Richard Caldito Sr. (1913-2011), The First Fil-Am Elected County Official in the US

Several weeks ago, a Filipino-American was posthumously honored in Hawaii.

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.

“The Richard Caldito Government Service Scholarship was created by the Maui Filipino Chamber Foundation to honor Mr. Caldito’s memory and to inspire our youth to pursue a career in government service,” said Elizabeth Ayson, chairperson of the Scholarship Committee.

Atty. Alfredo Evangelisto, chairperson of the Chamber’s Cultural Committee, added that “Caldito’s advice to young people was to get educated by going to college as their future depended on their education.”

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 the first Pinoy to win a Maui County election, when he was elected to the Maui County Board of Supervisors. He continued serving on that body, which became the County Council, until 1972.

More than two years ago (in July 2011) Caldito passed away at the age of 98, in his home in Kahului.

The ‘Tata’ of the Filipino community in Maui

Born on February 1, 1913 in Bacarra, Ilocos Norte, Philippines, Richard 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, Richard 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 Richard was 9 years old when his parents came to Maui in 1922 as sacadas (plantation contract laborers).

His long life was filled with trials, but Richard persevered and never gave up so there were many triumphs as well.

The Caldito family found life as sacadas in Hawaii so hard that Richard’s mother, brother and sister returned to the Philippines after only one year.

Only Richard and his father stayed on to continue working as laborers in the plantations on Valley Isle. Richard studied at the Waihee Elementary School while helping his father in the plantation.

In 1938, when Richard 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, Richard 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 Richard considered his hanai brother and sister, Richard 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 Richard met his wife, Dorothy Lovell of Kauai, with whom he had five children: Richard (Toni) Jr., Charlene, Nona, Ivy, and Iola.

Richard 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, Richard 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, Richard 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, Richard 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.

Richard 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.

LA Weekend March 30 – April 2, 2013 Sec. A pg.10)

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