March is Mes Chamoru; it’s a month I have always enjoyed. When I think of Mes Chamoru at my village high school, I think of the kids building huts, amazing food, fun performances, and in Yigo… boys bringing their roosters to the quad. The truth is that every month on Guam should be Mes Chamoru, but like most minorities navigating their way through a Westernized society, we have formally been given a month by the government to look at our history, stories, and culture as equally legitimate to the White narrative. One month, then please move on and get back in line.
Anyway, since my child has begun school, I’ve found myself thinking about ways Mes Chamoru or Simanan Chamoru are recognized within certain schools. Yesterday, I got the schedule of activities and was a little confused to see children were being told to wear “Hawaiian print” for two days out of the week. I read it and asked a mom near me if it was Simanan Hawaiian or Simanan Chamoru. Another day was designated as “lei” day (another Hawaiian word of origin and custom). Then, I looked lower on the schedule and was grossed out to see that there was bahåki day. For those of you reading this who are not from Guam, bahåki means “house or ranch clothes.”
Bahåki is the shitty outfit you put on while cleaning the house, working outside, or not going anywhere special. People from all over the world wear it. Shitty looking clothes for the house are truly universal. Some people associate wearing bahåki outside of the house with being poor, struggling, or from a family that doesn’t take pride in their appearance. House clothes are not necessarily “Chamoru culture.” What, white people don’t dress down when at home doing chores? From what I saw attending school in the states, the stateside kids often wore bahåki to class, rolling in with messy hair and pajamas. That was something kids from the Marianas simply didn’t do (and often talked about in the dorms at night).
Like most people in other places, Chamorus change out of their house clothes before going somewhere. My parents always warned me about changing before leaving, so as not to look “patgon ma’yute.” Bahåki day didn’t sit well with me and to be honest, I’m still searching for the words to clearly articulate why. I’m not sure I understand the message it sends. When I brought it up to other mom friends, they jokingly said “maybe your son’s school thinks looking poor and untaken care of is part of Chamoru culture.” Another mother told me that her son was sent home last Chamoru week for wearing a new t-shirt with a picture of a Chamoru hut and chief on it. She allowed her son to wear it because she felt the image on the shirt her son liked was more authentic to Chamoru culture than a “Hawaiian shirt.” Her boy was pulled aside and made to call his parents. Apparently, at his school, you had to look more Hawaiian to participate in Chamoru week. Another mom admitted that she was confused about all the military marching and US military presence at her child’s Mes Chamoru activities. Another niece of mine was instructed to bring lumpia to her class Chamoru spread instead of gollai åpan lemmai (because the teacher felt people would prefer the lumpia, which is truly not Chamoru). Her mom was ticked off, but went out and bought the Filipino dish so her daughter wouldn’t feel embarrassed or looked down on by the teacher. When she brought it up to the teacher, the teacher later agreed that it was strange, but that she had never thought about WHY we are including these things. The teacher admitted that in the future, gollai åpan lemmai would be a better choice than lumpia for Chamoru week’s table.
Maybe we should start looking and asking why more often. When I brought up bahåki day to my father, asking his thoughts, he also found himself reaching for a plausible explanation, but each possible answer came out kind of ugly, alluding to ugly stereotypes about Chamorus or traumatic war memories. I’m not saying my kid does not wear bahåki. One look at my instagram, and you will see that he wears it often (mostly because he’s outside playing with his cousins in red dirt so much); but he puts on those clothes AFTER school. I’m not seeing how looking like you don’t take pride in your appearance is part of our culture. I’m not excited about hula performances, leis, and shirts with Hawaiian imagery being used to recognize our people. We have so many cool things to showcase during Mes Chamoru. We have our own unique items of clothing, weaving, our language, amazing food (that doesn’t include lumpia), and many examples of successful (well kept) Chamorus to present to our children. Also, don’t get me wrong; I think lumpia is fucking delicious.
I can’t control the messages the rest of the world sends my children about their culture. I know that. The unfortunate part about being a child of indigenous ancestry is that throughout their lives, they will hear many ugly, hurtful, and inaccurate things. They will grow up being told what they are and what they are supposed to be like by outsiders. I guess my responsibility is to make sure that at home, and within our family, they are provided with the tools and discussions to know better, to think critically about the things others tell them, and remain proud of their ancestry and things that are associated with it. Biba Mes Chamoru, Guahan Mommies! I hope you and your children enjoy this month of celebrating all things authentically “us.”