Manuel O. Sanchez: Puerto Rican Civil Rights Activist

On March 2, 1917 the United States enacted the The JonesShafroth Act granting U.S. citizenship to Puerto Ricans. However, Puerto Ricans that had migrated to Hawaii, by then an already U.S. territory, were not recognized as U.S. Citizens until later that year.

In 1899 Puerto Rico was hit by a  devastating hurricane by the name of San Ciriaco. It packed winds of over 100 miles per hour pouring rain that lasted 28 days. San Ciriaco killed an estimated 3,400 people and left thousands without food, water or shelter. It also left the island economically ruined in the form of leveled coffee plantations and shortage of sugar. The dire situation sent a ripple effect throughout the Caribbean as the world market saw a spike in demand for sugar. Meanwhile, Hawaii’s production increased but had a shortage of laborers to meet the demand and so, yes, you guessed it, Hawaiian plantation owners began recruiting Puerto Ricans left jobless by the hurricane. Therefore, kick starting the immigration of Puerto Ricans to Hawaii. 

Puerto Ricans in the fields on Maui, circa 1920. In the plantation camps where laborers lived, managers segregated them by nationality.

Puerto Ricans in the fields on Maui, circa 1920. In the plantation camps where laborers lived, managers segregated them by nationality.

On November 22nd, 1900 the first wave of over 100 Puerto Ricans arrived in Hawaii. They endured discrimination and many hardships along the way.  By 1901 there were 5,000 Puerto Ricans living in Hawaii including Manuel Olivieri Sanchez who was 13 years old at the time. Sanchez and his mother migrated to Hawaii after the family was left in financial ruin after his father’s death.

After the passage of the Jones-Shafroth Act of 1917, many Puerto Ricans in Hawaii signed up to vote for local elections but were denied the right to vote by the county clerk named David Kalauokalani who claimed that early immigrants to Hawaii were not covered by the Jones Act. This was because an association called the “Hawaiian Sugar Planters’ Association” (HSPA), found territorial status convenient, enabling them to continue importing cheap foreign labor i.e. P.R. & Asia. Such immigration was prohibited in various other states of the Union.”(Land and Power in Hawaii: The Democratic Years).  Sanchez was upset when he realized the civil rights of Puerto Ricans were violated and decided to take the matter to court. The local courts ruled in favor of David Kalauokalani so Olivieria Sanchez hired two lawyers and took the case to the supreme court. Fortunately, the lower court’s decision was overturned and Puerto Ricans in Hawaii were officially recognized as U.S. citizens on October 22nd 1917. Today we thank Sanchez and write about his work to bring forth the thousands of Puerto Ricans that would have been left without representation were it not for his unrelenting pursuit for equal rights.


Pa’lante Latino showcases current events in the arts, entertainment, politics, and culture as it affects our community. Above all, we are ferocious advocates of the contributions that Hispanics/Latinos have made to the United States and feature articles based on historical facts to reaffirm our relevance.Please feel free to email us at


10 Responses to “Manuel O. Sanchez: Puerto Rican Civil Rights Activist”

  1. Great info. Had no idea. I have met many Puerto Ricans from Hawaii, especially, in the military. They were called, local boys. Thank you. Blessings.

  2. I never realized the hardship my people went through. I did research Dating back to the Tainos and i can say even though i was born and raised in NYC, i am extremely proud of my people. Siempre sere Borikena. GOD bless the Tainos i know they still exist when i looked at my mom i saw it. She looked Indian.

  3. Very interesting, good know the facts of my culture , proud to be Boricua de Corazon

  4. Jane Conde

    I knew of the Puerto Ricans who left Puerto Rico to work in the fields of Hawaii, but I did not know that they did not become US citizens until 1917. Very interesting information, glad to know. We have such a rich culture. I am also proud to be Boricua!

  5. Puerto Ricans have endored predijuce for over a hundred years, case in point The Boriqueneers … Not to mention all the other incidents that people never heard about !!!!

    • We still endure prejudice, discrimination and the like. But the only way to fight it is by educating ourselves and passing the knowledge because we have been major contributors to this side of the world before and after U.S. colonization. Thanks for the comment.

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