Colonial Circuits: Micronesian sub-citizenship, bioinequalities, and precarity under “Free Association” with the US

Authors: Kirk Lange*, University of Massachusetts - Amherst
Topics: Migration, Pacific Islands, Medical and Health Geography
Keywords: colonialism, circuits, bioinequality, Pacific, migration
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/10/2018
Start / End Time: 2:40 PM / 4:20 PM
Room: Balcony K, Marriott, River Tower Elevators, 4th Floor


While the US has attempted to obscure and isolate its colonial relationships with several Micronesian states through Compacts of Free Association (COFA), so-called COFA migrants have rendered circuits of US colonialism and attendant vulnerabilities starkly visible. Under “free” association, the US continues military occupation of former trust territories: once a laboratory for atmospheric nuclear testing, now an advance border for ballistic missile defense. In exchange, citizens of the Federated States of Micronesia, Republic of the Marshall Islands, and Republic of Palau are granted non-visa migration rights. Dislocations by radiation, sea level rise, and monetization of the economy prompt significant migration under COFA, despite only partial rights to health care and other services in the US. In Hawai`i – a primary destination for COFA migrants, and itself part of the US colonial project in the Pacific – differential rights alongside neoliberal austerity logics produce a sub-citizenship characterized by bioinequality and contribute to the highest rate of homelessness in the US. Conditions of precarity and geographies of blame that attach to COFA migrants in Hawai`i are routing new circuits to destinations like Arkansas, where Micronesian labor in the poultry industry unwittingly exacerbates climate change and sea level rise. Following recent work in carceral geographies, we make conceptual use of circuitry to reveal this particular formation of US colonialism, as well as open up imaginaries and solidarities toward different futures. Finally, we explore possibilities for countermapping to make visible and resist US colonization in Micronesia.

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