Being Micronesian on Guam
After leaving Ft. Riley, KS. and the active U.S. Army in the 1990s, I moved to Oregon. I lived there for nearly 10 years before I came back to Micronesia.
I truly fell in love with winter in Oregon. I lived in Salem, Gresham and Portland — in that order. Each has a unique feature that touched my heart and left very special memories.
While there though, I heard many off-colored jokes among friends and co-workers about illegal aliens from Mexico. This was at the height of Mexicans “floating” across the borders into Oregon and Washington State, in search of a “better life.” They worked all kinds of low-paying entry level jobs, such as collecting trash, cleaning offices and farming.
When I came to Guam and started listening to the conversations among my own people from the Federated States of Micronesia, especially those from Chuuk, I felt having a déjà vu. I was hearing — all over again— the same concerns and challenges experienced by the Mexicans in Oregon. I heard demeaning jokes about Chuukese on Chris “Malafunkshun” Barnett’s talk show on Hit Radio 100.
Like the Micronesians here, the Hispanics in the states sought a better life, better jobs, better education and medical assistance. A U.S.-born Mexican friend, with whom I first connected on the basketball court, told me his family crossed the border for the same reasons others before them did. They would later obtain a legal status, then put my friend through school.
The more I thought about the plight of the Mexicans in U.S., the more I realized the parallelism between their stories and my own people’s.
I learned about the Palauans and Filipinos on Guam in the 70s. All were new to the island at some point, and were treated, to an extent, the same way as my people and the Mexicans in their new found lands.
Unlike the illegal aliens in the U.S., FSM citizens are fully authorized to enter and work on Guam or any U.S. jurisdiction. But they share the same struggles and toil away patiently almost the same way as well.
Like the Mexicans, Palauans and Filipinos, some of my people have risen quickly to better positions and higher paying gigs. Over time, some even became U.S. citizens.
In a meeting with representatives from the U.S. Government Accountability Office in September, FSM citizens were asked the reasons they came to Guam. Topping their list was education, followed by medical assistance and, finally, jobs.
Before the FSM Compact was ratified in 1986, getting college education at the University of Guam and Guam Community College was the primary motivation for coming to Guam. Many FSM citizens obtained their college degrees and flew back home. Only a handful children came out to Guam to attend elementary and high schools.
After the passage of COFA, FSM citizens began to flood Guam, the CNMI, Hawaii and mainland U.S., in search of a more convenient life.
Soon, more FSM citizens began arriving in record numbers to seek education at Guam public elementary and high schools as well. Merna Sablan, a Pohnpeian now living in Dededo, represents this group. She first came to Guam in 1986 to attend high school. Later, her job and husband from outer-island Chuuk swayed her eventual decision to settle on Guam.
Choosing to stay on Guam is cost effective for many of them. Going back home when there is an emergency is doable. Some send portions of their bi-weekly paychecks to families back home.
Many do their share of community service, picking up trash on the roads, beaches and in their villages. They work and contribute to the Guam economy. They pay taxes, rents, tuition, pay into medic aid (a medical insurance many non-US citizens are not eligible for). Some even own moms & pop stores, sit on boards in various organizations, and do social work taking care of Guam’s physically challenged and elderly.
Hentrick Eveluck, a freelance grant writer from Chuuk, has helped numerous local organizations obtain millions of dollars’ worth of grants.
Yapese outer-islander Sam Illesugam wondered out loud, “What would happen to Guam if all FSM citizens at the entry level jobs just decided not come to work one day? Who would feed customers at restaurants, or pump gas, clean hotels, clean offices and collect trash, and take care of Guam’s tourists?”
For Micronesians on Guam, the list of challenges is long: discrimination, language barrier, health insurance and housing, among others. These are not at all different from the situation my Mexican friends found themselves in, decades ago in Oregon.
But such struggles are common among newcomers to any place.
Alex J. Rhowuniong is a freelance journalist and longtime resident of Guam. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org