It’s easy to be academic and read reports on climate change and nod your head in agreement. It’s easy to be concerned and realize that if we don’t get our crap together, world, and make some meaningful changes fast, our grandkids are going to inherit a planet and lifestyle we will not even recognize. But, truthfully, despite our academic acceptance and realization of the future, has anything actually happened close enough to home to truly motivate us to make significant change in our own personal lives?
I am not a faithful recycler. I live a minimalist consumer lifestyle but that’s probably because I’m poor. I don’t drive that much but that’s probably more to do with my work-at-home lifestyle and epilepsy. I keep the house warm in the summer and chilly in the winter mainly because I want to save money on my utility bill. So, really, despite all of my opinionated bloviating on climate change, I feel like I’m not actually walking the walk. I don’t think I’m alone in this. What would really have to happen to inspire drastic action for the average person?
What about a mass migration occurring right in your neighborhood? What if you lived in a small, rural town that had a very small conclave of immigrants from a tiny island in the Pacific ocean? What if this island is facing a very real threat of being inundated with devastating storms and floods because of climate change? What if the 50,000+ population’s primary connection to salvation lay in their friends and family living in this small, rural, U.S. town? What if they expect to be “run aground” within ten years at the current rate of rising sea levels? What if many decide to get the heck out of Dodge starting now?
Guess what? All of those “what ifs” are the real deal for Springdale, Arkansas and the Marshall Islands. And the Marshallese consul general in Arkansas is already preparing for this very real and very near possibility. We could very well be entering the era of climate refugee migrations. And it could all begin in the Pacific Ocean and Heartland of America.
The 7,000+ Marshallese community of Springdale, Arkansas is the largest community of Marshallese within the U.S. mainland. About 12,000 more live in the northwestern region of Arkansas. Honolulu is the only place on Earth, other than the Marshall Islands, with a larger Marshallese population. And, if the Marshallese are fleeing from climate change destruction on their islands, it is unlikely they will migrate to other Pacific islands (Hawaii) for refuge. So, it looks like the open arms of friends and family in Arkansas will soon receive an influx of the first climate change refugees.
The Springdale population is around 75,000. Could they handle taking on another 10 or 20 or 30 thousand over the period of ten years? What if the entire 50,000 show up? The town already has the nation’s only Marshallese newspaper written in their own language. They also have a radio station. Is that enough? What else would such a vast cultural community need to adjust to new migrants?
Over the years, the Marshallese that have immigrated and settled in Springdale have proven to be good citizens, getting educated, finding work and behaving themselves as good citizens. The history of the Marshall Islands connection with the U.S. reflects a close relationship. That was where the country tested out nukes in the 1940s and 1950s.
Perhaps the name “Bikini Atoll” sounds more familiar to most mainland Americans than Marshall Islands. That little atoll was inhabited and those poor people had to abandon their homes because of the nuclear tests. Even today that little atoll is uninhabitable because of the nuclear contamination. It is then no wonder that in the 1980s the U.S. attempted to right this wrong by creating the Compact of Free Association which allowed indefinite, visa-free immigration to the U.S. by Marshallese citizens. Many of these “Bikinians” made their way to Springdale.
The Tyson Foods plant was one of the first employers of the immigrants. It did not take long for word to get back home about job opportunities at the chicken plant. Very soon many more Marshallese were arriving in Springdale looking for work.
Despite the opportunities for work and education on the mainland, most of the Marshallese want to return to their homeland. Unfortunately, it may now disappear. Because of this history of displacement and longing for home, the Marshallese have become strong advocates regarding climate change. And the gringa is listening.
Arkansas is practically right next door! I know I live in Texas, but, still, Arkansas is my neighbor! I have an aunt and uncle that live there. My family and I have vacationed there. And it could be the first state in my country to receive the first climate change diaspora. And it could happen within my lifetime.
If the Marshallese Islands become uninhabitable within a decade, how many other island nations are facing the same stark reality and looking at the possibility of the extinction of their homeland? Where are they planning to escape to? Could it be in your own backyard? How could this affect you and your own?
These are things the gringa wants to know. And, the gringa has to really change.
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