There is a lot going on in the world and on social media right now. Recently Black men were killed by white men, for existing in the wrong spaces at the wrong time. All of this tragedy on top of living through a global pandemic is unconscionable. Check in with your Black and Brown friends, but do it on their terms – this is about their needs not ours.
May is Asian Pacific American Heritage month. Since it is almost the end of May, I want to spend some time talking about our Pacific Islander relations. According to the US Census 1.6 million Pacific Islanders live in the US. Native Hawaiians were the largest sub-group with over 620,000. The Pacific Islander ethnic group, like other race and ethnic groups, is not monolithic. Within the Pacific Islander category are many different ethnic and cultural groups including:
i-Kiribati / Gilbertese
I grew up in Hawaii, but I’m not Hawaiian. When I talk to people outside of Hawaii this confuses them. Native Hawaiians are indigenous to Hawaii. As an Asian of Japanese and Okinawan descent, I do not say I am Hawaiian. For me to say I’m Hawaiian would be disingenuous and take away from the richness of Native Hawaiian people. The same can be said for many of the other Pacific Islander groups. Such as in college I was friends with people from Guam. Some of them were Chamorro, while others were from Guam but of other race groups.
Each of these ethnic groups have different cultural backgrounds – some may be similar to each other, but still different, different languages, food, traditions, migration stories. When it comes to data, often times systems fail to see these differences and lump them together. There is strength in numbers, but at the same time we need to do the deeper work of understanding who is in our community.
Too often our Pacific Islander communities are overlooked, not fairly represented, their data is lumped with Asian which overshadows needs or strengths. Politically many Pacific Islander communities are still fighting for basic rights and needs. In Washington, the Marshallese community has been fighting for food access, medical and dental access, and other basic needs. In the 1950s the US government used the Republic of Marshall Islands for nuclear testing. As a result many of the residents had to leave to escape the radioactive contamination. Some of the residents have relocated to the continental US at the invitation of the US Government, but have not been provided with medical coverage even though they were exposed to high levels of radioactivity due to the US government using their homeland as a nuclear testing ground. Other Pacific Islands, including Nauru, are now threated with flooding due to climate change. These needs and stories are often overlooked, but if we are to be in just relations with our Pacific Islander communities we need to listen, learn, and be allies in their fights for recognition and justice. Thankfully some of the Pacific Islands have been spared COVID19 because of strict measures to keep the virus out. American Samoa so far has zero cases (y’all don’t think about going there to escape).
Learn About Pacific Islander Culture and History
Since our local library is closed due to COVID19 stay-at-home orders, our normal flow of new books has dropped. About a week ago I finished reading our e-book from the library, my kid and I couldn’t find another e-book we both agreed on. I decided to check our bookshelf to see what we had on hand. I pulled out the book Hawaii’s Story by Queen Lili’uokalani. I bought it a while ago while in Hawaii, but never read it. Now seemed like the perfect time to do so. I’ve been reading it to my kid, who would much rather I read one of his choices, but he is slowly learning to enjoy the biography. As I read it, I’m putting into deeper context a lot of what I learned growing up in Hawaii. For my kid he’s getting his first doses of Hawaiian and Pacific Islander history.
For the younger one, I was fortunate to pick up Maui’s Taonga Tales, a treasury of stories from Aotearoa and the Pacific, from the library before the library closed due to coronavirus. This means we’ve had the book in our house for weeks now. The book has short stories with gorgeous artwork. I plan on putting this on my list of books for next year’s birthday book drive.
In Puget Sound the Pacific Islander community is strong. During the summer (probably not this year) I love stumbling upon the Samoan Cricket League playing at Jefferson Park in Seattle. Watching and listening to them narrate the game in Samoan is great. There are also other organizations supporting the Pacific Islander communities:
- Pacific Islander Health Board of Washington
- UTOPIA (United Territories of Pacific Islanders Alliance) – a queer trans-led organization
As we close out Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, please take time to learn more and be an ally to our Pacific Islander neighbors and communities.
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