Barlina Samson’s Story

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

As told by Mira Mosle


In 1857, missionaries came from Boston to preach. This is why we celebrate Christmas on Sunday. The Sunday before we gather in church and sing one or two of our songs. At Christmas, we get to show what we were practicing at our First Assembly of God church. We spend all day and night at church until all performances are completed.

In the Islands, in September or October, we start practicing 10 or so songs from then on. On Gospel Sunday, the first Sunday of December, all groups gather in Church to show their songs and dances. In the Islands, they will celebrate for four days straight until all performances are done. They can stay all night. Christmas is very special with songs, music and dances. I do all three.

On Christmas, we have food like chicken, rice, salad, fruit, and cake. We bring food. Each group brings something different. We also wear uniforms and some of the Marshallese women sew the uniform dresses and shirts. Some families also do gift giving.

On Christmas, church is first at noon, then food, then the program. Everybody performs and everybody practices from October.

LaLa and I are in different churches. There are three different churches –Paradise Assembly of God, Full Gospel and New Hope.  All do the same thing at Christmas.  Each church has a different color uniform. My group is only my brother’s family. Every deacon or deaconess has his or her own group.

Health Care

Sometimes I don’t go to the doctor at Mercy because I don’t have health insurance. One time I went and they sent me back home because they wanted to have insurance.  I had to pay for medication. The I-94 covered my pregnancy and since the baby is a citizen, he has insurance.

Some Marshallese need health care. A lot of them don’t have it. For my husband’s mother, the reason they came here is she was sick and they thought it was easier to get health care here. She goes to the free clinic at Cedar Rapids every month and gets medication. In the Marshall Islands, we don’t get treatment and medication. Some do but some don’t.

There are a lot of Marshallese that don’t speak English. A lot can understand but don’t speak it. We have been really blessed and appreciate what Irene (Ernest) has been doing to help the community. She worked with the health care community, and it’s been a lot easier for some of us who did not have insurance to go to the doctor. It means a lot for us.


I came to the USA in 2008 and didn’t know how to speak English and read. I went to school in 2009 and took ESL classes. It was hard when the teacher asked a question and I didn’t know what the teacher was saying. I took my homework to my ESL teacher and he explained it all. When I was in 12th grade I was so excited that I would graduate. And here I am working at the Sisters of Charity. It’s a really nice place. I love the Sisters. And that’s when I started facing diversity.

A lot (of Marshallese) don’t speak English. A lot can understand but don’t speak it. For now, they hope Irene goes house to house and gives papers for health care. My mother-in-law doesn’t speak. She has a son and daughter-in-law who have been here a long time. Their children translate at the bank and hospital, or on the phone. She gives the phone and they translate for her. For me at the grocery store, sometimes I don’t know what’s on the can. For me, it’s easier to read than speak. Sometimes if I don’t know a word, I ask. I use the phone a lot. Sometimes I go to the library or use a phone to look up a word.

Decorations (samples shown on iPhone pictures)

Birthday decorations. Lots of weavings. Men and women make the weavings and earrings. Also, showed a photo of 1-year-old son Makaio.


I’m starting on-line classes next month through NICC for ultimately medical assistant for CNA. It takes two months. (Note: Barlina passed the course.)

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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