This is a presentation I gave to a critical linguistics class at UHH on March 14, 2014. It sums up my research findings about the reasons for the rapid first language attrition and loss of COFA migrants to Hawai'i.
From micronesian to pacific islander...the possibility of supporting language minorities in hawai'i
From “Micronesian” to “Pacific Islander”:
The future of Pacific Island Languages in Hawai’i
CHEIRON McMAHILL, PhD.
Professor, Daito Bunka University.
Visiting Researcher, UH Hilo, 2013-14.
Language Ideologies……Make us believe in
and support the necessity and superiority of a single
American culture, identity, and language
…Glorify this idealized version of American English and American
culture, and stigmatize Pacific Islander languages and cultures
Language ideologies are not static or unitary; neither
are they natural or inevitable
Language ideologies can be countered; there is
always dissent. The survival of indigenous
and minority languages depends on counter-
Examples of scholars and writers who have influenced my thinking: Teun van Dijk,
Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, Paolo Freire, bell hooks,Alistair Pennycook,Tove Skutnabb-
Kangas, Epeli Hau‘ofa, Hilde Heine, Joakim Peter, JamesW.Tollefson, Gunther Kress,
Norman Fairclough, Pierre Bourdieu, Michel Foucault, Jim Cummins, Gilles Deleuze,
Félix Guattari, Cherríe Moraga, Gloria E.Anzaldúa....
Dominant ideologies… are rooted in
attempts to legitimize colonialisation and
1945-1986 Former “Japanese possessions”
considered unable to govern themselves and in
need of the U.S.’ guidance- entrusted to U.S. by
United Nations as the TrustTerritory of the
Pacific Islands (TTPI).
66 to 70 atomic and hydrogen bombs tested in the
“tiny” Marshall Islands. Six islands were vaporized
by nuclear weapons and hundreds of people were
irradiated [Salvador, 1999]. When divided amongst
all concerned parties over the years since the first test,
the U.S. government has paid on average $15
compensation per person in the Marshalls annually.
Claims by non-Marshallese have been denied. *
In early 60s, U.S. decides to impose an American
education system using “only English” and
dispatching 100s of US teachers, to try and
cultivate an administrative elite loyal to the U.S..
My effectiveness as a
peace Corp volunteer in
the TT in the 60's was
great for me and some
individuals who got
educated, but it also
colonial goals and
dependency (Severance ,
personal communication, 9/25/13)
*U.S. NUCLEARTESTING ON
THE MARSHALL ISLANDS: 1946
TO 1958 Kim Skoog University of
Dominant ideologies omit the U.S.’s pursuit
of its own interests
US signs Compact agreements with RMI, FSM in 1986 and Palau in 1994 for:
1) greater control and exclusive access to over a million square miles of the
Pacific, allowing for additional military and weapons testing at facilities like the
Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site on Kwajalein Atoll in the
Marshall Islands, a critical support for the US's Space Surveillance Network.
2) The right to "strategic denial" (exclusive territorial control), and use of military
sites like Kwajalein for decades even if economic assistance and other defense
provisions are not renegotiated.
RMI, FSM and Palau citizens receive:
1) the right to live permanently or come and go at will in the United States.As
legal residents (but not citizens), COFA residents can work, study, receive medical
treatment and are required to pay local, state and federal taxes.
Dominant ideologies shift the blame for the
U.S.’s broken promises to the victims
1996: The U.S. Personal
Responsibility and Work
Opportunity Act excludes FAS
citizens in U.S. from Medicaid
Compact of Free Association
Amendments Act of 2003 –
RMI and FSM citizens lose
access to federal work study
and loans2009- Lingle
off the rolls of
2011- Med-QUEST for FAS
citizens was reinstated in
January, after a lawsuit by
Micronesians and their
They have nothing.
They are destitute.
They lack English. They
lack work ethics.
They get a free ride.
The US government
gives them everything.
We Hawaiians bear the
Their islands were
destroyed by the U.S.
bomb tests. People
here treat them like
the Mexicans in
When I see a
Micronesian coming, I
think, “Here comes
diabetes. Here comes
high blood pressure.”
They’re going through what every
group had to go through..
It’ll take several generations to
They’re so lucky to be
able to come to this
country without a visa.
Dominant ideologies make it
acceptable to voice racist
opinions at the individual and
on their home is
terrible and the
families are still
even worse. But
are we really
given to me for
free perhaps I'd
lose my drive to
learn and grow
The "You owe me" attitude. Let me ask
how many Micronesian families do you
have living in about 100 yard radius of you.
How many have taken things from your
yard or garage? How many harass older
people, pick on younger children or just
have a general lack of respect for anyone?
…anywhere in the world,
minorities who adapt to
their new home by
blending in to the local
scene will fare better. If I
am traveling in a foreign
country, I learn about the
customs of the place
where I am going,
including dress and
The comments in balloons were posted by
Americans in response to an online Hawaii news
article criticizing Hawaii residents for
discriminating against “Micronesians.” Those in
boxes are from my research notes.
The internalization of dominant ideologies in
“Submersion education” in “standard English,” both at
home and in the public schools; forced assimilation to an
idealized European-American culture
The marginalization of heritage languages and local
languages; the stigmatization of Hawai’ian creole as an
improper form of “broken English”
Shifting the center:
UHH as a hub of the Pacific Region
1971-72: UHH becomes a four-year college, with a
mission to be a hub for the Pacific Region.
“Micronesians” considered central to this mission. TTPI
citizens begin to attend in earnest, paying resident
Former Peace Corps volunteers steer Micronesians to
UHH: “We believed Micronesians would adapt more easily
to life on the Big Island, and would experience less
1972-TTPI students become eligible for federal financial
aid (grants, loans, work study)
1993- Former Chancellor Kormondy signs
articulation agreements to faciliate the transfer to
UHH from community colleges in the FSM and
RMI : “Building on our long-time experience with
students from Micronesia (the connection dating back to
Hilo’s Peace Corps days…)” …(Inouye & Kormondy, 2001:
US and UHH support for Pacific Islander
students contested after COFA
Compact of Free Association Amendments Act of 2003 –
RMI and FSM citizens lose access to federal work study
UH Board of Regents
votes to change Pacific
tuition to non-resident
(same as other
Faculty, staff, students,
rate of 150%
Thanks to former vice-
Chancellor Ken Miser,
the Pacific Islander
to those with status of
2004-UHH alumni and supporters form
Micronesians United- Big Island
Our Mission:To empower Micronesians for greater Self-
Reliance, and to Educate Micronesians and the Larger
Community about their Respective Cultures, Rights, and
Counter-ideologies valuing „other Pacific
“Our sea of islands”(Epeli Hau‘ofa, 1994, 1998, 2000)
“despite the diversities of languages and cultures, there is
an ocean of connection among Islanders” (Jolly, M. 2007.
“Imagining Oceania: Indigenous and Foreign Representations of
a Sea of Islands.” The Contemporary Pacific 19 (2): 508-45.
The first voyage of the
…until the day we
become united again
as a single people, as
we were once before;
before men separated
us with their imaginary
political boundaries of
today's Polynesia and
Micronesia… (quote attributed
to Pius “Mau” Piailug upon his death in
2010) July 29, 2010 in the Honolulu Star-
Establishment of Pacific Island Studies
Certificate at UHH, 1994
The University of Hawaii at Hilo also has the largest
Hawaiian student enrollment of any campus in the UH
system with very strong Hawaiian Studies and Hawaiian
language programs. When Hawaiian and
Micronesian students interact, they both find
their identities positively reinforced. That’s part
of the connection here (Severance,“The University of Hawaii in Hilo:A
Home Away From Home”, 1993).
Hawai’ian language and cultural revitalization: An
ideology countering American cultural assimilation
and English monolingualism
College of Hawai’ian Language established at UHH in 1997
The value of Pacific Islanders to
2007 “…campus diversity improves student learning; prepares
students to work in multi-cultural organizations and in a global
society; and improves teaching and mentoring (UHH Faculty
and Staff Diversification Plan 2007-8).
2010:The PISC is created. Director from FSM is
hired. Staff, programs funding secured from 2012.
Culturally and linguistically tailored student
support services.2012: PISC uses AANAPISI grant
to fund HELP and other on-
campus employment positions Relative to other administrative areas on campus, Division
of StudentAffairs professionals are more reflective of the
student population in terms of ethnicity, gender and other
identities, thus serving as visible positive role models
(Strategic Planning & Implementation Team (SPIT) | Summary of SWOT Analysis, 2013).
We have a richly diverse student
population, with a unique blend
of local, mainland and
international students, all living
and learning together.We
recently ranked 6th nationwide
for campus diversity in U.S. News
and World Report (Why
Students Choose UH Hilo, 2013).
The goals of the Center include:
provide a welcoming, supportive and safe environment
facilitate the retention and graduation of Pacific Islanders
increase interaction and dialogue among students from different
support intercultural understanding and social justice in the
pursuit of a more just society
enable students, faculty and staff from all cultural backgrounds to
learn about Pacific peoples, histories, languages, cultures and
•combat stereotypes and ethnocentrism
The Pacific Islander Student Center
The co-constructed narrative identity of
My family has a long history with Hawai’i. I come
from a long line of educators. My grandfather
attended the East-West Center in the 60s. My
father attended UHH in the early 80s. But
financial limitations and family obligations
interfered with their graduating.
I am “Mortlockese” (i.e. from the outer islands of
Chuuk in the FSM), specifically I am from the
island of Lukunor. Each island has its own
I am related to others and see my identity in
terms of my relation to my mother’s and father’s
clans. Family obligations are the most important
thing in my life, even more than school or work. If
my family needs me, I must be there for them.
Americans can and are adopted into our families
and cared for, too.
A member of an educated
family with long ties to Hawai’i
Surviving sorrow and loss
My family moved to Hawai’i when I was in intermediate school to
seek medical care to save my mother, who was dying of cancer. I believe my
mother’s cancer was caused by the atomic bomb testing in the Marshall
Islands. We all share the same air and the same ocean.
My mother asked us to stay on after she passed away, so we kids could get a
better education. I was homesick, and I cried everyday. But almost my whole
family had immigrated to the U.S. by that time.
I never thought of myself as “Chuukese” or “Micronesian” until
people called me that in Hawai’i. I saw many of my Micronesian friends drop
out of school. Many were sent back home. I was the only one of my friends
from intermediate school who graduated from high school on time.
I still speak in my native language everyday, but older people tell me I
have forgotten parts of my native tongue, such as the special language used
to speak to important people.
I have many friends at HCC fromYap, Marshall Islands, the Philippines, and so
on. I was put in ESL classes again though I had finished ESL in intermediate
school. I have gotten active with the Pacific Islander Student Center. I & my
friends enjoy fooling Americans about our ethnicities, as they cannot tell
Chuukese apart from other Micronesians.
I hope to be the first person in my family to actually graduate from a 4-year
university. I am trying my best not just for myself, but for my whole family, and
also for my deceased mother.Also to be a good example of “a Micronesian” in
order to counter negative stereotypes of Americans.
I consider myself a resident of Hawai’i, but I don’t want to become a U.S.
citizen; I want to keep my FSM passport, and return to Chuuk sometimes to
help my people. Some Americans tell me I am lucky to be here, and that
there is nothing for me in Chuuk, but that makes me angry. Sometimes I think
Americans simply cannot understand my feeling.
A Chuukese Resident of Hawai’i
One powerful way I identify myself is
as a bilingual singer. I enjoy singing
both English and Chuukese songs,
and composing songs in both
languages. Music is the most
important thing in my life. It allows
me to connect with people beyond
ethnicity and language. Music might
take me around the world someday.
A local talent & a future star
Language and power,
language and culture
Are Pacific Island languages neglected in terms of Skutnabb-Kangas 2009, and
in need of maintenance and development?
Example of Chuukese (itself made up of many varieties):
• Estimated 45,000 speakers
• Those in Chuuk State study in their native tongues only through the
• Fifth grade through university education in English
• English used as official language of the FSM
• Perhaps half of Chuukese now live outside the state of Chuuk, FSM
without any mother tongue support (including those here on the Big
• Adoption of English as language of communication in the home in the case
of marriage to a non-Chuukese or long residence abroad
What is the future of Pacific Island
languages in Hawai’i?
Small group discussions
Final questions, comments
How can the languages of Pacific Islanders in
Hawai’i be valued as resources?
1) Pacific Islander children in Hawai’i learn and use their first/heritage languages at home, at
church, and in community gatherings. However, there are no formal classes aimed at
maintaining or developing these languages in Hawai’i. Many 1.5 or second generation Pacific
Islander youth lack the literacy, vocabulary, command over registers, etc. necessary to use
their heritage languages at a professional level.
• Could these children ever get foreign language credit in public schools for developing their
2) Progressive ELL teachers in certain public schools hire bilingual instructional assistants
from the various immigrant groups. UHH students also volunteer as tutors. However, these
assistants and tutors do not teach the children’s first languages, but only assist in the
children’s acquisition of English.
• Could these assistants and tutors be upgraded to heritage language and literacy teachers?
3) COFA nation educators presented on attempts to standardize, revitalize, develop curricula,
materials and methods for using indigenous languages in schools in the COFA nations at
the Stabilizing Indigenous Languages Symposium (SILS) 2014, held January 15-19 at UHH.
• Will these efforts have a wash-back effect on ex-pats in Hawai’i?
4) Since 2008, Pacific Islander students in the College of Hawai’ian Language can
get two semesters of credit for their native language, and can also further study
their native language in the “Certificate in Contemporary Indigenous
“The basic idea comes from within the movement to revitalize and maintain the
Hawaiian language, even though it seems on the surface that the movement is all
about the Hawaiian language and culture” (Scott Saft, personal communication, Feb.
• Will more Pacific Islander students find out about and take advantage of this
• Will such UHH grads one day get inspired to start Pacific Islander heritage
language classes in Hilo?
5) Since 2000, charter schools have become legal in Hawai’i and have played an
important role in the development and support of effective Hawai’ian language
• Could Pacific Islanders and those interested in them ever unite to found a charter
school in which children can be taught at least six to eight years in their
“The Bridge Poem”
I’ve had enough
I’m sick of seeing and touching
Both sides of things
Sick of being the damn bridge for everybody
Can talk to anybody
Without me Right? …
I do more translating
Than the Gawdamn U.N.
Donna Kate Rushin