which helped him later in his life, as he dealt with various sectors in the community as a member of the County Council.
It was in the Yamanaka store where Caldito met his wife, Dorothy Lovell of Kauai, with whom he had five children: Richard (Toni) Jr., Charlene, Nona, Ivy, and Iola.
Caldito worked at various jobs while he studied at Lahainaluna School, Baldwin High School, and La Salle University. Some of the companies he worked for before he entered the political arena were the Waihee Dairy, Wailuku Sugar, Hawaii Life Assurance, and Maui Realty.
An influential community leader
While working at Waihee Dairy, Caldito became active in politics. He became a member of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) and worked closely with Tom Yagi, a staunch Democrat and leader of ILWU.
Being an influential and hardworking community leader, Caldito was asked by Democratic county chairman Elmer Cravalho to run in 1956 for the Board of Supervisors, which preceded the formation of the County Council.
He won the elections of 1956, and he continued to serve the as a Board of Supervisor/ County Council member for 15 years.
After serving the County, Caldito continued to be active in community affairs and in fact, worked in Maui Realty up to the age of 98, before his death in 2011.
According to his daughter Iola, Richard was “very well-respected, kind, caring, very wise, a good Christian who always used prayer in his guidance,” as reported by Maui News.
Caldito lived almost a century, serving his community.
And even after his long full life, with The Richard Caldito Government Service Scholarship providing educational funds to students of government service, he continues to inspire people and serve as a role model for our youth.