The Marshallese in Arkansas and other unexpected diasporas

Dylan Thuras is a guest blogger on Boing Boing. Dylan is a travel blogger and the co-founder of the Atlas Obscura: A Compendium of the World's Wonders, Curiosities, and Esoterica, with Joshua Foer.

Marshallese Sea Turtle.png

A friend of mine just returned to the US after a year spent teaching, spear fishing, and eating giant clams in the Marshall islands. The Marshall islands are most known for being home to Bikini Atoll site of the U.S. nuclear tests. (It is also home to the Cactus Dome, a gigantic concrete slab built to cover the enormous pile of radioactive dirt left behind.) One of the interesting things my friend told me is that the largest group of Marshallese living outside the islands can be found at the foothills of the Ozarks in Springfield Springdale, Arkansas.

The Marshallese diaspora can be traced to one man, a Marshallese man named John Moody who took a job at Tyson Chicken in the 1980s. When he returned home to the islands, he let everyone know that there were jobs available at Tyson and that he would help people get setup in Springdale. Unfortunately the Arkansas Marshallese diaspora hasn't been much of a boon to the islands, with most of the money going out of the islands and into Arkansas to help with the expenses of America. Today roughly 6,000-8,000 Marchellese live in Springdale, and at a given time fifty percent of Tyson Chicken's floor staff are from the Marshall islands. The Marshallese do not generally wear shoes inside, and work at Tyson barefoot with mesh booties covering their feet. You will also note a large number of CB antennas on cars in the area as the Marshallese tend to use CB radios, as they do on the islands, rather then cell phones to communicate.

This also reminded me of another unexpected diaspora I had read about, the large Mennonite community in Belize. Roughly 10,000 Russian Mennonites live in Belize, farming the land and living according to their religious beliefs. All of which leads me to the question, what are some other unexpected diasporas around the world? A good overview of the Marshallese in Arkansas can be found here


  1. There is a sizable Hmong community in and around Appleton, Wisconsin (approximately 5 percent of the population).

  2. I just wanted to offer a small correction – I’m relatively sure that you mean the town of Springdale, not Springfield (Springdale is the home of Tyson’s chicken, Springfield is two hours away in Missouri). I used to work at the Springdale library, and it made me happy that the Springdale Marshallese community got a mention on Boing Boing!

  3. It’s SpringDALE, not SpringFIELD, Arkansas.

    There have been stories on the local tv news and in the papers about problems with the Marshallese living 18-24 people in a 2-bedroom house, including one story where a child taken to the hospital covered in mouse bites ( and after living in a dirty house with 22 other people.

    Stories like that aren’t uncommon.

    It doesn’t sound like the move to Springdale has been good for the Marshallese, especially since Northwest Arkansas has a bustling economy, even now (just named #2 best place in nation to ride out the recession by Forbes mag).

  4. Yes, I have seen the Mennonites in belize, I was flabbergasted as it was the last thing I expected to see. Apparently they are not as strict clothing wise as the Penn amish

  5. The Amish also have a significant community in northern Mexico (IIRC). In fact, Mexico has a number of interesting subcommunities, including red-haired descendants of Cornish miners and a sizable northern European population. German and Swiss brewers kept several kinds of Vienna lagers alive in Mexico while the style died out in Europe.

  6. One correction: Per the linked article, the Marshallese are in Springdale rather than Springfield.

    Springdale is part of the odd little Northwest Arkansas metroplex, where four small Ozark cities have sprawled into each other. It includes Fayetteville, home of the University of Arkansas, and Bentonville, home of Wal-Mart Stores.

    There’s a large Hispanic contingent thanks to Tyson and the only synagogue in a skillion miles thanks to Wal-Mart:

  7. As a native Arkansan, I have to admit I’ve been enlightened. In fact, I used to live in northwest Arkansas and never knew about this. I imagine they’re far outnumbered by the, um, Mexican diaspora by now. BTW, it’s Springdale, not Springfield.

  8. Turtle: Really dudes? Can you let me go now?

    As a former Arkansan, I’m glad to hear it. That place could surely use *some* kind of diversity.

  9. lessee, “civilization” shows up, sets off some hydrogen bombs and then lectures the natives about not eating turtles because it’s mean? Or better yet: “bad for the environment”?

  10. There is a rather large Vietnamese and Laotian population in small towns in South Central Louisiana.

  11. There is a enclave of Mexicans that has populated Phoenix, Arizona and the surrounding area.

  12. Iron Mountain, Michigan, off U.S. Highway 2 in the Upper Peninsula, is home to descendants of Cornish miners who emigrated to the U.S. in the 1880s to work the mines there.

    It’s probably the only place in the U.S. where you can buy a Cornish pastie at the 7-11.

    Fatla genes, Iron Mountain?

  13. More Tongans reside in the Hurst/Euless/Bedford region of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metromess than in any where else in the world besides Tonga.

  14. A company I worked for had a small diaspora of Laotians on our assembly lines. One had been hired and proved to be an excellent worker. She introduced us to relatives & friends who were also very reliable staff. Before long our entire production line was from Laos! If any of them was sick or needed a day off a replacement would automatically show up to cover for them.

    Thanksgiving was fun, they’d bring delicious traditional dishes for us to share.

  15. Hey Takuan (#17), getting nuked doesn’t justify turtle abuse.

    Although, it might explain the desire to lash out at turtles, I guess.

    In any case, I’d imagine the nuke-ers and the turtle rights people are two, separate groups of Westerners.

  16. Largest Afgani population outside of Afganistan is in Fremont California (centerville). Bigups Little Kabul.

  17. follow me:

    I’ve swam with green turtles and snuck up behind them to tap them on the shoulder. Never rode them as some did, too disrespectful – and a good way to lose a finger if your grip was wrong. The local fishermen would leave the odd one on the dock, belly up, all day and gut it out later after it had weakened. I’m not sure if they cut the throat first or not. I watched one old guy from a distance, pulling handfuls of intestines out and turning his head to heave every now and then. Never tried the meat. The man who taught me to spearfish and live through freediving alone on the open sea told me of once spearing a turtle. “It screamed like a woman”. He never hunted them after that.

    The clean and brutal fact is that if you live on an island you eat what you can get. The odd turtle I saw missing a shark-bitten limb was also a reminder that you were potential dinner too.

  18. Columbus, Ohio has had a fair number of Somali immigrants over the last few years. Exact numbers are hard to come by, but the generally quoted number is around 35,000. Some recent re-statements of that have said it is probably closer to 15,000. In either case, it’s a lot, but not a huge portion of the population in a 1.7 million+ smsa.

    Unfortunately, like any waves of immigrants, they have encountered a lot of xenophobia and racism. Any single crime is credited by bigots to the group as a whole. But overall I think the community has welcomed them (perhaps that’s naive wishful thinking, though).

    It’s hard to reconcile a privileged white person complaining about the “costs” incurred in helping a Somali immigrant that is escaping oppression, rape, and death. Like it’s not worth some tax money to help an entire community that’s trying to start over from scratch in a foreign land. I just have to mutter to myself “dey took arr jerbs!” as a way to calm down.

  19. Serbians on Tierra Del Fuego.

    In Oregon we have enclaves of Russian Old Believers in Woodburn, and Basques in the great basin country.

    I am sure there are Tamil groups in far flung places like Sweden.

  20. Dculberson:

    There are Somalis in Minneapolis too, you made me remember that. In 2007, I even saw public transport instructions in English and Somali in the train that goes from downtown to the Airport.

    And there were a lot of Somalis in the Mall of America too. It was a bit odd to see black women in hiyab and chador in front of a giant model of Paul Bunyan. Eerily refreshing.

  21. There are some 150,000 Tamils living here in Toronto, reportedly the largest Tamil community outside of India and Sri Lanka.

  22. Samoans in Lawton, Oklahoma.

    Some joined US Army, brought families over.

    Roofing crew of Samoans put new roof on the ed bldg of the church I pastor on cold & windy winter day. All were linebacker big. And sang the sweetest Samoan hymns, in parts. Wow.

  23. There’s a large and influential Lebanese population in Peoria, Illinois. US Secretary of Transportation (and former long-time US Representative) Ray LaHood is one; there’s also a local dentist named Floyd Rashid, whose sign I see regularly.

  24. Besides the Somali, Minneapolis is also has Hmong and Ethiopian communities.

    In fact, as somebody mentioned above, you’ll see a lot of public signage printed in English, Hmong, Somali, and Spanish.

    My understanding is that all these groups started out as refugee placements. I’m not sure whether Minneapolis is just a very friendly city for newcomers, or whether the person at the US State Department in charge of finding homes for refugees from hot climates has a sick sense of humor.

    Interestingly, I’ve heard (but have no idea whether it’s true) that there’s an older Hmong guy who used to be a general in Vietnam and who has attempted to stage a couple of revolutions against the current Vietnamese government from his living room in Golden Valley.

  25. The city of Esmeraldas in Ecuador is really quite interesting. Many years ago a slave ship en route from Africa ran aground where the Esmeraldas river meets the ocean, and the slaves escaped, killing most of the crew. They established a small settlement there, which has since grown to a rather large city of nearly 200,000 inhabitants, the majority of which are Afro-Ecuadorian. I lived there for nearly a year in 2000, and was (almost) the only white person in the entire city.

  26. #35-when he said great basin country, what he meant was HOLY CRAP, RENO! There is a giant Basque monument near the ‘N’ painted on the mountain for the University of Nevada, Reno.

    Anyone who’s ever gotten lost in a herd of sheep on their way to Burning Man has also come across the strangeness of having a huge Basque population. Or had a classmate confide “so my parents are trying to hook me up with my cousin…”

  27. Boston’s north shore, upwards to Lowell and NH is home to a huge, huge Cambodian population. Second only to Hunnington Beach I think.

  28. I am originally from northwestern Mexico and it is quite common to buy fresh dairy products from the Mennonites there. Their fresh cheese is the tastiest!

    So, when I was briefly living in Belize and we went to visit the Mennonite community, I was not at all surprised or puzzled by their presence there! It seemed pretty normal to me.

    You mean to tell me there aren’t Mennonite communities in the rural areas of every region? This explains a LOT! XD

  29. Malawians in South Bend, Indiana
    Lots of Basques in Boise, Idaho as well as other places mentioned
    Armenians in Glendale, California

  30. #20, I think it’s more accurate to say that there is a small settlement of gringos in those cities. A lot of hispanic families in the southwest US have been there since before the Mexican-American War. At least that’s true in the San Luis valley of Colorado. There are family farms there that got their land deeds from the Spanish colonial government.

  31. lessee, “civilization” shows up, sets off some hydrogen bombs and then lectures the natives about not eating turtles because it’s mean? Or better yet: “bad for the environment”?

    Spare me the self righteous history lesson and scare quotes about civilization. I wasn’t “lecturing” anybody on anything, in fact I was just *joking* about how bummed the turtle looks in that picture. I’m not some environmental/animal rights fanatic. Yeesh, get off your high horse.

  32. @ anonymous, #44, about the Hmong general who “has attempted to stage a couple of revolutions”, I think you may be referring to Vang Pao. He’s from Laos, whose government he was allegedly plotting to overthrow, and I think he’s part of the Hmong ex-pat community based in Fresno (which I think may have the 2nd largest Hmong population in America, to Minneapolis. Or vice versa).

  33. lousy turtle lover

    I do hear that turtle soup’s good eatin’, but I’d never condone making love to a turtle.

  34. “Take a large calf’s head. Scald off the hair. Boil it until the horn is tender, then cut it into slices about the size of your finger, with as little lean as possible. Have ready three pints of good mutton or veal broth, put in it half a pint of Madeira wine, half a teaspoonful of thyme, pepper, a large onion, and the peel of a lemon chop’t very small. A ¼ of a pint of oysters chop’t very small, and their liquor; a little salt, the juice of two large onions, some sweet herbs, and the brains chop’t. Stand all these together for about an hour, and send it up to the table with the forcemeat balls made small and the yolks of hard eggs”

  35. Lowell, MA is home to the 2nd largest group of Cambodians in the USA.

    #1 is Long Beach, California, my hometown, not Huntington Beach, as one commenter mistakenly remembered.

    There’s a small contingent of Molokans (sort of the Russian Orthodox equivalent of Mennonites) who settled around Boyle Heights and elsewhere around the Eastside of Los Angeles about 100 years ago.

  36. “Unexpected” can mean a number of things.

    former Yugoslavia (Albanians, Montenegro, Macedonia)in Bethel, Alaska

    Samoans and American Samoans in Anchorage, Alaska

    Old Believers (Russia) in southern Alaska

    Koreans in Bethel, Alaska

    recently Hmong, Sudanese, Somali relocating to Anchorage

  37. Takuan at #17 writes:

    > lessee, “civilization” shows up, sets off some hydrogen bombs and then lectures the natives about not eating turtles because it’s mean?

    well yeah – if you want to group millions of different people’s actions over many decades into one word, “civilization”, go right ahead.

  38. The eastern suburb of Kingsford in Sydney, Australia is home to one of the largest communities of former inhabitants of the now almost empty island of Kastelorizo.

  39. Somalis in Cardiff, South Wales. First as crew for merchant ships, a later more recent wave as refugees joining their established countrymen.

    Poles in Swindon in the south west of England as refugees after WWII. Many had been based locally during the war and imported their families after, or they relocated to Swindon from a refugee camp at nearby RAF Fairford after the war.

    The same town has a smaller but noted Italian community. I was told that it originated when POWs released on parole to assist on farms during WWII decided to stick around when hostilities ended.

  40. Would Pitcairn Islands count? Need some more examples of non American (N and S) diasporas ;)

  41. There are many Prussian-Ukrainian-Argentinian Mennonites in southern Ontario. Originally forced to leave Prussia in the 19th century, they settled in Ukraine, only to be uprooted again in the early-mid 20th. Many settled in south and central America, then moved up to Ontario to farm in the late 20th century.

    Hence you have folks with German names who speak Spanish, drink yerba mate, and make fantastic pierogies.

  42. Toronto has a large population of Maltese, Australia also has a large population of Maltese probably in Melbourne or Sydney.

  43. @Takuan: mock-turtle soup recipe FTW! Is that from the Martha Washington cookbook, or some other contemporary source?

    Out here in St. Louis, we’ve had several waves of immigrants coming into contiguous neighborhoods. The Vietnamese have settled in the South Grand neighborhood, while Bosnians and Serbs have moved into Bevo Mill immediately to the south and west. Immediately south of South Grand is turning into an enclave for Somali Bantus, and south of that, the Carondelet neighborhood has a growing northern Mexican population. So you get nuoc mam, mole poblano and cevapci in the same grocery store. Then there’s the Vietnamese Buddhist temple, the Catholic church with three Spanish masses daily, and the mosque all within literal shouting distance of each other. There have been some conflicts here and there, but mostly we all get along.

  44. Just for you, Takuan.

    “Beautiful Soup, so rich and green,
    Waiting in a hot tureen!
    Who for such dainties would not stoop?
    Soup of the evening, beautiful Soup!
    Beautiful Soup!
    Beautiful Soup!
    Soup of the evening,
    Beautiful, beautiful Soup!

    Beautiful Soup! Who cares for fish,
    Game, or any other dish?
    Who would not give all else for two
    Pennyworth only of beautiful Soup?
    Beautiful Soup!
    Beautiful Soup!
    Soup of the evening,
    Beautiful, beautiful soup!”

  45. Koreans and Greeks in Central Asia:

    Canadian-Portuguese singer Nelly Kim Furtado was named after Soviet gymnast Nellie Kim, whose father was an ethnic Korean living in Tajikistan and whose mother was a Tatar.

  46. I love these surprising groups. A couple I am personally familiar with:

    Tongans in mid-cities Dallas-Fort Worth area, as mentioned before. The church in Euless I attended as a kid had one (probably 1/4 Tongan) English-speaking congregation and 3 Tongan-speaking congregations.

    Basque in the Great Basin, as also mentioned. Boise has a large Basque community and some great restaurants and community centers.

    And I’m pretty sure the proper designation is that of a large, Anglo presence throughout the Southwest. Did you know that they are responsible for most of the crime in the area? Shocking what’s happened to these neighborhoods.

  47. #68 got here ahead of me. There are more Pitcairners on Norfolk Island than on Pitcairn.
    Norfolk considers itself an independent part of the British commonwealth, but Austrailia considers it Australian, so there’s some tension. An interesting thing about Pitcairners is they all speak english, but also have a second language which combines english sailor slang and polynesian elements and some things that are just local island jargon.

  48. There are hundreds if not thousands of Burmese and Laotian immigrants in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

  49. Some interesting comunities:

    Tibetans in Switserland (3500)
    Lipka Tatars in Poland and Lithuania
    Moluccans in the Netherlands
    Burghers (Dutch) in Sri Lanka
    Portugese in Hawai’i
    Jewish community of Antwerp
    Javanese in Surinam

  50. Top cities (proportionately) for those born in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2000:

    1. West Buechel, KY (housing, pop. 1,301): 16.6%
    …which is made upeveral other large groups as well.
    Then supposedly 1% of the population of Nashville is supposedly now of Kurdish descent (This year’s U.S. census, unfortunately, has been downsized to the point that we will have no way of knowing.)

    Hamtramck, Michigan is populated mostly by people of Arabic, Slavic and East Indian descent.

    Then there’s the Hmong in Wausau, WI

    I hear Bloomington Indiana has a lot of Tibetans.

    Here is a list of the top cities for each country in 2000 (you can find a number of other even more surprise diasporas there):
    Far far to many to mention. Just scroll a bit over (1/3)rd down

  51. Samoans in Kansas city ,Mo / Indiapolis , IN / Fairbanks , AK / Tampa , FL / Fort Bragg , NC / Topeka , KS / Atlanta , GA /

  52. In Mexico it is a federal offense to mistreat a sea turtle like that. Also, the Marshallese began migrating to Springdale in the 1970s and then again in the mid 1990s.

  53. Someone above said that Walmart is thank for the presence of a synagogue in Fayetteville, Ark. My understanding is that the presence of the state’s largest university was draw and center of the Jewish community in NWA. Walmart’s HQ had nothing to do with it.

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