Traditionally, the local Pacific Islander owned businesses and community-based organizations (CBOs), are gathering customers and disseminating information through an extensive network of local references. Typically in-person conversations, either person-to-person or in group meetings, being the primary driver. This has worked, based on the size of the locally connected communities, but has also created a siloed environment where there is little information about resources available, business offerings, et. al. between the micro-communities (example, Tongan community members have little or no information about what is happening in the Marshallese community and vice versa), and even within the communities there are siloed environments between different local communities (example, Salem vs. Portland, or community members of Yapese heritage vs. Chuukese heritage members).
These networks have until now been able to help sustain the local communities, CBOs, and businesses, both those run by local community members as well those serving the communities with specific community needs.
With the arrival of Covid-19 and the extreme impact on our communities, the local community networks have been all but shattered.
This has several severe impacts on the Pacific Islander Community as a whole.
- Access to health information and resources have dwindled to a minimum. Although great strides are being made to provide general resources during this crisis, most of those resources are targeted in English and the major Secondary languages. The Pacific Islander communities have a large percentage of non-English speaking community members, in particular among elders and members with little or no schooling. In normal circumstances, the community networks would provide un-official translation services and resource awareness to these exposed community members. However, with the Social Distancing requirements, this language barrier makes the dissemination of information about services available virtually impossible.
- Social Justice and Legal Rights are traditionally managed similar to health care issues. The local community member, through extended family and/or local community members, with knowledge of “how the system works” would work as informal translators, advisors, and guides. Without these networks, the community members have an increasingly hard time navigating the pandemic, particularly when it comes to rights regarding work, school, and health.
- Social Networking is a key element of the Pacific Islander Community. Birthdays and Funerals are attended by hundreds of people. An ordinary weekday social evening can feature 30 people crammed into a small back yard or living room. Although the communities have embraced digital social networks like all other communities, it is no replacement for the tight-knit community events that function as the core foundation for the sense community and togetherness. Without these local community events, the communities are depending on CBOs, Government Agencies, and Businesses to help, and the task is almost impossible to coordinate given the highly siloed environment the communities entered the pandemic with.
- Businesses and CBOs are the core manifestation of the communities when they thrive. They supply community income, traditional cultural foods, and materials, and function as a natural point for disseminating community information. In addition to losing access to their community networks and being cut off from resources in general, many of the local community businesses and CBOs are closing, either temporary or permanent, during the crisis. These are businesses that have served the communities sometimes for decades, and the community finds themselves with no alternatives. The loss of the local community businesses will be one of the hardest long-term impacts on the communities.