Chuukese community in Minnesota faces citizenship dilemma

By Tom Cherveny on Aug 22, 2016 West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

MILAN, Minn. -- Milan's Micronesian community in west-central Minnesota is reaching a tipping point in its American experience, right at a challenging time. It sweeps this tiny community into the national debate over immigration reform and into the prickly politics of U.S.-China relations in the Pacific.

The tipping point is clear. "A majority of people are beginning to feel more American than Micronesian,'' said Patrick Roisen.

He is working with the community on immigration and integration issues in his roles with the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs, Southwest Minnesota Sustainable Development Partnership and University of Minnesota.

Some of the Micronesian families have made Milan their home for as long as 16 years and for most, their children have spent all of their lives in the U.S.

Now, some of the families are looking at their options to become citizens. The pathways are limited, if they exist at all.

"They really are just in limbo,'' said Bob Ryan of Bird Island, who is responsible for recruiting Roisen's assistance. Ryan has been working with Milan's Micronesian community to help it identify economic opportunities. With a population of just over 200, the Micronesian community represents over one-half of the small town's overall population.

All of the Micronesian residents in Milan come from an island about the size of Milan in the Micronesian state of Chuuk. It’s where Milan native and Sun Prairie Bank owner Erik Thompsen had served in the Peace Corps.

The Micronesians who have made Milan their home made the move for two reasons: Jobs and the opportunity for their children to receive a good education.

A compact between the U.S. and the Federated States of Micronesia allows them to live and work in the U.S., but it does not confer the rights of citizenship. Nor does it provide a pathway to citizenship, something that is otherwise available to many immigrants who are refugees of political strife and economic turmoil, Roisen explained.

He has developed a document that is being distributed to Micronesian residents. It informs them about the legal issues surrounding their status. It is aimed at helping them explore what pathways to citizenship might exist.

Roisen and Ryan also brought the dilemma the community faces to the attention of Minnesota’s U.S. Senators Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar.

Ryan said the Micronesian community in Milan is small and lacks the resources to take on political and legal challenges. And, he pointed out, it is not a part of their culture to call attention to themselves or complain about their plight.

Children of Micronesians who are born in the U.S. can become citizens if they choose do so when they reach adulthood. Some are now at that point, Ryan said.

The community is also seeing its first children reach the age to attend college. Lacking citizenship, they are not eligible for federal student loans. That’s a definitive obstacle for many, he said.

Micronesia does not allow its citizens to hold dual citizenship. The young people will have to decide between the two countries.

Most are likely to become U.S. citizens, Ryan said.

He cannot imagine many of the children or adults voluntarily returning to Micronesia. There is no economic opportunity for them there. And for most of the adults, their children represent their social security system when they become too old to work.

Adults lacking citizenship also face uncertainty. The compact between the U.S. and Micronesia expires in 2023. The state of Chuuk has recently expressed interest in seceding from the Federated States of Micronesia. The state of Chuuk is interested in taking advantage of economic overtures being offered by China, Ryan explained.

If Chuuk were to secede, would that negate the compact under which the Micronesians now live in the U.S.? Roisen and Ryan said that is among the questions remaining to be answered.

Their hope is the document Roisen has put together for the community will help the people gain some voice in shaping their futures. The Micronesian residents in Milan are among an estimated 15,000 Micronesians living in a variety of locations in the U.S. Many are found in Hawaii and Guam and along the west coast, but there are also small, Micronesian communities in some of the Midwestern states.


  • FYI, the minimum wage in Minnesota is now $9.50 per hour, the unemployment rate is only 3.5%, and the public school system is rated one of the 10 best among the 50 states.
  • edited August 2016
    So how are the Chuukese doing in Milan, Minnesota? How are the people from Milan coping with the explosion of their population by Chuukese? I wonder if Milan has heard about other stories of the Chuukese in other places.

    Milan could be a living prove of how Chuukese can peacefully blend into a community with and by good leadership and acceptance.

    We should learn from them.
  • Apparently, the Chuukese living in Milan Minnesota are doing pretty well. Fr. Fran Hezel visited them a few weeks ago and reported this:

    "Next on the itinerary was Minnesota, where I spent a couple of days in Milan visiting the Chuukese migrant community that now numbers about 280 people. I’ve always regarded this as a model, and I found nothing this time that would make me change my mind. Chuukese leadership is excellent, and the care offered by Minnesotans has been exemplary. When I walked into the only general store in town on Saturday night, the American owner, who was fixing the seat of a bicycle for a Chuukese boy, stopped to welcome me in Chuukese. The visit featured the usual evening basketball with young men who badly wanted to win, and also time with Tim Smit, once a Jesuit Volunteer in Pohnpei, and his wife. "
  • Jobs, schools draw Micronesians to western Minnesota
    By Tom Cherveny on Jan 28, 2015

    LAC QUI PARLE VALLEY — Thanks to Pacific Ocean breezes, temperatures on the islands of Micronesia do not fall below 70 degrees or rise above 90 degrees.

    “What would bring people in a place like that to a place like Minnesota, where I understand the temperature does get lower than 70 degrees?’’ asked the Rev. Fran Hezel, a Jesuit priest.

    Father Francis Hezel is a Jesuit priest who has served as a teacher and principal as part of his ministry to Micronesia, which began in 1963. He spoke to teachers attending a professional development program at the Lac qui Parle Valley High School Jan.19.

    He was ready with the answer, having served as a teacher and later as a principal in Micronesia as part of a ministry he joined in 1963. He is a well-known and prolific author on the history, culture and challenges of the Micronesian people.

    They are here for the jobs they need to support a family, and the educational opportunities and basic health care available for their children, he said. Father Hezel spoke Jan. 19 to teachers from the region participating in a professional development day at the Lac qui Parle Valley Schools.

    The district currently serves more than 40 students from Micronesia in pre-K to high school classes, according to Lac qui Parle Valley Superintendent Renae Tostenson.

    There are nearly 200 Micronesians in Milan today. They come from the island of Romanum in the Micronesian state of Chuuk.

    Opportunities for jobs in this area’s meatpacking industry are the major draw. A compact between the U.S. and the Federated States of Micronesia allows the islanders to work in the U.S. without a visa.

    Young adults ready to begin careers and families find few opportunities in Micronesia. “They can’t find jobs. They can’t find a place in the economy that will support them,’’ Hezel said.

    Along with the economic factor, he said he is coming to believe that despair over the Chuukese educational system is also motivating many to move here as well. “They want something better,’’ he said.

    Yet for their children, there are challenges to obtaining an education in the U.S. Many of the Chuukese youth arrive with limited proficiency in English.

    Father Hezel worries that motivation can be a factor for Chuukese youth who started their educations in Micronesia. “They’ve come to think well, education is not so important. We didn’t have teachers showing up every day in our schools in Chuuk,’’ Hezel said.

    Chuukese students have temptations to quit school, too. They see their parents holding jobs without having the benefit of a U.S. education or degree.

    Many of the Micronesian students also think: “If I go to school, I am going to be continually embarrassed because all I am going to do is show off my ignorance, show how little I know compared to these people who are my classmates, who know so much more because they started off in the school system here,’’ Hezel said.

    It’s why many of the Micronesians place their greatest hopes on their youngest who are starting their educations in the U.S. and not in Chuuk.

    Micronesians prepare for a party. La qui Parle School District works one-on-one with Micronesian students to help them adjust and learn English.

    “I think it is much easier for the kids that come earlier in their lives,’’ said Supt. Tostenson. Making the transition to a new environment is always difficult for children no matter their origins. This is no different, she said.

    The difference is what they find at the rural school district. “The accountability is there, and we’re trying to help them in every way,’’ Tostenson said.

    Some of the Micronesian youth attending the school have moved to Milan from Hawaii and other locations to live with relatives for the chance to attend school here. The school district is also starting to see some children who are part of the second generation in their families to attend school here. They are from families that have chosen to stay here, she said.

    The district works one-on-one with students and their parents to help with the adjustment to a different educational system and culture. An English as a Second Language instructor works with the students, and she is assisted by a paraprofessional from the Micronesian community.

    The superintendent said the community values education. It has elected four women to serve on what’s called the Milanese Council of Women to work with the school. They meet once a month with school and other representatives and focus on health and education, with education the biggest focus, Tostenson said.

    Father Hezel said the Micronesians in Milan are fortunate. He’s made two separate visits to the area now and has been impressed by the support he has found for the Micronesian community and its youth. “I have a very real sense everybody I’ve run into here has done, has made every effort possible to do what they can for these strangers from the middle of the Pacific.’’

    He’s headed back soon to Micronesia to serve on a task force to promote the importance of education to the future of the small islands.

  • How sad!! THERE HAS TO BE SOME ADJUSTMENT IN DOS... but we must hold on our CORE VULUES##
  • Why, "how sad", Meze-chun? Please tell them some of the adjustments in their DOS that you want done.
  • I will do it IF ONLY USA LISTEN!#





    IF YOU ALL SETTLE THE FUX DOWN, I COULD LEAD WITH SOME ASSISTANCE FROM MY FAMILY WHO ARE IN LEADERSHIP BACK HOME... THE problem is your cultural lenses are in the eay... thinking I am on a trip. I do not choose to see or know stuff, they just come...

    MARK MY WORD, THE TROUBLE WILL DOUBLE UNTIL I START FIXING THEM... IT IS MY calling and duty... take that to your heart or regret this fair warning##
  • It figures, thanks.
  • The assistsnce is already there. There is still disconect here and there. You can all waste your resources there but until you start addtessing the real issues, you will end exhusted and back to square one.

    The most dangerous thing about the whole thing is YOU LOSING YOUR KIDS IN THE MIX!# We come from a small community... imagine them going back home and be gangesters... geez
  • kINISOU ngonuk Meze_ChUn ren pweteten netipom ngeni weiresin chon neniom. Amo ita kopwe sopweno met ke nukuw pwe epwe tongeni anapano aninnisin emmirit ngeni chon fonuwach.

    Nge ren ewe neni Milan, Minnesota, sipwe pwan sopweno ach sipwe pwarano ach ingeiti ir, pwan pesei ngeni ir ekkewe fitemon chon Chuuk, akkaewin ekkewe chon fonuwach Romonum ar tipeew fengen me opwonuweta wiser me non Milan, Minnesota iei mei pwarata non ekkei porous.

    Sipwe pwan pwarano ach kinisou ngeni ewe mwan Erik Thompsen ren an aninnis me emwenoch ngeni ekkewe aramas. Erik Thompsen emon former Peace Corp Volunteer non ekkewe year a nonnom Romonum.

    Amo kich ekkewe kich mei nonnom fetan won kana fonu sipwe oppiruw ekkewe chon Milan. A fakkun itefouno ar na comminity seni ar tipeew fengen me opwonuweta kokkotun non ar na community. A wor ar osufonu ewe neni.

    Kinisou chapur ngenir.
  • We should, we should give them the credit... but the real picture of success of our community is shown thru the judiciary records!!

    The kinds of cases they have and the volume... and more but I will refrain from speaking on that
  • I believe this community is ideal for Cbuukese unity. The unity is good there ...olkk
  • Greetings,

    Hope this message finds you well. I am currently looking for a Chuukese interpreter to assist our client on an assignment tomorrow at 8:00AM for 90 minutes in Mesa, Arizona Zip code 85205 and was wondering if you could assist. If you are interested, please forward me your updated resume with previous interpreting experience to

    Requirements are:

    Must reside and be a US citizen
    Previous experience in the medical field and Behavioral Health.

    Best Regards,
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