Micronesians moving north
By Mary Kaye Ritz
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Mary Kaye Ritz
Hilda Heine and Ben Graham have high hopes for today's "Micronesian Voices in Hawai'i" conference.
Heine, a director with Honolulu's nonprofit Pacific Resources for Education and Learning, and Graham, a consultant and researcher based in Majuro, say understanding what drives Micronesian migration will foster greater understanding of its pressures on resources here.
Among the notables at the two-day conference is also the chief justice of the Federated States of Micronesia, Andon Amaraich, who will discuss the Compacts of Free Association.
While Micronesian migration seems a recent phenomenon — and for purposes of this discussion, that includes nations falling under the compacts, including the Federated States of Micronesia and the Republic of the Marshall Islands — it goes back to before Hawai'i was even a state, said Graham.
"(It) was predicted as far back as the 1960s," said Graham. "With limited growth, once access to the U.S. opened, we knew there would be heavy and intense migration for education and employment."
When the compacts came into effect in 1986, Micronesians were allowed free access to the U.S. "Over time, we've seen a broadening of issues, with migration not just for education, but now for jobs and health reasons," Graham said.
"It's moving from the first wave to the second," he said. " ... We're in the middle of still a very intense migration situation."
The number of immigrants seems to have stabilized at about 3,000 arrivals annually; a 2003 count put total numbers at about 10,000, but a new survey will be next year.
"Hawai'i has its own challenges by how it responds" to Micronesian newcomers, said Heine, today's keynote speaker. "A lot of that depends on stereotypes about the culture and people."
Issues include the fact that Micronesians in general come from large families. Household size there averages about 5 people; in Hawai'i, it's 2.88. Landlords often balk at renting to a larger group.
Or say a young woman was raised in an village where schedules were more fluid. Employers might misconstrue her relaxed adherence to appointment times as rudeness or worse.
Transitions can be difficult in areas of education, too: some Micronesians may have different expectations about performance or attendance.
"We need to spend time working with the Micronesian population about individual challenges," Heine said.
Graham agreed there's lots of room for improvement all around.
"I'm happy to see leaders and policymakers have put increasing attention to this issue," he said. "The more people from Hawai'i learn what's back home — the culture and history and education system — once you start looking at main indicators, it's pretty understandable to see why adjustment once you reach Hawai'i is difficult for a lot of Micronesians."