Malo e Lelei! Tongans are those people with ancestry to the indigenous people of the Kingdom of Tonga which consists of 169 islands, 36 of which are inhabited. According to the 2000 U. S. Census, there are 27,713 Tongans living in the United States, and of that number, 12,111 Tongans are living in California. The county of Los Angeles is home to 2,058 Tongans, and is the primary service area for the Tongan Community Services Center (TCSC) (http://factfinder.census.gov, 2000). Only 37% of the Tongan population have a high school degree, and 8% (lower than the U. S. average) have a bachelor’s degree. Poverty in the general Tongan community is 27% and among Tongan children is 30%. Comparatively, poverty rates in Southern California are 15% and 21% respectively (APALC, 2005).
Tongans face considerable barriers to health care, such as, lower insurance coverage and higher language barriers. In one study, baseline screening rates are only 40% for women who had ever performed breast self examination (BSE), 26% who had received clinical breast examination (CBE), and 25% who had obtained a mammogram. More than half the sample believed that a mammogram was necessary only in the event that a lump is found. In the same study, Tongan participants expressed the belief that breast cancer could be caused by illegal use of drugs, breastfeeding, and trauma to the breast (Tanjasiri et al., 2002). Another study revealed a pervasive belief that cancer equaled death, body weakness and toxins were the cause of cancer, and prayer and healthy living helped to prevent cancer (McMullin et al., 2008).
Tongan Community Service Center (TCSC): TCSC was established in 1988 as a program of Special Services for Groups (SSG), which is a 501(c) (3) nonprofit organization. SSG was established in 1952 and specializes in working in conjunction with diverse ethnic minority and disenfranchised community groups to develop models for social service delivery and community self-sufficiency. In 2003, SSG initiated a Community Institutional Review Board (IRB). The IRB is made up of five ethnically diverse groups (African American, Asian, gay and lesbian, Latino/Hispanic, and Pacific Islander client and community populations) that review research protocols involving SSG’s. SSG operates over 20 different human service programs that range in size and scope, with an annual budget of $18 million, and serves as the fiscal sponsor for TCSF. TCSC provides social services to the Tongan community (primarily in Los Angeles) including immigration and employment assistance, consumer and health education, tobacco prevention, breast and cervical cancer education, language assistance and information/referral. TCSC also operates a food program for Tongan individuals and families, and promotes ethnic and cultural activities at the Center. TCSC is led by six Tongan advisory board members who represent key community areas of church, education, and social service, and four community health workers who conduct all outreach and education for the social service programs.
Brian Hui, Project Coordinator
Tongan Community Service Center
13030 Inglewood Ave., Suite 104
Hawthorne, CA 90250
- Asian Pacific American Legal Center of Southern California, The Diverse Face of Asians and Pacific Islanders in California, 2005. Pp. 33-42
- McMullin, J. M., Taumoepeau, L., Talakai, M., Kivalu, F. & Hubbell, F. A. (2008). Tongan perceptions of cancer. Cancer Detection and Prevention. 32 Suppl 1:S29-36.
- Tanjasiri, S. P., LeHa’uli, P., Finau, S., Fehoko, I. & Skeen, N. A. (2002). Tongan-American women’s breast cancer knowledge, attitudes, and screening behaviors. Ethnicity and Disease, 12, 284-290.
U.S. Census Bureau, “American FactFinder”, <http://factfinder.census.gov/>; retrieved June 18, 2010.