ACAP History & Background

Documentary on Ah Quon McElrath, UH Social Work Graduate

In the photo, AQ talks to union members about the value of organizing for better pay and working conditions. Presentations were given in the multiple languages of the workers, including Japanese, Ilocano, Hawaiian, English, and Pidgin.

Ah Quon (AQ) McElrath (1915-2008) was a social worker, long-time labor leader in Hawai‘i’s struggle for democracy, an older adult advocate for health equity and social justice, and an exemplar of active aging.

A one-hour documentary of her life is being produced by the Center for Labor Education and Research at the University of Hawai‘i – West O‘ahu, with support from the Center on Aging and the Barbara Cox Anthony Endowment at the Thompson School of Social Work & Public Health.

This one-hour documentary, scheduled for release in early 2022, tells the story of AQ. As a child of Chinese immigrant parents, she was born into poverty, and the struggle of her early years shaped a life-long passion to advocate for the poor, the oppressed, and the working class.

She saw the union movement as a vehicle to bring equality and dignity to the lives of working men and women. Her leadership with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) helped end racial divisions and created a powerful movement for social change. AQ was an advocate for education, healthcare, fair housing, and human rights. Her passion and support for education led to an appointment to the University of Hawai‘i Board of Regents.  

The documentary draws on hundreds of hours of archival film and video, collected by Chris Conybeare and Joy Chong-Stannard, working together since 1982. The screenplay is written by Victoria Nalani Kneubuhl, renown local playwright.

Through an examination of her life, the film documents some of Hawai‘i’s most important history and demonstrates how one woman’s compassion and determination helped lift thousands of families out of poverty.

An associated website is already live, hosted by the Hawai‘i Labor Heritage Council. Please visit to access the film’s trailer, other video clips, stories and photos of old Hawai‘i, and educational tools for students and scholars.

To enhance the well-being of older adults through interdisciplinary and collaborative efforts in research, educational programs, and service to the community


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