By Zachary FR Anderson, AsAmNews Staff Writer
The San Francisco Board of Supervisors today unanimously approved a plan to create the country’s first Pacific Islander cultural district.
“This is most certainly an amazing milestone,” Board of Supervisors President Shamann Walton said after the vote.
“It’s a proud day to represent,” advocate Gaynor Siagata told AsAmNews.
The cultural district will be centered on the city’s Visitacion Valley neighborhood which is home to 6,773 Pacific Islanders. The district is the result of advocacy from Pacific Islanders which for decades has been overlooked due to a small population.
“If our community is so small, we should be the easiest to support and help, right?” said Siagata.
The small population has not always been the case. Siagata told AsAmNews the Pacific has a rich and extensive history. Many Pacific Islanders–– especially from Samoa and Tonga–– migrated to San Francisco in the mid-twentieth century to work at Hunter’s Point Naval Shipyard which, before its closure in 1974, was located a mile northeast of Visitacion Valley and Bayview neighborhoods where many lived in public housing alongside Black and Latinx families.
“That’s where you found most of us; was in the projects,” said Siagata.
Between the 1970s and ‘80s, San Francisco’s Pacific Islander population is estimated to have numbered between 30 and 50 thousand. The population began dispersing to other parts of the Bay Area and California after the closure of Hunter’s Point and as the cost of living started to increase. Today, it’s reported that Pacific Islanders make up only 0.8 percent of San Francisco’s population.
“If we [Samoans] have been overlooked by the city and county of San Francisco,” Sweetie Tagata, a founder of the housing advocacy group Living in Peace, told AsAmNews, “we know our other Pacific Islander communities have been overlooked as well.”
The creation of the district has been lead by the SALT coalition, a collective of four San Francisco-based Pacific Islander advocates–– including Siagata and Tagata–– and organizations, made up entirely of volunteers.
“We’ve been pushing for recognition,” SALT organizer John Nauer, told AsAmNews. “
SALT was also instrumental in creating a pre-K Samoan/English dual-language program which has the largest enrollment numbers of any other dual-language program in San Francisco public schools.
Beyond the advocates and organizations who worked on making it possible, the city’s Pacific youth also shared how they felt about the news.
“This is a really important stepping stone for the PI community,” LaVon Nightingale Smith told AsAmNews.
Smith, a Tongan American born and raised in San Francisco, first heard about the district when a friend texted her the flyer for the SF Land Use Commission’s Nov. 8 public forum. Born and raised in San Francisco, Smith said that her Pacific heritage in middle and high school was under constant scrutiny.
“People just assumed I was Hawaiian,” said Smith. “No matter how many times I told them I wasn’t, they would say that [Tonga] is like Hawaii, so it’s the same.”
Olivia Anderson, who also grew up in San Francisco and is Chamorro, shared Smith’s sentiment.
“It’s so important to have a community space for us to gather and celebrate our culture,” Anderson told AsAmNews.
AsAmNews is incorporated in the state of California as Asian American Media, Inc, a non-profit with 501c3 status. Check out our new TikTok account. Find additional content on Instagram , Twitter and Facebook. Please consider interning, joining our staff, or submitting a story, or making a tax-deductible donation. We are committed to the highest ethical standards in journalism. Please report any typos or errors to info at AsAmNews dot com.