As told by Sue Leibold
I came from Enid, Oklahoma in summer of 2002 to Dubuque. I was involved with my church which is called the Dubuque Paradise Assembly of God and I came here with a pastor to establish this church. I am a pastor since 2010.
My role in the community is a pastor of 80 plus members and my role in the community is I would say is a pastor/social worker because I help out a lot.
To understand our culture, I start with basic background and culture because the Marshallese are very shy and don’t want to make any mistakes and our body language is the biggest thing in our communication. Sometimes our body language can offend somebody who do not know us. An example of this, one time in school I went to help out this family because this kid was the best student she (teacher) ever had and…because he listens, he’s quiet you know… You have a shy kid he just sit there and not do anything. One time it was up to him, it was a small group. She was talking to him and he was facing down and she mad and offended that he was not paying attention and it was disrespectful to her (teacher). So, he turned around from the best kid to a disrespectful kid and I got involved with that. I kind of asked her what happened and she told me about it and I said, well it doesn’t mean he was disrespecting you. His body language was showing that he was communicating with you- when he is not eye to eye to you he is bowing down to the one that is directing him and sometimes it’s like you don’t pay attention and you don’t care. He was showing you, you know, his surrender yet it demonstrated he as all knelt down- he is listening to someone who know better, is directing him, teaching him, talking to him, so his body language was taking everything she was saying but not communicating eye to eye. I get that, I know that.
(Pastor Stan’s visit to the schools to explain Marshallese culture) It changes the whole ball game and not just the teacher but the whole school, and especially the principal. It was something they wanted me to go out there to talk to the teachers, the current teachers and the future teachers that will graduate from school. It’s not a problem now but it is a cultural – how do we say it- uh…connecting.
The biggest need in our community is educating- education- more about when I say education- right now our millennial and our kids, now they’re in the right place. They’re in better education. But when it comes to the older community, older generations most important thing is communication because you know I’m not going to be there all the time, she is not going to be there. It is hard for her to get help for sickness if she don’t understand the rules or the language. So, I think the biggest thing is education of English and an understanding of the rules and the policies. Other than that, health problems is the biggest thing.
After World War II when they did the bombing and our agriculture was gone. We don’t grow anything like we used to because our island is filled with radiation, after the testing of the bombs. It is still that way, nothing grows there. I mean, just coconut and bananas but not a good diet. I mean we used to have a lot of fruits and vegetable. The whole island is contaminated with radiation and the biggest disease is chronic disease- cancer, diabetes, a poor diet.
I believe that these days they depend on more of their children and grandchildren to translate now- they take them to their health care centers for translating and some teach them to speak English. They (the children) are more open and have more like- easier to influence with American culture.
One important thing I want to let you know- Marshallese community- people are very close, really close, especially here in the U.S.- the extended family is considered close family. We share, we share together. This is one thing I don’t want to lose is that- rely on each other.
Our events are very important, our community events. First birthdays are very big for that child. Family get together, community get together, people from out of state come here, even the Marshallese Island will come. I had my granddaughter’s birthday in Steeple Square and it was big. I invited a lot of people, a lot of people from the community too, Sister Helen. In our birthday celebrations have culture dances, we sing, the family that have birthday events gives away stuff to show appreciation for them such as clothing, blankets and other stuff to show our appreciation. Christmas, Palm Sunday, good Friday, Easter, big gatherings. May Day – Marshallese Constitution Day- performed the last weekend in May. First weekend in May in Marshall Islands. Celebrate summer activities, invite community leaders.
Marshallese are very, very good people. They want to be recognized as part of the community and they are shy people- but very loving people too and religion is very big to Marshallese people- always been this way – part of our custom.
Our islands are sinking on high tide with wind- covering places not covered five years ago. Our island is our core. I would not want to see our island lost.
This story originally appeared in Facing Diversity: Marshallese Stories, a publication of The Facing Project that was organized by the Inclusive Dubuque Network in Dubuque, Iowa.