When Justin Luuga thinks of a male Pacific Islander he thinks of someone who is expected to be heterosexual, Christian, masculine, lean and athletic. But that is not the case for Luuga, who is a senior at Long Beach State majoring in human development.
Luuga knows he doesn’t fit the mold for a Samoan Pacific Islander but he is perfectly OK with that.
“Being a pansexual Samoan cis male here at Cal State Long Beach is one of those intersexualities that I undergo,” Luuga said. “This identity crisis, so to say, where people are like, ‘oh usually when you see Samoans they are cis gender, heterosexual, they are big and masculine.’ Being a minority within a minority is the trouble that I go through as a Pacific Islander and a Samoan.”
Pacific Islander Presence was held Wednesday in the University Student Union. The safe space welcomed Pacific Islanders to share their daily experiences and question why their presence in higher education is so low.
Tavae Samuele, executive director of Empowering Pacific Islander Communities, was the guest speaker for the event and led the group in exercises. They learned what the students’ names mean, known as their Kuleana, and talked about why they thought Pacific Islanders aren’t in higher education.
According to Samuele, names of Pacific Islanders are living, breathing things like a collection of stories. Names tie an individual to many things.
“My Kuleana would be I’m giving, I’m a provider,” said Manusamoa Luuga, a graduate student. “As Pacific Islanders, we put ourselves second and our families first. We create relationships.”
Pacific Islanders are big on family. It is one main reason as to why many Pacific Islanders don’t continue with higher education according to Dora Gomez, president of the Pacific Islander Association.
According to Gomez, family is huge and if something tragic happens like a death in the family or something joyful happens like a wedding, the funeral or celebration could last from a couple weeks to a month.
With large events, Pacific Islanders are usually taken out of school to help out with prepping cultural outfits, meals and family dinners.
“I just went through this,” Gomez said “My uncle passed away, so I dropped out of my mentorship program, but school was still a priority for me.”
Financial hardships also pose hurdles for Pacific Islanders, as many are unable to afford school. According to Data And Statistics on Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders, from 2006-2010 in the United States, 37.3% of Native Hawaiians received their high school diploma and only 18.2% received their college degree.
“From my mom’s perspective, her dad only worked minimum wage jobs, two to three at a time,” Gomez said. “And on the weekends we would all collect cans for extra money.”
She recognizes that Pacific Islander community is small at LBSU, but she wants people to know that they are present and inclusive.
Jarius Ramos, a LBSU alumni, shed light on his own ideas as to how to increase the number of Pacific Islanders in higher education.
“I think more outreach, local recruitment, programs and community events needs to happen,” Ramos said. “Some Pacific Islanders are not interested in education because they instead go straight to work to support their family.”
According to the group of Pacific Islanders at the event, some of them spoke out to their peers about the short-term events in life, which is focused on getting a job to earn money to take care of their family. They claim this is why they fall into the realm of providers instead of putting themselves first regarding their education.
This event touched on the shocking realization of the lack of high school graduates in the Pacific Islander community. According to Samuelu, from 2009-2013, Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander public high school students statewide had one of the lowest graduation rates at 78% and one of the highest dropout rates reaching 14% among all racial groups.
Samuelu stressed that many Pacific Islanders go to community college but then get stuck there. She touched on the fact that in 2007-2008, 43% of people were in this situation, according to her powerpoint presentation.
She also included that in 2017, there were only 91 Pacific Islanders studying at LBSU.
As students spoke out in this safe place for free thought, many concluded that for the Pacific Islanders on campus, their hope is for more financial resources to be available in order for others to be able to pursue their degrees. They stressed the importance of small communities on campus, which would help reach those attending LBSU and lend a hand to those off-campus who wish to be in higher education. They said schools need to be held accountable for this to happen.
“I want to continue to be an example for my family and follow through,” Gomez said.
She thinks it is important to see her education through till she walks the stage and he degree is in her hand.