June 1, 2020

Keep on Pushing - a Talk on Resilience with Malo Ala'ilima

We end our API Womxn in Leadership series with Manumalo (Malo) Salamasina Ala’ilima, one of APANO’s beloved board members and co-founder of UTOPIA-PDX. UTOPIA-PDX - the United Territories of Pacific Islanders Alliance - Portland provides sacred spaces to strengthen the minds and bodies of QTPI’s (queer and trans Pacific Islanders) through community organizing, political engagement, and cultural stewardship.

Tell us about your work with UTOPIA-PDX. What is the importance of community based organizations (CBO), especially during COVID-19?

Within the Pacific Islander community there's not a whole lot of trust in terms of dealing with the government for various reasons. And it's harder for folks to seek out assistance. You have different CBOs so you try to fill in the gap, to help people connect to the resources that they need. They see somebody that they trust, and have a relationship with.

On the onset of COVID-19 happening, we were able to develop a community assessment intake form. There was an overwhelming amount of applications for relief, and had to close applications within two days. But, we were able to provide $10,000 of financial relief to QTPI’s and BIPOC folks.

You were also instrumental in getting Pacific Islanders on the priority testing guidelines. What was that like?

On April 20, Oregon Health Authority published the testing guidelines. It kind of sets the tone of who's in the higher risk group that gets tested for COVID-19. The rate of infection per 10,000 for Pacific Islander was the highest than any other race in Oregon. We were like 13.1 per 10,000.

So, I started talking to as many people as I could to get us considered as a higher risk group. After advocating and flipping my hands up in the air, the newer testing guidelines came out, Pacific Islanders were included. So for me, this is resiliency. It’s that everyone has an opportunity to raise concerns, but I was persistent as hell, having phone calls with all kinds of people.

If you care about something that seems to be fair and equitable, you just got to keep on pushing in order to make it right. That takes resilience.

Well put and thank you for your work. In the light of API Heritage month, what does this month mean to you?

To still highlight and celebrate lives during this month is critical and is deeply valued, we need it, we absolutely need it. We need to hear stories of not just resiliency, but something that empowers people, something that inspires people. That brings together all the things that we admire, all the things that we believe in, are passionate about, compassionate about, that still has a place in our lives.

As long as we have the ability to share our stories, we're owning our narratives. We have the ability to still trust and have relationships, even though it's virtual. Especially now, it's needed. In my culture, it's based on an oral tradition. We've passed down legends, genealogy, significant events. So I say whatever form that takes to tell our stories, tell our narratives, it's a reminder for folks that we're here, and we're still living, and we're still trying.

Malo's Call to Action

Malo calls everyone to try to flatten the curve of the spread of COVID-19!

  • Get tested! That way the community and public health officials can know.
  • Make sure vulnerable people are taken care of - that they are safe
  • And, make sure to take time to rest and take care of yourself - we’re all working hard, so show yourself some love!

As COVID-19 continues to impact our community, our resolve for our work only deepens. We invite you to join us in #CourageDuringCOVID and make a gift in support of the APANO Communities United Fund to help us continue to protect one another. Give now.

This blog post is part of the API Womxn in Leadership series to commemorate May as Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. This series is also under the banner of #CourageDuringCOVID, a larger project highlighting API Oregonians doing meaningful and radical work to protect one another. Learn more about our Courage During COVID series.

This programming content brought to you by APANO Communities United Fund, a 501(C)(3) nonprofit organization.