In 1962, Dr. Howard McKaughan, a professor of linguistics at the University of Hawaii, initiated the offering of Tagalog at the Department of Asian and Pacific Languages. With only one course offering, the first lecturer to teach Tagalog was Medina Pawley. In 1963, first and second year Tagalog courses were offered.

Dr. Teresita Ramos, the first tenure track instructor, took upon the laborious task of teaching two levels of the language, developing and organizing language tapes and writing supplementary material. She worked on three volumes on teaching Tagalog: lessons, dictionary and grammar. These materials, together with a series of books on 7 major Philippine languages became known as the PALl series. What started as a class of mere 5 non-Filipinos students flourished into the only program that offers a bachelor’s degree in Filipino in the United States under leadership of Dr. Ramos.

In Fall 1990, Dr. Ruth Mabanglo joined the Program. She established the Katipunan club in 1992 to promote and preserve Filipino culture. Dr. Mabanglo’s expertise strengthened the program with the introduction of courses on translation, literature, film and the arts. The first Song Festival was launched in Fall 1996 to differentiate it from the Spring culmination activity, the Drama Festival.

The Advanced Filipino Abroad Program began in 1991. This was an experimental project to bring 10-15 students to learn advanced level Tagalog in an immersion setting. This project has trained about 110 students in Filipino in the Philippines. Since 1991, the 8-week immersion program has been funded by the U.S. Department of Education, Fulbright-Hays Program. It is the only advanced program in Filipino set in the Philippines.

Through the able leadership of its faculty, the Filipino and Philippine Literature Program (in 2019, the BA curriculum was revised into a single and flexible track called BA Philippine Language and Culture) have pioneered language and culture projects that benefit not only the academic community but the Filipino American population in Hawaii. The outreach projects it started include the Filipino for High School Summer Project in 2000, Filipino for Kids Summer Project at the Filipino Community Center (2005 and 2006), the Independent Filipino Film Festival (2006), the Philippine Literature Festival (2007), Southeast Asian Writers Panel Discussion (2002, 2004, 2007), Sa Indayog ng Wika, and other collaborations with the community such as the Pasko, Filipino Fiesta and the Honolulu Festival.