Sunday, March 18, 2012

P.I.A. project Board Member Stories: Bryce

“Do Pacific Islanders count?”

This had been a lingering question that returned to my mind every year, just around the time to reapply for college financial aid. Each November through May throughout my college and graduate school years, I would intensely search the Internet for scholarships where I would have a fair chance of being selected. Along with the many scholarships open to the general population, I looked for those that were open to smaller groups that I was a part of, like first-generation college students and Hawaii high school graduates. I also looked at underrepresented minority scholarship programs, but despite being a member of an underrepresented group, it was unclear as to whether these programs were open to me.

As a Native Hawaiian, I knew that I was part of an underrepresented minority group. I knew that Pacific Islanders in general were underrepresented. But often scholarship programs didn't seem to agree... or did they not know? Not care? I couldn't tell.
I would look read the fine print of the applications, and the FAQs on their websites trying to answer my question: "Do I count as an underrepresented minority?"

For scholarships in general, I considered how to answer questions about race. I thought to myself: "What should I say? How do they classify Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders? Do they realize that we're underrepresented, or do they know about us at all? Will they count me as 'other'? Will they count me as Asian?  I knew we weren't listed among the included groups. We weren't listed at all. I returned to my answered question: "Did Pacific Islanders like me count?

My days as a scholarship-hunting undergrad are over, but the question remains for today's Native Hawaiian, Samoan, Tongans, and other Pacific Islander college students. Do we count?

For one particular scholarship that I had received, a service-component led me to volunteer at the Office of Hawaiian Affairs Washington, DC Bureau. It was there that I had met Kawika Riley, who would go on to found the Pacific Islander Access project, first as a informal group, then as a nonprofit corporation. Having similar interests in serving the needs of the Hawaiian community through policy and political processes, we knew that if you want to fix a problem, you have to start talking about it. And someone needed to talk about this. Not just for Hawaiians, but for all Pacific Islanders.

Someone had to say: We are not "other." We are not an Asian sub-group. We are underrepresented, and we should be included alongside other underrepresented minorities. Someone has to say it.

My personal experiences in applying not only for scholarships, but other continuing education, leadership and development programs, sparked the motivation to get involved and make a change. This motivation continued my interest to volunteer with the Pacific Islander Access Project, which aims to improve the educational status for all Pacific Islanders. While I may not be able to single-handedly affect this type of change and create parity in education access, I know that my contributions to the P.I.A. Project will help pave a greater future for Pacific Islanders as an underrepresented minority group.

Through education and awareness, these organizations that intend to help underrepresented minorities can finally extend their opportunities to a deserving, underrepresented minority group that's been left out too often. This will help them reach more underrepresented minorities, and it will help Pacific Islanders reach our potential.

Bryce Mendez, Founding Board Member

1 comment:

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