The term Pacific Islanders refers to Polynesians, Melanesians and Micronesians—the indigenous people of Oceania, which includes a large number of island nations.
Pacific Islanders have traditionally been included with Asian Americans due to their similar underrepresentation in higher education, government leadership and most professions. Although Asian American leaders have advocated for Pacific Islander communities and children, there are distinct differences.
The majority groups of Pacific Islanders in the United States are Native Hawaiians (527,000), Samoans (184,000), Tongans (57,000), Chamorro or Guamanian people of Guam and the Marianas islands (147,798), Fijians (32,304), and Marshallese (22,434).
Today there are 1.2 million Pacific Islanders in the United States, representing 0.5% of the nation’s population.
From 2000 to 2010, the Pacific Islander population grew 35%, from 399,000 to 540,000, making Pacific Islanders the second fasting growing race nationally.
87.4% of Pacific Islanders in the United States have earned high school diplomas, 20.7% have bachelor’s degrees, and 6% hold graduate degrees.
Key Strategies for Inclusion
Understand the need for inclusion. Continuing underrepresentation in leadership and teaching roles highlights the importance of including Pacific Islanders in PTA’s diversity efforts. Currently in California, there is only one school board member, one school superintendent and just 30 school administrators of Pacific Islander ancestry.
Participate in community events. Many Pacific Islanders live in close-knit communities due to their ties to families, churches or community centers. Educators can develop trust by participating in community events.
Be responsive to students’ circumstances. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 19% of Pacific Islanders live at or below the federal poverty level. Often multiple families reside together. Be aware of the potential lack of places to study or do homework at home.
Be sensitive to parents’ circumstances. Pacific Islanders often lived in villages where they were expected to share their possessions with others. When parents are asked to share food and time with schools, they may do so at great personal expense.
Help parents and students navigate educational processes. The workings of bureaucracies and the school system itself may be unfamiliar and intimidating. Parents also may feel uncomfortable communicating with educators. They may be reluctant to participate in school activities due to lack of understanding of how to engage in the process or lack of time due to work commitments.
Celebrate Pacific Island cultures. Pacific Islanders appreciate music, dance and cultural festivals. Encourage students to participate in school arts programs. Ask parents to provide entertainment and expertise at Pacific Islander-themed activities, but be aware of possible expenses, as parents are very generous.
Encourage parent involvement. Athletic booster clubs are another way to involve parents. Athletics are popular activities for many Pacific Islander children and youth, although schools must be careful not to stereotype Pacific Islander students as athletes.
Seek out resources for Pacific Islander students, including mentors and support organizations. Because Pacific Islanders are very underrepresented in many careers and fields, seek out educators, business people, athletes, musicians and others from the community to serve as role models and mentors. Engage organizations that operate under the Asian American umbrella to determine if they also provide services for Pacific Islanders.