Forgotten & Underserved: Pacific Islanders Fight for Academic Success

By VoiceWaves Reporter Intern Michael Lozano

Kulia I Ka Nu’u. Strive for the summit.

This was the motto of Hawaii’s Queen Kapi’olani. She told her people, “Strive for the very top of the mountain, strive for excellence.”

For years Pacific Islanders from Hawaii, Samoa, Tonga and Guam have been misunderstood. Since it’s first use in the 1990s, the term Asian Pacific Islander has often hidden the story of Pacific Islanders’ struggle for success. Often stereotyped as a model minority under the larger umbrella category of “Asian,” Pacific Islanders are left out in national discussions about education issues.

Pacific Islanders (PI) are about half as likely as the general population to hold bachelors’ degrees and are about five times less likely than Asians to hold advanced degrees. Like some Latino and African-American communities, many in the Pacific Islander community face economic and structural barriers to academic success.

In the video above, VoiceWaves interviewed local folks who speak on the achievement gaps experienced by the PI community in Long Beach.

“As communities of color, we’re faced with a lot of the same issues,” said Joey Quenga, who is Chamorro from Guam and host of The BBQ, a monthly radio show for the PI community that runs out of the Pacific Islander Ethnic Museum in Long Beach. “You’re talking about impoverished communities and you’re talking about gangs.”

One of the fastest-growing immigrant groups in the nation, 23 percent of all Pacific Islanders living in the U.S. currently reside in California, according to the 2010 U.S. Census. Many of them live in Long Beach on the Westside and surrounding cities like Carson, Cerritos and Oceanside.

Pacific Islanders have the highest dropout rate in Long Beach—with rates at about 10 percent, compared to a three percent rate for both Asian and white students. In an even larger snapshot, 9 out of 10 Pacific Islander students are not prepared for college-level coursework, according toa study by Education Trust-West.

“Many come to the States and are unable to immediately find a well-paying job,” said Dan Hatori, Project Director of UCLA’s Pacific Islander Education and Retention Program, in an e-mail to VoiceWaves. “This leads to students being enrolled in public schools with curriculum which may be less rigorous than other schools.”


Support our journalism.

Hyperlocal news is an essential force in our democracy, but it costs money to keep an organization like this one alive, and we can’t rely on advertiser support alone. That’s why we’re asking readers like you to support our independent, fact-based journalism. We know you like it—that’s why you’re here. Help us keep hyperlocal news alive in Long Beach.