Date of Award

August 2016

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Jamie Winders


Arkansas, Citizenship, Marshall Islands, Migration, Race, U.S. Empire

Subject Categories

Social and Behavioral Sciences


This dissertation examines Marshall Islander migration to Arkansas as an outcome of an international agreement, the Compact of Free Association, between the U.S. and the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI), a former U.S. territory. While the Compact marked the formal end of U.S. colonial administration over the islands, it also re-entrenched imperial power relations between the two countries, at once consolidating U.S. military access to the islands and creating a Marshallese diaspora whose largest resettlement site is now Springdale, Arkansas. As a result, Springdale, an “all-white town” for much of the 20th century, has recently been remade by Marshallese and also Latino immigration, nearly tripling in size in the past three decades. I examine U.S. empire through three interrelated lenses: through an imperial policy, the Compact of Free Association (COFA); through an imperial diaspora, the Marshallese diaspora; and through the town of Springdale, Arkansas, a new immigrant destination for Marshall Islanders, which I argue has become a new destination of empire. These three lenses reveal how empire’s interrelated workings—migration, militarization, racialization, labor, detention, capitalism, and the law, among others—inform one another to uphold U.S. imperial power and how U.S. empire both engenders and constrains mobility for its subjects. I argue that COFA status, the visa-free immigration status granted to Marshallese immigrants, is a type of imperial citizenship and that its partial, contingent, and revocable character produces precarity for those who hold it, placing them alongside other groups of imperial citizens from U.S. non-sovereign territories. Due to a lack of awareness of U.S. empire, however, long-term residents in new destinations of empire like Springdale are unable to comprehend Marshall Islanders as imperial citizens. Instead, their interpretations of Marshall Islanders’ presence are woven back into dominant narratives of U.S. exceptionalism. Such interpretations of why COFA status exists exemplify and perpetuate an occlusion of U.S. empire. In Springdale, in other words, the refrain—‘We are here because you were there’, commonly used to explain the presence of imperial migrants elsewhere—was never heard and, thus, never placed in the context of empire.


Open Access