A self-described free spirit, Doresty Daniel always planned on leaving her home island. America appealed to her because she thought of it as a place “where dreams can happen,” she said.
The Marshall Islands is one of several Pacific island nations that were formerly administered by the U.S. Navy, and was a major nuclear testing site during the Cold War.
The islands were granted full independence in a 1986 agreement with the United States, which also allows Marshallese people to enter and exit America freely without visas.
Daniel said she didn’t know many Marshallese people had settled in America when she got out of high school. But she decided to move to Honolulu, where she had a relative, and look for a job.
The seafood-heavy diet and laid-back island life in Hawaii was familiar, though the basic English she’d learned in school wasn’t always enough to make herself understood.
“You have to repeat yourself because people don’t know what you’re saying,” she said.
She worked in restaurants and eventually started her own housekeeping business. She met her husband, who was from Micronesia, and had a son and a daughter.
By 2014, living in Hawaii had grown expensive, and Daniel was looking for a new city to raise her family. Spokane drew her in because of its affordability and opportunities.
She now works as a bilingual assistant at Garry Middle School, where she helps immigrant students who still are learning English make sense of their classroom lessons. Some of her pupils are Marshallese, but they come from all over: Afghanistan, Nepal and more.
“Even though we don’t understand each other, I understand their needs because I’ve been in their shoes,” she said.
Spokane is also home to a tight-knit Marshallese community, which gathers in the summer for a series of community events and games. Individual islands have distinct dialects and some cultural differences, not unlike the states.
Immigrants form teams based on their home islands and compete in sports and games.
“We’re the best baseball players now,” she said.
Daniel has thought of becoming a teacher and would like to go back in school so she can help the same students she works with now in science and math.
“It fills my heart with joy,” she said of her work.
For more stories from the series go to: Coming to America
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