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Sunday, August 14, 2011
Micronesians: “Its just better in Arkansas”
By Andrew Walden @ 11:10 PM :: 30399 Views :: National News, World News, Health Care, Cost of Living

by Andrew Walden

Neil Abercrombie says Hawaii can’t afford Micronesians.

All four members of Hawaii’s Congressional delegation say Micronesians are “unsustainable.”

Arkansas disagrees.

Inouye tells a reporter:

“… it is not fair for Hawaii to pick up the load because most citizens of those islands stop over in Hawaii because of ethnic similarities, language similarities, and they feel at home climatically.  So you won't find too many of them in Arizona or California or Oregon or Washington.  It's here…."

But Ann Wright, spokesperson for the Arkansas Department of Health tells the Associated Press, “the Marshallese bring a lot of value to the state of Arkansas."

There is a lesson for anybody who wishes to learn it. As one Springdale Arkansas Marshallese community leaders puts it, “Its just better in Arkansas.” And the reason: freedom beats dependence on government. Even the poorest people are better off depending on work, church, family, and community than they are depending on government handouts.

AP reports:

Hawaii's government spent more than $52 million in the 2010 fiscal year on more than 17,000 Compact of Free Association migrants' human services — including health plans for low-income residents, welfare programs, public housing and homeless support, according to Department of Human Services figures provided under an open records request.

In addition, education costs exceeded $55 million to pay for the instruction of nearly 5,500 compact students, and total costs to the state were $115 million, according to a state impact report released last week.

Guam's expenses for education and social services of more than 18,000 migrants reached nearly $54 million in the 2009 fiscal year, according to the territory's most recent compact impact report.

And in Arkansas, where about 4,000 people from the Marshall Islands live and work, the state Department of Health estimated it spent more than $1 million to provide services to the compact migrant community in the 2011 fiscal year.

In other words, Arkansas’ DoH spending totals $250 per person whereas Hawaii’s total spending is $6765 per person. Why the difference?

In Arkansas Micronesians—mostly from the Marshall Islands--land factory jobs in poultry processing plants. Marshallese churches and families support the community and help newcomers get started. In Hawaii, the government seeks to make all people wards of the state.

Hawaii rents and utility bills are the highest in the nation thanks to restrictive land use policies and politically connected monopolies. In Arkansas the vast majority of land is owned by private individuals and rents are about 1/4 of those in Hawaii.

Hawaii newcomers who arrive unprepared for the cost are housed in homeless shelters—or on the beach. In Arkansas, Marshallese depend on their families and churches.

Hawaii politicians use Micronesians as another excuse to milk the federal government for funds to pay the very profitable non-profits run by their supporters. Arkansas doesn’t get any funding for COFA.

The rhetoric from money grubbing politicians creates racism towards Micronesians in Hawaii just as rhetoric from segregationist politicians once created racism in places like … Arkansas. Civil Beat June 20 reports:

Nia Aitaoto tells the story a lot — the one about the Micronesian skirt.

The flowing, bright floral skirts are worn by women throughout the thousands of small islands that populate the vast western Pacific.

Aitaoto, who has Hawaiian, Samoan and Yapese ancestry and was raised in Kosrae by Bible translator parents, says she wears the skirts occasionally when she is in Hawaii.

"When I use business wear, I look more Polynesian than Micronesian, but when I put the skirt on, it is just magic. It's like I put a target on," she told Civil Beat. "People treat me differently."

Aitaoto cites examples: changes in voice tone in a doctor's office, nurses not holding the door open for her, a supermarket clerk who assumed she was swiping an EBT card (used by people on public financial assistance) and not a debit card.

"I did not notice this before, but I have noticed in the last year and a half," says Aitaoto, who is doing graduate research on Chuuk and Chuukese living in Hawaii. "It's very blatant. The supermarket lady — I wanted to smack her. To me, that hurts."

Ironically it is Abercrombie who bears responsibility for Hawaii’s COFA shortfalls. Hawaii News Now November 2, 2010 explains:

Neil Abercrombie says "Yes". He was on the committee that helped put together the treaty with Micronesia that's now costing Hawaii millions.

Abercrombie admits, "I wish we could have done something more to see to it that the funding came. It wasn't for a lack of. I ended up voting for the bill because it was the right thing to do - but the funding wasn't there. And I regret that ...very, very deeply and I think that the consequences of that are in front of us right now."

Marianas Variety May 23 provides some perspective:

This is the first time since “Compacts of Free Association” were approved in 1986 and renewed in 2003 that U.S. officials have sought to restrict unfettered flow of islanders into the U.S.

Marshall Islands Foreign Minister John Silk expressed his concern at the move, saying the Marshall Islands “will object to any system that imposes a de facto visa requirement on our citizens in the U.S.

That could violate both the letter and spirit of the Compact.” These western Pacific nations were the focus of intense fighting between Japanese and American forces during World War II, and then administered by the United States as a United Nations Trust Territory after the war until 1986.

The U.S. used the Marshall Islands to test 67 nuclear weapons from 1946 to 1958, and operates an important missile testing base in the country.

The U.S. Congress letter was issued two days after an agreement was signed by Marshall Islands landowners cementing use of the Kwajalein missile testing range by the U.S. Defense Department through 2066.

A 2002 Baltimore Sun article examined life in Arkansas for the Marshallese:

Among Marshallese of working age, only 7 percent are unemployed in Springdale, the survey found. By comparison, in 1998, unemployment was 31 percent at home and 24 percent among Marshallese who emigrated to Guam, Hawai‘i and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands….

Individual freedom is a key part of the Marshallese’ Arkansas success story--and a stark contrast to Hawaii’s recent problem with alleged slavery at Aloun Farms, Grove Farms, and Maui Land and Pineapple. The Baltimore Sun points out:

The Pacific islanders who have settled in Springdale have paid their own way or borrowed from relatives, unlike thousands of Marshallese brought to the United States as indentured laborers at nursing homes and amusement parks by "body brokers." Because they came on their own, they are free to accept a less-taxing or better-paying job … free to quit and go home, free simply to leave.

They have their own churches and clubs, and sufficient numbers that schools and local government must address their needs -- for some still live below the poverty line and few go to college.

Marshallese imported by brokers often end up stranded, isolated and hungry, and nearly 8,000 miles from home.

Unlike the brokers, who collect fees of up to $5,500 for each worker they deliver, (John) Moody (the first Marshallese to move to Arkansas) offered temporary refuge to fellow islanders who slept on his floor or couch -- wherever they could find open space.

"I never charged them a penny," said Moody, 49, a stocky, easy-going man with thick wrists, graying hair and a deep voice.

While Micronesians crowd homeless shelters in Hawaii, in Arkansas the Marshallese are buying homes:

…(Ned Laibwij’s) $47,000, two-bedroom home on Kansas Street is widely known as the first to be bought by a Marshallese in Springdale.

"I didn't know nothing about buying a house," he said. But he had a job at Tyson and a steady income. He got the mortgage and the sale went through.

Now, 20 or 30 Marshallese are homeowners, he said.

"Northwest Arkansas is a good place to live," Laibwij said.

In terms of income, it clearly is a better place to make a living than the Marshall Islands. According to a survey conducted in late 2001 by the Embassy of the Republic of the Marshall Islands in Washington, the per capita income of Marshallese in Arkansas is $6,691, four times the island figure of $1,670, though well below the U.S. average of $24,352.

Did they say $6691? That is less than Hawaii’s total spending of $6765 per person. And yet Marshallese are doing better in Arkansas. Amazing. And why might they be equipped to do better in a free society?

"It's a very good culture, a very family oriented culture," said Greg Bohannan, a Tyson plant manager here. "They have a positive attitude. They very rarely see any bad in anything."

Try to imagine low income students who don’t depend on free breakfast from the DoE. Try to imagine low income students in Hawaii who don’t drop out. The Baltimore Sun continues:

The children's futures are uncertain. Some arrived in (Arkansas) without their parents and live with relatives in order to attend U.S. schools. Basic information on their education level and birth dates is difficult to find. Others went to their first day of school in thin T-shirts and flip-flops, ill suited for the cold in Northwest Arkansas. Marshallese are generally poorer than other students, although teachers say no one arrives hungry.

Last school year, all Marshallese high school seniors graduated on time….

John Moody tells the Sun: "Life over here is everybody's dream. It's hard to explain. Life over here is better."

Tomorrow Hawaii politicians will have another excuse for the failure of their system. They will babble about multi-cultural diversity. Who will be fooled?



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