Micronesian festival

City College of San Francisco’s VASA members lift a girl from the Micronesian community during a dance at the 2017 Micronesian festival.

In Hawai‘i, Micronesians are often grouped as one ethnicity—but that’s not the case. Over 2,100 islands make up Micronesia with dozens of ethnicities, as I’ve learned in my Pacific Islands Studies class last year.

The region of Micronesia includes the Republic of Palau, Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (Saipan, Tinian and Rota), the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia (Pohnpei, Chuuk, Yap and Kosrae), the Republic of Kiribati and the Republic of Nauru. 

Within my first two months of living here, I was sitting in a guard card classroom for my job with my classmate and security guard supervisor.

“Who are the most violent people in Hawai‘i?” my supervisor asked.

“Micronesians!” my classmate yelled.

My supervisor responded, “Not all Micronesians are violent, but they’re all leeches.” 

I never came back for my guard card.

That was my introduction to some of the views of Micronesians in Hawai‘i. 

Let’s not forget about the jokes. At my current job, my coworker asked me: “What’s a Micronesian’s favorite car?” I looked at him baffled, and he replied Maserati, but how he said it was like he was making fun of some of their accents. 

In 2017, I came to the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa for a conference. I remember walking off campus toward University Avenue and a woman looked at my Guam pendant and asked me if I was Micronesian.

Me, being oblivious at the time, responded: “Yeah. Are you?” She said no while looking at me up and down before walking away.

When I used to work graveyard shifts, I would come from the intersection of Kalakaua and Young Street all the way to Micronesia Mart to catch the bus to Kaimuki. There was a group of Chukeese, a Marshallese and a Pohnpeian hanging out at the bus stop. 

I don’t remember how the conversation started, but it went well. Then one of the Chuukese women asked me what I was. When I told her I’m Chamorro and Filipno, she was shocked and said, “You’re too pretty to be Micronesian.”

It’s unclear when the discrimination and tension began in Hawai‘i, but it is different learning about this issue in a classroom and seeing it firsthand.

Micronesians are the latest immigrants in Hawai‘i. The Compacts of Free Association is an agreement between the U.S., Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia and the Marshall Islands where the U.S. military has control over their areas of the Pacific while citizens of the COFA countries can legally enter the U.S. to live and work. 

A study on bias against Micronesians, conducted by the Myron B. Thompson School of Social Work earlier this year, had 38% Pohnpeian, 34% Chuukese and 24% Marshallese participation. When I asked Rebecca Stotzer, UH Mānoa professor and the main researcher, what happened to the rest of the Micronesians, including Chamorros, her response was forward.

There’s a political aspect to what group of people identify as Micronesian. 

Sometimes the tensions are not between locals and Micronesians. Often times, it’s Micronesians against Micronesians.

I understand the backlash I’ll probably receive for reporting on Mironesian issues. The fact that I’m a Chamorro raised in California, there’s already a target on my back for criticism.

I also understand that not all Micronesians will have the same story. I’m hoping my reporting will show the different experiences from different voices, but I’m hoping to steer away from using the term Micronesian.