How do you decolonize a childhood? It has been something I have come to think about on a regular basis as I raise my son here. For me, reaching a new consciousness and realizing how crucial it is to preserve and reclaim my indigenous history came later than I would have liked. Understanding that our people were deserving of certain political and cultural considerations didn’t resonate until I got older. In short, knowing and understanding, deep within my bones, that my ancestry was as valid as my occupier’s didn’t hit home right away. But when it did, it felt as if everything I knew was stripped away, which was, at times, kind of painful. When you’re a mother, you want to safeguard your child from unnecessary pain in any way you know how.
Don’t get me wrong; I was raised to be proud of my heritage and to value life as a Chamorro, but my childhood was also flooded with half-narratives of our people’s history, normalized occupation and images of warfare, and ideas that somehow watered down the importance of learning my native language. It was not because my parents did anything wrong or forgot to do something right; it was because they were doing what they knew how to do. They were teaching me what they felt was important in order for me to have a good life. As children of people who emerged from concentration camps and slipped into American occupation, it was important to teach their children how to assimilate into American culture. During their time (and their parent’s time), an excellent command of English, pride in the American historical narrative, and a willingness to “forget” certain things paved the way toward social acceptance and sometimes, financial success.
In many ways, if not most ways, this is still true on Guam. We are, after all, still under American occupation. Knowing how to move forward and thrive under your circumstance is still an important skill that I am grateful to have had instilled within me. BUT, I also recognize that with each generation, we make small adjustments to spare our children from heartache, give them more confidence, and push them into adulthood more “complete” than we felt we may have been.
The collective consciousness of a people shifts and evolves. I am happy to see the direction Chamoru consciousness has been moving lately. When I read about the things many young adults from Guam are doing (both on and off-island), it makes me excited about the experiences and opportunities Vicente will have as he matures into a Chamoru man.
I still feel that books are one of the most powerful ways to instill interest and pride within my son. I probably feel this way because books were such a huge part of my childhood. If you read my last entry, then you know what great lengths I went to in order to secure books for myself.
One year, my maternal grandmother presented me with a huge stack of thin, black and white children’s books printed on cheap paper. They were Chamorro children’s books used by the Guam Department of Education within their Chamorro classes. I fondly remember reading them with my father. I remember feeling very excited when he’d compliment me on my pronunciation or if I understood a word. They were a very special set of books because they were rare. Do you know how hard it is to find a Chamorro children’s book sometimes? Luckily, progress is being made here.
Last week, I wrote about a book that I felt attached to. This week I want to share with you about a Chamorro children’s book that Vicente loves. It’s also easy to find in local bookstores or online. Månnge’ Manhoben: Kin’s Day at the Ranch, by Christine Restuvog Quinata (Illustrated by Tanya Robinson) is one of Vicente’s favorite books. It’s the second of Quinata’s Månnge’ Manhoben collection. We have both books, but Vicente is most excited about this one. The reason I love the Månnge’ Manhoben books is because in addition to having a very “current” feel, they’re well made. When I was a little girl, CHamoru children’s books were often black and white, easy to break, and while the content was wonderful, they were just too easy for an aguaguat child to destroy. Vicente is sometimes called, Typhoon Tentee, so you can probably guess what it’s like once he gets his hands on something. The Månnge’ Manhoben books are printed on a sturdy cardboard and the illustrations are bright, cute, and fun. They make kids laugh.
Vicente is a little rancher. He loves going to his Papa’s ranch. He is really impressed by my mom’s brother, who likes to hunt and fish; and nothing is more exciting to Vicente than a binådu. When we read this book, he gets very worked up, shouting out the animal names and making animal noises. I think having fun children’s books, like Quinata’s, that center around life on Guam are so important. The book is set on Guam, at a ranch. That’s exactly what Vicente does! It’s not set in some stateside park or European garden, which he might have to try harder to relate to. Having a book written for you, as a child, is a very special thing. I think that many Western parents can take it for granted as they read their kids children’s books. When you’re a little kid growing up on Guam and you’re read books that are set in the states, you absorb them differently. There is something magical about a child immediately connecting his real life experience to the one being read about. It’s exciting for them! It’s motivating.
So, if you are a Chamoru mother who has yet to put one of Quinata’s books on your neni’s bookshelf, I highly recommend doing so. I haven’t met a child in my family who hasn’t enjoyed the book.