Pasifika Unity Festival + Kalani Pe’a

Stage & Studio: Talking culture, music, health, vaccinations, and the free outdoor Pacific Islander celebration.

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Two-time Grammy Winner Kalani Pe’a. Photo: Antonio Agosto

Pacific Islander arts and health converge in one outdoor event in Hillsboro.

Dmae Lo Roberts features the first annual Pasifika Unity Festival, a free outdoor event that celebrates Pacific Islander culture and health. With live music, crafts vendors and local food trucks, the celebration is also a health fair and COVID-19 vaccination drive. The event is 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 7, at the Gordon Faber Recreation Complex (Ron Tonkin Stadium) in Hillsboro.

The festival is the brainchild of Manumalo “Mālō” Ala’ilima, the executive director of UTOPIA PDX,  in collaboration with Oregon Pacific Islander Coalition.  Roberts talks with both Ala’ilima and the OPIC’s Kumu Leialohaokeanuenue Ka’ula, who has also brought childhood friend Kalani Peʻa to perform at the festival. Pe’a is a two-time Grammy-winning singer and musician.

Manumalo “Mālō” Ala’ilima, executive director of UTOPIA PDX and Kumu Leialohaokeanuenue Ka’ula of the Oregon Pacific Islander Coalition
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Additional music by Kalani Pe’a who debuts two songs from his new album “Kau Ka Pe’a” available on at https://www.kalanipeamusic.com/shop or on all music platforms.

In Oregon, Pacific Islanders, who are often essential workers, have been affected disproportionately by COVID-19 and have had the highest rates of infections. According to data from the Oregon Health Authority July 2021 report, the rate of hospitalization is the highest, at 14.1%, compared with white populations, at 11.7%.

The Pasifika Unity Festival is a broad effort to combine music, food, crafts, and a general community health fair with a vaccination effort that guarantees a $100 gift card to the first 200 people who get COVID-19 vaccinations. The event organizers are expecting Pacific Islanders throughout Oregon and Washington to attend this first of what’s planned as an annual event.

In the first half of this podcast you’ll hear…

Manumalo “Mālō” Ala’ilima talks about how, as a LGBTQ+ Pacific Islander organization, UTOPIA PDX switched priorities to serve the greater Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander community in Oregon.

“We’re really fortunate that we have a huge advocacy platform in the Left Coast states where it makes it possible for people like me to even exist. And then you add the experience of the pandemic of COVID-19. It’s almost like many of us had to step a bit back in order to make sure that the greater Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities’ basic needs were met in terms of the pandemic. Economically, people were being impacted. People lost jobs. People had their hours reduced. People were having to find housing before the rental moratorium. And so there were, you know, many, many barriers, but basic survival instincts. We had to survive first, before we can think about having gender-affirming surgeries, we just had to live for.”

As a kumu (hula master teacher), Leialohaokeanuenue Ka’ula enlisted her childhood friend Kalani Pe’a to come to Oregon to debut his new album as part of this vaccination effort. As an organization, the Oregon Pacific Islander Coalition (OPIC) also saw this as a priority and was eager to partner with Ala’ilima and UTOPIA PDX on this festival.

“If we have vaccine hesitancy, how are we addressing that? If people aren’t able to get to vaccinations, how are we addressing that? If people aren’t able to afford their rent because they lost their job, how are we addressing it? Because unfortunately our government didn’t address these issues at the time, and they’re still working on it, you know, through OPIC and through UTOPIA PDX, it’s really given the state of Oregon. We’ve opened up their eyes and they now know we exist. We’re here and we’re not going anywhere.”

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Ala’ilima says the event will bring Pacific Islander families together. The youth especially are eager to show off their cultural art forms.

“Our youth are so excited. They’ve been practicing and it’s like friendly competition, you know, like, oh, the Tongans are getting ready. The Samoans are getting ready. The Palauans are getting ready. So it’s a friendly competition of unity, like sharing our culture with one another. Because at the core of it, when we look at health and wellness and center that about our Pacific Islander community, it’s not separate from our physical health being rooted in our culture is incredibly important for our health.”

In the second half of the podcast…

Kalani Pe’a in performance. Photo By: Antonio Agosto⁠

Grammy winner Kalani Pe’a debuts two songs from his new CD as he talks about how the Pasifika Unity Festival will be his first concert event in the last 18 months.

“My concert was February 27th, 2020, and when we were there, New York City experienced a thousand cases a day. We left by March 1st to come back to Hawaii. I told my band to wear your masks on the plane, sanitize your hands. There are things going on. This COVID thing is a big deal. And it became a big deal. Then New York became the epicenter of it all. And I shed some tears while singing, because I knew in my heart that I would have been the last concert at Lincoln Center in February. And I was the last live audience concert. I shed some tears. I cried because I knew that I would be on a long break.”

As a singer/musician whose living depends on live performance, Pe’a says he spent the down time writing new music and producing a new album, which he will debut at the festival. His greatest joy is sharing his love of Hawaii with an audience.

“And Hawaiian music truly identify and exemplify and define who we are as people of the Islands. … I grew up at all of this, with the snow on Mauna Kea. I wrote about the snow goddess, comparing her beauty to my mom. We write about places and people we love and people can connect with us from Portland, from Japan, from New York. They come to Hawaii because they tell each other that Hawaii is not only the ‘Aloha’ place, but it’s literally the heart of the world of the Pacific Ocean. People want to embrace with our culture and our perspective. And when I sing about Hawaiian music, about people in places I love, when I write music about people and places I love … the biggest reward for me is to hear the audience, have that personal connection with me.”

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More about the podcast guests:

Manumalo “Mālō” Ala’ilima identifies as fa’atāne (“in the manner of a man” in Samoan) and uses they/them/he/him pronouns. He is Samoan and of Tongan descent. They also have extensive community organizing and nonprofit leadership experience. Malo is a co-founder and first Executive Director of UTOPIA PDX.  Malo also is the regional lead for Oregon on the National Pacific Islander COVID-19 Task Force and lead of their Data and Research Council. Malo was educated at the University of Southern California, majoring in political science with a minor in public policy and management, and came to the UTOPIA PDX Executive Director role in April of this year after having worked for more than fifteen years with the American Red Cross Biomedical Services in several functional areas and having lived in different regions. They have a small family with their amazing, lovely and supportive partner Elizabeth and their brilliant and energetic four-year-old Lily.

Kumu Leialohaokeanuenue Ka’ula is an educator, motivating facilitator,  community leader, a kumu hula (hula master teacher). Haʻahaʻa (humility), ʻohana (family), and aloha (love) are values that were instilled in her at a very young age. Leialoha was born on the Island of O’ahu to a family of cultural historians and entertainers. Growing up in a family with deep roots in the Hawaiian culture meant she embraced her home and used that guidance to pave the journey she lives everyday. When she was eight years old, Leialoha moved to Moku O Keawe; as a connection to her grandmother, she chose to attend Ke Kula ‘O Nawahiokalani’opu’u and immersed herself in the Hawaiian language. She is a proud graduate of the class of 2001. This accomplishment is in dedication to her grandmother. As recipient of the Bank of Hawaiʻi Century scholars and Princess Pauahi Foundation scholars, she followed her dream of higher education in the Pacific Northwest after high school. In 2009, Leialoha founded both the nonprofit organization ʻO.H.A.N.A. Foundation and Hālau Ka Lei Haliʻa O Ka Lokelani in Aloha, Oregon. She honors her grandmother as cultural and language educator in the Portland Public Schools, and as a kumu hula she answered the call to spread the history of Hawaiʻi through hula.

Kalani Peʻa is a two-time Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter of Hawaiian music. He released his first album, E Walea, in 2016, which won the 2017 Grammy award for Best Regional Roots Music Album.  Peʻa released his second album, No ‘Ane’i, in 2018, which again won the Grammy Award for Best Regional Roots Music Album, at the 61st Annual Grammy Awards. Peʻa is also an educator, a kanaka, and promotes Hawaiian language and culture and is a supporter of Hawaiian-language immersion schools. Pe’a recently released his new album, Kau Ka Pe’a, which he created during the pandemic shutdowns.  The album is available now worldwide across all platforms. Physical CDs can be purchased through Island Heritage Music or Kalani’s online store at Kalanipeamusic.com/shop.

About the author

Dmae Roberts is a two-time Peabody winning radio producer, writer and theatre artist. Her work is often autobiographical and cross-cultural and informed by her biracial identity. Her Peabody award-winning documentary Mei Mei, a Daughter’s Song is a harrowing account of her mother’s childhood in Taiwan during WWII. She adapted this radio documentary into a film. She won a second Peabody-award for her eight-hour Crossing East documentary, the first Asian American history series on public radio. She received the Dr. Suzanne Ahn Civil Rights and Social Justice award from the Asian American Journalists Association and was selected as a United States Artists (USA) Fellow. Her stage plays and essays have been published in numerous publications. She published her memoir The Letting Go Trilogies: Stories of a Mixed-Race Family in 2016. As a theatre artist, she has won two Drammys, one for her acting and one for her play Picasso In The Back Seat which also won the Oregon Book Award. Her plays have been produced in Portland, Seattle, Los Angeles, NYC and Florida. Roberts is the executive producer of MediaRites, a nonprofit multicultural production organization and co-founder of Theatre Diaspora, an Asian American/Pacific Islander non-profit theatre that started as a project of MediaRites. She created the Crossing East Archive of more than 200 hours of broadcast-quality, pan-AAPI interviews and oral histories. For 23 years, Roberts volunteered to host and produce Stage & Studio live on KBOO radio. In 2009, she started the podcast on StagenStudio.com, which continues at ArtsWatch.

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