Many years ago when I was a fresh young face in the islands, I was astonished at how seldom people disagreed with one another. Not that I grew up in a neighborhood in which people screamed and cursed at one another all day long, but there certainly were minor arguments between people that sometimes spilled over in public. Imagine my surprise when I came to Micronesia and found that no one seemed to disagree with anyone else… at least in public. Where were the arguments, the minor debates, the give-and-take needed to get to the truth of the matter? Everyone appeared willing to accept at face value whatever came out of another person’s mouth.
Thinking small! It just takes a glance through the MicSem forum thread we posted on the migrant survey to see it in action. I had asked for very basic information from any and all who live in the US or Guam now–name, city or town, email or other contact information. Dozens of posters replied… but not in the way that I had hoped.
Instead of offering their names and contact info, they offered objections. Who’s doing this survey anyway, and what’s it for? (To make MicSem rich and famous, perhaps?) How do I know that my information is safe and won’t be turned over to the government? (The knock on the door in the middle of the night could be the Homeland Security agent with papers in his hand to deport me!) I could have my identity stolen by entrusting this to an insecure URL (How much confidence would you have in a site that’s labeled “surveymonkey”?)
Any Catholic Pohnpeians out there who need spiritual assistance are urged to get in touch with Fr. Joe Cavanagh, who spent many years on the island. Fr. Cav was sent back to the US this past January and is now living at our Jesuit retirement home in New York. With him are two other Jesuits who spent long years in the islands: Fr. Jack Curran, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease, and Fr. Paul Horgan, now confined to his wheelchair after a severe stroke some months ago.
Fr. Cav has already made one pastoral visit to Kansas City and is preparing for another next month. Besides doing mass in Pohnpeian, he does first communions, weddings, and all sorts of other things. He is also available for spiritual direction and retreats. His home phone number is 718-430–4995, and his cell is 718-902-8281. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
FSM and the Republic of the Marshalls are gearing up for a survey of migrants in the US and its territories (meaning Guam and CNMI). This is going to be important for people from FSM and RMI if they hope to retain the rights to open migration that was guaranteed in the Compact. Recently, as you know, there has been some concern in Washington about the burden that migrants from the islands have been placing on some of the states and territories–especially Guam, Hawaii and Arkansas.
How can migrant Micronesian communities build on their successes?
First, continue to do what most migrant communities in the US seem to be doing so successfully. Develop an island community within the larger American community–not to exclude ties with other people in town but to offer support to one another. I’ve attended birthday celebrations or christening parties that bring together nearly all the islanders in a place, and there are holiday picnics with sports events that draw islanders from hundreds of miles around. Most successful communities have an authority figure of some kind to keep everyone in line and to introduce new migrant families to the community and explain what they have to do to get along in their new home.
Right now the answer to the question posed in the title of this posting is Oceanside, New York, where I’m temporarily working in St. Anthony’s Parish. The people here are largely from New York City, most of them of Italian descent and some of them experiencing the financial problems that other Americans are facing these days in a time of almost-recession.
In many ways, the people of Oceanside are not very different from the Micronesians who have come to the US to seek what they could not find in their own country–a job that offers a decent salary, a good education for their kids, a new opportunity in a new place. Some of them can remember their grandparents telling them about what they had to go through when they first arrived in the US. “Italians belong in Italy,” seemed to be the cry at that time. “Irish belong in Ireland. Poles belong in Poland. America is for Americans.”