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Coalition building for anti-racism and community-participatory health equity research in Asian communities and Pacific Islander communities: Planting the seed to dismantle structural racism

Principal Investigator: Connie Kim Yen Nguyen-Truong, PhD, RN, and Sara F. Waters, PhD

Asian leaders and Pacific Islander leaders in Washington and Oregon have expressed concern regarding Asian families and Pacific Islander families, including that their children experience and witness acts of xenophobia and racism. This can cause what is termed “racial trauma.” Similar to post traumatic stress disorder, racial trauma involves injuries due to exposure to race-based stress. Race-based stressors include threats of harm or injury, humiliating and shaming events, and witnessing harm to other people of color due to racism. Though researchers recognize that African American people experience race-based stress at a higher rate, Asians and Pacific Islanders, along with other minoritized groups, also significantly suffer from race-based stress. During the COVID-19 pandemic, there were significantly increased incidents of anti-Asian xenophobia and racism. Parents of color, including caregivers/guardians, do not have the privilege of not teaching their children about racism because it affects their lives.

The paucity of voices of culturally diverse communities continues in academic research. Community participatory action-oriented research and culturally responsive researchers must respond to anti-Asian racism and erasure of Pacific Islander communities, 2 diverse groups who are often aggregated in data in health and human services. Creating a culturally safe and courageous space to build a coalition partnership for anti-racism research and a pathway forward to dismantling structural racism centers on a long-term authentic relationship. There is a gap in the literature to understand the unique needs and the profound health disparities among the Pacific Islander population. The history of trauma, exploitation, and exclusion, including the nuclear weapons testing detonated on the Marshall homelands and unethical research without informed consent, have had lasting negative health issues for the community, including cancer. To advance health equity and healing, research within these communities needs to address the mistrust in research and Western medicine stemming from historical trauma. Earning trust by engaging Asian communities and Pacific Islander communities in research and honoring cultures is vitally important to develop the authentic relationships needed to support effective prevention programs. Research evidence points to the importance of relationship building for long-term sustainability between community and academic partners as meaningful stakeholder engagement, especially working with Asian communities and Micronesian Pacific Islander communities who have experienced historical trauma, including diaspora.

Based on the profound need to dismantle racism and center Asian voices and Pacific Islander voices to advance health equity, the over-arching, long-term goals of this team of WSU researchers and organizations serving Asian communities and Pacific Islander communities are 1) to build a multi-state Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Justice (EDIJ) Coalition for anti-racism among Asian communities and Pacific Islander communities and 2) to support community-led programs that foster health and well-being among Asian families and Pacific Islander families.