TFB = The Fourth Branch
MM = Micronesia Mart (Ceasar Hadley)
MM: The business is owned and operated by us, Ceasar and Hiromi Hadley—originally from the island of Pohnpei. We both graduated from Pohnpei Seventh-Day Adventist High School 1986. Hiromi went to the University of Walla Walla and me to Easter Arizona College. I later transferred to Walla Walla as well, 1987. She studied business and I engineering. We were married in Walla Walla, Washington, in 1990. The fiscal challenge to support a family while attending college became too great for us so we moved back to Pohnpei and worked for Hiromi’s father at Yoshie Enterprises.
In 1995, I left Yoshie for the FSM Weather Services, where I worked until 2005. Through a NOAA NWS program, I studied at the University of Hawaii at Manoa (UH) and received a degree in Meteorology. It was during my time at UH where Hiromi and I fell in love with Hawaii.
In 2004, we came back to Hawaii for our son’s birth and to put our eldest daughter (Emi) into a Hawaii high school. Our SDA background led us to Hawaii Mission Academy, where all our children attended—youngest two, still at HMA. The middle two (we have 5 children) went to Mid Pacific Institute for high school. My FSM government salary was not enough for our small family so in 2005 I resigned and unofficially went to work for Mr. Kiyoshi Goto as a buyer for Yoshie Enterprises. Through this second stint at Yoshie and my personal desire to remain here in Hawaii where two of my children were born and all have become accustomed, I developed the courage to join my wife in business. Hiromi is a natural at this life. Even if she hadn’t been born into business, she will eventually find her way into it. Some people are just born with talent. I was just an idiot thinking that business could be my forte—boy! do I ever regret planting this seed.
In 2006 Hiro had had enough of Hawaii and also her father is advancing in years, in need of retirement. Hiro being an only child is heir apparent to Mr. Goto’s business so naturally she urged us to move back to Pohnpei, so we could help him. I being the idiot wanted to start something we can call our own (what pompous moron, I now see myself). Before our disagreement could escalate into hair pulling and some scratching, what we Pohnpeian’s call “Pidilin”, cancer happened—the irony. It seems fate has a different plan for us.
Sarau Distributors, Ltd., was founded in 2008 as an import/export company. Since we are a fairly young company, there is not much background information other than what it is and when it was established.
Micronesia Mart (MicroMart) is a retail outlet of Sarau, operating as a mini-convenience store. Its establishment (in Nov 2011) was made necessary due to the difficulty Sarau encountered in wholesaling its own imported products to local retailers. MicroMart's fundamental operating philosophy is to provide a market-price more suitable to the income of fellow Micronesians.
TFB: Your store, Micronesia Mart, has received much attention for recently being vandalized, what happened and what was the meaning behind the incident?
MM: Some individual(s) decided to spray the words “RETURN MY TAX DOLLARS” during the early morning hours on May 31st. The meaning? Your guess is as good as any. First assumption would be that this was motivated by a recent report on KITV which basically lamented the burden in the tune of about $40M which the State of Hawaii is supposedly losing by providing assistance to the Compact migrants. This report, I believe, was a second in recent months—the first of which estimated Hawaii’s financial burden at about $114M, quite a difference there (114 vs 40).
TFB: Was this a personal incident or do you believe they looked at your store as a public stage?
MM: That may be the case. However, I doubt the attack was meant personally on us (me and Hiro) or our employees. It seems to be directed at Micronesians in general, who are receiving assistance from the State. It just so happens that MicoMart has a great canvas and prime location to put a message out, as you say “public stage” (IRONY: an ignorant behavior done in a smart way). Yet, it could also mean that this person wanted MicroMart to give back the money it collected from customers who are spending their welfare/food-stamp benefits here. I’ve not done the actual math, so this is purely anecdotal based on my own observation, but it seems even, the percentage of EBT (foodstamps) customers who are Micronesian vs. non-Micronesians (mostly Caucasian, some African American, and Asian). The spread may be more 60% to 40%, respectively. Despite the near equal spread of benefit spenders, I can hazard a guess that our sales made from EBT purchases would be 90% to 10% (Micro vs. non-Micro). I’ve personally rung up sales in excess of $100 for a Micronesian whereas I’ve yet to process a transaction that is more than $10 for a non-Micronesian. Without a doubt, our EBT profit is largely through our fellow Micronesians. So the tagger is correct that we have some of their tax money, but he or she is ignoring the fact that all Micronesians pay taxes here in the US.
TFB: Have they caught the perpetrator(s)?
MM: No. I doubt they would if we had filed a complaint.
TFB: Have there been previous incidents similar to this?
MM: This was not the first time we were vandalized—there were numerous other occasions: A) spray paints on our building more than 10X; the very first time, we actually called the police-who promised to arrest the perps (as they were caught on camera); that promise, made in mid-2011 has yet to be realized; B) people urinating on our doors or walls; on one occasion, during midday, we caught an old fart pissing on our A/C unit and we called the cops, but before the cops could respond, the suspect ran aboard The Bus and we never saw him around our building again; a few others simply use our parking/garage area as a toilet; one person thought it more amusing to throw his/her feces all over our back entrance. C) we’ve had a few attempted break-ins, fortunately our alarm system seems to be a good deterrent against their plans being completed. D) Outside light fixtures have been busted off their mounting bases; electrical cables to our A/C units have been ripped off, though none have been cut, perhaps due to live current flowing through cables. It’s a miracle we have not caught a dead person attached to our A/C cables. However, in recent weeks, we’ve been free of vandals, except for that window and another tag on the adjacent wall, two weeks after the famous tax-tag.
That same window, which received the tax message was actually replaced because another idiot decided to walk up to it and throw a piece of metal at it, cracking it badly, and costing us $3,000+ to fix that mess. This incident was caught on camera and was reported to Police. We found the guy outside KFC on Keeaumoku. The cops who responded refused to arrest him, even take him in for questioning, arguing that our video footage although it captured his entire body from head down, it did not record his FACE. Never mind his clothes, backpack, wristband, headband, shades on top his head, and the patterns on his shirt. Police also argue that his black pants appeared greenish on our video surveillance footage (and I pointed out that so were their black Police uniforms, which also appeared greenish). Most troubling was that one of our employees ran to the window as soon as the glass broke and saw the suspect himself standing about 3feet away from the window, nobody else but the Police argue that my employee did not actually witness the perp throw the disc. BUT the camera caught him (oh, but not his face straight on). I suppose the reasoning behind their argument was the real perp threw the disc, and ran off, while another man of similar features, exact hair length (even matching balding spots), exact floral patterns on his aloha shirt, with similar wrist band, similar sunglasses, similar height and build, suddenly appeared in front of the window and so put himself in a “wrong place at the wrong time’ type of situation. Never mind that my employee caught the person in the few seconds it took him to run less than 15feet.
TFB: Before opening the store, did you have other names besides “Micronesia Mart” and did you think that you’d receive such a negative reaction because of the name?
MM: The store’s name was selected under great protest from our own children who feared that the name will create more socio-economic problems for our small family, not to mention the stress/trouble from the business side of using a “Micronesia” label. Not only them, but so did our business associates who counseled that it will drive away non-Micronesian customers, even our vendors question the marketing wisdom in using this name. Surprisingly, a couple of our Pohnpeian leaders took the trouble of sending us a request to remove the word Micronesia, one of them was an FSM Congressman—that’s how bad.
Other names considered: Kaselehlie Mart, Kaselehlie Corner, Hadley Store, Yoshi’s (after our son Yoshiemune) or Koko’s Corner (after our youngest daughter), C & H Mart (Hiro thought this unfair because it may just sound like Ceasar Hadley, lol). We never really considered “Pohnpei” because our goal was all FSMers. We toyed with FSM in the name but decided on Micronesia because it represents 1) us politically and 2) geographically all of the Pacific islands south of Hawaii down to the Equator. At one point these islands were grouped together as the US Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands located in the region of Micronesia.
We knew we were going to be targeted by the small group of “locals” who view us as “roaches”. I personally wanted the name out there to show our critics that we are not what the media mostly portray us to be, and to some degree I wanted it to be “Yeah, I’m Micronesian, and I OWN my land, and my store. Take that!” kind-of attitude.
The name has since elevated our business to mean something more than just merely a store—but rather a symbol of pride to many Micronesians who always remark with “our” instead of “this” or “your” store. When we hired our staff, I usually end the interview with what seems to them, I’m sure, a boring, elongated attempt of calling pride to our nationality—that we are ambassadors of the FSM. In any case, the name politically has united a great many of us. In the business sense, it is still suffering from the assumptions or misconceptions of what a mart is. Most people mistake it as an ethnic store selling ethnic food. Just last week, one customer, who appeared Caucasian, asked, “So what makes this Micronesia Mart.” To which I replied, “Me,” and pointing to our Chuukese cashier, “And her.”
The name is intended necessarily to imply that this establishment is owned and operated by Micronesians and caters to Micronesians, but we welcome all people. Incidentally, the other name SARAU, which is our registered company, is a Pohnpeian word meaning ‘barracuda”. In our Pohnpeian culture, each clan associates itself with a creature as its totem. I am of the Sounpelienpil Clan—aht eni ieih sarau.
TFB: Do you think that the hate and discrimination towards Micronesians are more because of lack of understanding or do you believe that the people of Hawaii have a good case to be angry with COFA citizens living in Hawaii?
MM: Mostly lack of understanding, but we usually come across a few ignorant individuals who have nothing else better than to blame their lot in life on the newest group of people who appear different. Here is another irony, most of the ignorant ones, were they be transplanted to our islands, would fit right at home with their appearance, their dress, their limitations in social etiquette, etc. This is much like the kettle hating on the pot for being black.
One can make a case about the anger issue, but that also boils down to lack of understanding. The circumstances by which we are allowed entry or residency surprise a few people with whom I’ve had the opportune time to chat. Most usually mistake us for Marshallese—that bombing sympathy thing. I usually tell the ones who are more polite to say to me that they are trying to accept us that yes their anger in numerous instances are appropriate, because we in our own country would be against non-locals who disrespect the social norms, so much so that our actions result in law enforcement interventions. I’ve had so many cases as a Pohnpeian interpreter at the courts where I see these: cases from petty theft, public indecency, trespass, disorderly conduct, traffic violations, to assault and battery (even the sexual kind). Per these, I believe their anger is appropriate, but not to the point of hate and discrimination.
I also try to tell the unreasonable ones to place the blame correctly: directly on their own Congress who made a pact with FSM without really fully disclosing to Hawaii or Guam the consequences that they will have to bear. I also remind these less informed “locals” that the COFA is not charity, it is business down to the core—US has veto power over our air and water for a period of 20years, in return FSM receives financial assistance not only in our own country but while on US soil. As a courtesy between business partners, we are freely associated. We can enter and reside, and the US vice versa. FSM (and Marshalls and Palau) through the respective COFAs extended the boundary of US Homeland Security fence westward past the Marianas Trench to the EEZ(s) of the Philippines, of Papua New Guinea and Kiribati to the south. Without the COFA this safety net does not exist, and suddenly North Korea’s nuclear threats would be more alarming—I usually point out that Pearl Harbor was easily attacked because the Japanese Imperial Navy used Micronesia as a mini base. I remember being interviewed a couple of times and sat in a meeting regarding the Compact negotiations when I was the director of FSM Weather Services. The US was really playing hardball, right up until the 9/11 attack in 2001. So, to some I say blame Osama Bin Ladin because it is no coincidence that Compact II became a reality readily after 9/11.
But, I also tell the misinformed that I am one of several other Micronesians who are begging our own FSM leaders to do something about the mass emigrations, that there also should be a program through which our own government conducts proper screening or orientation of Micronesians coming into the US. It is unfair for Hawaii (and Guam) to have to take on the burden of bailing me out of trouble when I could have avoided the whole thing by staying home, out of harm’s way. FSM could also provide the jobs that our less educated ones are being falsely drawn out to, only to find that life is harsh without proper training or skill and that welfare is the easiest solution.
TFB:Many groups have risen to defend Micronesians living in Hawaii, such as Micronesians United. Individual supporters have also risen in support like congresswomen Mazie Hirono and Colleen Hanabusa to name a few. Do you feel like leadership from COFA states are not doing enough to support their citizens living abroad?
MM: As alluded to in my previous statement, though I am constantly pleading with any leader who crosses my path, my firm belief is that the FSM leadership, federal or state, has done very little if any. On a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being the least support, I give our leadership a minus 2 (yes negative 2) and you can quote me on this.
TFB: Thank you for this opportunity. Would you like to close with any advice you might have for fellow Micronesians looking to get into business?
MM: My comments here or above are purely mine and from my own personal experience. America is truly the land of opportunities. However, this is Hawaii. It is not what you know or have, it is WHO you know and WHO you have. This is America and still the color of your skin really for the most part determines how much of that opportunity you will get.
If I knew what I was getting into, I would have joyfully taken on my wife’s invitation and gone home to my paradise. But because I was an idiot, I am here, stuck at the corner of Kapiolani and Kalakaua. Though the fool I may be, I am determined to make it work.
Here is my 2cents on businesses such as ours: Retail operation is more tedious than wholesale distribution. Wholesale however cannot survive without a huge customer base as is Retail but not so much. Price is the game. If you can market the same item at a lower price you will get more looks your way, the trick is to keep them looking, so you have to carry a spectrum of inventory that catches the eyes (this is where my darling wife is at her best, selecting what merchandise to put out there). Family support is crucial, your time will be limited; in our case it is easier because wife and husband work as a team. Oh, very important: managing your CAPITAL, of your finances, this is what makes or kills you. Until you get the ball rolling down the hill, DO NOT, under no circumstance, over-draw against your capital. You blink and your expenses will drown you like you were swimming in the Chuuk lagoon with 1000lbs of rock on each of your legs.
Please visit the Micronesia Mart website and Facebook page.