This past summer, I stayed home with my children and dedicated myself to using the Chamoru language as much as possible. From the second we woke up, I made a point of using Fino’ CHamoru in every single way I could (and I have my limitations with proficiency, so it was sometimes exhausting). But it was wonderful. Each day was exciting and learning with the children in my family was fulfilling, despite the huge commitment. It was no easy task to employ a language so many around us refuse to prioritize. I had to constantly push and remind people who entered the house that if they could, they needed to switch from English. It was also a challenge for me. There were things I wanted to say that I didn’t always have the immediate vocabulary for. It’s frustrating to want to say something and have to pause to think about it or even run to the dictionary and look it up, but I did it. My best friend and I would text each other gossip in CHamoru, which was probably the most fun I had ever had texting in my life. Everything sounds waaaay juicier in our language. I did it even when it annoyed people who thought I should just use English when something really needed to be said. I also made it a point to read a Chamoru book every day. Usually it was a children’s book. I love the ones recently published out of Taiguini press. I also had an anthology of Chamoru legends that I really enjoyed. I liked that the length of each legend was enough to digest during story hour. When I had more time on my hands, I would practice reading my Grandmother’s CHamoru bible and the suruhana book (that fat green one that also translates into Carolinian).
But summer is over. I’m back at work. The kids in the neighborhood are back at school and I’m really disappointed in myself. I have not kept it up. I’ve gotten lazy. I come home from work tired and when I can’t find the words, I slip into English instead of finding out how to say it as I did during the break. I still read the children’s books, but there are some nights when translating doesn’t seem to fit in and I grab English books off of my son’s shelf. And I realized, just yesterday, that I have begun using the language in a way that I wish my parents did NOT use with me. I’ve been using it as a tool to EXCLUDE.
I caught myself while riding in the car with my father to a rosary. My son had been slighted by someone and I wanted to share the incident with my dad without upsetting my boy. I recounted the story in Chamoru and we proceeded to exchange information this way, intentionally keeping my child away from our discussion. Halfway through the drive, my son kicked the back of my seat and said “STOP IT.” I turned around, not sure what he was upset about. He said he knew I was talking about him and that some of the words were not nice and he wanted me to stop.
Later that night, my nephews were running around the kitchen and I wanted to share some family information with my mother. Again, I slipped into the language as an intentional way to keep it secret from them. Again, my son turned around and told me to stop. He also demanded I tell him exactly what some of the words meant. I caught myself not wanting to tell him the definition of some of the words because he would figure out what I was saying. I need to stop this. It’s a terrible habit and I hated when my parents did this with me. I know better. I know our language should not be relegated to one of exclusion or one that is only used in the context of jokes or punishment. But here I am, doing it to the children in my family. I use the language most often to exclude and punish. Ugh. Gross.
So here I am, thinking about that. Wanting to do better. And more than anything, I hope if you catch me doing this, you will call me out on it. One of my friends presented wonderfully about the power of using our language with our children at this summer’s Pacific Literature Conference at the University of Guam. He made so many points that resonated with me as a mother, asking us to imagine what it would be like to have our child’s happiest memories be remembered in Chamoru. I was hormonal after just giving birth, but it really did make me cry. He reminded us to have fun with the language and extend its use into play, talking about Star Wars, and other things kids enjoy. And for a while, I was doing that; and it was a powerful bonding experience between the children in my family and me. But it takes work. Lots of work. I get lazy and I give up, especially when trying to balance the rest life wants you to do as a mother, wife, and teacher.
Help me! Remind me! Scold me if you have to the next time you catch me being ga’gu. I am doing every single thing I said I would never do when I became a parent.