MIDVALE — Utah lost a fierce, compassionate and relentless social justice warrior Tuesday morning when the COVID-19 pandemic claimed the life of longtime activist Margarita Satini.
Satini announced on her Facebook page that she tested positive on Oct. 19, the same day she acted as master of ceremony for the Virtual Pasifika Women's March. Her sister-in-law Amber Sundin DeBirk said she and her daughter began feeling sick after working at a community testing event.
That day, she complained of feeling sick with "a flu or really bad cold" in a Facebook post, and five hours later announced her positive test. Satini had a heart issue that required a pacemaker, but she seemed to be feeling better. Early Tuesday morning, she told her husband she couldn't breathe and he called 911, according to Sundin DeBirk.
An ambulance carried Satini to the hospital, but doctors were unable to revive her.
"To Margarita, community was family and family was community," Sundin DeBirk said. "My brother, her kids and grandkids, as well as her siblings, family and the entire community is mourning right now. She loved unconditionally and fought for those who couldn't or didn't have a voice. I wish we could clone her and more people could be like her because it truly is a lesson of how we should all live our lives."
The 50-year-old activist's last post was about issuing a challenge to "our young folks and they said, 'Boom! move out of the way. Vote and leave no doubt!'"
Friends and colleagues were stunned and heartbroken following news of Satini's death, repeatedly saying that when her community needed her, she never failed to show up, whether that was helping with voter registration, education issues, participating in the census, or COVID-19 outreach and education.
"Margarita was the best of humanity," said longtime friend and Cottonwood Heights City Councilwoman Tali Bruce. "She had empathy for everyone and held the vision for a more just, equitable, ideal future. She had her time and energy invested in every great cause out there. She gave selflessly and will be sorely missed. You meet those people once or twice in a lifetime that you get at a soul level. Margarita was that for me."
Satini was well known in the community for her social justice work, and was an especially committed advocate for Pacific Islanders. She'd been engaged in helping families participate in the census, and was most recently on the front lines of the fight against COVID-19, as she fought for more testing for communities of color who've been hardest hit by the pandemic.
Satini was the chair of the Utah Pacific Islander Civic Engagement Coalition and on the board of the Utah Pacific Islander Health Coalition and an organizing representative of the Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club. She was a dedicated mother, a proud grandmother, and a tireless advocate for people often overlooked.
"Margarita literally gave her life to the community," said Celina Milner, a community activist who has known Satini for eight years. "She died from COVID after working tirelessly for the community."
The Sierra Club of Utah offered kind words about Satini in a statement on Twitter.
"Margarita Satini gave her life to serve the community. Her fight is our fight. We will keep her fire in our bellies and honor her with our actions and love."
Another tweet from the organization declared "Margarita's work belonged to her and her community and the Sierra Club was lucky to share in that work and her life."
A number of elected officials shared remembrances after learning of her death, including a lengthy statement from the state's racial and ethnic minority legislators — Sens. Luz Escamilla and Jani Iwamoto, and Reps. Angela Romero, Karen Kwan, Mark Wheatley and Sandra Hollins.
"Today, Utah tragically lost a community powerhouse and beloved mentor to COVID-19," the statement said. "Margarita Satini was a force for her Pacific Islander community, and for underrepresented, underserved communities across our state. During the past many months, Margarita led as a community health worker to steer the COVID Community Partnership to educate and care for marginalized communities disproportionately hurt by the pandemic."
They offered condolences to her family and said her death was a painful reminder that COVID-19 precautions save lives.
"Losing Margarita should remind us all, again, how real and dangerous this pandemic is," the statement said. "Our hospitals are filled and our communities are being affected more than ever. The reckless and selfish attitudes of some who are choosing not to take precautions means that others are suffering and dying. How many more good people will we have to lose before all Utahns take this public health crisis seriously?"
Gov. Gary Herbert praised Satini's passion Tuesday night.
"I was deeply saddened to hear that Margarita Satini died today from COVID-19 complications," Herbert said in a statement. "She was a passionate advocate for her community. To say she was dedicated is an understatement — she gave and gave with everything she had. Our prayers and thoughts are with all who mourn her loss tonight."
Our prayers are with all who mourn the loss of Margarita Satini tonight. pic.twitter.com/KMZ2dVA7Dd— Gov. Gary Herbert (@GovHerbert) October 28, 2020
Community activist and friend Ann Dent said they worked together on several local political campaigns.
"Most memorable was that of Tali Bruce," she said, of the Cottonwood Heights city councilwoman. "It was a hard-fought race, and Margarita never stopped working. Tali won by a landslide, and that largely can be attributed to the hard work and strategy of Margarita. Since then, I had called on her several times to consult on campaigns I was already working on. She had a brilliant mind."
Dent said Satini's passion extended to every aspect of her life.
"Margarita was a lion with a heart of gold," she said. "She loved her kids and grandchildren. No space will be complete now without her fierce energy. We must now continue the work she tirelessly fought for."
In a Facebook post from the Women's Democratic Club of Utah, she was praised for both her humanity and her tenacity.
"We are heartbroken to learn of the passing of a fierce warrior for our community, Margarita Satini. An advocate for justice and humanity she will be greatly missed. Covid19 truly is a monster to steal this amazing woman from us. Our heart goes out to her family and the Polynesian community she worked tirelessly for. XO"
A vigil for Satini will be held at the Capitol Wednesday night at 6 p.m., and organizers said social distancing will be observed and masks are required.
Satini is survived by her husband, James Sundin, and their four children, Ricky, Keilani, Semisi and Alexander Sundin, as well as her four grandchildren. Her family shared a GoFundMe* account, as she was the primary support for her family.
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