Members of the Pacific Islander Student Association gather for a group picture at the end of their birthday mixer in room 116 of the Ethnic Studies building on Wednesday. (Anessa Bailon / Golden Gate Xpress) (Anessa Bailon)
Members of the Pacific Islander Student Association gather for a group picture at the end of their birthday mixer in room 116 of the Ethnic Studies building on Wednesday. (Anessa Bailon / Golden Gate Xpress)

Anessa Bailon

Pacific Islanders’ Club changes name and status, focus on community remains the same

Amongst a shake-up in name and leadership, the newly-branded Pacific Islander Student Association vows to carry on the legacy and outreach of past identity

March 17, 2023

During the late hours of Wednesday, Ethnic Studies Room 116, typically used for conferences, became a place for music, food and community as the Pacific Islander Student Association hosted their mid-week mixer. 

PISA, formerly known as the Pacific Islanders’ Club, has outlasted the trials of the pandemic, especially the hurdle of a lack of students on campus. This mixer soon turned into a party upon the news that the former student club is now an Associated Students-recognized organization. President Talavou “Vou” Aumavae announced the organization’s new status at the start of the mixer, marking March 15 as the “birthday” of PISA. 

“Numbers [are] money, and acknowledgment is everything,” Aumavae said. “With our return, we want to make a space for all of us to interact with our fellow Pacific Islander students and faculty.”

With the new designation, PISA hopes this means more opportunities for recognition by SF State. The process leading up to the change was challenging, taking three submission attempts before AS approved their application. Freshman business marketing student Makeila Taafua attended “quite a few” meetings last semester, but at that time, she noticed that there were no officers. 

“We transitioned to a different president and spent a lot of time trying to establish a community,” Taafua said. 

Taafua comes from the Modesto area, where Pacific Islanders are less than 10% of the population, according to the U.S. Census

Before becoming president of PISA, Aumavae initially tried to garner a position on AS, but he soon realized the importance of building upon the foundation set by the Pacific Islanders’ Club, which had gone unregistered for three years due to the impact of COVID-19 restrictions. Aumavae, a junior political science major and critical pacific islands & oceania studies minor, has future aspirations of attending law school, but his background is one of community organizing. 

Tupou Latukefu, a recent U.C. Berkeley graduate, attended PISA’s birthday mixer, despite not being a SF State student. As a program coordinator for San Francisco’s Samoan Community Development Center, Latukefu has known of Aumavae and his family for years, describing him as an “O.G. in community work.” According to Latukefu, Aumavae’s aunt is the executive director of Samoan Solutions, a San Mateo nonprofit focused on cultural enrichment and health and wellness for the Pacific Islander community. 

“Community organizing is essential for retention and recruitment of students,” Latukefu said. “There is a combining of the communities between students from City College, Berkeley and San Francisco State.”

Makoa Montero and Tupou Latukefu rush over to the bag of dried mangoes during the song association game of the Pacific Islander Student Association meeting in room 116 of the Ethnic Studies building on Wednesday. The first person to grab the bag of dried mangoes has to sing a song based on a given word. (Anessa Bailon / Golden Gate Xpress)

Music filled the room from the time the participants gathered, throughout the icebreakers and bonding exercises, which included a Tik-Tok-dance-off and a song association game. It played through the halls of the Ethnic Studies building past 10 p.m., when the crowd finally started to thin out. At the peak of the event, about 30 attendees had gathered in the conference room, where laughter and singing abounded.

“I have never seen numbers like this,” Leora Kava, PISA faculty advisor, said. “Pacific Islanders were especially impacted by Covid, but connections run deep in this community. Community is vital for success, and we all have a need to be together.”

Kava is in her second semester as the PISA faculty advisor, and she is one of three critical pacific islands & 0ceania studies professors who oversee the activities of the organization. 

“We keep these meetings open for solidarity,”  Kava said. “There is a need to desegregate the data to get accurate representation.”

On a campus where many of the students commute from elsewhere, finding a space for connection is paramount to building community within the university, and recognition is the first step toward “laying the groundwork,” according to Aumavae. The pillars of the previous iteration of the organization remain steadfast in PISA, despite the change in status and name. Aumavae vowed to memorialize the Pacific Islanders’ Club, something that may turn into another, bigger event, now that funding is available through AS. 

“A lot of our funding and benefits is allocated to our Asian American cohorts,” Aumavae said, referencing the Asian American and Pacific Islander term that has become popularized in recent years. “Now this is something that I blame on the system, but if we keep leading with love, then recognition [of Pacific Islanders] will come.” 

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About the Contributors
Photo of Anessa Bailon
Anessa Bailon, Staff Reporter
Anessa Bailon is the Campus Recreation reporter for the Golden Gate Xpress newspaper. She is majoring in Print and Online Journalism and minoring in Classics. She was raised in Soledad, California, but moved to San Francisco in 2013 to pursue her lifelong dream of a career in sports journalism. Her favorite sport is baseball, and when she has time to go to the ballpark, her scorebook is always in hand. Anessa also enjoys playing her banjo, dancing to hardcore techno music, collecting vinyl records and hearing a good joke.

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