Map of San Francisco's cultural districts by Will Jarrett

A new Pacific Islander Cultural District was approved unanimously by the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, and will soon be established in the southern neighborhoods of Visitacion Valley and Sunnydale. 

“It identifies us, acknowledges our existence,” said Gaynor Siataga, who runs the Pacific Islander Community Hut, a resource hub located in Bayview. “We felt like we were going extinct; our members have dwindled so much over the years.” 

The cultural district will be San Francisco’s 10th, following the nascent Sunset Chinese Cultural District, established this year. Cultural districts are managed by community leaders and organizations, and are intended to “support specific cultural communities or ethnic groups that historically have been discriminated against, displaced, and oppressed,” according to the program’s website.  

Yvette Manamea, 42, the office manager for the Samoan Community Development center (where her grandmother once worked), called the accomplishment “rewarding.” 

“I am a product of this community,” said Manamea, who was raised by parents from different Samoan islands. “Now our kids that are still here, the future of San Francisco … they’re going to be able to benefit.” 

The Pacific Islander community has a long history in San Francisco and the Bay Area. Residents of Hawaiian descent, or from Samoa, Guam, Tonga and elsewhere, began arriving in the United States more than a century ago. After the United States began colonizing islands in the Pacific, those native to the region were recruited to fight in World Wars I and II, traversed the ocean to do farm labor or missionary work with the Mormon Church, and began migrating for better job opportunities. 

Only about 7,000 Pacific Islanders remain in the city, per the 2020 census. And around 24,000 live in Alameda and 15,000 in San Mateo, according to a 2020 demographics report by a Regional Pacific Islander Taskforce. 

This community has long been marginalized, and the new cultural district is meant to play a part in combating that. In 2020, 29 percent of San Francisco’s Pacific Islander population lived below the federal poverty level, including 51 percent of Samoans. For context, 9 percent of whites, 14 percent of Asians, and 32 percent of African Americans are comparably disadvantaged.  

And, despite their long history and presence in the Bay Area, Pacific Islanders are the least likely, by race, to own homes in San Francisco, at 23 percent of the population. 

John Nauer, a coordinator for the community resource hub in the Bayview, told Mission Local last year that aligning with the Black and Latinx communities helped Pacific Islanders get recognition and resources when they had historically been lumped with the broader Asian community. 

“They shared the little they had with us,” Nauer said.  

Manamea agreed: “We look different … back in those days, they did not know what a Pacific Islander was, let alone Samoan descent, so we were categorized with our Black and Brown brothers and sisters,” she said. “We all became family, in a way, in the projects here in San Francisco, in the low-income, that’s where everyone starts off.” 

Community members discuss a new SFPD traffic stop policy during a working group session at the Samoan Community Development Center, in Sunnydale. Photo by David Mamaril Horowitz.

Having grown up during the crack-cocaine epidemic in the 1980s and ’90s, Manamea said the drug-fueled violence drove her family and others out of the city. She returned, but many did not. 

The new district will get about $200,000 from the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development, which the cultural district program’s website says are to be used only to “address the effects of destabilization on residents and businesses” in a particular district. 

The goals of a cultural district are to share and connect community members with resources, improve quality of life, and foster cultural pride — and the community members leading the charge on the district can take the lead on what that looks like. In places like the Mission’s Calle 24 Latino Cultural District, supporting the community means fighting tooth and nail to prevent further displacement of Latinx residents. 

Tino Felise, who has spent the past two years advocating for and planning the Pacific Islander cultural district, said it had been “a long time coming,” and noted that he got lots of good feedback and advice from the Latino Cultural District. He hopes to bring back Pacific Islander events that have died down in recent years, and make the neighborhood a place where people come together to eat, shop, and visit. 

“There’s nothing that happens, no buses come through our side,” Felise said, remembering the Samoan flag days of his youth and Pacific Islander cultural events held at Crocker Amazon park. “We wanna make it vibrant.” 

In coming weeks, he plans to start canvassing the neighborhood to hear directly from the residents about their needs. 

“I just want folks to know that we’re here for the long run,” Felise said, “for the PI community, and the community at large.” 

With additional reporting from David Mamaril Horowitz.

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REPORTER. Eleni is our reporter focused on policing in San Francisco. She first moved to the city on a whim nearly 10 years ago, and the Mission has become her home. Follow her on Twitter @miss_elenius.

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    1. Hello ,
      Please refrain from using gendered names . I am sure the Pacific Islander community has gender non binary , also LGTBQ .