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By Aenet Rowa

MAJURO, Marshall Islands (Yokwe Online, June 1) - "Today, we celebrate, in a very unique way, the Memorial Day of our adopted country and also Marshall Islands' Constitution Day, the anniversary of our homeland, for our children are Marshallese Americans," said the president of Jake Jobol Eo Club (JJEC) of Southern California this past weekend.

Marshall Islanders in the Orange County area met for the special celebration at Sonora Elementary School, in Costa Mesa, on Monday.. The JJEC sponsored the event with the help of the three local Orange County Marshallese churches.

It was the first time in recent years for a combined Constitution-May Day celebration.

Marshallese have found that they need to work together to overcome community challenges as well.

Referring to the theme of the 2005 May Day, "Kajor Wot Wor," President Mory Milne said the community needs to stay strong. In his welcome remarks, given in Marshallese, he said, "We've learned we can't wait for anyone else to help us. We need to tackle problems ourselves."

Problems in dealing with U.S. agencies over healthcare and immigration issues continue to plague the migrants from the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI). This is in spite of the fact that Marshallese have lived here for decades, raised families, and have established themselves in work, school, and local communities.

They often run into difficulty explaining the little-known US-RMI Compact Free Association agreement, which gives citizens of the RMI free access to US borders and the right to work.

The story of Marshallese Americans in Orange County goes back to the late 1960's when a group of young islanders were brought to the United States to attend college in Costa Mesa.

By the mid-seventies, more islanders, seeking education opportunities non-existent in the Marshalls, had joined family and friends, settling in the Orange County area. In 1977, the Jake Jobol Eo Club was founded, representing the interests of the Marshallese in the region and with the Homeland.

In 1979 the Marshall Islands became a sovereign nation, and the first compact of Free Association with the US was signed. Marshallese continued to pour into the West Coast communities of California.

Soon, the RMI established a consulate in the region and worked hand-in-hand with the JJEC, providing funds and support for the burgeoning population. However, that was about to change.

By the 1990's, Marshallese began migrating eastward to Arkansas where unskilled factory jobs were plentiful, and cost of living one-half of Orange County cities. Some locals joined the rapid exodus to these "greener pastures."

By the new millennium, a major immigrant shift had occurred, with more Marshallese residing in Northwest Arkansas than on the West Coast.

OC Marshallese has felt somewhat like the lost tribe.

Lately, the residents say they have not received much notice, or support, from the government back home. Funding for community events is not available like before. One area resident said, "When we asked for help last time from the RMI government, we were told, if you don't like it, move elsewhere!"

The JJEC president weighed in on the general consensus that despite the challenges, the Orange County Marshallese are established here, and they plan to stay.

Older residents, though, are concerned about the children -- the Marshallese Americans who are losing their culture.

Special speaker of the opening ceremony, Ajelok Beasha, who served in the original Constitutional Convention of the Marshall Islands three decades ago, encouraged the young people, above all else, to keep their language and customs.

June 2, 2005

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