Ivynn Perman from Pohnpei in Micronesia was working at Hawaiian Telcom in downtown Honolulu when he overheard his colleague refer to Micronesians as “cockroaches.”
Mary Anton had just started working for a business inside the Waikiki Aquarium when a co-worker told her, “I hate Micronesians.” Anton had just introduced herself as being from Kosrae in Micronesia.
Clarification: An earlier version of this report said Anton worked at the aquarium, but she is not an aquarium employee.
A new study suggests their experiences are not unique. A University of Hawaii survey found more than 24 percent of people who self-identify as Micronesian report being treated poorly by coworkers or bosses because of their ethnicity.
More than 9 percent said they had been mistreated at work — such as missing out on promotions — because they were Micronesian. Just under 9 percent reported they had been denied a job because of their ethnicity.
The survey included more than 500 people who self-identified as Micronesian and included questions about access to health care, social services, restaurants, housing and other public accommodations.
The survey was conducted from 2017 to 2018 through a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice. Most of the participants were from Pohnpei, Chuuk and the Marshall Islands.
Join The Discussion
Join Civil Beat for a panel discussion called #BeingMicronesian In Hawaii as part of the 2019 Honolulu Biennial. The event will delve into what discrimination against Micronesians looks like and what’s being done about it.
The study’s lead author is Rebecca Stotzer, a professor at the Myron B. Thompson School of Social Work at the University of Hawaii Manoa. Stotzer says there have been other qualitative studies about discrimination against Micronesians in Hawaii but this is the “very first study that has the ability to estimate the frequency of the issue in our community.”
“While some people from the Micronesian region have been willing to share their stories individually, this study really helps us to see how common these acts of bias really are,” she said, adding she was surprised at the findings.
“One in four, that’s 25%, overall, was shocking to me because of our pride in being an Aloha State, and being a welcoming state.”
Not Many Formal Complaints
Bill Hoshijo, the executive director of the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission, says it’s unusual to receive formal complaints from Hawaii’s Micronesian community.
The commission has only received three complaints over the past two years related to discrimination against Micronesians’ race or ancestry. He said the commission wants to increase its outreach to that community.
Stotzer says it makes sense Micronesians may not report the prejudice they face. She thinks her study may be conservative because many people may not want to talk about discrimination or be aware of their rights.
In order to file a civil rights complaint, “You have to know this is wrong, you have to feel comfortable reporting to people, you have to be willing to put yourself out there in that way,” she said.
“I also think there’s a strong cultural emphasis on trying to succeed in this new home and admitting that people are targeting you based on an identity raises an issue or a problem that doesn’t necessarily meet that desire to show the success of your community in acculturating to Hawaii,” she said.
She hopes her study inspires community dialogue. She added that attitudes toward Micronesians echoes discrimination toward Samoans and Filipinos in the past.