An Anonymous Marshallese Story

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

As told by Marie Therese Kalb

It was ten years ago – I was 9 years old — when I stood silently watching Mom, one of my older brothers and my little sister — packing up all of our belongings. No one was talking much. We seemed sad. Finally all the boxes, my brother and little sister, Mom and me got onto a big boat — and we headed to America.

I can remember being excited about going to “the land of freedom and opportunity,” – but I had no idea of what those words meant. I had enjoyed life in Kili, a small Marshallese Island which I have never seen again since that day when we left. In America, we came to Dubuque, Iowa — a town in the Midwest. My Mom’s sister lived in Dubuque and we began living with her.  We came to America to have better opportunities and education.

Life has proven to be “good” for me and my family in Dubuque. Mom learned to make new friends and help us all “fit into” America and Iowa culture. Dubuque is a rather small town with a history of immigrants coming mostly from German and Irish backgrounds. 

I graduated from Senior High School and found a job as a dietary aide in a care center for elderly women. Now I work in the nurse aide department. I love the residents. They are so kind and so grateful for the slightest thing I do for them. My “dream” is to become a nurse someday so I can be an even greater help to people who need it. I hope to begin studies for becoming a nurse when I am “motivated” — that is when I feel “ready” to really study. I know the classes will be difficult, and I don’t want to waste the scholarships that might be available for me. In the meantime, I am having experience that will be helpful to me later.

I’ll never forget the day – shortly after we arrived in America — when my five-year-old cousin, Edgar, was run over by a car. He was killed. I prayed extra hard for a long time for his Mom and Dad and family. They miss him so much. My family has strong faith. My Mom taught us that God really does listen and hears our prayers – and will always answer them — even if He hasn’t already done so.

I attend Church Services four times a week at a Marshallese Full Gospel Christian Church. There are three Churches like that in Dubuque. “Mister Jeik” is our pastor. I like him. He is kind and understanding, and I like the way he speaks to us. The services on Sundays and Wednesdays are “Everyone’s Services”. On Thursday, there is a Woman’s Service, and on Friday a Youth Service. I enjoy going to Church and have made some good friends there. Praying gives me hope. I wouldn’t be who I am except for my faith in God. When Edgar was killed we, all prayed a lot. I think it helped us to believe that even though we couldn’t see him, God was with us, and telling us that Edgar was OK and happy, and was helping us through all the pain.

I am grateful for the friends I have made, and for life in America. My dream for the future is to stay in America; to have a loving family, safe by my side; to become a nurse, and to get a car of my own so that my parents will not need to drive me to work.

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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