Invisible minority - Page 2

A new study shows Pacific Islanders experience high dropout, arrest, and depression rates

The report also revealed that several youths who were interviewed said domestic violence and corporal punishment occurred within their families.

Pelenatita "Tita" Olosoni, 18, told us she wished more parents would visit the schools to see what's really going on.

"Parents think school out here is easier than back on the islands," Olosoni said. "It would be helpful if they took time off from work to see what kids are going through every day."

According to Mesui, parents need to be trained in how to support their children, particularly if they attend underperforming schools.

"I know all of the parents want their kids to succeed, but unfortunately, older siblings are asked to take care of the younger ones, and this doesn't prepare them with good habits that will make them successful in school," Mesui, who is Hawaiian, said.

Olosoni said she and other Pacific Islander students have had to stay home and miss weeks of school to take care of their younger siblings and cousins.

Christopher Pulu, a 15-year-old freshman at Oakland High whose father is a landscaper, said, "That's what the majority of our fathers do." Most Pacific Islanders in the US are laborers, and 32 percent live below the national poverty level, according to 2000 US census data.

"They always need an extra hand," Olosoni told us. "So the boys will drop school and see it as an easy way to make money and work with their dads."

"Big-boned and heavy-handed"

Like many minority groups, Pacific Islanders suffer from stereotypes. The prevalent minority myth that all Asians (though most Pacific Islanders do not consider themselves Asian) do well in school actually hurts groups like Pacific Islanders, Cambodians, and Hmong, according to Andrew Barlow, a sociology professor at UC Berkeley and Diablo Valley College.

"Most people say we're big-boned and heavy-handed," Olosoni said. "When Tongans get in trouble, the whole Tongan crew gets in trouble."

Olosoni remembers the day she, her sister, and three friends were called into the principal's office after a lunchtime fight at Castlemont High School in East Oakland. The security guard called another guard on his walkie-talkie and said, "Gather all the Tongans in the office," Olosoni recalls.

"I was like, 'No, they didn't go there,'" she told us. "It was just the five of us involved in the fight, but they called in all the Tongans." After the fight, the five Polynesian girls were given a one-week suspension.

Because Pacific Islander youths only make up 1.2 percent of a district's population, they are usually a small but visible group within each school. While security guards may not be able to call "all Latinos" to the office, for example, they can do so with a smaller population like Tongans, Barlow said. He said that being so easily targeted increases solidarity within the community but may also lead to insularity and even more stereotyping.

"When people are denied opportunities and when they're treated unequally, the way they're going to deal with that is increasing reliance on their community and increasing ethnic solidarity," he said.

Barlow, who teaches courses on race and ethnicity, told us stereotypes are just a part of the problem. Larger systemic issues such as the economy, access to jobs, and educational role models are just as crucial.

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