The Stream

#BeingMicronesian: What is life like for immigrants to Hawaii?

Racism widely reported by citizens of Pacific countries who settle in the US under wide-ranging compact.

Over the last three decades thousands of citizens from the Micronesia region have settled in the United States under the terms of a wide-ranging compact, with the vast majority choosing to live in Hawaii. Many, though, say they have rarely felt welcome and they are now sharing their experiences of racism and discrimination with the hashtag #BeingMicronesian.

Citizens of the Federated States of Micronesia and the Republic of the Marshall Islands have been free to live in the US since 1986 under treaties known collectively as the Compact of Free Association (COFA).  A similar package of free association agreements was reached between the US and the Republic of Palau in 1994. The deals granted the US exclusive territorial control of the islands, clearing the way for military bases and training as well as weapons testing (at the time of signing the US had already conducted at least 67 nuclear tests in the Micronesia region between 1946 and 1958, when it administered the Pacific Islands as a UN Trust Territory).

Micronesian, Marshallese and Palauan citizens are not eligible for automatic US citizenship but, as US taxpayers, were initially eligible for benefits available to Americans. That changed in 1996, when the the US federal government restricted non-citizens – including those who came to the US via COFA – from being able to access key public programmes. All the while, Micronesians say they have been subject to racism and discrimination – from being called a drain on the public budget of Hawaii to being compared to vermin such as cockroaches.

Micronesians point out that the US continues to benefit from unfettered access to their homelands and say that the government should hold up its end of the compact. With the racism and discrimination on show in Hawaii belying its reputation for love and compassion, The Stream will examine if there is any way to ensure the safety and security of Micronesians living in the Aloha State and beyond. Join the conversation.

On this episode of The Stream, we speak with:

Sha Merirei Ongelungel @sha_merirei
Palauan activist and podcaster

Anita Hofschneider @ahofschneider
Journalist, Civil Beat

Kathy Jetn̄il-Kijiner @kathykijiner
Marshall Islander poet and spoken word artist

Read more:
America’s real migrant crisis is the one you’ve never heard of – Mother Jones
Why talking about anti-Micronesian hate is important – Honolulu City Beat

What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.