As told by Donalda Kehoe
When my mother and father came from the Marshall Islands, they went directly to Phoenix, Arizona, and that’s where I was born on October 9, 1996. In November that year, we moved to Dubuque, IA, where we lived with my grandparents near the University of Dubuque.
My two brothers were born in Dubuque. After the three of us were born, my parents adopted a little sister and a little brother from the Marshall Islands.
I went to preschool at Westminster Presbyterian Church. I was scared; I didn’t know English at all. My teachers were good to me and helped me a lot and would write stuff on paper for me to learn. I had women teachers in preschool.
Because we didn’t have a car at first, transportation was hard. We would call my dad’s brother who lived in Dubuque (he came from the Marshall Islands when my grandfather did). He would give us a ride.
By the time I was in Eisenhower Elementary School, we owned a car, but I took the school bus to school. After 5th grade at Eisenhower, I attended Roosevelt Middle School on Radford Road for 6th and 7th grade and Jefferson School for 8th grade.
I attended high school at Hempstead on Pennsylvania Avenue. From there I graduated in 2015. I was not into football and parties in high school, but I did attend our Homecoming. That was really different! A big crowd gathered in the middle of the gym and everyone danced. I danced a bit, with my date Obet Jally.
My family moved out of my grandparents’ home when I was in middle school and into a house on Jackson Street where we are living now.
My mother (Jimiko) works at St. Clare House as a Care Giver; she told me about a job opening at Mt. St. Francis Center. I put in my application and Theresa Peppmeier interviewed me, and I got the job and started working there when I was still in high school. I like it here. It is really nice, a different environment. First I worked in the dining room, with some food preparation and cleaning tables. For three weeks now, I have been a cook. My favorite thing to make is soup.
I am wearing bracelets on my wrist. One came from here and says: “Love, Hope, and Faith.” My cousin gave me the other one. It says: “Kindness – pass it on in all you do and say. Your kindness makes a difference in the world each day.”
I go shopping with my cousin Vicky Jamore (a Care Giver at Clare House). We usually go to the mall or to Kohl’s. We go to the movies sometimes, and then to a Chinese Restaurant afterward. My favorite food is rice with some type of meat or chicken.
I don’t know my neighbors very well on Jackson Street. We get together with Marshallese People, mostly at church, the Full Gospel Church by Prescott School.
I just got back from an annual March event in Springdale, Arkansas. Our Full Gospel Church joined people from different states for four days of worship, singing, and dancing. The dancing consisted of four lines of everybody doing the same motion. During our “kwelok,” (Marshallese word for getting together, a gathering) we all had a meal together in the morning and evening and stayed at the Holiday Inn. We made a big community of Marshallese people. We went by bus – it took 3-4 busses to hold all of us from here.
- Springdale, Arkansas is the 4th largest city in Arkansas, located in northwest Arkansas, deep in the Ozark Mountains. According to the 2000 census statistics, there is a significant community of about 4000 Marshall Islanders and the city is home to a Consulate of Marshall Islands.
– From the Internet.
When my dad would talk about life in the islands, he said it was pretty hard, and sometimes scary. My mother told me about the bombings and what life was like back then.
- The Marshall Islands are located in the western Pacific just north of the equator. The U.S. conducted nuclear testing on the isle of Bikini for many years which created very hazardous results, as no precautions were taken to sufficiently protect the nearby residents; radiation fallout left many of the people with serious health conditions. A covenant signed with the U.S. in 1986 granted the Marshallese the right to come to the U.S. and live and work here without the need of a “green card.”
– from Franciscan Connections, Summer, 2016
The Marshallese people gather to celebrate the first birthday. Parents invite others from in and out of the state and order foods from the islands for the occasion. A 50th birthday and weddings are also big events. People wear their native costumes at those times.
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.