Imagine that…

It’s All in the Spam!

with 2 comments

Imagine…many years ago, a young Ebeye boy looked forward to Liberation Day Celebration. In those days, Ebeye Marshallese crossed the three miles of water to attend the celebration at the Kwajalein base with the Americans. While making the ferry crossing, the boy would crane his neck looking for the Kwaj water tower. As soon as it came into view, great excitement would fill his heart. Soon he would be riding the carnival attractions, viewing the historical photos of the invasion of Kwajalein, and cheering the American heroes!

Ebeye workers still ferry across to Kwajalein today, but much has changed. Those carnivals on Kwaj are gone, the visitor programs have been all but nullified, and even Marshallese employed on Kwaj sometimes feel unwelcome.

One thing that has not changed since I made those journeys long ago: Marshallese still welcome Americans with grace and liberality.

From the time of the WWII liberation, and the US occupation which inoculated the Marshalls with canned SPAM and westernized thinking, Marshallese have valued their relationship with the US and looked up to the Americans.

This is spite of the fact that America misused its oversight responsibility under the UN Trusteeship, to make the islands its nuclear testing ground and in doing so, made the Marshallese its guinea pigs. Hundreds of people were displaced and sent to strange islands, and thousands of their descendents still have not returned to their homelands.

Today, the US brags to the world about its premier missile base at Kwaj, while the local people live on nearby Ebeye, which some call the ghetto of the Pacific.

Imagine…any other country and its people allowing these things to occur in their homeland, and not fighting back against it.

Imagine…any other people not holding great bitterness and objections toward the presence of a foreign power who did this.

But that hasn’t occurred. Instead…

We signed the Compact of Free Association with the United States and its recent reauthorization, even when:
1) the agreement endeavors to seal-off any future compensation for the years of suffering and displacement due to nuclear testing.

2) the US encouraged the RMI to sign off for the US military operating rights (MOURA) to Kwaj, without negotiating with the landowners for a lease first.

3) the RMI must be scrutinized and threatened with monetary withdrawal of funding which are given, not in charity, but in exchange for use of land and for strategic and defense purposes.

At every turn, we support the United States in the international arena 100%. The Marshalls staunchly stood with the US at the United Nations time after time — sometimes the only one.

There are no radical environmentalists, nor anti-military movements, clashing daily with the US presence on Kwajalein or elsewhere in the Marshalls. On the whole, there is a peaceful and honorable relationship between the two countries.

Our particular relationship with America is not limited to the political field. Over the last twenty years, Marshallese, trusting that Americans are good, have relinquished hundreds, maybe thousands of babies into their care. No other country has had such a high percentage of out-adoptions.

This is why recent remarks made by a visiting US congressional staffer grabbed my attention as absurd.

“The US doesn’t want to be where it’s not wanted.”

(What is even more ironic is that Al Stayman made this statement following a visit to Rongelap, the island saturated by US nuclear testing fallout and still not resettled after 50 years.)

Imagine…saying that after all the Marshall Islands has put up with for the last fifty years under the American hand.

Why have Marshallese for several generations accepted Americans with open-arms and forgiving spirits?

It must be in that delicious, canned SPAM.

Imagine that.

Written by Aenet Rowa

April 17th, 2005 at 4:53 pm

Posted in General

2 Responses to 'It’s All in the Spam!'

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  1. Another great post.

    The US has certainly wronged the Marshallese. Unfortunately the US does not hold exclusive rights to this. The Japanese brought the rice the Germans the beer. We do have to take some personal responsibility. You can put a drink in front of a man but you can not make him drink it.

    Westernization has torn our country apart as it tore the American Indians, and many other less technologically advanced societies all over the world.

    There is no amount of money or reparations that can fix what has happened. We need to try and teach our children our culture especially those of us so far from home. I was born on Majuro and raised on Kwajalein and Ebeye, majol was my first language and like many of us I learned English. My father used to make us summer in Ailinglablab and Majuro to keep in touch with our culture.

    Now that I live in the US I first found it hard to keep my culture. For a whole 10 years I did not speak to another Marshallese soul other than my brothers. I use to try and think in Majol or speak to myself to try and keep my language skills up. When I turned 24 I fell into what could best be called a cultural crisis. I was quickly losing my culture. I made an aggressive effort to contact any relatives I had stateside to try and rekindle what I knew I was losing. I found an uncle in Springdale. I started to visit him and met my wife during one visit. I am now on the fast track to maintaining something that is near and dear to me.

    The point of the story is we are losing our culture. No one took it away from us we let it slip from us. Foreigners started showing up on our shores over 200 years ago and we wanted to be like them. We started to dress like them and act like them. Our diets changed and our whole way of life. Ebeye is a very good example of our culture and way of life gone wrong. The island is crowded by more than the displaced population of the Nuclear Testing.

    The US certainly put us on the fast track of modernization which is not a bad thing. Health, religion and education are some of the best gifts a person can receive. The drawbacks are the temptations which we are all responsible for falling into . I am a good example of that, I am very over weight and I work to keep up with my bills.

    Do we need to carry a bigger stick? I think we do, we do not stand up for ourselves nearly enough. Every administration we have had in power has lacked the ability to negotiate for our people. The US will never take full blame for the testing. Very few countries of that size will ever fully admit to their wrong doings. Right now there are riots in China, the people there are trying to get Japan to fully apologize for the atrocities of WWII. Millions of Chinese died as a result of the Japanese occupation and they still don’t apologize.

    The one main reason I do not move back home is not because of any outside influence. The reason I do not move back is I have zero confidence in our ability to manage our own affairs. The foreigners are not the only one to take advantage of us. Our own people have done the same. We have politicians that steal money and take advantage of their own positions to further their own purse. Landowners who raise the rent and boot families out so they can lease to a foreign business. Pride and jealousy have run amuck. Many families try and one up each other by spending extravagantly on birthdays to show others how well they have it. I have seen family members kicked out of a house because they started doing well for themselves and someone got jealous.

    It is true that foreign influences have led us to a bad place but we are responsible for not standing up for ourselves and climbing back out of the dependency that has buried us.

    We need to prepare ourselves for the departure of the US, that day will come. We need to bring our culture and self respect back. Our country has come along way since 1987 but we have lost our direction, we need to put ourselves back on the path to true independence.


    17 Apr 05 at 5:48 pm

  2. I came back to my homecountry Germany just a few days ago after spending Christmas on Ebeye. Since my husband is marshallese I had the great opportunity to live together with my marshallese relations. I already miss them and I can truly say that I met people which found the way to my heart so easy because of their kindness and the warm welcome they gave me.
    This is why it hurts my heart even more to see that such normal things like fresh water or a good education are not easy to get on Ebeye.
    The whole island looks forgotten. The world and esspecially America has forgotten about Ebeye and it’s people. I could see that back in the years somebody had tried to make life easier on Ebeye by building the restrooms on the one end of the island (where the conection road is) or even the connection road to the other islands which is now so messed up that it’s hard to drive on it. The money seems to go somewhere else in these days and the leaders don’t seem to care or they are just helpless too. I don’t know.
    I had the chance to talk to many people – including Americans on the nearby Kwajalein Base. I had the feeling that even the leaders over there are well informed and not happy about the situation on Ebeye and that at least the people who are stationed there would really like to change things if they could. They really seemed to respect the marshallese people.
    I also saw how the American visitors were treated when they came to see the christmas dances. They got handycrafts and taken to the best seats. This is how marshallese are raised and it’s part of the culture. But somehow it didn’t feel right to me with the backround knowledge about all the pain caused by the US. Real Friends don’t do stuff like that, they would care. I don’t want to blame those Americans who came that day to see the christmas dances, it’s not their fault. It was just an emotion that came up….
    Well…I just wanted to say that what you wrote over here really went deep inside me and made me think. A very smart written Blog from someone who truly knows the difference between right and wrong. I hope you will make your way and I wish you good luck.


    7 Jan 07 at 4:14 pm

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