Invisible minority - Page 3

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

"Tongans are already coming into American society with a lot of problems caused by colonialism," Barlow says. "If you don't have access to a very wealthy school district, if you don't know people who have access to good jobs, if you don't have a high degree of education, then you're in trouble."

A New Generation

Pulu said he hopes to be the first in his family to attend and graduate from college. He has received at least a 3.5 grade point average every semester and attends church regularly.

At the beginning of the school year, his multicultural education teacher asked him to go to the front of the class and point out Tonga on a world map.

"It doesn't stand out," Pulu said. He is energetic and enthusiastic and doesn't mind educating others about his culture. "Most people think it's a part of Hawaii."

Mesui said Pacific Islanders have come a long way. Though the report focuses on a lot of struggles, Mesui said that she has personally seen increasing numbers of Pacific Islanders graduate from high school and go on to college, including her three children.

She believes schools should address the issue of youths who don't have support at home.

"When they're not in school, they're doing something else," Mesui said. "The majority of the arrests are due to them not going to school and getting in trouble on the streets. And I think it falls on the school we're not doing something to keep them here."

Olosoni said she knows of 3 Tongan youths in the last school year who were kicked out of Castlemont out of about 15 Pacific Islander students in the school for cutting class.

"It comes from the lack of them getting help from people of their own kind to help them understand things better," Olosoni said. She is now attending adult school and working on her GED.

Over the years Taesali has pushed for more programming in the community. PIKA now has about 40 youths who meet every Tuesday afternoon at an Oakland high school.

"If we got more Pacific Islander staff and teachers, there would be immediate results," Taesali said. "I have no doubt about it."

Taesali sees Pacific Islander students engaged when they learn about their own culture.

"Every time we've done workshops on Pacific Islander history and culture, [the students] just don't want to leave," she said. "They are so happy to be learning about their culture." SFBG

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