It had been a year and a half since I left San Diego, California. A place that became my home after I moved from Guam, the obligation of being a Navy wife. After 8 years of setting down semi-permanent roots, really being more like a potted plant, we moved north.
I had to loosen ties with the Chamorro group CHE’LU and hence my participation in their 4th Annual Chamorro Cultural Fest in 2013. (Don't get me started on my San Diego Comic Con withdrawal). But, this last weekend, I spent four days in California, attending the fest, the Uno Hit Conference and reconnecting with family and friends.
Jacobs Market Creek Plaza is really a little utopian gem with its mini cultural houses. It was great to see colleagues and friends and family. I set out to sell 200 books, but only met a quarter of that goal and I thank those who took the time to purchase my books. Thank you to Sandy and Dr. Judy Flores of Guam Batik Gallery, our tireless and wonderful booth mates.
M.B. Wilmot, best known as The Desert Warrior. I thanked Rear Admiral Peter Gumataotao for his service. He is the highest ranking Chamorro in the Navy and he makes us all proud.
SUNDAY: Uno Hit’s 2nd Annual Conference was held Sunday at the Sons and Daughters of Guam Clubhouse. My mali’ and business sister of Guam Books and Beads and I attended, our sore feet and sun soaked skin barely recovering from the fest the day before. In our stillness during the conference, it was our brains and my Chamorro heart that worked overtime.
I was moved by Sakman leader and cultural enthusiast, Mario Borja. His repetitive message that yes, his endeavor of sailing the sakman (canoe) to Guam from the mainland may be “crazy” resonated with me. They are willing and prepared for this passionate journey and who are we to judge this quest. If we squashed every ‘crazy’ idea we have, then we can never move forward and dream any impossible dreams.
When master Chamorro dance instructor, Frank Rabon took the stage to present, I was hungry for his knowledge on Guam history. I was awestruck by his understated poetic descriptions and his eloquent explanations. I learned so much from his presentation that I wanted more.
Then, Inetnon Gefpa’go’s leader, Vince Reyes took the stage, inhabiting a different energy. He was engaging and spoke quickly and passionately. I loved learning about his evolution as the leader of the wonderful dancers we know today. He was candid in his struggles to portray the Chamorro culture in a way that was true to our people and true to his creative soul. His video of his dancers portraying Guam’s comfort women (*video below) left nearly everyone in tears. Set to Taylor Swift’s song, “Safe and Sound” and understated in shadows, I was moved to tears and spoke passionately to Vince after the conference to let him know that I see him, I understand his vision and I appreciate his voice.
Heidi Chargualaf Quenga’s (Kutturan Chamoru Foundation) passion for connecting Chamorro artists and dancers on Guam with those on the mainland struck home as well. Guam is unique in that we are literally everywhere on this planet. And those not physically on the island, the diaspora, long to remain connected to our Chamorro roots. We need a guiding hand, we need to feel embraced and we need to cast our net home to our shared history and lineage.
Sandy Flores Uslander’s new group, Uno Hit is yet another glorious manifestation of the Chamorro spirit. The group has sprinted toward the fest and has done amazing with little resources and a short amount of time. Their strong will to learn and connect has proven successful.
Michael Lujan Bevacqua started his presentation in Chamorro. A language that I sadly cannot fully understand, but I found myself on the edge of my chair, ears perked, eager to learn, trying to decipher what I did know. I am excited that the University of Guam (UOG) and impassioned educators like Bevacqua are spearheading the Chamorro Studies Program. Something not offered when I attended UOG in the 90s. They are also looking into offering the course online which will be invaluable to us on the mainland.
Monica Okada Guzman of CAHA (Guam Council on the Arts & Humanities Agency) discussed the upcoming Festival of the Pacific Arts, known as FESTPAC, which is slated to be hosted by Guam in 2016. I’m excited about the opportunity to represent Chamorros with my literature and plan to produce more in the next two years.
MONDAY: When I headed to LAX for my flight home, I thought about the date. It was March 31st. My father died on this date seven years prior. I miss him dearly and he was my guide into the Chamorro culture. When he passed away, I felt lost and disconnected from being Chamorro. It prompted me to write Sirena and Attitude 13 in 2010. I wanted my dad’s name, Tedy Gamboa Chargualaf to be in print, even if it was only on my dedication page. I am always trying to make him proud. And, being in San Diego to celebrate being Chamorro, I know he would be. My flight was due to leave at 5PM and I was set to be reunited with my children and husband in Seattle at 7:30PM. This time, and this date were poignant for me because my father died on sunset (7:30PM) on the last day of Mes Chamorro (Chamorro Month).
I wandered around LAX an hour early, with swirling thoughts of culture in my mind and a rumbling hunger in my belly. I walked into a diner and opted not to get an overpriced burger. I strolled to the deli, then opted not to get the ten dollar turkey sandwich which was more lettuce and bread than protein. Then, in an effort to satiate my belly, I went into Hudson News. I strolled among the overpriced books. Dabbled with the idea of buying my children stuffed animal souvenirs they didn’t need, then settled on a bag of peanut M & Ms. Then, I watched as Mr. Thomas Jacob Black, best known as Jack Black walked into the magazine section. I wondered how no one could notice this. I parted the line of customers and headed right for him, slowly, cautiously. Our paths intersected and I spoke softly, like I wanted his presence to be my secret. And, I didn’t want him to fly away, like the rare exotic bird he is.
“Hi, I’m Tanya.” I said through a geeky smile.
He eyed me curiously and smiled, “Hi, Tanya. I’m Jack.”
“I know. (We Chamorros always know). I’m a big fan.”
Then my incessant need to explain why I was in LAX took over. He listened graciously. I said, “I’m headed back to Seattle and just wanted to get a souvenir for my kids.”
“Well, there’s a Vanity Fair over there. That might be good.”
We laughed, in whispers, of course. Still no one approached. “No, but I think, if you don’t mind, a photo?”
“My kids would definitely prefer a photo of Mr. Kung Fu Panda himself.” (God, I’m such a dork. I really wanted to say I loved him in High Fidelity and School of Rock and that Tenacious D is awesome and he is a great singer and is hilarious).
We smiled and I took a nearly flawless selfie of us.
He glanced at it and said, “That’s a good one.”
“Thanks so much.” I said in my over-excited voice, now struggling to maintain a whisper.
He smiled and left the store. I carried on, excited about meeting a man who did not act snobby Hollywood with me. One who is always himself first and one who has found success by being true. It reminds me to be myself and gives me hope that by doing so I can find my form of success.
So to San Diego, the Chamorro Cultural Fest, the Uno Hit Conference, my father, Tedy, my West Covina Wolf Pack and to Mr. Jack “Nacho Libre” Black, I say ‘SKADOOSH!’ Here’s to being awesome. Here’s to being yourself.