This month is Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Many of you might not be aware of this celebration, as it falls at the end of summer, which tends to be a time of outdoor play and last hurrahs before we return to the schedules of work and school. However, this year, as we work to physically distance and socially connect, I encourage you to lean into cultures and communities that are right here in Utah. This is, of course, possible because of the commitment to maintain distancing protocols and provide numerous online activities that both educate and celebrate Pacific Islander cultures.
In 2012, Utah Gov. Gary R. Herbert proclaimed August to be Pacific Island Heritage Month. Three years later, Susi and Simi Malohifo’ou and former intern and good friend Cencira Te’o formed Pacific Islander Knowledge 2 Action Resources — affectionately known as PIK2AR.
With a mission to eliminate violence, increase income in Pacific Island households and preserve and perpetuate all Pacific Island cultures, PIK2AR serves all by bridging mainstream resources to the Pacific Island communities and other disadvantaged groups. Over time, they have branched out to address gaps and overcome barriers to living healthier lives. One of the signature events they facilitate is the annual celebration.
This year, of course, is a bit different than any other. Yet, Susi and her team are nothing if not adaptable, transforming numerous in-person events into accessible and public opportunities for enrichment and engagement.
This year, there will be everything from a business alliance meet-up style breakfast at a park to a virtual film festival. For folks missing ukulele education and entertainment, the Utah Ukulele Association will provide access to a Zoom workshop. For folks itching to get out of the house to celebrate while remaining safe, there will be the PEAU Foafoaina Drive-Thru art exhibit and multiple curbside plate sales.
All of this can happen because of the commitment to share history, culture, food, business and resources with the larger community. It doesn’t happen alone or without serious planning and financial support. Zions Bank, Oracle and the Utah Film Center are among their committed sponsors. Now, as we ready for a change in seasons, you can support them too by engaging online or in socially distant ways while having fun!
Who knew that we could find ways to socially connect while physically distant?
Which brings me back to the concept of flexibility. As we prepare for the return to school, I want to personally thank all the educators, paraprofessionals, facilities support, crossing guards, counselors and healthcare providers who are working on the front lines to provide safety, support and learning opportunities for our children. While everyone may not return to school, those who do are able to do so because of individuals who will show up every day in the midst of an ongoing pandemic to provide quality learning opportunities in our communities.
I recognize that right now we are all making hard choices. Do we send our children back to school? What community resources can we utilize if we keep them home? What does this mean for those of us without children but that may work with them?
Perhaps we can take a page from PIK2AR’s book and find ways that meet the needs of the public while also valuing safety. This can look like wearing a face covering — not because of any mandate but because it simply makes things safer for everyone. I know that I am part of a vulnerable population due to previous and ongoing health issues. You might not know that to look at me.
And that’s the thing — we can’t just look at someone and “know” what their health status is on any given day. If we participate in best practices such as washing our hands, not touching our faces, wearing face coverings and maintaining physical distance, we can help flatten the curve while protecting ourselves and others.
If we are willing to engage in these ways, then next year’s Pacific Islander Heritage Month won’t have to be virtual. We will be able to be in person because the curve has been flattened. I want to be able to celebrate with and for all of you as you share your language, culture, heritage, arts, music, food, literature and so much more. I’m willing to do it. Are you?