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    Marshallese in Arkansas | AAPI Histories of the South

    Northwest Arkansas, along with nearby communities in Missouri, Oklahoma, and Kansas, is the region with the largest concentration of Marshallese in the continental United States, with over 15,000 Marshallese living in the area. Though during the governance of the U.S. administered Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, in effect from 1947-1986, the American government strictly regulated the travel of the Marshallese, some were allowed to relocate to the States for education. The Compact of Free Association was signed in 1986 to allow for the Marshallese to travel between the U.S. and the Marshall Islands. Rising sea level, the lingering effects of radiation due to nuclear testing in the Pacific, access to healthcare, education and employment opportunities, as well as familial ties in the U.S. have since then caused thousands of Marshallese to move to the States and within the next decades, the Marshallese communities in the U.S. are expected to grow significantly. The stories of Marshallese experiences in the South are important narratives to include in curriculums, and in order to share this part of history and promote the southern Marshallese community, we have created this resource guide.

    Resource Highlights:

    MEIMarshallese Educational Initiative

    The Marshallese Educational Initiative is a not-for-profit organization based in Northwest Arkansas, the region with the largest concentration of Marshallese in the continential United States. Their mission is to "promote the cultural, intellectual, and historical awareness of the Marshallese people and facilitate intercultural dialogue to foster positive social change." Through educational and cultural programming as well as outreach initiatives, the MEI is raising awareness of Marshallese history and culture and supporting the NWA Marshallese community.


    Marshallese Today

    This research guide from the University of Arkansas includes catalogue resources on the Marshall Islands and U.S. - Marshallese relations. Included as well is a map of the Marshall Islands within the context of the Pacific Ocean and a link to a documentary titled, "A New Island: The Marshallese in Arkansas".


    Recommended Reading List:


    This news article discusses the first certified Marshallese interpreter in the country. Melisa Laelan, of Springdale, has taken on all Marshallese interpreting requests in the state since 2007. The article also states that Marshallese is the second most-requested language in the court system. According to the 2010 census, there were 4,300 Marshallese living in Arkansas, 19% of the total Marshallese population in the United States. 


    In this article, Brewer discusses the resilience of the Marshallese, the effect of the U.S. government on the climate of the Marshall Islands, and the immigration to and from the atolls that spans millennia. This quote from the article effectively summarizes the philosophy of the Marshallese in regards to making a new home to flee the economic and climatic struggles: “Wherever there are Marshallese, that’s the Marshall Islands.”


    This report on the Marshallese goes into detail on the environmental and health problems that have arisen for the islanders as a result of foreign presence in the Pacific. 67 atomic and thermonuclear weapons tests were conducted near the Marshall Islands between 1946 and 1958, forcing islanders to evacuate their homes for several years. In the present day, the Marshall Islands are still permanently affected by the simulated nuclear war waged in its waters and the Marshallese have long been suffering and dying from the serious health effects of exposure to radiation.


    This article details the human trafficking adoption schemes into which private adoption services coerce Marshallese women. The United States has a history exploiting the Marshallese. During the Cold War, the U.S. government exploited the Marshallese land, seas, and health for atomic weapons tests. In the present day, American adoption services are exploiting Marshallese women and children who seek a life outside of poverty. This article thoroughly explores the corruption of private adoptions in Arkansas and the manner in which Marshallese women are commodified by covert human traffickers. 


    This article discusses the concerning climate crisis that the Marshall Islanders face as well as the dubious methods for escaping the effects of climate change on the Islands. For Marshallese women, one popular way to escape poverty―the result of climatic problems and the after effects of nuclear radiation―is putting their babies up for adoption in the United States. This article uncovers the pros and cons of these illegal operations and the reasons why so many Marshallese women have used this method. 


    This article discusses the health insurance coverage that the Marshallese finally received from the Affordable Care Act.


    As there is such a large population of Marshall Islanders in Northwest Arkansas, there is a high demand for court interpreters to serve this large group.


    During the mid-20th century, when the U.S. performed nuclear weapons tests on the Marshall Islands, many Marshallese suffered physically from the effects of the radiation. The Marshallese were not informed that they were a part of Project 4.1, a U.S. federal government study observing the effects of radiation on humans. The citizens of the Marshall Islands were subjected to this experimentation without consent and, decades later, continue to suffer from the aftermath. To achieve justice for this nuclear war waged on their people, the Marshallese are coming together to spread awareness of the issue and advocate for wrongs to be righted.


    In this dissertation, Diana Chen examines the link between food and identity in Marshallese culture. The Marshallese view food as a very large part of their culture, one that they bring with them to the United States. Indigenous Marshallese diet staples such as breadfruit and reef fish are renowned for their nutritional value, yet many Marshallese Islanders in the states suffer from Type II Diabetes and other diet related diseases. This dissertation goes into detail to examine these issues.


    In this dissertation, Emily Mitchell-Eaton discusses the U.S. as an empire and its imperial control over the Marshall Islands. Mitchell-Eaton asserts that the town of Springdale, Arkansas and Northwest Arkansas in general are not simply popular immigrant destinations, but that U.S. policies have created a system of “imperial migration” from the Marshall Islands to a controlled environment within the States.


    As we expand our digital presence in 2021, we will be continually adding resources to this guide and others in our AAPI Histories of the South collection.

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