When I lived away from home for a while, one of the harsh realities that I had to make peace with was that after so many years away, I had lost touch with some of the immediate problems plaguing the island. This was hard for me. I felt that I had worked hard to remain rooted and proud of my culture from afar. But the truth is Guam changes and evolves very quickly. It’s problems are complicated. Phone conversations with relatives, trips home for breaks, reading the PDN online, and staying involved in social media networking were not enough to give me a full perspective on what was happening on island. Attending “Guam” functions in the states didn’t cut it. So much goes unsaid on Guam. Much of what this island struggles with floats through the air in subtle ways that you cannot really see unless you’re here, moving on the ground. I would become frustrated when relatives on island did not feel my ideas or thoughts carried equal weight with theirs. It hurt my feelings. I mistakenly felt that their refusal to fully consider or appreciate my position was because they were questioning how “Chamoru” I was as someone who opted to leave the island. I was bruised when they weren’t sensitive to my deep longing to return home, but my inability (at the time) to pick up and make an actual move happen. What was really happening was that they were not questioning my “Chamoru-ness” or my right to identify as a daughter of the island; they simply didn’t have the time or energy to fa’neni a perspective that was a little out of touch.
So here I am, back on island, raising my children and working on the island that raised me. The ten years away have faded and all I can see in front of me is Guam. Life on Guam. My children on Guam. And there is so much wrong here that it breaks my heart. I now see how different Guam can feel when you aren’t actually living here. The condition of our island’s schools, the roads we drive our children to school on, the contaminated water, the militarization of the island, the racism and identity issues our Micronesian children are navigating through…. The list goes on. And when voices from afar chime in, I am able to see, very clearly, why friends and relatives sometimes responded the way they did during my time away.
This afternoon, I spent far too much time responding within an online thread regarding the raising of funds for a “Guma Chamoru” clubhouse in Balboa Park, San Diego. I think the clubhouse is a great idea. A cultural center for Chamorus abroad sounds great. My problem with it is that our local legislature approved the use of 70K from the island’s Tourist Attraction Fund to help build it. I take issue with this. Big time. I did not hesitate to make that position known, mostly because I know that the majority of the people around me on island feel the same. The Guam legislature is infamous for doing things without really putting the people of Guam first. We thought the Chamoru diaspora knew this, which is why so many were put off when they heard the San Diego group was willing to take the money, claiming 70K was “not much.” When some of them said they didn’t feel like they were “asking for much,” it showed me just how much you can lose touch with Guam being away. For Guam, that 70K can go a long way in helping a community that lacks some really basic things.
Additionally, the culture and identity problems the diaspora community feel their children are suffering from are not absent here on island. Our children struggle with some very insidious and hurtful issues on a daily basis that make them questions their indigenous backgrounds here, on their native soil. They lack places and programs that help them overcome those issues, too. Within the thread, a member of the group asked me to try to “see their vision.” But I maintain that their vision does not immediately help this island or sustain it long term in the way that a locally based vision could.
I believe that by starting the healing here at home, we can send out waves of healing energy, effort, and a stronger sense of identity for Chamorus who have left the island to feed from. When people from other groups leave their homelands that they believe are lacking, they usually do not turn around and request funds from their native country to sustain their projects in the place they decided had more “opportunity.” We don’t see people who have left the Philippines asking the people who still live in the Philippines to send money to them. It’s actually the other way around. Those who leave to seek greater opportunity in a different place usually end up sending aid home, and not “aid” that helps them feel better about where they come from while living afar, but actual help that makes the everyday lives of people in their homeland less harrowing. They do this because they know the work needs to start AT HOME. I know that my comments really hurt the feelings of some Chamorus of the diaspora. It even went so far as them posting an image of young diaspora girls in hopes of helping me to understand where our island’s money is going. But the picture only unsettled me even more. I thought of the children here, in their broken schools and powerless homes and only ended up being more committed to the idea that if Guam has money to spare, it needs to be invested here on island.
I want to apologize to any diaspora Chamorus I might have insulted by engaging in that argument. I believe we’re one, that you are also my family. I want happiness for you and I want pride in your culture for you. But this is my home 24/7 and it needs a lot of help. I hope you can forgive me for going to bat for the children who still live here as you advocate for yours over there. I hope you can see that the problems here are very immediate and basic. I hope you can see that there are many ways to help children of the diaspora develop healthy Chamoru identities without the use of this money.
Right now, a clubhouse for diaspora in San Diego just doesn’t seem like the best way to use any extra money Guam has.