He carried his briefcase, in which he keeps copies of his family’s official documents.It was Saturday, and he was helping several young Marshallese men fill out applications for work permits.Several other residents told me, in varying tones of incredulity, about seeing Marshallese walking through the snow in flip-flops.
He is one of nearly 3,000 Marshallese living in Enid, a town of 51,000 built on oil and wheat. That’s where I first met him, on a warm March afternoon.
He wore beige slacks, a red and white checked shirt, and wire-rimmed glasses.
Mote works for the county health department as a translator and adviser.
He also acts as an emissary between the Marshallese in Enid – many of whom don’t speak English – and the rest of the city.
On a wide thoroughfare there, sandwiched between a defunct pharmacy and a long-closed auto supply shop, is a squat brick building housing the Enid Community Clinic.
The clinic provides limited care to the uninsured, free of charge, funded largely by an annual charity ball. Aside from emergency rooms and another charity clinic, it is the only source of care available to many in Enid’s Marshallese community.
Children on neighboring islands played in the ashy fallout, which fell like snow from the sky. Terry Mote arrived in Enid in 2007, after spending two nights at the airport in Honolulu, eating from vending machines while he waited for a standby spot on a flight east. It was only once he arrived that he realized how many other doors lay between him and the life he’d imagined. That means that Marshallese citizens who live, work and pay taxes in the U. are ineligible for Medicaid and Medicare unless states opt to provide it. Mote loves Enid, but life is more difficult than he anticipated.
Today, thanks to a treaty signed when the Marshall Islands gained independence from the U. in 1986, Marshallese citizens are allowed to live and work in the States. This mass migration is driven in part by poverty and lack of services in the islands. It was as if he’d been locked in the hallway of a beautiful house: inside, but not really. Rent and groceries are expensive, and there is the problem of the funerals.
Fresh seafood is hard to find in the dry, windy city where he lives now – Enid, Oklahoma, a hunkered-down prairie town at the eastern edge of the Great Plains.