Chad Blair: This is a Civil Beat podcast and I’m Chad Blair.
Joakim Peter, he goes by Jojo, is now a Ph.D student at UH Manoa.
He’s from the islands of the Mortlocks outside Chuuk in the Federated States of Micronesia and one of his big passions in life is radio.
You’d think that the fact that he is in a wheelchair couldn’t really be a problem when all he wants to do is speak in a microphone.
Well, think again.
As for the fact that he is from Micronesia, he feels like it’s another label that he has to fight, especially given how unfairly he feels Micronesians are treated by some in the United States.
Jojo Peter …
Joakim “Jojo” Peter: There’s something I should say about where I say that I am from. I’m from the Mortlocks. I am from the center of the Universe. Where the Mortlocks is, by the way. Everything else is sort of outer island of the Mortlocks.
I don’t really know how to start this.
Except to talk to you about two vantage points from where I have been operating my life for the past 30 years. I am a Chuukese in Hawaii, I am also a disabled person by definition, a category of which I have no choice and none of which is my own making.
At 35 years being a person in a wheelchair but also, for the last few years, being a Micronesian in Hawaii. We are advocates and by nature our role is to knock people out of their comfort zone. To let them know that there is something that they are missing. That I, as a disabled person, labeled disabled, have to deal with a lot of things that a lot of people don’t have to deal with.
I remember, when I was at the University of Guam, being very interested in radio. I worked very hard to be a radio DJ. I developed a character which I thought was sellable on the larger Guam market. So I remember sending all of my recordings, all of my voice-overs to all of the radio stations in Guam. I got a lot of calls back especially from one of my favorite radio stations. The manager called me back and said, “I think you will be a great addition to our radio program. Please come down for an interview.” And I did. He walked in and asked his secretary, he said: “I have that 1 o’clock appointment.” And she pointed to me.
I could see the look on his face. And that anything that I did that was so good and so right on that tape just went out the window. And he proceeded to tell me as to why I would not have that radio job. That they had already offered it to somebody. Which was a lie.
But I took that and I went on to the next radio station looking for my job. And I was lucky enough to work as a radio DJ in the middle of the night and I have to tell you: I was the happiest and most effective DJ at 3 o’clock in the morning. And I had quite a following of nurses, gas station assistants and lonely military housewives.
As a person with quote-unquote a disability, you know how hard you work and you know what you can do as a person. And you know that you can contribute and you have contributed.
People will always say. “Oh, but that’s Jojo, he’s different.” Because people really don’t think that a person with a disability is a person that can work hard and achieve and contribute. That label sticks with you.
Now why am I bringing this up?
I’m also a Chuukese in Hawaii. I’m part of a group that has been fighting for a long time. We are residents of Hawaii. We contribute, we pay tax, we are people like Sheldon, who’s a doctor, we are people like the Yapese guy who runs a software company, or the other Yapese guy who runs his own landscape company. We are so many more that what is out there in the public and what has been held up by all of those racist remarks.
No matter how hard we work, the picture will always paint us as those people who are trying to leech off the system when in fact we are the largest group in the homeless population. When in fact we are a group of people that is working so hard in this community to contribute.
So how much more can we do?
Our young people are working so hard preparing for an upcoming enrollment in the Affordable Care Act.
The State of Hawaii and the federal government have decided to exclude our population based on our citizenship alone. For a program that we continue to pay into.
So we are working very hard to subsidize everybody else’s health care but our own.
If everybody wants to believe that we are continuing living off and mooching off a system, that is so wrong in the way that it treats us.
I’m asking you. Please.
I am not so worried about the crazy guy who posts a racist message on the Internet or the person who spray-paints a graffiti on a Micronesian-owned company and says “Return my taxes.” As if we are not taxpaying residents. I am more concerned about our leaders who continue to ignore their own principles.
We have already paid for this through our land rights, air rights, water rights. To make America strong. To pay for the national security which everyone enjoys.
And what do we get? We get the same treatment. The same misunderstanding.
So how much more do we need to pay for this?
I’m asking you. Please, do the right thing. Do not continue to use those misunderstanding labels.
Like the ones that have labeled me as a person with a disability and ignore my contribution to society and those who continue to label my people and the people of Micronesia as people who are nothing more than leeches to the community.
I’m sorry, thank you very much.
Blair: For more on Micronesia and the exodus of people from their island homes read our series at CivilBeat.com
This Civil Beat Podcast was produced by Chrystele Bossu-Ragis.
Patti Epler is the Editor and General Manager of Civil Beat. She's been a reporter and editor for more than 30 years, primarily in Hawaii, Alaska, Washington and Arizona. You can follow her on twitter at @PattiEpler, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or call her at 808-377-0561.