If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together. -Aboriginal saying (Lila Watson)
In this ever changing world where colonialism has been replaced by globalization, one has to claim some semblance of roots and values. Otherwise, the waves of change and the strong currents of media-driven cultures will surely erode the collective and personal shores of indigenous identities. Micronesians have long endured on handouts of foreign values. It is time we begin to reflect deeply on our values and history, accept ourselves as positive contributors to the world’s goodness, and share our baskets of goodwill to the world at large. This is my reflection, my search for what matters to me and why. It is shared with utmost humility and profound gratitude for the role models of Chuukese citizens who have struggled and continue to fight for all that matters to us. I hope you would give yourself the opportunity to share with me your own story and convictions. I know that somewhere in the middle is a place where our common humanities can meet to work together to make this world and our islands a better place to live for us today and for future generations.
Reclaiming my native name was a personal protest against the injustice of foreign domination on indigenous rights. Sadly, I am the product of a long history of colonialism in which our identities have suffered greatly at the hands of overzealous foreigners. They arrived uninvited on the shores of our pristine islands in many forms, causes, and agendas…all with the same misplaced notion of “helping” us by displacing our native names, our spiritualities, cultures, traditions, governing structures, diets, and our lives in the name of their foreign gods, ideology, self-proclaimed governments, unjust economies, and their social and physical illnesses. While Micronesia has since reclaimed its sovereignty with several outward legal documents with the U.S. and the United Nations, we as a collection of varying languages and cultures continue to struggle to find our true identities. We have been dominated so long by foreign governments that we have to reclaim our histories, reconnect with our spirituality, recalibrate our self-understanding, revisit our roots, reclaim our traditions, reclaim our innate goodness, and remove our dependency syndrome.
My own family name has been marred by this history of foreign domination. My paternal grandfather Raatior (named after a navigational bird – so I’m told), a well respected chief on the island of Onoun, was baptized Ionas by overzealous missionaries who desecrated ancestral names with European names as though only Euro-centric names guaranteed entrance into the Heavenly Gate. Then, as if that wasn’t enough, a Peace Corp volunteer on Onoun back in the 60’s decided that Ionas was better pronounced in its American form on his class roster. So, at the stroke of his number 2 pencil and a high dose of cultural insensitivity he forced my older siblings to take the name Jones as their last name. And there began the story of the Maggie and Damian Jones and the subsequent line of Jones kids in the middle of the Pacific without a sliver of Jones DNA in any of us.
I carried that last name for 30 years of my life even though I’ve never felt comfortable having to explain its American origin. Exactly 30 years later while in graduate school in Berkeley and with the support of my older siblings who I respect dearly I decided to stand up and legally reclaimed my native family name of Raatior. Ironically, the legal system in Berkeley, California…the bastion of 60’s radical liberalism and counter-cultural protests in support of civil rights…reversed the wrong done by one of its own sons in the Peace Corps. While I respect my siblings’ decision (or indifference) to keeping the name Jones, I consider this little feat of reclaiming my indigenous name as my shield of honor and the roots of my pride.
I was born into a family of 8 siblings on the island of Tamatam, raised on Onoun, and moved to Houk where most of my family now live. Although I live on Hawaii Island, I embrace my Chuukese identity with everything that accompanies it…good, bad, and ugly. Growing up in those outer islands in Chuuk State was a real privilege. There, I learned the valuable lessons of living simply and respecting others which have proven to be wonderful ways to counter the complicated life in the United States. I really do believe a variation of that saying which goes something like…you can take the boy out of Chuuk, but you can never take Chuuk out of the boy. I am proud to be Chuukese.
For the sake of those in the global community who prefer to generalize people’s citizenship by nationality, then I am proud to say I am a Micronesian. While that “Micronesian” label is limiting because it was historically created by foreigners to label a variety of unique people, cultures, and identities, it is what it is. I am a proud citizen of the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) which includes the four states of Chuuk, Kosrae, Pohnpei, and Yap. When traveling the world as part of my job, I proudly carry my FSM Passport, my Micronesian roots, my history within the larger context of a struggling yet proud people, and take every opportunity to be a good citizen ambassador for the country I love, Micronesia.
Pwaraka & Alengeitaw
I value and take pride in my roots and history. I am proud to be part of a matrilineal society in which our lineage and roots are traced through our mother’s clan. As such, I am a proud member of the Pwaraka clan and secondarily (afakur) to my father’s clan of Alengeitaw. Pwaraka has linkages either in name or history with Ketemang, Houpelai, and others throughout Chuuk and in some of the outer islands of Yap. The clan was legendary back in the days, so they say, as having the fiercest warriors who conquered lands throughout Chuuk. But they had a soft heart too. The Pwaraka clan of Sapuk gave the land known as Winiku to the Catholic Mission which later became the site for the premiere college prep school operated by the Jesuits, Xavier High School. While the clan has diminished in numbers in the lagoon areas, it continues to thrive in the outer islands with its roots firmly planted on the island of Tamatam where the majority of the population are Pwaraka clan members.
My Alengeitaw clan has a sadder history written in blood. While it has roots in Arhaw or Achaw, the name Alengeitaw (the name meaning, “reef of the ocean”) itself originated on a section of Onoun’s reef called “aleng” where the hard lesson in respect were taught. It was on that sliver of reef where men from our own clan who disrespected our own chief were violently driven out by the other clans to punish them for showing disrespect to the chief. Today, the name Alengeitaw memorializes the tradition of showing respect to the chief. The Alengeitaw clan thrives especially on Tamatam where we hold the chiefly title, on Onoun, and in some areas of the Chuuk lagoon.
I am blessed with an international education that has shaped my own vocation in life. That education began at a nondescript one-room Houk Elementary School (Houk) which led to Weipat Junior High School (now Northwest High School on Onoun Island), Chuuk High School (Weno), University of Guam (Guam), Manresa Jesuit Novitiate (Palau), Fordham University (New York), Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley (California), and University of San Francisco (California). While those many years as a student formed me intellectually, it was my years teaching and serving as a Jesuit scholastic at Xavier High School on Chuuk which inspired my passion to be an educator. I am blessed to have served as Assistant Director of Study Abroad at Santa Clara University to advance international education to students who are expected to become leaders of competence, conscience, and compassion in the world. I am proud to share in this mission which help in some small ways to build world peace.
My Christian faith with a Catholic flavor plays a hugely important role in my life. But my 10 years of training as a Jesuit in the Micronesia Region of the New York Province of the Society of Jesus formed the core of my Ignatian spirituality… a journey of deep faith for which I will forever be grateful. The Jesuits truly formed who I am today, my spirit of service and my capacity to love unconditionally. They deepened and stretched my once conservative Catholic faith by grounding it in the liberally-based Ignatian spirituality of “finding God in all things” and “all things in God.” That simple yet profound worldview directs what I do with my life, my decisions, my relationships both personal and professional, and how I relate to the world. I am blessed with this foundation of my heart which respects the dignity of humanity and the responsibility to the Earth. It matters less to me what particular faith community a person belongs to whether Catholic or Protestant, Jewish or Muslim, Rastafarian or atheist; what matters to me most is that each person’s faith life enables him or her to see the Goodness in others. And when that Goodness takes over ones heart, no act of injustice is ever acceptable anywhere, any time, to anyone. I love this quote from the late Fr. Pedro Arrupe, former Father General of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) who wrote:
“Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is, than falling in a love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the mornings, what you will do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.” – Pedro Arrupe, SJ
I was born into a culture which embodied humility as a virtue and silence is the hallmark of respect. As such, the less you say, the more respectable you are. Sadly, those same values have been exploited by elected officials in Chuuk to keep people quiet thereby silencing the voices of justice…all under the guise of respect. Politicians have exploited the culture of silence to advance their own corrupt and selfish ways. Chuuk has plenty of politicians and many more emerging to carry on the same dirty, self-serving politics. People are stuck in the rut of treating politicians as chiefs rather than the public servants that they truly are in a democratic government. In that traditional role, we the People are somehow expected to listen… quietly, meekly, silently. Chuuk desperately needs more political activists who have a burning desire to make a difference, but more importantly embody those solutions themselves without always blaming and vilifying political leaders. It is important to understand the root causes of the problem to find solutions, but true political activists must understand the power of their minds, the strength of their character, the courage needed to persevere, and the commitment to lead by example. It is not popular to be a political activist, but a necessary calling for new generations of Chuukese. While others aspire to be politicians, I feel the call to the “road less traveled” of a political activist, a gadfly, a nuisance for corrupt politicians.
Service of Others
It is important to me to have a meaningful hobby that engages my heart, my mind, my hands, and my creative spirit in service of others. My outer island culture of the community taking care of one another along with my Jesuit formation in being in solidarity with others in need have inspired me to continue to find ways to help others. Whether I am at work at University of Hawaii at Hilo or fundraising through the Fanapi Foundation, the Micronesia Dental Support Project (MDSP), serving as an unpaid consultant for the Northwest Unified Schools, participating in educational reform projects in my struggling State of Chuuk, designing websites to empower non-profit organizations, or leading a political movement…all of them enable me to continue to be of service to humanity.
This is the foundation of my life…my immediate family as well as my loved ones near and far. If I fail at everything else in life, I hope I have at least fulfilled the greatest gift of my life: i.e. being faithful and loving to my wife Desha and my kids Keala and Keoni. It is my family that grounds me in the profound gift that is life. When I find myself fixated on the small things, I only have to think about my family and the gift that they are to my life and all else falls into perspective. And all that I learn about unconditional love in this small family unit extends to my relationship with the larger family of Mother Earth. Someday, when my time on Earth is done I can depart with a smile on my face knowing that I have done as much as I can possibly do to fulfill my responsibility of showing my children the way to the Great Joy of service to humanity.