Conditional

I have come to learn that the good will and love some of my stateside American friends have for me has boundaries. Those boundaries often appear where my indigeneity begins. I get it, too. The truth of me, of us, makes some of them uncomfortable. I sometimes feel bad that knowing about my home makes yours feel less fun at times. I’m still trying to understand why acknowledging the actual history of our home insults some of them. How strange is it to be personally insulted (or feel disrespected) by historical and political fact? I wrote the poem below while thinking about these things.

 

 

You like me best when I am
A Catholic woman
head bowed low
beautiful pictures and
Witty banter over clinking glasses,

When I am “passing” for white.

But when the blood that made my daughter brown boils inside me,
You avert your eyes.
Handing me platitudes
telling me to cover up.

When tears fall over open wounds,
You remind me it’s just a scratch.
I’m not really bleeding.

Cuts like that don’t leave scars.

You like me best when I am…
Pretending.
When I am slip n slides
Birthday cakes
balancing babies on my hip.

You like me best when I am…not me.
When orange shells do not dangle from my neck.
When I am not choking on my own mother’s tongue.
Not bent in gratitude.

You like us best when me (and mine) … are gone.

In Solidarity with Standing Rock

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Please join Guam’s women in supporting the people of Standing Rock by joining us at one of our endangered sacred sites, Litekyan, at 10am on December 10th.  We will also be hosting a fundraiser on December 17 to donate money that will be sent to the Water Protectors to help cover legal fees. The fundraiser will be at the Sagan Kotturan CHamoru on December 17, from 2pm-6pm.

I have been following the situation with the Dakota Access Pipeline closely, unable to tear my eyes away from the complete injustice of the whole situation, wondering how I can help in a meaningful way, and deeply disturbed by the many parallels that are taking place here on our island. I am not alone.  The Dakota Access Pipeline has hit a nerve for residents of Guam. There are too many similarities with our struggles to protect our water systems, sacred sites, and natural resources from the United States.   Relatives and friends who are typically nonchalant about politics or global issues seem unable to stay silent on this one.  Friends that are hesitant to own up to their feelings about the treatment of Guam residents by the United States have mustered the courage to claim their outrage over the Pipeline in front of others.

For my family, the Pipeline was at the forefront of discussions when we gathered for “Thanksgiving,” as was our situation as indigenous people.  We gathered, we enjoyed each other, we gave thanks for all our island provides, but at no point was any effort made to cover the fact that the mistreatment of native people is ongoing.  The poisoning and destruction of Native resources is ongoing; and what is happening at Standing Rock is an abrupt reminder of how the United States feels about Native people, our values, and the agreements they have made with us.  As one of my aunts so eloquently put it, “The United States is really showing us that they don’t give a shit about people like us and our home.”

I was reminded this past week that a couple of years ago, a military exercise was conducted wherein US soldiers practiced exerting military force on a hypothetical group of “Guam activists” that were holding up signs which read: “Save Pagan” and “Save Guam.”  They called the imaginary group “Hope For Guam” (or something like that).  When I saw that exercise covered on the news a while back, I was deeply confused.  Why would riot gear and all of this force be needed for a group of people who said they had “hope” for their home and wanted to protect it?  I quickly pushed away the irritating thoughts, but have been reminded of the story each day as new developments in North Dakota are covered.  I found myself thinking, “Would they do that to us if we continued to try and protect our home?”

In particular, women on Guam have been on a steady mission to spread awareness about this issue within their circles. We are losing sleep over this.  When we started connecting, working together to figure out where to channel this energy, I was deeply comforted to know that so many of my Chamoru sisters were equally restless.  Women of all ages and backgrounds have come together to try, in what ways we know how, to support the people of Standing Rock.  And I am writing this blog in hopes that you will join us.  Please read the caption beneath this entry’s main image and try to attend one of the events we are organizing.

The struggles of all indigenous communities are the struggles of Guam; and supporting each other is crucial.

 

 

Truth-Telling in 2016

kids

I love this picture of some of the children in my life.  It’s the perfect visual reminder of brighter skies being ahead, hope in our future, and little Chamoru girls taking us there. 😉

 

My aunties remind me that every generation has its share of turmoil and uncertainty, that with each new group of children raised, mothers hold their babies close, sending up prayers and asking higher powers to prepare their little ones for the world’s chaos. And while I know they are right, I find myself saying it over and over again: This is not the world I planned on raising my children in.

Within the past few weeks, I have had to have some heavy conversations with my child, conversations I never dreamed of needing to have.  Children have classmates who have families that talk.  Children pick up conversations they were never meant to hear.  Children catch glimpses of news stories we think they aren’t paying attention to.  When the children in my life ask difficult questions, I’ve always made it a point of being tactful, but honest.  I’m not a fan of feeding children false narratives that sugar coat ugly things.  I can’t bring myself to spin a web of comfortable stories that allow them to completely disconnect from reality.  I definitely don’t like scaring children, but I take my time when answering.  I weigh every word carefully and I make sure that when I am done, I feel as if I have told them the truth.

Doing this take a little bit of skill, and sometimes, more patience than you really have when dealing with kids .  Some people aren’t good at it (or they’re not willing to put the energy into truth-telling with children), but I want to make a case for it.  I think it’s worth doing.  I think in the long run, our world will benefit from children raised with truth.  And I don’t think telling the truth sacrifices the magic of childhood.  Maybe we need to reevaluate where we think the magic of childhood comes from in the first place.

Some of my friends and relatives disagree with this.  They believe there are certain truths that should remain hidden. Protective lies, they believe, are different from regular lies. The assumption is that they are in the best interest of the person we love.  But here is the thing with protective lies: eventually, they are dismantled.  Our children often uncover the truth in painful, unsettling ways.  They end up wondering why we didn’t tell them certain things, and often end up feeling betrayed or misled.  They sometimes come of age and feel like the wool had been pulled over their eyes for years, and they resent us a little for allowing them to carry on in ignorance.

sumahi

This children’s book references points in Guam’s history that are often not discussed with kids in creative ways. It opened the door for LOTS of honest, but fun, conversations about Guam’s history in my home.

For many families on Guam, the decolonization process is painful.  Decolonizing means sharing a certain amount of traumatic family and island history. It involves acknowledging ugly things that are going on around us, and finally talking about them.  For my generation and those older, these things happened later in life.  We were raised with many secrets, many feelings unsaid.  Finally saying them can cause conflict and pain, but raising your children with consciousness and gentle truth is a powerful way to spare them some of that hurt and shock.  It also prepares them to more readily enter the adult world and make positive change.  Basically, my generation is spending lots of time “healing” and I sometimes get excited thinking about what our children will be able to do not having to spend so much time sorting out their newfound realization of their colonial status.

I am friends with women who were raised by long-time Chamoru activists on island.  They grew up with an awareness of Guam’s relationship with the US and a more complete understanding of indigenous issues. I was not raised this way.  Many of the people I know were not raised this way.  These women don’t really have many memories of feeling shocked into decolonial thinking.  They didn’t have to sit and have painful conversations with elders over and over again (within a short span of time) about why secrets and histories were only whispered, or why some of our problems exist. A full explanation of the world around them was just, well, normal to them. They do not get uncomfortable or offended when certain truths are said in front of them (something I still occasionally struggle with.  My decolonization is ongoing). Their parents made it a point to raise conscious children and because of that, they operate from a very different place, a place that strikes me as empowering for both them and others.

This is not the world I planned on raising my children in, but I’m preparing them to change it.  And I think we can do that by raising children with a little more truth, particularly during the holidays when they are encouraged to reflect on values and things that are important to them.

I’m sincerely wishing all of you a Happy Thanksgiving week. The world feels like a very confusing place, but there are so many pockets of hope and so much to remain grateful for.  (I feel like a lot of people on my social networking feeds are forgetting that right now.)

I’m expressing gratitude for all the indigenous people who continue to risk their lives in order to protect our earth’s resources, for everyone brave enough to choose peace when war seems more lucrative, for those willing to be mocked and scolded for insisting on equality, and for all the young people who are inheriting a world their parents never anticipated.

I also want to add this great song my friend, Barb, shared with me.  Her daughter sings it on Thanksgiving and it’s a helpful example of how truth can be shared with children.  There are so many fun and creative ways to share truth with our kids.  No “childhood magic” needs to be sacrificed to do so.  😉

song

Lastima Na “Straw Poll”

For the past sixteen years, Guam has boasted about the accuracy of its “straw poll” conducted during local elections. The unofficial tally allows us to pretend we are voting for the President of the United States. It’s an imaginary vote that makes us feel like we’re participating. Good for morale and stuff. Here, in our little Micronesian Paradise, Hillary Clinton won by a landslide. America, on the other hand, showed that its heart was in a very different place. We watched curiously as each state announced just how close the candidates were to each other.

As the hours pressed on and it became clear that The United States of America was giving birth to a boy instead of a girl, I heard the repeated whispers of “I’m not surprised” from relatives and friends. Personally, I was not surprised either. I sat with a colleague of mine who simply raised her eyebrows and confirmed that “that’s America!”

On the other side of the spectrum, friends I’ve made during my time living off island seemed shocked. They were baffled by the results. They were amazed by how many Americans really felt this way about immigration, women, climate change, Black people, or Muslims. They couldn’t believe a man who is endorsed by the KKK and in the hot seat for raping a 14 year old was their new Commander in Chief. Some of the people I know from the states seemed to have sunk into a very dark place, unable to process that these were their fellow Americans.

Why weren’t so many people on Guam stunned or shocked by this election? I suspect it’s because we might have been looking at the United States from such a different angle all along. Whether we want to admit it or not, we were looking at the US from the position of a possession. When you are owned, you see your possessor more clearly than he sees you. We have to. We need to know what you really think, where your heart lies, and how you really see us. It’s part of our survival as a colony. Naturally, the US does not need to know very much about us. All they really need to know about Guam is how we are beneficial. When you’re looking at America from the position of a second-class citizen, as a possession, you aren’t delusional about the overall goodness of your owner. You know his good points. You know what might make him a better owner than another guy, but you’re not blind to what makes him kind of scary, too. You also know, very clearly, that you are owned. Some Americans can’t even handle the word “owned.” They insist that we use the word “Territory” because it sounds less unsettling for them.

Sometimes, people from Guam will try to discuss Uncle Sam’s racist tendencies and how he treats us, but we are quickly reminded that we aren’t being fair by bringing that up. We are ever reminded that “not all Americans” are that way. We know this is true. Lots of Americans truly understand the indigenous struggle and have love for all types of minorities. We constantly confirm that the good ones exist. Love and light and all of that. We don’t look at the racism because “it’s just not all of you.” We often drop the subject and confirm that “yes, there are many good Americans who do not feel that way.” But here’s what this election shows: Yes, there are many Americans who don’t have racist, sexist, or bigoted sentiments; but there are a hell of a lot of you that DO (and some of you don’t even realize it); and that’s worth having an honest conversation about. We’ve been acting like “those kinds of Americans” are not there, or like they’re the minority, for a very long time. You don’t like your inherent goodness attacked. We totally get that. No one does.

But many on Guam have already known America is this way. We know that White and Male is still preferred. This is how America has treated us as a colonial possession from Day 1. No American President has ever treated our home with dignity, not even your favorite, most beloved ones. America has done quite a bit to help Spain and Japan dismantle our matrilineal structures, showing us how it feels about women. They’ve sent men here over and over again who show us what they really think of people of color. America does things to our soil, waters, and air that show us how it really feels about the environment on a regular basis.

What I’m noticing is that many of my friends from the US weren’t seeing their home very clearly. America has truly lifted its veil this election and some people are surprised by the face revealed. I’m sorry for those of you struggling with accepting your country’s choice, but I also think it’s important to finally see yourself clearly. That’s you. This is you. You’ve always been that way, only now you aren’t pretending not to be.

Wishing you a positive next four years. I’m curious to see how it works out for you, because you own us and everything you do affects our home. I’m concerned about many of the things your new President has said about my home and our Pacific Region, but that is nothing new. We are used to that here.

Another interesting thing to come out of America’s decision is that there are people who were previously apathetic about decolonization who have become more curious since Trump’s election. It’s the push some of them needed to realize Guam and America are on different pages.

I hope you use the next four years to see each other clearly and look at yourself more critically. Also, you guys just voted against our Human Right to self-determination at the UN (again). I hope that with time, you will be able to show us you’re the country you’ve always insisted you were.

How you feeling? Feeling Chamoru?

The Chamoru identity is difficult to talk about when conversations about it cannot be separated from colonization, transgenerational trauma, and the way our island has come to be home for many who are not of Chamoru ancestry (but who have developed a deep love and respect for the island and ways of people native to Guam). What many people forget is that the word “Chamoru” is used to describe both a culture and an ethnicity. The use of a single word for double purposes can fuel misunderstandings and division. I saw this happen yesterday when a friend of mine voiced her rejection of saying you “feel Chamoru” when you are not ethnically Chamoru. She explained that in many cases, when people who are not of Chamoru ancestry claim to “feel Chamoru,” they are often referring to the aspects of Chamoru culture that are comfortable to them: fiestas, cultural jewelry (GVB type of stuff), while rejecting or refusing to acknowledge the less palatable part of what it means to be Chamoru (like colonization, which has had a profound impact on the way ethnic Chamorus view their worth and the value in accessing their own traditions). This is not to say that non-Chamoru individuals who understand that struggle and work to improve it do not exist. Our supporters are many; and they are deeply appreciated. But careless proclamations of “feeling CHamoru” have an ugly way (at least on Guam) of devolving into weighing and evaluating who is “more Chamoru.” Ethnically Chamoru people will announce that they have a White friend who is “more CHamoru” than they are because this friend knows “more Chamoru words” than them or has spent more time than they have studying Chamoru history.

I have struggled with this in my classroom. I have had quite a few stateside students who love Guam, may have married into a Chamoru family, or picked up pieces of the language that will announce, very unapologetically, that they are “more CHamoru” than their Chamoru classmates. This is problematic to me, as many of my students are already struggling to recognize their own worth as sons and daughters of this island with a legitimate history, language, and culture. Many of them do not as readily reach for their history or language because they’ve been taught (or raised by parents who have been taught) that their language and history are not as important as Western histories and the English language. Seeing themselves is part of their struggle. In addition to that, they are operating within structures that send voiceless, but powerful messages, reminding them that the “West is Best.” They are also questioned every day as indigenous people, forced to prove that they “still exist” and that they have not disappeared into the footnotes of history despite repeated colonization, intermarriage, and waves of migration. Unfortunately, many Chamorus who do not have the information to help them respond to these interrogations and announcements will often start to doubt themselves, becoming convinced that maybe they aren’t really Chamoru after all. How disturbing and destructive is that?

When I hear a Chamoru person say they don’t “feel” CHamoru, I always wonder what they think “feeling CHamoru” is supposed to “feel” like. If you’re CHamoru, however you feel, as unsavory as what you feel might be to Chamorus of other political inclinations, it is how it feels to be Chamoru…because you ARE. Okay, so you don’t live on Guam. You may not be in touch with how it “feels” to live on Guam right now. You may be removed from the feelings of existing on a daily basis in a colony, but your experience far away does not mean you’re not actually Chamoru. There are many different ways of feeling Chamoru; and you can’t be offended when someone says yours doesn’t match theirs. If you ARE offended by that, it’s a personal problem that you need to reflect on. Why do you need to be included in the experiences of others to feel legitimate? You don’t need to be exactly the same to be united. The culture of Chamorus existing in different spaces and periods of time changes and evolves, saying there are differences does not mean you “are not.” It does not mean someone pointing out those differences is saying you “are not.”

I tell my students to learn their family trees, memorize their family names, get in the habit of the tedious tracing back of how you’re related to each other when you first meet another Chamoru, because by doing so, you’re reaffirming your roots, digging your feet into your Chamoru identity so deeply that nothing can shake you. There’s an actual project which is constantly being contributed to by Bernard Punzalan, The Chamoru Roots project. Punzalan is ever engaged in tracing family trees and helping others learn their ancestry. Aside from being fascinating, the work is just empowering. When people question my evolving fluency with the language, and use those questions to undermine my identification as a Chamoru, I pay no mind. It doesn’t stop me from learning. I am rooted in the knowledge of where I come from, who gave birth to me and who gave birth to the women before me. No state sider, no matter how much he/she knows about the island’s history, will ever be able to make me feel like they are “more Chamoru” than me, because I have that knowledge.

I desperately want our young CHamorus to know that, too. You ARE. If you don’t know your language or haven’t been taught your history, it’s not because you are not of this blood and of this land. There are many reasons you have been denied your mother tongue; but none of them are because you are not an actual Chamoru.

With that being said, a good grasp of your family tree is no excuse to neglect our language or history. You need that too, but like I tell my students, while you’re learning your language and history, you need not feel lesser or buy into the idea that someone else who has that information is “more than” you.

Many of our people will readily accept the idea that a White person should not walk around saying they “feel black,” no matter how passionate and supportive they are of the Black struggle. We know that being Black is not a choice, whether you are of mixed heritage or not; and we know that it is impossible for a White person to really “feel” Black, no matter how much they know about Black history. I suspect that we do not afford our ancestry the same dignity and boundaries of respect simply because we have not adequately learned about the history of our struggle, because we have gone so long being told our histories, language, and stories are not real by others. Hell, there are many Chamorus today who still don’t realize they live in a colony. We need more education, more awareness, and less tolerance of discussions that allow others to proclaim that they are MORE than what you legitimately are.

The truth is that CHamorus will exist who do not want to be Chamoru or will never find value in being CHamoru (that’s an unfortunate byproduct of our colonial history and oppression). And even if they don’t value that part of themselves, unfortunately, they are still Chamoru. Because like all other ethnicities, being Chamoru is not a choice. When someone tells you they “feel” culturally Chamoru, try to hear their intentions. Are they telling you that they have deep respect or appreciation for the land, our people’s struggles, and the history of your mothers? If so, then it might be worth welcoming that. They can be helpful to you and can contribute to the improvement of your people’s conditions. If they’re saying they “feel CHamoru” to make you feel less and ignoring the fullness and complexity of the Chamoru identity, simply remind yourself that while they may “feel” a certain way…you, most definitely, ARE (and for you, it’s not just a feeling).

You are what you are.
You don’t have to carry the burden of other people’s need to feel “the same.”
You don’t have to prove yourself.
You don’t get your status as a Chamoru revoked because you’re not fluent in the language, because you’re still learning.
You are not less than because someone has read something you have not.
Chamoru hao.
Chamoru hao.
Chamoru hao.

And don’t let me catch you saying otherwise. 😉

Ga’gu

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.

sinko mes

My daughter is six months old today. It has been half a year since she was born. In her six months alive, she has hung off my hip while I’ve protested, while I’ve cried and read bad poetry. She has been strapped to me in a carrier while I’ve danced with brothers and sisters from hundreds of islands while they kiss her face and bring her feet to their noses. She has learned to crawl on the floors of meetings while elders smile at her. I’ve fed her while soaking up oral histories, taking notes on faded memories. I’ve shushed her while weaving stories on a laptop at 3am. I’ve held her close, inhaling her sweet scent before leaning over caskets, rocking her to the sounds of mourning songs. I’ve passed her around classrooms full of happy students. She’s stared questioningly at me while I touch my toes, seeking health and beauty after giving so much of it to her. She has wandered with me down dirt roads, seeking bihas with amot for stuffy noses and wheezy chests. We’ve played in the shadows of our lightless house, not caring when power would return. We’ve welcomed home relatives we’ve never seen before and cheered as primas walked down aisles. We’ve rushed toward family gone too long inside airports full of tourists with no boundaries. We’ve hugged tearful goodbyes with aunties promising to return. How many strangers’ vacation photos has she been in? We’ve emerged from our house in the early morning hours, pulling aga’ off of trees with boonie dogs in tow. We’ve jumped around the living room, celebrating consonant sounds. Not even a full year of life and she has lived so much. This morning, I stand in gratitude for what I never thought I wanted, but have come to love so deeply. Happy half-year of life to my mini maga’haga.