- A New Island, and: Micronesians Abroad
Forty years ago Micronesian communities were largely bounded by the United States Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands. Today Micronesians abroad no longer consist of scattered individuals and small groups; they constitute significant communities with dense intra- and intercommunity interactions. Micronesian social space is now transnational.
Two recent video documentaries report on Micronesian migrant communities from the Freely Associated States—the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI), and the Republic of Palau—located in Guam, Saipan, Hawai‘i, and the US continent.
These videos have much in common. Both filmmakers are educators; Francis X Hezel (Micronesians Abroad) as a former teacher and director of the Jesuit school in Pohnpei, and Dale Carpenter (A New Island) as a journalism professor at the University of Arkansas. Carpenter is the more experienced filmmaker, with several awards to his credit. Hezel has the advantage of having historical footage, a wealth of contemporary Micronesian music, and extensive knowledge of the islands to draw on. In both productions the camera work, editing, and scripting are accomplished. Most images show Micronesians at work, attending church, participating in community events, or giving interviews. Both filmmakers use visuals of the host communities to give a sense of place, although Hezel, covering more communities, relies more on iconic shots, such as surfers for Southern California, and a large wooden cowboy outside a Texas store.
Both give examples of the diverse motives for migration—better access to jobs, education, health care, or because of family matters. Both give attention to the problems of adaptation and the identity challenges facing youth, while telling a story of success in a new place that is often conceived of as continuity rather than rupture, in “a new island,” or “the new Micronesia.”
There are also differences between these documentaries in the intended audience, goals, narrative voice, and the geographical and historical extent of coverage.
Micronesians Abroad is a survey of movements leading to the formation of overseas communities and the fortunes of those who settled there. It begins with historical footage of people assembled at an Island airport to bid farewell to relatives and friends setting out on their journey. The narrator, [End Page 484] Fran Hezel, tells us that in the 1960s, few Micronesians traveled to the United States, and they were mostly visitors rather than settlers. The extension of Pell Grant eligibility in the 1970s encouraged Micronesians to travel to the US for college education. In the 1980s, the Compacts of Free Association allowed Islanders to live and work in the United States and its territories, and some moved to Guam and Saipan. Since 1995 and the reduction in compact funding, the pace has accelerated. From the Federated States of Micronesia about 2,000 people per year move abroad, while the Marshall Islands is losing about 1,000 per year, and Palau several hundred. Today approximately 30,000 FSM migrants are living abroad.
Hezel next covers the motives for migration, concluding that Micronesians have settled “nearly everywhere” in the United States. How are they doing? He acknowledges that a few have run into problems with the law, references a Government Accountability Office report that a majority of Micronesians in the United States are living in poverty, and mentions newspaper articles claiming that migrants have come to collect welfare, but argues that most have found jobs and are doing just fine.
Hezel then offers his evidence. He presents “exemplary” settlers in Hawai‘i, Guam, and Saipan, then moves to communities in a variety of places on the US continent—the West Coast, Florida...