San Francisco is set to give more recognition to its Pacific Islander residents, who comprise a relatively small community that’s made significant contributions to the city while facing serious challenges.
City officials say it would apparently be the nation’s first cultural district dedicated to Pacific Islanders, who largely trace their heritage back to Hawaii, Guam, Samoa or other Pacific islands.
If passed by the Board of Supervisors, it would also be the 10th cultural district in San Francisco, which has similar areas throughout the city honoring Asians, Black people, Latinos, the LGBTQ community and other groups.
San Francisco’s cultural districts aim to preserve and promote the specific minority or ethnic group while drawing more investment into those communities.
Supervisor Shamann Walton, who represents the southeast part of San Francisco where many Pacific Islanders live, said he wants to create the new district to boost their visibility—and hopefully generate more critically needed resources for a historically marginalized group.
“No community is ignored under our watch,” Walton said at a Tuesday press conference unveiling the district. “We are designating the area in Visitacion Valley, in Sunnydale, because of the great contributions of the entire Pacific Islander community.”
According to the latest census data, 0.4% of the city’s population in 2020 identified as “Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander alone,” which amounts to thousands of residents.
Pacific Islanders began migrating to the city more than a century ago, drawn by jobs and educational opportunities. After World War II, an influx of migrants from American Samoa moved to the southeastern part of the city to work in the now-defunct Hunters Point Naval Shipyard.
From the 1950s through the ‘80s, according to Walton’s office, the Mormon Church and farm jobs drew many more Pacific Islanders to San Francisco from Tonga, Western Samoa and Hawaii.
Though small in number, San Francisco’s Pacific Islander community faces some big inequities.
Census data show that Pacific Islanders in the city have one of the highest poverty rates. A San Francisco Chronicle report, meanwhile, shows that Pacific Islander students have some of the highest chronic absenteeism rates in the city’s public schools.
Fa’auga Moliga, a former San Francisco Unified school board member who was recalled in February, emphasized the importance of recognition as a way to tackle problems such as student absenteeism. He mentioned that the Samoan preschool in Bayview has the highest attendance because of its cultural competency.
“The kids want to come to school because they feel seen,” Moliga said. “They are going to show up because they believe that you care about them.”
Moliga was the first and only Pacific Islander elected official in San Francisco’s history.
The Pacific Islander community in San Francisco has also grappled with violence.
Two recent shootings in the city’s southeastern neighborhoods claimed two young Samoans, one aged 17 and the other in his early twenties.
Tino Felise, a Program Coordinator at the Samoan Community Development Center, said the two families impacted by those gun violence incidents are now receiving different support services while the police continue the investigation.
Felise said the cultural district status may portend more community investment for the next generation of local Pacific Islanders. “What we’re trying to do is to take care of each other,” he said, “and also make a collective effort.”
After the press event Tuesday, Walton formally introduced the resolution for the district formation at the board meeting.
His office revealed that after the establishment of the district, there will be more cultural preservation work and efforts to bring back Pacific Islander-owned businesses.
Supervisor Connie Chan is co-sponsoring the resolution, while the idea has gained momentum and wide support from the community.
“We wrote that resolution—the community did that,” said Gaynor Siataga, the director of the Pacific Islander Community Hub. “Everything is community-run and community-driven.”