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An Anonymous Marshallese Story

Diversity, Facing Diversity: Marshallese Stories from Inclusive Dubuque (Dubuque, Iowa)

As told by C. Jean Hayen

After my Catholic high school graduation on a Marshallese Island, I wanted to explore different areas of the world. I went to CMI (College of Marshallese Islands) where I studied business management. But, it was not satisfying for me. My friend had family in Enid, Oklahoma and asked me to go there with her. So, we left for Enid on May 27, 1998. I lived there from 1998 – 2015. On July 4, 1998, I met Robert William, Jr., father of our three boys. (Sad to say, Robert’s mother was badly affected by the nuclear testing done on the Islands.)

For about six months, I again went to a trade school for business management in Enid but stopped school when I became pregnant with our first son, Rock Donny William, born May 10, 2000. I remained a “stay-at-home” mom as two more boys were born—  June 21, 2001, Rod Matthew William and May 10, 2007, Romeo Henry William. They are all US citizens as they were born in the USA, but I am not a US citizen. I did find Oklahoma people very friendly. From 2012 to 2015 after all three boys were in school, I went back to work as a dietary aide in a retirement home for elderly couples in Enid, Oklahoma.

When Robert’s brother, Reverend Stanley Samson, would come from Dubuque to church revivals in Oklahoma, he would urge us to come to Dubuque. Stanley is pastor at Paradise Church on Jackson Street, which has only Marshallese people worshipping there. Finally, in August 2015, Robert, I, and our three boys came to Dubuque and we continue to live with Stanley on Cleveland Avenue near Bryant School. We have filled out many housing applications, but have not been given the opportunity to sit down with authorities and get any assistance in getting the application processed nor in getting housing.

I learned about the nurse aide work opportunity at Mt. Carmel from Stan’s wife, Marsha Samson, sister of Jessica. Marsha brought me the application for employment at Mt. Carmel. In January 2017, I will take a CNA class here from Staff Educator Candy. I like being with the Sisters. I am grateful for the health insurance I have at Mt. Carmel and the Medicaid insurance for our three boys.

When asked about Dubuque, I must say that I experience people avoiding me, whether at the laundry, on the road, or in the park. We do play volleyball and basketball in the park, but some kids take pictures or videos to harass us saying bad things about us.  We have very few friends in Dubuque. However, we do have gatherings of our Marshallese community here in Dubuque. For example, we celebrate Christmas day and night with dancing and singing. Every first Sunday in December, we have Gospel Days like we had on the islands.

To be honest, I love my life now here in Dubuque. I see a lot of changes with my family (sons and husband)…good changes. Great changes actually!

  • They attend Church. They do not miss Mass. Back in Enid, OK, it was only me going to Church.
  • Ever since we moved here, my husband stopped drinking and started going to Church!

Anyways, I would say it’s different now that I’ve made some friends and I got to know that we got some good people here. Anyways, I can see my family living here for a long time. My sons love it here, they’ve met new friends. The only downside is we’ve been here for a year and four months and still living with our Pastor Stanley Samson. I am beyond grateful that he and his wife still are letting us stay with them. I thank God every day for him! Don’t get me wrong. We are still looking! Getting housing is a big challenge.  I have God on my side. With God anything is possible. We just have to trust in God! Let go and let God!!


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.

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