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Oregon is home to many Pacific Islanders

Diversity – May is Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month

Taken from a Facebook Post by Khanh Pham

#AAPIHeritageMonth is just as much about the PI – Pacific Islander – part of this aggregated term. Oregon is home to many Pacific Islanders who celebrate this month and can trace their ancestry to the Pacific islands of Micronesia, Melanesia, Polynesia, and Hawaii/Pacific Islander communities are one of the fastest growing ethnic groups in Oregon, according to the 2020 census, numbering at least 40,000 strong in our state, with large and growing communities in Multnomah, Marion, Washington, Benton and Union counties in particular.

Across the state, the Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander population grew by 54% (increase of 13,924 people) from 2010 to 2020. Outside of Hawaii, 4 of the top 10 largest PI college student populations are in Oregon at Eastern Oregon University, Western Oregon University, Warner Pacific College and University of Portland.Pacific Islander students are making their mark. Students from Micronesia, Marshall Islands, Palau, Saipan and other Pacific Islands find a home at EOU, showcasing Pacific Islander traditional clothing, dance and food for 32 years at the Island Magic Luau and Show. Link: https://www.eou.edu/…/pacific-islanders-navigate…/ Since 2010, Pacific Islander Student Alliance Conference (PISACON) has brought PI students together from colleges and universities throughout OR and WA to share community and empower one another to navigate a system that wasn’t built for PI students. Link: https://www.pisanw.org/

But it’s not just education that draws PI communities to Oregon. Three Pacific Islander nations (the Republic of Palau, Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the Federated States of Micronesia) have a unique treaty with the United States called Compact of Free Association (COFA). Oregon has the highest concentration of COFA Islanders within the contiguous United States. The Compact of Free Association originated as a result of the devastating nuclear testing that the US carried out in their waters, as well as their ongoing, decades long storage of nuclear waste on their islands, which continues to harm COFA and Pacific Islanders to this day.

In recognition of this harm & their responsibilities, the US allows COFA islanders to live and work in the US, but they can never become US citizens. Because COFA residents cannot become citizens, many Pacific Islanders have minimal access to public health services and resources (like food benefits & TANF) that they would otherwise receive if not for their unique immigration status.

The Oregon Legislature has had bi-partisan, bi-cameral support for Pacific Islander communities, including support for tuition equity and COFA access to the Oregon Health Plan. In 2023 it is my hope we pass the full Pacific Islander Student Success Plan.