New Pacific Islander Organization: Knowledge is power

Kekoa Fomai (Photos by Nita Mauigoa)

In the movie “Spider-Man,” Uncle Ben gave Peter Parker solid advice: “With great power comes great responsibility.”

For many Pacific Islander students, a college education gives them the responsibility to serve as a voice for their elders who have language barriers and also as role models for their youth.

The new UAA Pacific Islander Organization (PIO) was formed to guide these students, while helping them balance school and work. It is also open to those who want to learn culture about the Pacific Islander culture from a fun, fresh perspective.

PIO President Miriama Aumavae, a social work major, brings her experiences as executive director of the local Polynesian Community Center to the club.

“The main focus is on needs in the Pacific Islander community with health, employment, language barriers, social justice and social change,” Aumavae said. “A lot of times we are seen as invisible people. But we are visible. We want people to know that.”

Aumavae recently lead a peaceful demonstration after a police officer fatally shot Shane Tasi, Anchorage resident and Pacific Islander, because he was waving a stick at him. This happened months after the fatal police shooting of East High School football star Frank Tanuvasa who was reportedly fleeing from them.

Young Polynesians on campus who are socially conscious about issues in the community have already flocked to join the PIO.

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“In a span of two days, I had nine students who didn’t know each other approach me about starting a Pacific Islander club,” said Andre Thorn, Multicultural Center director. “In a 24-hour period, we had 15 students on the mailing list.”

“I am delighted that this is one of the organizations we have at UAA. They are very organized and dedicated,” Thorn continued. “I want to see them expand and take off on campus in terms of being involved in leadership activities.”

With many goals on the table, members emphasize that the foundation of success is rooted in education.

“My goal is about instilling motivation in the younger generation. We have a lot more opportunities than our parents did. I’m motivated to work and go to school, so they can look up and say, ‘Oh they did it. It must be possible,’” said accounting student Joe Taufaeteau.

PIO has goals to visit schools in the Anchorage School District (ASD) to interact with youth and possibly bring them to campus on field trips. According to the 2012 ASD statistics, Asians and Pacific Islanders make up 15 percent of enrolled students and is the largest group of minorities in the district.

Student Kekoa Fomai studies hard so he can inspire younger Pacific Islander children to reach for success through education. (Photos by Nita Mauigoa)

PIO members said that assisting their parents and elders is of equal priority, because parents can be oblivious to pressing social issues at times.

Members hope to have workshops with professors certified in law through interpreters so their parents can be educated about their rights too.

“You are meant to do something great. You represent yourself, UAA, your organization, your culture and what you stand for,” said PIO adviser Leonidas Medal while addressing the club.

While enlightenment through education is a movement sweeping over Pacific Islander students, there are two aspects engrained: culture and family.

“A lot of Pacific Islanders live with their parents until their parents are gone. It’s not like we have to move out when we are 18 years old,” business student Sam Faleulu said. “I embrace my culture because it makes me who I am. Our culture is very loving.”

For more information on the new Pacific Islander Organization, contact the public relations representative, Sam Faleulu at [email protected]. Regular meetings are held every Wednesday at 10am in the Multicultural Center, in the Rasmuson Hall, room 106.