Found My Y: Honoring Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders
Last updated: August 1, 2023, at 7:27 a.m. PT
Originally published: May 12, 2022, at 11:08 a.m. PT
By Rebecca Kuhn
The Y is on an anti-racist journey, assessing its role in larger systems informed by institutional and structural racism in their foundations, practices, and policies. The Y’s process of re-examining these foundations and of un-learning prompts us to look inward at our own practices and structures. Through our equity statement, we aim to center those most impacted by systems of oppression and inequality.
May is Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, a term that is intended to honor, but instead serves to harm so many of the communities it aims to celebrate and recognize. We must begin to disaggregate data to refine our definitions of what these terms mean, and the impacts they have, by centering those most impacted by racism and its intersections.
In a Seattle Times article, Pacific Islander Community Association of Washington (PICA-WA) founder and executive director, Joseph Seia, outlined the harm that consolidating Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander (NH/PI) communities into one uniform “Asian and Pacific Islander (API)” label has on Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander people. The lumping of these diverse communities into one label acts to make invisible and absolve the unique identities of Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities into a monolithic and hegemonic “Asian Pacific Islander” narrative.
Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities trace their ethnic origins to Hawaii, Guam, Tonga, Samoa, Fiji, New Zealand, the Marshall Islands, or other Pacific Islands, including Polynesia, Micronesia, and Melanesia. Seia shares that Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander people often feel disconnected from the Asian American community and feel their experiences are more reflected in that of urban Native American people, sharing histories of indigeneity, colonization, and violent displacement. Nuclear weapons testing by the United States on the Marshall Islands, for example, left residents with radiation sickness and a multitude of cancers. In Samoa, a rapid shift from agrarian work to more sedentary jobs and an increased reliance on imported foods of low nutritional quality brought on by colonization created an astronomical rise in diabetes beginning after World War II, with nearly a third of the population now having the disease.
These violent histories continue to impact our Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities today, who experience disproportionate rates of chronic disease, infant mortality, and poverty. King County is home to the eighth largest population of Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders in the United States. Decisions made by systems of government and community, made on poor data, can have adverse effects on communities.
In 1997, the U.S. Office of Management and Budget designated a new distinction in reporting on demographics in the United States, disaggregating Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders from Asians. This distinction is essential to fully represent the unique and disparate inequities experienced by NH/PI communities. The Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander community leads the effort to disaggregate data “to address the gaps in services, access, policies, leadership, and political/social capital that our (Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander) communities need to thrive in this country,” according to Pacific Islander Community Association of Washington.
As leaders in social movements and civil rights, the arts, athletics, and spiritual connectedness, I honor and celebrate the Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander community and their unique contributions to our country. It is important that we listen to our Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities in their call for disaggregation. Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islander communities are vibrant and resilient leaders in social movements for justice and equity. There is so much we can learn from our Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities. The Y honors Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders in August, in recognition and solidarity with the Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander community's efforts to establish a Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month in August. To learn more about our local Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities and how you can support local calls to action, please see the additional learning resources below, with articles and blogs to read, organizations to follow, and artists working from and in the Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander community.
- How Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders are Fighting to be Seen during the Pandemic (The Huffington Post)
- The Case for Requiring Disaggregation of Asian American and Pacific Islander Data (California Law Review)
- Why it’s time to retire the term ‘Asian Pacific Islander’ (The Seattle Times)
COFA Alliance National Network of Washington: Uniting Washingtonians from The Republic of Palau, The Republic of the Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia to amplify and expand the reach through civic engagement in the fight for economic and social justice.
Pacific Islander Community Association of Washington (PICA-WA): Serving as a cultural home, centering community power and advocating to further the wellness of Pacific Islander communities in Washington State.
Pacific Islander Health Board of Washington (PIHBWA): Cultivating resilience in communities to achieve health equity through culturally safe and community driven solutions, advocacy and policies.
UTOPIA Washington: Creating a safe, welcoming, supportive and vibrant space for members of the Pacific Islander LGBTQIA+ community.
Local Artists and Activists:
Dakota Camacho: multi-disciplinary artist and researcher working in spaces of indigenous life ways, performance, musical composition, community engagement and education.
Toka Valu: artist, illustrator and designer for storytelling, making a statement and building communities.
Rebecca Kuhn (she/her) previously worked with the Y’s Social Impact Center, where she served in community engagement roles, connecting partners to support the critical social service provision at the Y. She is committed to serving community, acting as an agent for change and dismantling systems for liberation. Kuhn also served as a leader of the Asian and Pacific Islander Resource Network (APIRN), a Y employee resource group. Kuhn has lived in the Pacific Northwest for the majority of her life and is a transnational adoptee from China.
Found My Y is an occasional series of reported stories and personal essays from the people in and around the Y who weave the fabric of our communities. From sharing fun anecdotes of levity to the grand moments when we learn something bigger about ourselves, stories are our history and a gift. Have a story to share, or want to nominate someone for our next installment, e-mail us at email@example.com with the subject line "Found My Y."