Pacific Islander immigration

2011-02-24 10:12:45

The islands of the vast Pacific Ocean stretch over thousands of miles but have a small total population. Immigration to North America was therefore small in numbers but of great significance because of U.S. political involvement in the Hawaiian Islands, Samoa, Guam, and the islands of Micronesia and the British colonial connection to Fiji. In 2000, it was estimated that about 200,000 Pacific Islanders lived in the United States. About half were immigrants, and most came from Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, and the Federated States of Micronesia. In Canada in 2001, there were 31,905 immigrants from the Pacific Islands (excluding Australia), 70 percent of them from Fiji. The highest concentrations of Pacific Islanders in the United States were in Hawaii and on the West Coast, and in Canada in Vancouver and lower British Columbia.
The Pacific island region, or Oceania as it is sometimes called, covers an area almost 9,000 miles in width and 5,500 miles in length, from New Guinea in the west and New Zealand in the south to Easter Island in the southeast and Midway Island in the north. There are more than 20,000 islands in this vast area, many of which are uninhabited. The region is divided into three main culture areas: Micronesia (including Guam, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, Palau, Kiribati, Nauru, and Wake Island), Melanesia (Fiji, Irian Jaya, New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu), and Polynesia (American Samoa, the Cook Islands, Easter Island, French Polynesia, the Hawaiian Islands, Midway Island, New Zealand, Niue Island, Pitcairn Islands Group, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu, Wallis and Futuna Islands, and Western Samoa). Most of the islands of the Pacific fell under European or American control during the 18th and 19th centuries and became economically and technologically dependent on the great powers. Most were also conquered by Japan during World War II (1941–45), liberated by the United States, then economically supported in rebuilding their economies by the United States or former colonial powers. By 2003, Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, and Samoa had become independent. A number of the other islands or island groups were in various stages of negotiation regarding self-governance or independence. Of the thousands of islands, New Guinea and New Zealand compose more than 80 percent of the entire land mass of Oceania.
Polynesians and Melanesians immigrated to the United States in small numbers from the 1830s, when they began to form an important part of whaling crews in the South Pacific. Tens of thousands of native Hawaiians and Chinese and Japanese laborers also immigrated to the United States from Hawaii between the 1850s and 1898, when the island kingdom was annexed by the United States. That same year, Guam also was ceded to the United States as a result of a U.S. victory in the Spanish-American War. Guamanians were made U.S. citizens in 1950. There was little immigration to the United States from the non-American Pacific Islands until after World War II. In almost every island or island group, economic opportunities were severely limited, and there was growing population pressure. A significant number of Guamanians and Samoans worked for the U.S. military, and thousands eventually chose to work on bases in Hawaii or on the U.S. mainland. Second only to Samoa as an Oceania source country was Tonga, most of whose immigrants first came to study at Brigham Young University campuses in Hawaii and Utah. Between 1992 and 2002, the largest average annual migrations were from Fiji (1,200), New Zealand (800), and Tonga (360).
The largest Pacific Islander immigrant groups in Canada in 2001 were Fijian (10,035) and New Zealander (8,600). Well over 90 percent of Fijians immigrating to Canada are the descendants of indentured (Asian) Indian laborers taken to the islands between 1879 and 1920. Most Fijians immigrated for a combination of reasons, including economic opportunity and fear for the fate of the Indo- Fijian minority after independence in 1970. Immigration averaged more than 500 annually during much of the 1970s and 1980s but increased in the wake of two political coups in 1987. Of 22,335 Fijian immigrants in Canada in 2001, about half came after 1987. Almost all New Zealanders came to Canada for economic opportunities.