Sleepless in Seattle redux


Five thousand miles away and the CW crisis in the CNMI is one of the things that makes it difficult for me, a Saipan-born U.S. citizen born to a “contract worker” family, to fall asleep at night.

Growing up with small business owners as parents, a constant phrase I heard at home was “I have to go process papers this week.” Admittedly my family is one of the lucky ones. They aren’t about to be deported—yet. They have been one of the lucky ones for over 10 years now.

It’s hard to say how long this luck will last under this broken immigration system. And for many of our friends and families, that time is up. Their families are being torn apart left and right and it breaks my heart and the hearts of all the families affected by this crisis to see it happening.

They came here with good intentions, knowing full well the limitations of their status. They can’t vote and they can’t own land, they can only hope that if they become good citizens and pledge themselves to serving the islands, they can continue raising their kids without the oppressions of their home countries harming those children. They’d rather take the hit for us. Because hoping as second class citizens in the islands is better than being first class citizens in nations that can’t take care of them, admittedly. They’re forced to take care of themselves with service to this community as their payment.

They have done nothing but serve the community. In the midst of the economic disadvantage that makes it difficult to pay even the bills, how can you tell us to get immigration lawyers? In the midst of the political disadvantage of the vast majority of these workers and the population being ineligible to vote, how can you tell us it’s our fault that policies are working against us when we had no political voice or power the whole time we worked for you? Your local government could have cleanly gotten rid of us way back if there’s validity in your claims that we don’t belong here. Evidently, just because it’s the law, doesn’t mean it’s right. You blame America for its faulty gun laws, but look in the mirror and see its reflection: your resistance, silent or otherwise, to advocating for these foreign workers in the CNMI.

Many of our families have not spoken out against the racism we experience, and many don’t even acknowledge it. It’s unfathomable for me to see in the comments of these newspaper articles how so many of our islands’ voting-eligible population remain vigilant in hate and resentment in an effort to still protect their own privileges.

We have served these islands as second-class citizens silently for years—protecting your privilege in order to sustain our families.

We don’t fight against the fact that this land is yours. We fight against the displacement of our families. We fight against our services going unwarranted, when all our parents asked for was to stay, work for you, and give their children pathways to opportunity that the homeland could not give.

You opened the doors to us, wide open compared to the sliver the United States did. That’s why our families are here. That’s why we’re here.

Tell me, where do I—and hundreds of other U.S. citizen millennials and children born to foreign workers—stand in the light of these uncertain policies?

When you tell our families to “go home,” you’re telling us— the children your islands have educated—to not come back and serve this community.

When you tell our families to “stop taking your jobs,” you’re forcing us—the children your islands have worked so hard to help send off to college—to stop midway because our families lost jobs they’ve been working in for as long as 10 years.

When you tell our families that “time is up,” you’re telling us—an entire generation of first generation Pacific Islander-bred U.S. citizens—to lose hope in the islands.

And we have the right to feel this way—you’ve made that clear.

But many of us also see the way the islands will fall apart if we give in. Many of us don’t want to hold on to anger.

If there’s one thing we have in common it’s that we have come to call these islands home—just as much as you have. And our families can see that. It’s why they want to stay and support us.

Last week I asked my mom through a phone call why, at this point, she won’t go back to the Philippines— a valid question in the eyes of everyone that oppose immigration reform. She responded, “If I were only taking care of myself I would go back! But it’s you kids that I’m thinking about.” My sister is 9 years old. My brother is 2 years old. All three of us are U.S. citizens.

Here’s a question for y’all: What makes you think that I— and hundreds of other Saipan-born U.S. citizens— would choose to go back to our parents’ homeland, places so many of us have never even seen because of the limitations of these documents on our parents from traveling abroad, would want to suddenly relocate there?

Before going off for school, I received a scholarship check from one of your foundations. For the longest time I told myself that after I graduate, I want to return and serve my community—my home. But with the pervasiveness of this issue, it makes it harder to stay tenacious to that goal.

Opportunity might be even better here in mainland America, maybe even for my parents when I petition them in two years. But I’ve never thought of it as a place I want to be in for the rest of my life. It isn’t where my parents, who yearn to keep their simple lifestyle, want to be. While there’s a lot for me to learn while I’m here, mainland America is a foreign land to me.

Here in Seattle, I identify as a Pacific Islander. Saipan is my home. As powerful as your privilege may be, it isn’t in the position of telling me, or my family, otherwise.

Katrina Punzalan
University of Washington ’19

Contributing Author

Related Posts

Disclaimer: Comments are moderated. They will not appear immediately or even on the same day. Comments should be related to the topic. Off-topic comments would be deleted. Profanities are not allowed. Comments that are potentially libelous, inflammatory, or slanderous would be deleted.