1. MARSHALLESE

    About 100 well-wishers gathered for Saturday evening's kemem at the Marshallese United Church of Christ in Springdale, AR.

    A new census report shows that Arkansas has the largest population of Marshallese people in the continental United States. Most of them live in Springdale, AR, in the northwest corner of the state. The Marshallese people are from the Marshall Islands in the Pacific Ocean between Hawaii and Australia. Many that come to the U.S. work at the chicken processing plants owned by Tyson Foods and others.
    The population will likely only continue to grow because the Marshallese people have unfettered access to the United States because of a "Compact of Free Association" between the two nations.

A slice of the Marshall Islands in Northwest Arkansas

Written By , 5 years ago

A few weeks ago I travelled to Springdale, Arkansas to work on a story for The New York Times about the large population of people from the Marshall Islands who have settled in northwest corner of Arkansas over the past few decades.

It was a fun and challenging assignment.  Without the help of Melisa Laelan, an actual princess from the Marshall Islands, I would have had next to nothing to photograph in this closed off community.  Melisa helped opened doors for me, translated the Marshallese language and helped me find the people I needed to meet while I was in town.  She was a great ‘fixer’.

There are around 4,300 Marshallese people who live in Springdale. Most come here to work in the chicken factories in the area to escape high unemployment and poor health back in the Islands.  The United States has a relationship with the Marshall Islands that began during World War II and now allows the Marshallese people to travel to the U.S. to work without needing a visa.  In return, the U.S. has used some of the Marshall Islands to detonated 67 nuclear bombs for testing purposes.

As Bret Schulte reported, the Marshall Islands rank third in the world in tuberculosis deaths per capita, diabetes is rampant and leprosy is still an issue within the population.  Here is a link to Bret’s story in the Times.

Here are a few photographs from my trip and a short multimedia piece I recorded at a kemem, a first birthday celebration.

Dickson Jinuna points his pool que at the location of the Marshall Islands on a map hanging at the Islanders Market in Springdale, AR.

Springdale, AR is home to 4,300 people from the Marshall Islands.

The main drag in Springdale's downtown.

The flag of the Marshall Islands (flag on left) along with other flags of Pacific Islands are on display at L & K's Asian Island Food Market in Springdale, AR.

An I love U.S.A. lanyard held a set of keys.

Along with plentiful work in poultry factories in and around Springdale, the Marshallese people found housing plentiful and relatively inexpensive making it a reasonable place to move in the U.S.

Risen Zeckreah (left) and Riaz Moody work on preparing chicken for Sunday's lunch at their home in Springdale, AR.

Reverend Neian Karu is the lead pastor at Faith Full Gospel Marshallese Church in Springdale, AR.

On Father's Day, which fell on a Sunday, men were celebrated with a lunch where they sat at a table in front of the congregation.

About 100 well-wishers gathered for Saturday evening's kemem at the Marshallese United Church of Christ in Springdale, AR.

There are only a handful of stores owned by Marshallese people including a Herbalife store and a few grocery type stores that sell supplies to the Marshallese community.

Marshallese outreach worker Kenny Boaz drives over to the home of a Marshallese couple to do a tuberculosis skin test on a young child.

John Moody is recognized as the first person from the Marshall Islands to relocate to Springdale, AR.

At Faith Full Gospel Marshallese Church in Springdale, AR, over 100 Marshallese worshipers gather weekly in a metal building to worship together.

Some in the Marshallese community suffer from chronic medical conditions like diabetes and have turned to herbal remedies instead of visiting doctors.

Melisa Laelan (facing) dances with Priscilla Ben Sunday at Faith Full Gospel Marshallese Church in Springdale, AR.

One-year-old Tyrome(cq) Ian Morris is prepared for his kemem, or one-year-old birthday party.

Reverend Neian Karu leads her congregation in song Sunday.

A Bible translated into the Marshallese language.

Well-wishers brings gifts of money for one-year-old Tyrome Ian Morris during his kemem ceremony Saturday night.

Youth Sunday school takes place under a covered carport outside the Faith Full Gospel Marshallese Church in Springdale, AR.

Multiple types of rice are on sale at L & K's Asian Island Food Market in Springdale, AR.

There are dozens of churches in Springdale that cater to the Marshallese population.

Caleb Andrik is greeted during Sunday's service

Marshallese celebrate during Tyrome Ian Morris' kemem.

Marshallese outreach worker Kenny Boaz works in the Marshallese community to help with health issues.

Marshallese outreach worker Kenny Boaz (right) does a tuberculosis skin test on youngster Joseph Daniel at his families home in Springdale.

Many Marshallese people work in the Tyson Berry Street Plant. The plant process chickens.

Chickens on the way to be processed at Tyson.

The Faith Full Gospel Marshallese Church in Springdale is located in a metal building near the Tyson plant.

At Faith Full Gospel Marshallese Church in Springdale, AR, over 100 Marshallese worshipers gather weekly.

Caleb Andrik addresses the congregation.

Springdale, AR is home to thousands of Marshallese people.

Marshallese youth participate in a traditional dance during Sunday services at Faith Full Gospel Marshallese Church in Springdale, AR.

A sign hangs on the door of Randy Robe's home in Springdale, AR. The word yokwe is a welcome greeting.

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