THINKING of Saipan’s future, I am not as bleak as others. In fact, I am quite optimistic about the ability of Saipan to recover from its Covid-induced economic woes.
I recently wrote down a list of things Saipan has in its favor, assets both tangible and intangible that could pave the future with good bedrock. See if you agree with my list.
Nature. The Northern Mariana Islands possess what many countries around the world do not: a beautiful location and bountiful natural resources. Although a little warm for some, the climate and latitude are heavenly for a great many visitors. For locals, the lush growing season and generous rainfall means that crops do well. The reefs are healthy for the most part, providing still more resources for locals and more attractions for visitors.
Northern Marianas College. Under the energetic leadership of its new president, Dr. Galvin Deleon Guerrero, the college has a solid plan for a growing future. When I read his letter in the Marianas Variety, entitled “Sailing Ahead: A Look to NMC’s Future,” I knew the college was in goods hands. See what you learn by reading it. Not long ago, the college was a storm-battered shell with few prospects. Now there is a plan to move forward. The college is already taking steps to resume its role in helping the NMI to prosper.
The United States. Whether you like stateside Americans or not, having a strong relationship with Uncle Sam gives the people of the Marianas great advantages over other island nations. We can start with the economic benefits. The United States supplies the islands with millions of dollars each year to build its infrastructure. In times of disaster, such as Covid or a typhoon, the NMI can recover in years what would take decades for others. And coming under the protective shield of the American military means that the people of the Marianas can devote the money that would have been spent on defense to other things.
Immigrants. In my view, the large influx of foreigners living in the islands is a blessing, not a curse. The Filipinos, Palauans, Chinese and Chuukese all bring different assets to the NMI. I acknowledge that right now, the United States is showing the world that a cultural melting pot is a bad idea, a source of friction, instability, and social unrest, but it does not have to be that way. Immigrants can bring enormous talents and resources that enable the Marianas Islands to recover from hardship. Tap into that.
Locals. When I tell stories about life on Saipan, they inevitably come back to the people. A story of Herman Indalecio making me laugh until my sides hurt. A story of climbing Grandma Castro’s tree in search of fruit. A story from Tomasa Mafnas about how she hitched a ride on the sugar train as a young girl. A story of hiking around Bird Island with a group of young islanders. A story of sharing a meal with a family that are no longer strangers. A story of Kevin Hidalgo guiding me to Old Man by the Sea for the first time and a forging a lasting friendship in the process.
Of course, having many assets and turning those assets into meaningful, positive change are two different things. Many societies have squandered their assets or made decisions that rendered them useless. Are the people and politicians of the island community willing to take the necessary steps, willing to make the hard choices? Can they? Yes. Will they? Hmmm.
BC Cook, PhD lived on Saipan and has taught history for 20 years. He currently resides on the mainland U.S.