While Marshallese number only about 22,000 in the U.S, their population increased three-fold over the past ten years, according to the 2010 Census. Under the Compact of Free Association, Republic of the Marshall Islands citizens are entitled to live, attend school, and work in the United States visa-free as “nonimmigrant residents.” More than 4,000 have settled in the Northwest Arkansas region. The New York Times, with Melisa Laelan’s help, and Arkansas media have been reporting on the situation there.
NY TIMES: The promise of a steady income is a big draw. Tyson’s minimum starting wage is $8.70 an hour, with benefits, a relative fortune for Marshallese. But the islanders discover that they will need to buy a car to get to work and, before that, that they will need to pass a driver’s test, which is not offered in their language. Many must pay rent for the first time. They puzzle over the American obsession with time, and they are ignorant of bureaucracy and health care systems. “Their language is a problem; their culture is a problem,” said Kathy Grisham, executive director of the Community Clinic in Springdale, which treats low-income patients. “They don’t have a word for prevention. They don’t have words for all the body parts.” Springdale, which is heavily Hispanic, is well equipped with teachers of English as a second language and with special programs, but “I’m having to start at a different level with my Marshallese,” said Deborah Hardwick-Smith, the principal of Parson Hills Elementary School, which is 30 percent Marshallese. School administrators struggle with tardiness and absences among the Marshallese.
ARK TIMES: The community of Marshall Islanders in Northwest Arkansas is a familiar story by now, along with their efforts to cope with cultural and language barriers in Springdale. It's reported today in the New York Times by Bret Schulte. His article notes an ongoing effort to get state officials to offer a Marshallese-language driver's test. Driving is necessary to reach jobs and school. Driving without a license can be costly. Later in the day, that Democratic candidate, Diana Gonzales Worthen, said she'd work to get a driver's test in Marshallese. Said her news release: Gonzales Worthen’s opponent, State Representative Jon Woods, has been quiet this summer, touring with his rock band in Oklahoma. “We’re not surprised to hear silence from Jon Woods on this issue. In six years in the state legislature, he has done very little to improve the lives of our most vulnerable residents in Springdale,” Diana for Senate spokeswoman Barbara Price-Davis said.
NY TIMES Album: Arkansas has the largest enclave of Marshall Islanders in the continental United States. Many of them are adrift in an American culture that confounds them. Marshallese teenagers participated in traditional dances during a kemem, or birthday party, for a 1-year-old, Tyrome Ian Morris, in Springdale.
KUAF: The Migration Policy Institute based in Washington D.C., with financial support from the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation in Little Rock, commissioned Dr. Rafael Jimeno to conduct a scientific survey of Marshallese migrants who’ve settled in Springdale, the first study of it’s kind. He was most struck by kindness of community, "It was remarkable.”
STEVE HEBERT: A few weeks ago I travelled to Springdale, Arkansas to work on a story for The New York Times about the large population of people from the Marshall Islands who have settled in northwest corner of Arkansas over the past few decades. It was a fun and challenging assignment. Without the help of Melisa Laelan, an actual princess from the Marshall Islands, I would have had next to nothing to photograph in this closed off community. Melisa helped opened doors for me, translated the Marshallese language and helped me find the people I needed to meet while I was in town. She was a great ‘fixer’. There are around 4,300 Marshallese people who live in Springdale. Most come here to work in the chicken factories in the area to escape high unemployment and poor health back in the Islands.