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Micronesian in Hawaii

Micronesians are Hawaii's newest arrivals. We wanted to find out more about what it’s like to make a new life here.


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Navigating Between Cultures

Howard also feels caught sometimes between the culture in which she grew up, and the culture she’s adopted, even after living in Hawaii for more than 20 years.

She got her first introduction to modern life while still in Micronesia. Although she grew up on Nomwin, an outer atoll similar in size to Tipen’s Pollap, her family sent her as a teen to attend Xavier High School in Weno, Chuuk (“It’s like the Punahou of Micronesia,” Howard says).

Little things we take for granted were a revelation to Howard. She remembers encountering a freezer for the first time and not being sure if its contents were cold or hot. By the time she graduated from Xavier, though, she could speak English well, and was comfortable working and playing with the broad mix of nationalities that made up the school’s student body—essential skills for her next big move, to the University of Hawaii, and for the jobs she would take after graduation.

Even after earning a college degree and setting down roots in Honolulu, Howard still found herself being stereotyped and underestimated. “I’ve had to struggle with my employers not realizing my potential,” Howard says. After more than a decade of working in Hawaii, she says the first job in which she was really able to put her skills to use was as a part-time teacher and service coordinator at Kaiulani Elementary School. “And when I came to Goodwill, the same thing happened. They recognized my skills, and saw me as a person. I’m so fortunate, because if they didn’t give me a chance, this Imi Loa Program would not have existed.”

For Howard, being a successful U.S. resident doesn’t mean giving up her Chuukese heritage. “When I step out of the house, I’m in America, and I act American. I wear pants,” she says. “When I go home, I put on my skirt, and I speak Chuukese. I do everything in the culture.”

The most interesting moments take place when her roles overlap—something that happens regularly, thanks to Goodwill’s Imi Loa Program serving the Micronesian population. Howard works in a position of authority, offering mentorship and assistance to those who need it. But when an older Micronesian man walks through her door, she says, she has to figure out a way to offer her services in a more culturally respectful way.

“There are so many roles to play,” she says. “You have to know when you are this person and when you are that person. I’m a wife, I’m a younger sister, I’m a program coordinator. I call it multiple personalities.”

Moving Up

It’s tough being the new kid on the block, and Micronesians are still getting hazed. But, if Hawaii’s history is any indication, it’s only a matter of time before the new kids become truly local. Howard says she has an exercise through which she leads her Imi Loa students to illustrate how immigrants make progress here.

“I say, OK, let’s say you go to McDonald’s and you order food. Who do you see helping you? Micronesians. When you go to McKinley Car Wash, who helps you dry the car? Micronesians and Samoans. When you go to Queen’s Hospital or to the schools, who do you see working there? Filipinos, Japanese, Americans. And then I ask, Who was the previous governor? Ben Cayetano, a Filipino. The last mayor of Honolulu? Mufi Hannemann, a Samoan.

“I tell them, do you see it? Pretty soon we’re not going to be working at McDonald’s. We’re going to be in the schools, the hospitals, maybe even in the mayor’s office. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel.”

Related Links:
Micronesian Culture


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Honolulu Magazine March 2018
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