On April 3 and 4, 2014, the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (WHIAAPI) and Payu-ta Inc. (a regional umbrella organization of non-governmental organizations) co-hosted the first WHIAAPI regional summit outside the contiguous U.S. When we arrived in Guam, we were reminded of the challenges of island life—distance, limited natural resources, higher cost of living, and smaller economies of scale. Despite these challenges, regional leaders were passionate about tackling these issues, working collaboratively, and doing their part to be part of a regional solution.
We convened in Guam for a dialogue where we were joined by federal officials across a dozen agencies, leaders from national organizations and foundations, and local leaders including Governor Eddie Baza Calvo, Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo, Guam Legislature Speaker Judith Won Pat, Guam Legislature Vice Speaker BJ Cruz, and WHIAAPI Commissioner Debra Cabrera. The first day comprised of community discussions and visits on topics including: social services; homelessness and veterans; self-determination migration; health disparities; and workforce development and economic development.
The second day was the Regional Conference during which the previous day’s discussions were further enhanced through plenary sessions and workshops. Together, we made recommendations and concrete commitments regarding next steps on topics such as: economic and business development; health equity; education; and housing, homelessness, and veterans issues. The regional summit built off momentum from the Micronesian Non Profit Congress, which convened from March 31 to April 2 with representatives focused on addressing environmental and social injustices. In response to the call for opportunities to strengthen local capabilities, federal representatives also presented a workshop on technical assistance and capacity building on April 2.
While community leaders shared stories of their respective struggles and achieving successful outcomes, federal representatives also highlighted programs, expertise, and technical assistance to address priority needs. Federal officials in particular had an opportunity to learn about the history, natural resources, and spirit of the people as well as the many challenges of island life.
As diverse perspectives were brought forward, we identified shared and common interests. The time on the ground provided an invaluable way to see and hear firsthand the issues Pacific Islanders face every day and the strong commitment to resolve them. We witnessed what can be accomplished by working together. Our time together was meaningful and transformative.
WHIAAPI and other federal agencies committed to taking recommendations back to Washington, D.C. and working collaboratively to tackle some of the long-standing issues. This monumental gathering was a testament to the many stakeholders and concerted efforts over the years to not just give a voice to the communities, but also to engage in a dialogue. With the meeting in Guam, a solid foundation has been laid for improving the quality of life for Pacific Islanders.
Kiran Ahuja is the Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Lori Faeth is the Acting Assistant Secretary of Insular Areas at the U.S. Department of the Interior.