Every day, I feel like I carry this chip on my shoulder from my family, friends, community, and now, my mentees. As a GEAR-UP mentor, I am not only representing college students, but I am also representing those in the Micronesian community.
It is much easier to create that representation figure for my community in Hawai’i, but it is far more challenging to reach my community in the Continental U.S.
There is a stigma attached to the ideologies of representation that it is just a place of diversity. Generally, it is where people hire or search for people who look like them rather than evaluating their merits; this is not necessarily true, as representation is more than being diverse. There is more to it than that, as it raises the idea that someone who looks like me is in a position we don’t usually see.
The lack of representation for Pacific Islanders on the continent is unsurprising. Pacific Islanders comprise less than 1% of the U.S. population. Some notable Pacific Islanders that many have heard of include Dwayne Johnson (actor), Jason Mamoa (actor), and Dinah Hansen (singer). However, they are only representations of the Polynesian region of the Pacific.
Do not get me wrong, the people of Pasifika take immense pride in their accomplishments and in being an excellent example for all Pacific Islanders. As I said, these are magnificent examples of the Polynesian region alone.
Are the regions of Micronesia and Melanesia known to the Continental U.S. general public? Although the Pacific comprises three parts, most are only familiar with the Polynesian area.
Although there is a lack of Pacific Islander representation in the Continental U.S., who do we hold accountable? If we blame ignorance, then we can blame the lack of effort from my community as well. Being a Pacific Islander, I want a significant increase in Pacific Islanders in the workforce for the next generation, not only in the Pacific but also throughout the U.S.
Pacific islanders are underrepresented for many reasons; however, I believe all of them stem from one factor. That is, we need to put ourselves in positions to reach greater opportunities. Yes, there are many options, but this notion for Pacific Islanders is that we have to work blue-collar jobs because we are taught at a young age that no matter what, we will have to support our families. If we are not going to college, we are looking for work. We will have to work a well-paying job because Pacific Islanders have big families.
Successful representation of Pacific Islanders in the U.S. will provide role models for the next generation in my community. While growing up, I did not have the opportunity to see someone of island descent, specifically from Micronesia, in a white-collar position. I had no idea there was a lack of representation of Pacific Islanders in my career field. It hadn’t occurred to me that there were people out there who were unfamiliar with my culture. As an islander, my goal is to improve representation and show the community that we are capable of taking on roles we don’t even consider.
I do not believe the lack of representation of Pacific Islanders is because of ignorance or being pushed to the side. Instead, I believe it is because my community is not doing everything possible to be in high-status positions.