35 years ago, the Compact of Free Association guaranteed Micronesians easy entry into the United States. Since then, more than 14,700 of these Pacific Islanders have made Hawai‘i home, and yet Hideichi Mori, a civil engineering student at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa still receives surprised looks when people learn that he is Micronesian.
“Honestly, I get a lot of mixed emotions. Sometimes you can tell their intentions are good, sometimes they are actually surprised. They don’t expect a Micronesian to be at a university or even working,” said Mori who emigrated from Chuuk in 2012.
According to Mori and fellow student Trevergeorge Haleyalemoi, who emigrated from Yap in 2015, the common (and flawed) perception of Micronesians is that they are outsiders who come to Hawai‘i in search of opportunities in work, education and healthcare, but end up leaching off the system without any contribution to society.
“Although there may be some hint of truth to these generalizations, they do not speak the whole truth about us nor do they represent and depict who we are as Micronesians living here in Hawaii,” said Haleyalemoi, in an email interview. “Many Micronesian families work hard to be where they are today so that they can achieve better healthcare for their families, a better education and future for their kids, and good paying jobs.”
Recently, however, Micronesians are seeing progress in the form of House Bill 1534, signed into law by Governor David Ige last month, which allows Micronesian immigrants to serve on state boards and commissions. Previously, Micronesians were not eligible for such positions, despite contributions to the state through services and taxes.
In addition, attitudes towards Micronesians at UH Mānoa are becoming increasingly supportive. Most undergraduates are required to take a Pacific Island Studies course. Mori’s class facilitated discussions about Micronesians in which he was able to hear the thoughts and opinions of his peers.
“A lot of it was positive, actually none of it was negative,” said Mori. “They said, ‘We understand that there are more opportunities for work and health care here.’ They just want to spread the aloha. I was very happy to hear that.”
Despite the largely accepting atmosphere, Haleyalemoi who is a junior majoring in Elementary Education, believes Micronesian students need to draw more attention to their presence at UH because — compared to Hawai‘i’s population of Micronesian youth — only a fraction of them make it to college. This is where programs like Tales and Treats and 3P (Pasefika Passion Pipeline) become important.
In 2011, the Micronesian Club and Lumana‘i O’ Sāmoa club at Chaminade University collaborated with the Hawaii Literacy Program to create Tales and Treats, a program in which university students visit Micronesian and Sāmoan communities to share origin stories from their homelands with the kids.
“It was a way to show them that we are at universities. We are trying and we are making it,” said Mori, recalling his previous years at Chaminade.
The 3P Program, co-founded by Dr. Tina Tauasosi and funded by the Vice President for the University of Hawai‘i Community Colleges John Morton is a collaborative effort with the main goal of increasing the number of non-Native Hawaiian Pacific Islanders who attend UH community colleges.
According to Haleyalemoi, who is a leader in the program, Micronesian youth forgo college for a couple of reasons. Some, after growing up watching their parents struggle to make ends meet, view college as yet another financial burden and choose instead to enter the workforce immediately after high school.
“The sad part about these kids is that most of them do understand the importance of going to college with the promising future that comes with a college degree, but they live in the Now and they feel that they need results now,” Haleyalemoi said.
Other students simply lack the awareness of the process of getting into college.
“For these students, they only need a guiding hand to walk them through the process of applying for college and showing them that college is affordable if you work hard and earn good scholarships and grants to help you pay the costs,” Haleyalemoi said.
To aid students and correct misconceptions about the cost of college, the 3P program provides tutoring at high schools such as Waipahu, Farrington, McKinley and Kaimuki. Students from UH Mānoa lead the kids through the process of applying for college, including FAFSA and the search for scholarships.
In recent years, the program also began recruiting high school seniors to attend free college courses at various community colleges, such as Leeward, Honolulu and Kapiolani.
Programs such as Tales and Treats and 3P are ways for Micronesian university students to raise up and support their communities.
“Sometimes I like sharing my favorite quote by Maya Angelo[u] who said, ‘I come as one but I stand as ten thousand,’” Haleyalemoi said. “Most of these kids immediately love this quote as soon as I share it with them and explain what it means relating it to the Micronesian community and students.”