May 26, 2020

Sound the Alarm: Virginia Luka on Pacific Islander Health in Oregon

“It's hard for me to sleep. It's hard for me to breathe. It's hard for me to concentrate because we literally have people's lives in our hands,” says Virgina Luka. She’s a queer Pacific Islander community leader who works as the Program Specialist of the Pacific Islander community for Multnomah County. Virginia now dedicates one hundred percent of her time to Pacific Islander COVID-19 response.

How has COVID-19 impacted Pacific Islanders in Oregon?

The Oregon Health Authority published some data that shows that we actually are being hit very hard. The percentage of cases within the population was really high compared to the other vulnerable populations. That's what really triggered that article.

It just really showed me that data collection does not support our people’s stories. We are so invisible in it so many times. There isn't a good way to show that we're Pacific Islander, and which island group we're from, or how we're ethnically identifying. I knew these challenges already existed but COVID-19 just amplified that even further.

I'm constantly thinking about all the aunties and uncles and families out there who have lost their jobs or are trying to get by. Pacific Islanders have been here for decades. They're taxpaying citizens, but because they are COFA citizens, they can't get a stimulus check.

You’ve worked 148 hours in the last two weeks along with other API community leaders to address the high virus contraction rates in communities of color. Tell us about that racial equity work.

Malo and Dr. Eileen Duldulao really sounded the alarm and said we need to do something about this. We are getting into different work groups in order to help to facilitate the conversation, get access to resources, ensure the work groups are testing and tracking support to individuals and families. We have a work group working on a Pacific Islander Resource Directory list.

What do culturally relevant resources look like for the PI community?

Things like food boxes, materials printed in our languages, hygiene products, info on how to take care of your home, how to self isolate if you think someone is sick in your household, and really be thinking from a multi generational point of view because so many of our families are multi generational.

We want to be able to serve people while they're at the testing site. We want PI community health workers to be there to translate, interpret and to do wellness checks. We're going to want to do it in the holistic way that we always do in our Pacific Islander values. “How are you doing auntie? How's the family? You lost your job, have you looked into unemployment?” Not just let me stick this tip up your nasal cavity and call it a day.

Why is API womxn leadership important?

We are a matrilineal society and we're a matriarchal society, which shows up today. I don't have to sit back and be quiet. I do have power and I could use it to support my people and support my family.

What does resilience mean to you?

As indigenous folks, we have always been resilient. That's why we're still here. If the colonizers had it the way that they want, so many of us would not be here today.

We are survivors. We always find a way because community is number one for us. It may not be much but we're constantly sharing every little bit we have.

This is not the end of us.

Virginia's Call to Action:

  • Anyone who collects data needs to use the real D model.
  • Acquired knowledge and information is earned by building relationships. Knowledge and information is not a right. Connect with people at a human level and a culturally respectful level.
  • Give to the smaller PI orgs like UTOPIA PDX

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.

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