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HIPCC Cultural & Educational Center

Established in 1982, the HIPCC saw the need to form a 501(c)(3) to build a center as they saw their culture being lost at an alarming rate. By 2006, founding member Frank DeLuz III had donated an acre of land in Hilo for the Center’s location. A Building Committee was formed and by 2015 a vision of what major components would comprise the center and initial clearing of the land occurred. In November of 2015, Dr. Marlene Hapai, HIPCC President and a seasoned grant writer, began gathering background information to write a grant-in-aid to the State of Hawaii to seek some funding. A major contribution and component of the grant was the pro bono architectural work done by Fred Erskine Architects providing a rendering of the proposed center to gain support. The grant proposal was submitted in January of 2016 prior to the opening of the Legislature. By February, Senator Kai Kahele had become the champion for the center which would be located in his district and by March close to 1,000 signatures and over 500 letters had been sent to the Legislature from the Big Island community in support of the Center. On April 28th, as the Legislative session approached adjournment, the Senate Ways and Means and House Finance Committees announced their grant-in-aid funding with the Center receiving a $1 million award.  To date we have raised over $1.8 million through grants from the State of Hawai´i, County of Hawai´i, and Atherton Family Foundation; contributions from community members who participated in our in-person and virtual fundraising, donations from individual, family and corporate sponsors, in-kind Donations/Gifts; and our Founding Donors who each donated $10,000 or more.  A new site plan and floor plan were developed by Hilo Direct Consultants LLC.


Launched with its first substantial funding in 2016 with a $1 million State of Hawaii GIA, the Hawaii Island Portuguese Chamber of Commerce Cultural and Educational Center has attained all needed funds, both State and private to begin sitework and building construction as of July 26, 2023 with the awarding of a final $200,000 State of Hawaii GIA. The gift and sale of a piece of property valued at $285,000 has also brought final funding into place.  The one-acre parcel gifted to the Center, thereby eliminating the need to purchase land, is  cleared and ready for sitework to begin, which will commence in mid-2024, using Center private  funds.  Sitework/civil work to include grading and grubbing as well as parking and striping, will  be done under a separate contract by the Center, all with funds raised or donated over the past 7 years.  In addition, over a million dollars of services have been donated during this time, but are not
available for sitework and construction purposes.

First and foremost, the center will be a repository for archiving the rich history and legacy of the Portuguese in Hawaii. A preservation effort is needed now, before historic photos and documents are lost to ever changing societal and family priorities. Invaluable works such as “Portuguese Hawaiian Memories” by J.F. Freitas, originally published in 1930 and reprinted in 1992, and other historical documents must be preserved for future generations.  The HIPCC has shown its sincerity in sharing the Portuguese culture by hosting the Dennis Aguiar Portuguese Day in the Park each year in Hilo for the past 20 years. Annually the event provides Portuguese Bean Soup and milk bread fresh from the stone oven to all as a gift from the Chamber to the community. A home of its own will enable it to offer so much more to the public instead of operating in a weather-dependent venue. $136,000 has also been provided to students to further their educations through the Chamber’s scholarships.


The second aim of the project is to create a place for fellowship and sharing, a sense of community, a hallmark of Portuguese values and tradition. The project will include 3,700 square feet of building and lanai space under cover with 2,100 square feet of building inside. The building will include a main hall with kitchenette and AV areas; archive, reference and storage rooms and 3 restrooms: one male, one female and one unisex. An outside lanai and walkways will provide additional usable space for Center activities. 30 parking stalls will be available, with 2 designated as ADA compliant. State GIA monies will be used for building construction, landscaping purposes and other project expenses required of the general contractor.


Finally, the humorous and gregarious nature of the Portuguese should not be allowed to overshadow their deep pride and dignity as a people. When the original Portuguese immigrants left their homeland, it was never to return. They left behind family and friends to find a new life. In their assimilation most did not pass on their language and it is said that when a language dies so does its culture. This center will enable language classes and cultural experiences to share what was brought with the original Portuguese that came to Hawaii and let them interact with the new generations of families and friends left behind via today’s technology. These “Electronic Family Reunion” experiences will be available to everyone using the facility.

The exhibits will showcase the Exploration, Emigration and Assimilation of the Portuguese from the Age of Discovery of the 14th and 15th centuries, to the emigration of the Portuguese from mainland Portugal, the Azores and Madeira Islands in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s to the Kingdom of Hawaii. The assimilation of the Portuguese from that time to today, as a major contributor to Hawaii’s melting pot of people, to its food, music, paniolo heritage, the establishment of the Big Island’s historic towns as original founders and business owners and the impact of those of Portuguese ancestry today making a difference in our community through business, educational, cultural and other endeavors will also be highlighted.

We are asking the community, both local and global, to lend their financial support to make this center a reality.

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