Fight for good oral health, equity rooted in family’s legacy

Arcora Senior Director of Community Partnerships Min Song (rear middle) with her parents and son at Hood Canal.

For Asian American Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander Heritage Month, an Arcora Foundation staff member reflects on how her parents influenced her work to address oral health disparities.

By Min Song, Arcora Senior Director of Community Partnerships

May is Asian American Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander Heritage Month. We celebrate the heritage and contributions of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islander people. Min Song, Arcora’s senior director of community partnerships, is working to make a difference through her work at the Foundation to further our mission. She shares why advancing good oral health and equity are important to her.

My parents immigrated to the U.S. as survivors of war after losing nearly everything. My dad’s house was bombed, and he was unconscious and temporarily disabled for days. Both lost their fathers during the Korean War, and both are the eldest of their families—which meant great responsibility to support family back in Korea. Yet, they never used hardship to describe their life. Instead, their message has always been to do your best, be proud of your heritage, give to others, support community, love all.

My parents symbolize yin and yang to me. My dad used to tell me about first coming to the U.S. and working two construction jobs to put himself through college. He described being the smallest in stature yet having to work the longest hours and having the physically hardest jobs. He never once uttered words of discrimination or racism, but even as a young child I felt in my heart something was amiss. He continued to rise to achieve what one could call educational success. My mom, the community organizer and humanitarian, whose picture is in the Wing Luke Museum for her political and community advocacy to advance our Asian American/Pacific Islander (AAPI)—especially our refugee and immigrant—communities to overcome the disproportionate inequities they face. I have countless memories of attending nonprofit fundraising events and AAPI candidate campaign fundraisers with my parents. At an early age, they instilled in me roots of community mobilizing. 

We, by no means, would have been considered economically wealthy growing up but my parents always instilled in me to share what we have with others. There are so many who don’t have the resources we have: access to food, water, safe and stable shelter, health care, education, economic prosperity, a support network. How will we use our privilege to uplift our community?

With gratitude for the foundation from my parents, my career journey has been rooted in leading programs for positive health and economic outcomes for our Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC)—especially our refugee and immigrant—communities. For much of my career before I joined Arcora, I oversaw workforce, education, and community services programs. I saw how the lack of access to oral health care for our BIPOC community members limited full participation in the workforce and educational pathways. For me, access to not just oral health care but culturally-appropriate care is a social justice and economic justice issue.

Over half of our Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander community members have had permanent teeth extracted, more than any other racial group. When my dad very unexpectedly passed away last fall, he had few of his permanent teeth left. As I looked through years of family pictures, I noticed he smiled less and less as the years progressed, or he just chose to not be in family pictures at all. I recalled the growing complications he had in coverage and accessing care for his complex oral health needs. I saw the toll on his mental health and joy in life, he had difficulty eating his favorite foods due to constant dental pain and started opting out of family outings which always included food. For both of my parents – their trajectory of lifelong oral health suffered from lack of access to and consistent care when they were young.

I was drawn to Arcora for our mission to bend the arc of oral health toward equity. We know that oral health is essential to overall health. I’ve seen that firsthand. Race and place should not dictate your access to care. I’m here to continue the legacy of my parents: everyone deserves a healthy smile, joy in life, positive health outcomes, and a path toward prosperity. I’m so humbled and privileged to be with the most amazing team to achieve this with community, in community, and for our community.

We can’t do this work without you. Advancing oral health requires public and private partnerships, policy advocacy, and funding. Join us in our mission to bend the arc of oral health toward equity. Learn more and contact us at

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