The following is a letter to the editor from Patrick Woo-Ching, chairman and founder of the Fetu Ta’iala Learning Center:
The concept of strength in numbers or solidarity implies that when citizens unite for a cause, results are noticed. In spite of our democracy, some citizens and communities such as the Pacific Islanders are still struggling for equity and inclusion in our state as well as nationally.
In the early ’70s, Samoans left their homes to seek a better future in the United States where they were able to share their culture and uniqueness with others. As time passed, more Samoans moved to the United States and other places around the world to pursue their dreams for a better life. When the dreamers became successful, they started to bring the rest of their family over for a better future.
Most of Samoa’s first dreamers were members of the United States military. They fought with honor in the Korean and Vietnam Wars. They brushed off the prejudice of the Korean and Vietnam era within the military community and continued to march side by side with their fellow soldiers. Their warrior spirit made them men of honor. However, their sacrifices remained somewhat unrecognized. These early warriors paved the path of success for the current Samoan and other Pacific Islander (PI) U.S. soldiers. The warrior spirit, Toa o Samoa, made Samoan soldiers a unique group of men and women. During the Iraq-Afghanistan conflict, Samoan and PI soldiers had the highest death rate per capita than in any population in the State of the Union. The United States Territory of American Samoa continues to be a resource for the U.S. Army recruitment program.
Ironically, the citizens of American Samoa are ineligible to vote for the Commander in Chief, our President of the United States. It baffles the mind that the Commander in Chief can authorize and commit the lives of sons and daughters of the American Samoan population, but the citizens have no vote in the election process. They are considered “U.S. Nationals” and not U.S. citizens. Samoan families view it as an honor for their children to serve and protect the freedoms of the United States. However, no amount of wealth can repay their sacrifice. Soldiers of Samoan and Pacific Islander families have fought for and deserve the same freedom that U.S. citizens enjoy.
Their struggle to fit in has created more setbacks than they expected, especially in relation to their children. Samoans and other PI students continue to have the highest dropout rate in Washington schools. They have the lowest academic scores compared to other ethnic groups. Samoans and other PI students have a high suspension rate, coupled with their low attainment rate in the state. The longstanding low academic performance and low attainment of Samoan and PI students perpetuates every year. Their lack of academic performance and the increasing achievement gap reflects the urgency for intervention.
The strength in numbers concept is not enough to draw attention to the Pacific Islander community and their social issues. The Pacific Island population in the state of Washington is approximately 7%. Our children’s alarming lack of academic progress and achievement needs to be addressed now. To strengthen the viability of our state, I urge both public and private sectors to focus on Pacific Islander community issues, especially those relating to education and social needs.
The profound history of our nation’s right to be free makes our democracy a beacon for hope throughout the world. It is time to focus on supporting generations of Pacific Islanders and provide that sense of hope.
Individually we do not have much, but collectively we have an abundance of wisdom and richness.
Patrick J. Woo-Ching
Founder and Chairman
of Fetu Ta’iala Learning Center