Identification. Micronesians of North America are Pacific Islanders whose homeland comprises over twenty-five hundred minuscule coral islets and volcanic islands of the Western Pacific. The term Micronesia, meaning "tiny islands," was coined by the French geographer Domeny de Rienzi in 1831 and used by subsequent explorers and cartographers. Geographically, the area includes three great archipelagoes, the Mariana, Caroline, and Marshall Islands, covering an ocean expanse equal to the continental United States. Anthropologists define Micronesia as one of the three "culture areas" of Oceania, which also includes Polynesia and Melanesia. The "culture area" identification, however, cloaks considerable Diversity among different island societies within Micronesia. Politically also the Micronesian area is diverse and includes seven entities: two are independent republics (Kiribati and Nauru); two are in a unique "free association" with the United States (the Federated States of Micronesia and the Republic of the Marshall Islands); one is a commonwealth (the Northern Mariana Islands); one is an unincorporated territory of the United States (Guam); and one (the Republic of Belau) has yet to finalize a treaty defining its relationship to the United States as of late 1990. The ethnonym "Micronesia" is primarily an artifact of European cultural categories and geographic divisions imposed as part of a larger heuristic upon the multitudinous island societies of Oceania. There is very little if any common ethnic identification or shared cultural heritage among the different island groups subsumed under this term.
Location. Micronesians in the United States and Canada are one of the smallest and most recent immigrant groups, and its characteristics are changing quickly. Very little Research has been directed toward Micronesians in the United States, and it was not until the 1980 census that Micronesians were enumerated separately from other Asian and Pacific Islanders. Consequently, geographic and demographic information on Micronesians in the United States is very sketchy. Most of the Micronesians immigrating to the United States initially take up residence in Hawaii or on the Pacific Coast. The 1980 census indicated that 55 percent of Guamanians (or Chamorros, as the indigenous people of Guam are called) in the United States reside in California. Other Micronesians, such as Chuukese, Marshallese, and Palauans, have formed small pockets of settlement in Washington, Oregon, southern California, and Texas, but the non-Guamanian Micronesians probably reside in largest numbers in Hawaii. These Pacific Islanders prefer West Coast and southern states with sunny climates similar to the tropical Pacific. Micronesians live predominantly in urban or suburban areas where they have access to the employment and educational opportunities that motivated their migration. Although the earlier immigrants—mainly the Guamanians who came to the United States in the 1950s and 1960s—may own homes in working-class suburban neighborhoods, the more recent Micronesians are mainly apartment renters in lower-class urban neighborhoods.
In Canada, the majority of immigrants from the Pacific Islands are Asian Indians who emigrated from Fiji. Pacific Islanders in Canada reside almost exclusively in British Columbia, with less than one thousand in Ontario and Manitoba.
Demography. The 1990 estimated population of the seven island entities composing Micronesia is roughly 375,000, of which the great majority are ethnic Micronesians. On the larger U.S.-affiliated islands in Micronesia there are minority communities of Americans, Filipinos, and Asians who hold professional and technical positions. Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, currently enjoying an economic surge of tourism-related growth, employ sizable numbers of Korean, Chinese, and other Asian construction workers on short-term contracts. In much of Micronesia the population was declining from the mid-nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century, owing mainly to the effects of introduced diseases in small, vulnerable populations. Since the advent of antibiotics, Micronesia has undergone a dramatic demographic reversal, and the population today is young and highly fertile. The Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) and the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) currently have annual population growth rates of over 3 percent, and the resultant population pressure is one major incentive for increasing migration to Guam, Hawaii, and the U.S. mainland. Micronesians in the United States probably numbered no more than 60,000 in 1990, of which about 85 percent were Guamanians. Demographically, Micronesians in the United States show aspects typical of new migrant Populations: a low median age (less than twenty-three, compared with the U.S. median age of thirty) and a preponderance of males over females. The largest concentration of Micronesians—roughly 20,000—is in Long Beach, California, where the naval base has attracted large numbers of Guamanians. Since November 1986, when the United States signed compacts of Free Association giving citizens of the FSM and RMI the privilege of free immigration to the United States, there has been a surge of emigrants from these two island countries. A sizable Marshallese community has grown up in Costa Mesa outside of Los Angeles. The numbers are nearly inconsequential by U.S. national standards, but the thousand or so emigrants annually from Micronesia to the United States since 1986 represents a significant outflow of people from these small island communities.
In Canada, estimates from the 1986 census indicated that there were 5,305 residents of Pacific Island origin, about 90 percent of them from Micronesia or Melanesia. Whether this figure accounts for just native Pacific Islanders or includes some Fijian Indians is unclear.
linguistic Affiliation. All Micronesian languages are part of the Austronesian family of languages, which is dispersed over nearly one-third of the globe and includes language Communities as widely separated as Madagascar, Easter Island, Hawaii, and the Philippines. None of the Micronesian Languages has a writing system that predates European contact. Even today there are very few written materials in these Languages, and orthographies are not well standardized or widely accepted. Consequently there are very few contexts outside of the family where Micronesians speak, read, or write their own languages. Guamanians born in the United States usually do not speak their language fluently. According to the 1980 U.S. census, over 50 percent of Guamanians in the United States speak only English at home. Non-Guamanian Micronesians represent a much more recent immigration, and include a larger percentage of first-generation migrants. In the 1980 census, nearly 10 percent of non-Guamanian Micronesians indicated that they speak English "not well" or "not at all."