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Leadership Summit for Pacific Islander Youth Focuses on Education, Empowerment
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Caption BulletHigh school students at the Statewide Pacific Islander Youth Leadership Summit learned to combine community pride with educational goals; photo by GK

Leadership Summit for Pacific Islander Youth Focuses on Education, Empowerment

The Statewide Pacific Islander Youth Leadership Summit was held at California State University, Dominguez Hills on Nov. 13 in the Loker Student Union. With the theme, “Empowering a Healthy Generation,” the event presented high school students with information on education, physical and mental health, and career options. Breakout sessions gave students a chance to discuss issues such as staying in school, going to college, health, and exploring ethnic roots.

“The Pacific Islander community and CSU Dominguez Hills have embraced each other as a family with the shared goal of helping Pacific Islander youth to succeed,” said Dr. Pamela Krochalk, professor and chair, Division of Health Sciences. “For nearly 10 years, we have had the privilege of partnering with the Pacific Islander community to promote health and well-being. Initially, we developed research proposals and co-sponsored various conferences focusing on health issues specific to Pacific Islanders. Four years ago we began focusing on Tongan youth in the South Bay and this year the program was expanded to include youth from all Pacific Island heritages [statewide].”

Former NFL player Chris Ma’umalanga presided as the program moderator of the daylong event. Featured speakers included California assemblymembers Warren Furutani (D-55th Dist.) and Mike Eng (D- 49th Dist.), and Tana Lepule, Union of Pan Asian Communities. The assembled students were also greeted by CSU Dominguez Hills President Mildred García and head baseball coach of Toros Athletics Murphy Su’a.

Ma’umalanga said that during the last four years that the event has taken place, there has been an increase in college students of Pacific Islander heritage – which includes Samoan, Tongan, the Marquesas Island and Fiji.

“We found that the kids are thirsting for this information, just to feel that they matter, that they belong, that they have some significance,” he said. “When we first started, we had zero Tongan kids at [CSU Dominguez Hills]. Now we have half a dozen, that’s in a span of less than three years. We also have another three kids at the University of Arizona and one kid at UCLA. Those numbers seem pretty small. But from being on the ground level working with the community, we’ve seen some tremendous impacts.”

According to Vaka Faletau, co-chair of the summit’s planning committee and a Los Angeles County social worker, recent studies in Oakland found that Pacific Islanders had the highest high school dropout rate compared to all ethnicities and that Hawaiian and Pacific Islander youth had the highest risk of depression, the highest number of multiple substance abusers with anti-social behavioral issues. In addition, he said that while juvenile arrests nationwide have decreased in the last two decades, Asian and Pacific Islander juveniles were the only groups to experience a relative increase in arrests, adjudication and conviction rate compared to other ethnicities.

“We are looking to influence policy makers and legislators in building awareness regarding the needs of our youth and families when it comes to education, health, substance abuse, youth violence, and mental health,” said Faletau, who is the co-founder of the Tongan American Youth Foundation.

Val LiHang Jacobo of the nonprofit EPIC (Empowering Pacific Islander Communities) facilitated a workshop for the students on “Warriors Within,” addressing the stereotypes that are often attached to Pacific Islanders.

“We’re interested with how they see themselves and how they define a ‘warrior,’” she said. “We’ve got silent warriors who are like our chieftains [who] usually don’t speak but make most of the decisions. Then we have warriors who are very vocal, out in the community and doing some great things.”

Assemblyman Furutani addressed the students with the fact that there are very few documented role models among Pacific Islanders for the youth to follow and charged them with becoming the next generation of role models. He exhorted them to explore other career avenues as opposed to stereotypical fields such as professional sports or entertainment.California Assemblymembers Warren Furutani (D-55th Dist., second from left) and Mike Eng (D- 49th Dist., second from right) and other community leaders joined President Mildred García (fourth from left) in welcoming Pacific Islander youth to CSU Dominguez Hills.

“Are all of you going to play the defensive line for some football team?” he asked the students. “Are all of you going to become Polynesian dancers in some kind of luau review? Or are all of you going to become doctors, or lawyers, or business people or whatever you want to be?

“The reason this conference is so important is because nobody out there is making the definition of Pacific Islander youth in this country. So that’s why you have to be the ones to do it.”

Jacobo said that the community is still in its beginning stages of mobilizing advocacy for youth in regard to peer pressure, clashing family values, and establishing culturally inclusive programs.

“Students are very concerned about basic bread-and-butter issues for them: keeping up good grades, staying in school, and friends,” she said of speaking to youth at events like the summit. “Their response is typically a response of pleasant surprise that there is advocacy for them to stay in school, to apply to college, and to create those processes that ensure their success.”

The students, who came from schools in Los Angeles, Orange County and northern California, said that lessons provided by films and discussions in the breakout sessions gave them a new perspective on what it means to be a member of a Pacific Islander community. Joe Black, a senior from Leuzinger High School in Lawndale, was born in Western Samoa. He said that Pacific Islanders and all people “must respect each other’s cultures and try to love each other.”

Emerald Faletuipapai, a freshman of Tongan descent at Junipero Serra High School in Gardena, echoes his sentiments saying, “I learned that it’s easy to collaborate with other people and why it’s important to have an education.”

The Statewide Pacific Islander Youth Leadership Summit was sponsored by the School of Health and Human Services at CSU Dominguez Hills, Wal-Mart, the Orange County Asian and Pacific Islander Community Alliance, Pacific Islander Health Partnerships, the Tongan American Youth Foundation, Premiere Painting and Graphics, and Asian/Pacific Islander Youth Promoting Advocacy & Leadership.

For more information on the School of Health and Human Services, click here.

- Joanie Harmon

Photo above: California Assemblymembers Warren Furutani (D-55th Dist., second from left) and Mike Eng (D- 49th Dist., second from right) and other community leaders joined President Mildred García (fourth from left) in welcoming Pacific Islander youth to CSU Dominguez Hills.

Pamela Krochalk, professor and chair, Health Sciences, CSU Dominguez Hills and Ka'ala and Kaiwi Pang of the Pacific Islander Health Partnership served on the Summit Planning Team; Tana Lepule, Union Pan Asian Communities chaired the committee.

L-R: L-R: Pamela Krochalk; Warren Furutani; Ka'ala Pang, Dr. Mildred García; Tana Lepule; Mike Eng; and Kaiwi Pang.

Photo by GK


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Last updated December 3, 2009 10:00 AM by Joanie Harmon