On Being Chamorro...
“Fine manners need the support of fine manners in others.”
-Ralph Waldo Emerson
This is my personal take on being Chamorro. It’s not a matter of “how much” Chamorro I am—although there have been many times when I had to prove my percentage, but for clarity, my late father is Chamorro and my mother is Korean. I grew up on Guam and was essentially raised in a Chamorro household with my wonderful mother adopting, implementing and educating us in the ways of being Chamorro. Don’t get me wrong, kim chee was and is a staple in our home. And many of my self-deprecating and accommodating manners are ingrained in my DNA from being Asian, and I love it.
Being a part of CHE’LU, Chamorro Hands in Education Links Unity, has been an ethnic lifesaver for me--one who married a Chamorro man and left the island in 2004. I feared leaving the island because I didn’t know a life outside of it. I was comfortable in my teaching career. And because of cultural norms, I was fine having my mom and dad living in the home they helped me purchase in Mangilao. I was 25 and my father’s one goal for his children was to give us a leg up in obtaining our own “hut.” Being the only daughter, naturally they followed me to this new home and we settled in, my dad saying, “Girl, mom and I will move out when you get married.” Newly single at the time and resigned to the idea that I could live the rest of my life solo, I was okay with that, even thankful. And when my parents began getting blueprints drawn up to build a studio on the same property so they could be extra near, I was still okay. This was the Chamorro way after all. Being “near” and being “supportive.” Some might say, parents never really letting go, but I turned out okay, I believe.
When I lost my father in 2007, I was set adrift. I had no direct, trustworthy source to my ethnic heritage. Just because you grow up on Guam, doesn’t mean you have a total appreciation of your culture, the language and the customs. I’ve never even been to Talofofo Falls! That’s how I explain taking my island for granted to others.
So, leaving Guam again after my father’s funeral (his 5th year death anniversary is this March 31st), I feared for my cultural preservation, for the type of Chamorros my children would be. I wanted them to have their Tata Tedy in their lives, but fate would dictate otherwise.
Fast forward to 2010, when Alison, my mali’ and I formed Guam Books and Beads. I didn’t start our business to make a statement, but to pay homage to my heritage and mostly my father. The statement came naturally afterward. The books I authored and share with my kid brother artist, Sonny, were meant to be something tangible for my children. I’ve received praise from old friends, family and new friends. What I’ve noticed is that some people in my circle either do one of three things: 1. praise/support me, 2. ignore me, 3. attempt to criticize/belittle my endeavors. I’ve grown a thick skin in the last two years. I embrace those who have a kind word. Even, critical, like the “uncle” who bought my book, read it and proudly pointed out a typo within the first half hour of my first major event. Anyone who knows me—control Type A, perfectionist when it comes to my writing, knows that his actions were an affront. (But, I digress. I smiled at “uncle” and thanked him.) I appreciate friends and family who provide support and encouragement. And, more importantly, I ignore category 3. Pile on the constructive criticism, but not the destructive toxic words.
I’ve found that as the timer counts down to the 3rd Chamorro Cultural Fest, the supporters of our work are shining through. I thank them. If we are to survive as a people, we need more positive energy. We need to network. We need to extract the Chamorro pride in some, which is dormant. Don’t allow your children, teenagers to roll their eyes at being from Guam.
Since I was a child, and being a person whose face can confuse people (I’ve been greeted by Filipinos, Chinese, Hawaiians, Vietnamese, Mexicans…etc as one of their own, you get the point), I’ve always had to prove my “Chamorro-ness”. I guess it’s something I will continue to do. I am a spokesperson to the non-Chamorros who wonder about Guam and Chamorros. I educate them on my experience, on what I know to be true. If you are creating a product or providing a spotlight for our culture, then I’ll be a cheerleader for you! We need this networking to be strengthened and not torn down by our own people.
I’ve heard some in our community say that we aren’t an industrious, business minded people. Not True! I’ve heard that we keep our own kind down. Maybe somewhat. But, I’m working on the spotlight I have to redirect it into the darkness for others to come forth. I want to see our people doing well, finding success and more importantly SUPPORTING each other. Like the Latte Stone that is symbolic for our people, our definition of it has changed over time. It used to be a functional and symbolic tool to show status. They elevated the huts high off the ground where the lower class live. Now, it’s a universal symbol that means, I AM CHAMORRO. So, there is hope for our community to strengthen, to change our mindsets, to become better, contributing individuals to our world, no matter where we reside.
Do we have one million Chamorros in the world? I wonder. I doubt it. Yes, we’re kind of everywhere, but what are the stats? We’ve been on the US Census and from the facts I’ve heard and read, there are 140,000 Chamorros on the mainland. The 2000 US Census documented over 92,000 Chamorros/Part Chamorros nationwide.
Do we want to perpetuate our culture and our people? Heck, yes. And next time you see your fellow Chamorro doing something good for the culture, please applaud their efforts, spread the word and thank them. Because we’ve come a long way, baby. From the first, indigenous Chamorros who set foot on Guam 4,000 years ago, I’m proud to say I’m part of the lineage. I'm a survivor. You should be too, even if only your pinky finger is Chamorro.
With that said, I say, Si Yu’os Ma’ase to those who have supported me and my books. I am back in the “labs” working on three new projects (Puntan and Fu'una, Attitude 13 VOLUME 2 and Shades of Chamorro)