Friday, January 27, 2012

Haka = Pepper Spray?

Just a few weeks ago, we blogged about the Pacific Islander-influence on local football culture in the Texas town of Euliss, including the incorporation of the haka as a regular part of the games.  I couldn't help but think of the football team at Euliss when reading about another high school football game in Utah, where a group of Pacific Islanders were pepper sprayed by the police.

Their offense?  Performing the haka.  

According to an Associated Press article, the police involved in the incident stated that they had "never even heard of such a thing" and feared that the haka was going to cause a riot.  Along with the Huffington post article here, a local news outlet reports that the Ute Tribe (one of Utah's federally recognized tribal governments) has requested a Department of Justice investigation.  It's also reported that after an internal review within the police department, all officers must undergo education in cultural traditions.  

Hopefully their cultural education includes this piece of common sense: when people chant in Polynesian, even if they're loud and they slap their legs, that doesn't mean you should pepper spray them.


Here is a YouTube video allegedly taken at during the incident: VIDEO

Friday, January 20, 2012

In college admissions, some recommend "don't check Asian." Should Pacific Islanders not "check" Asian Pacific Islander?

Last month, newspapers across the country ran an Associated Press story on how some Asian students are responding to real or perceived anti-Asian admission bias by hiding their ethnicity when applying to college. The focus of this article is on Asians -- mostly multiethnic Asians, actually -- but there are implications for Pacific Islanders. 

We've written before about how Pacific Islanders are often mistaken for or lumped in with Asians, and how that leads to big misconceptions in the area of higher education attainment.  (A quick summary: Pacific Islanders are sometimes grouped with, or mistaken for Asians.  But neither Asian nor "Asian Pacific Islander" stats accurately depict Pacific Islanders because Asians have the highest level of college graduation among any of the major racial groups, while Pacific Islanders are significantly underrepresented among college graduates.) 

Reading this article, I wondered: if there's a bias against Asian college applicants and Pacific Islanders are mistaken for being/being the same as Asians, do Pacific Islanders face a bias as well?  The author suggests that the answer might be no, or at least not in her mind: she lists "Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders" among underrepresented groups that "might" have an edge over White and Asian applicants. But what happens when Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders are only identified as Asian Pacific Islander? 

In other words, if there's a danger to Asians "checking Asian," isn't there a danger in Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders "checking" Asian Pacific Islander? 

Here's a link to the article: LINK


Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Utah Department of Health looks to Pacific Islander data and culture

The purpose of the P.I.A. project is to expand higher education opportunities for Pacific Islanders in America, principally by helping academic programs for underrepresented minorities understand that Pacific Islanders are underrepresented among college graduates. We realize, at the same time, that if people know more about Pacific Islanders, and have better access to data on Pacific Islanders, they are less likely to make mistakes like leaving Pacific Islanders out of underrepresented minority scholarships.  

An article published last month in the Salt Lake Tribune shows that the need to look at Pacific Islander-data, rather than lumping Pacific Islanders with Asians, or as "Other Race," extends beyond education issues. 

You can read the full article by clicking this link, but here's a summary: by considering culture and looking at Pacific Islander data, the Utah Department of Health realized that their state's Pacific Islander population is at high risk for obesity, diabetes, and prenatal health issues.  Just as importantly, the health department has been working with a Pacific Islander organization, the National Tongan American Society, to find culturally competent solutions to these public health issues. 

This is exactly the kind of how how people can identify and work to address issues faced by Pacific Islanders, based on data and cultural awareness.  At the same time, this is the kind of data that's missed when Pacific Islanders grouped with Asians or as "Other Race."

Do you think that "Asian Pacific Islander" data on obesity accurately represents Pacific Islanders?  This one didn't -- a CDC study which lumped Pacific Islanders with Asians, and concluded that as a whole, APIs were the least likely of any major racial group to be obese.  While this statement is correct, it's terribly misleading if you assume that what's true for "Asian Pacific Islanders" is true for Pacific Islanders. 

  • Why data on "Asian Pacific Islanders" inaccurately represents Pacific Islander higher education attainment: LINK
  • Utah's Pacific Islander American community: LINK
  • The Salt Lake Tribune Article: LINK
  • The CDC Study: LINK

Friday, January 06, 2012

Pacific Islander America: Euliss, Texas

Last year, we did several "Pacific Islander America" posts on California and another on Utah, commenting on news coverage of Pacific Islanders in those states. The first 2012 Pacific Islander America post takes us to 50,000-plus Texan community of Euliss, which was the subject of a Reuters article regarding the Pacific Islander influence on the town's football team.

While the reporter sometimes fell back on unnecessary stereotypes (the line about the haka being "savage" made me cringe), it was nonetheless interesting to read about the way that Pacific Islander culture has shaped high school football in this all-American Texan town. Though education is not the focus of the article, one of the subjects in the story is connected to a community-based Pacific Islander group called the Tongan Youth Association, which "strives to help Polynesian kids finish college," according to the reporter.

The full article is pasted below. As long as they keep the link up, you can also view it on by clicking here: LINK


Island influence, war dance revs up Texas football team

EULESS, Texas | Thu Sep 1, 2011 12:12pm EDT

(Reuters) - Defensive lineman Moahengi Latu strikes an imposing figure, long hair swinging wildly as he belts out a battle cry.

"Get ready for war, let's go!" Latu screams in his native Tongan language, as his teammates on the Trinity High School Trojans football team stamp their feet, raise their fists, stick out their tongues in a gesture of intimidation.

"Battle with all your might! Believe in each other! Fight on, warriors!" they cry out in Tongan. "Tau aki ho loto!"

They finish the ancient, rhythmic "haka" with a roar, just moments before their first game of the celebrated Texas high school football season.

It would be graceful, a thing of beauty, a little playful even, if it were not so savage.

In the packed stands at the district's stadium near the Dallas Fort Worth International Airport, the crowd is riveted as they watch the unveiling of this season's haka -- a centuries-old tribal war dance these young Texas suburbanites have made their own.

"I get tears in my eyes, I love the haka so much," 17-year-old cheerleader co-captain Whitney Smith said. "It makes everybody in the crowd excited."

In Texas, high school football players are heroes, and the gridiron on Friday night is as much a backdrop to life as is church on Sunday morning.

Some teams and players become legends, such as the much-celebrated Permian Basin program in west Texas that inspired the hit Friday Night Lights television series.

Now a new football story is emerging at this high school of 2,300 students. What some are calling a "Polynesian Pipeline" to this suburb has brought mass and enthusiasm to their championship football team, and with it, the team's beloved new haka tradition.

"It prepares us for war," said lineman Hafoka Olie.

The Trojans have won three division state championships in the six years the team has brought the haka to the football field. They have been featured in a Gatorade commercial, and their haka has been shown on national news and sports shows.

Euless, a town of about 52,000, has an unusual claim to fame: It is home to more Tongans per capita than any other city in the U.S., according to Euless officials. According to the 2010 census, some 1,101 -- or 2.1 percent of the town's population -- are Pacific Islanders. Of them, 826 are Tongan.

By comparison, neighboring Bedford, Texas, claims a similar overall population, but fewer than 150 islanders.

Trinity had 92 Pacific Islanders among its student body last year. Nearby L.D. Bell High School, of similar size in the same district, had only 14.

That so-called Polynesian Pipeline from places such as Tonga, Hawaii, American Samoa and Guam, driven largely by airport jobs and family ties, has turned the city into something of an islanders' enclave, with ukuleles in the school yard and Polynesian shops and churches.

By far the most notable trend: A giant football team.

"They're huge!" exclaims Emily Sanders, 15, as she watched her Robert E. Lee High School football team get trounced by the Trojans last Friday by a whopping 30-7.

Islanders are a big-boned, thickly built people, and they are a "natural fit" for football, said Fotu Katoa, who was the first Tongan player at Trinity in 1982.

"The majority of us grow up playing rugby, and it's an aggressive sport and a physical sport," Katoa told Reuters.

Principal Mike Harris likes this term: "The wow factor."

"Trinity wins some of their football games just by getting off the bus," Harris said, quoting a local report on the team. "It certainly plays into our hand, no question about it."

Katoa started a trend that Trinity Coach Steve Lineweaver said has "brought a special dimension to us, to our team."

The Polynesian players make a considerable contribution to the team, no doubt. But some of the biggest and brightest stars on the team are not from the islands at all, and most, including Lineweaver, credit their success to an overall great team.

As offensive lineman Dillon Dillard says, "It's not about race. It's about unity."

The haka has its role, too.

"It unites them and makes them one," said Ofa Faiva-Siale, who heads the Tongan Youth Association, which strives to help Polynesian kids finish college. "They have to be one in order to be as dominating as they have been. The haka brought them together in a lot of ways."

In the spring of 2005, students approached the school's coaching staff with a YouTube video of the legendary New Zealand All-Blacks rugby team doing a haka and said they wanted to do one at their games.

That season, the team went on to win their first ever Texas 5A Division 1 State Championship.

"It was a magical year for us," Lineweaver said.

Within a few years, the team had abandoned the Maori-tongued haka borrowed from the All-Blacks and, with the help of Tongan elders, penned their own.

At games, the banner slung across the stands reads, "Peace, love, haka." Each year's new haka unveiling is eagerly awaited. Even the cheerleaders, with their tiny wrists and peppy voices, perform the haka at cheer camp during the summer.

"It's just part of Trinity now," Katoa said. "If the haka is going to bring pride and emotions and everybody's good wishes and excitement and energy, it's a great thing. There's no question. I love it."

Sunday, January 01, 2012

2012 begins in the Pacific Islands

Happy New Year! This short holiday posts strays from our usual higher education topics, but it's timely: 2011 has ended and 2012 has begun -- starting in Samoa and Tokelau.

As the BBC reports here, New Years festivities began in the Pacific Islands, or at least those that stand at the beginning of the International Dateline. This year, the sovereign nation of Samoa (this excludes American Samoa, which is part of the U.S.A.) decided to change its local time to better match trade partners like New Zealand, Australia, Tonga, and China. The story was covered by national U.S. news outlets like NPR, which focused on how Samoans "lost a Friday," and MSNBC.

American Samoa is staying where it is time-wise, meaning that Samoa and American Samoa are now on opposite sides of the International Dateline.