The Story of One Marshallese Woman

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

As told by Camilla Hemann

I came here in the fall of the year. It was different-cold, then winter came and there was more cold.

I was here two times. I came from the Islands (and in helping her to figure it out), it was in 2009. I went to 11th and 12th grades. I did not finish school because it was boring for me, so I went back to the Islands. All my friends were in school at that time and I noticed that I needed to finish school. If I don’t finish school, my siblings would say, “why should I go to school if she didn’t?” (I am the oldest in the family.) I wanted to make a good example for them and I did finish.

My grandmother brought me here about maybe 2 years ago. I stayed at my uncle’s house. My sister and my 3 brothers also are here and stay with my uncle. My sister and one brother came the first time I did, and the other two came in 2013.

My aunt worked here (meaning Clare House) and she brought papers for me to fill out for work here. The next week they called me. I started to work here. I am on my own now. I am working and it makes me feel good. When I called my parents, I told them I go to work now, they could not believe it. “You are working?” They were surprised because I am lazy and this is my first job. I never worked before. I am 24 years old. I do not drive, but my boyfriend and other family drive. They bring me to work and then come back to get me when I am finished.

I need to learn more at work. Each Sister has a different routine. At first, I did not talk. I just watched as they show me what to do. I listened, but I did not talk. Now I talk more.

It is different to be here. This place is so big. Sometimes it is scary because I have never been in a big place like this. It is hard sometimes-there are words that I do not understand. On the Islands, you can walk one end to the other. Sometimes I do not know where to go or what to do. I go to the Mall. I look and sometimes I buy. I go to the movies. I go to the River and walk. It is nice to look.

The water here is not as blue as the water around the Islands. Being in Dubuque and the United States is good and it is hard. Sometimes I feel like going back home, I feel like that when the weather is really cold.

It is always good to see other people from the Island. When I was here first time, there were few from the Islands, but now when I go out, I see people of the Island everywhere. When I see people, I do not talk to them if I don’t know them. There are many here that I do not know. Working here (referring to Clare House), helps me make friends with others, not from the Island. I feel that I am accepted for who I am.

Food is different. There are many foods we do not have. On the Islands, we had two restaurants. They had fish, chop steak and ramen noodles. I don’t like to cook. I eat what others make. When I work, I have chips and pop.

Here I can wear pants everywhere and I like that because it’s comfortable and good for the cold weather. I cannot wear pants on the Island nor shorts.

The best time here is summer. I can meet more people. We play volleyball and baseball at Flora Park.

On the Islands, I was a Protestant. Here, I do not have my church. I go to my uncle’s church. He is Pastor and many go to his church. On Sundays, we all get together after church. There are about 40-50 people. Most are family. I am not always there because sometimes I am at work.

Now I live with another uncle. He has kids in school. In home, we speak more English to help the kids in school. Sometimes, I am learning from them. Reading is difficult for me. I am lazy to do it step by step. There is some work I need to do on the computer for my work, so last week I finished everything. When I did it, it wasn’t all that bad.

At Christmas time, we practice in groups so that we can perform on Christmas Day at the Church for all the rest of the people. This year we had four groups, one came from Cedar Rapids and one from Oklahoma. It last from 5 pm to 7 a.m. It is fun. On the Islands, it will take up to three days to have this.

There are people from the Islands in Arkansas, Oklahoma and California. I have been to California. I have an aunt there. She has my child who is four years old and she is taking care of her. My girl does not call me Mom, it is okay.

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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