Monday, October 29, 2012

United Against Hallow, Inc

 Students at Ebon Elementary School, Republic of the Marshall Islands, 2006

In 2006-2007, I lived and worked as a volunteer English teacher in the Republic of the Marshall Islands, a tiny, independent island nation in the Pacific comprised of 70 square miles of land spread out over 750,000 square miles of open ocean. Between 1946 and 1962, the United States of America detonated a staggering SIXTY SEVEN nuclear bombs in the Marshall Islands –- the equivalent of thousands of Hiroshimas. Nuclear fallout from the bombs, some of which were laced with plutonium, continues to affect Marshallese citizens today in the form of high cancer rates, birth defects, environmental degradation, displacement and poverty. To add insult to injury, the Marshallese people allege that the U.S. government then used them as guinea pigs to study the long-term effects of radiation through a covert initiative dubbed “Project 4.1.”

This Halloween, a company in Rockville, Maryland is using these tragic events as a source of profit and entertainment.

Hallow, Inc., “a team of five young, talented entrepreneurs” based in a wealthy D.C. suburb, recently launched an urban haunted house called “The Warehouse: Project 4.1” depicting deformed, zombified Marshallese citizens as radioactive monsters let loose in a medical lab.

The premise of the $30 haunted house (explained to visitors via an introductory video) is that “specimens” suffering from nuclear fallout in the Marshall Islands were sent to a medical lab in Maryland to scare the bejeezus out of middle-class suburbanites. According to one review, “The actors do an excellent job (especially the female zombie holding a baby) and the tension never lets up!”

It might seem entertaining – until you consider the image of a real-life Marshallese woman holding her deformed child, a sight all too common in the Marshall Islands.

From a distance, the Marshall Islands look a bit like paradise. Though they are dealing with many of the problems common to developing nations (clean water shortages, lack of medical care, poverty, trash), these issues are framed by stunning natural beauty and a warm and generous culture. Imagine glowing turquoise lagoons, vibrant coral reefs and white-sand beaches, combined with people that value family, love music and retain cultural traditions despite a host of external pressures. In Marshallese culture, birthday parties are celebrated not by bringing gifts to the host family, but by the host family giving away their belongings to guests. After a successful keemem (first birthday party), a Marshallese family might be left without a pot left to cook in – but they know they'll be cared for by the community.

The generosity of the Marshallese people is further exemplified by a letter written to supporters of Hallow, Inc by Sherwood Tibon, a Marshallese citizen living in Hawaii. “Do I want to burn the US Flag every time I'm reminded of the horrors of Project 4.1?” he asks. “You bet! But I'm not going to. I'm not going to because I truly believe that the American people are a great people. It shows in the multitude of friends we have ... who've poured their hearts out and show their support to our cause. It shows through their tireless efforts to bring change to Hallow Inc.'s theme.”

He continues: “I understand your position and I'm not going to judge you. However, if you have a heart, which I know you do, I ask you to please pray for our victims and their families … who were directly involved in Project 4.1. Pray that one-day they may see justice; pray that one-day our children and their children's children won't have to endure what our generation has endured. Living in a nuclear (free) world is and forever will be our goal.”

Thanks to a Facebook-driven protest 2,400 members strong and a persistent campaign of letter-writing, petitioning, online reviews and media outreach, Hallow, Inc's website now includes a disclaimer that the zombies in their attraction are not meant to actually represent Marshallese citizens, and that a “portion” of the profits will be donated to a women's group in the Marshall Islands. Still, Marshallese and American protesters (including myself) do not believe that an obscure disclaimer hidden on a website is adequate compensation for a grossly insensitive enterprise that seeks to trivialize and capitalize on the suffering of innocent people.

If the Maryland “haunted house” was to end in November, one might be inclined to let it go. But a recent interview with Hallow, Inc suggests that they plan to carry forth this successful business venture for years to come, spreading it to urban centers across the U.S. each October.

It's for this reason that we are respectfully asking Hallow, Inc to change the premise of their attraction to one that does not continue to remind the 20,000 Marshallese citizens living in the U.S. of the real-life horrors inflicted on their parents, grandparents, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles and children. Keep the zombies. Keep the gore. Keep the money. Just change the background to a story that does not send the message that the people of the United States dismiss such atrocities as mere entertainment.

Until Hallow, Inc complies with this simple request, we will continue to make our voices heard. Please join us by signing this petition, telling your friends and, above all, boycotting Hallow, Inc's attractions until this is resolved. 

Thank you. Kommol tata. 

 Arriving by boat to a keemem on Ebon atoll, Marshall Islands


  1. You said it perfectly, Krista. Readers, if you haven't signed our petition yet, will you please head over there?

  2. Wow, Krista. This is an exceptional piece of writing. I urge you to share it with as many people as possible (including the media and Hallow Inc's sponsors). Well done.


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