Naming and Shaming

I’m a teacher; and like many teachers, it’s hard for me to look at mistakes kids make as black and white issues. I mean, they make mistakes so often! Literally every day, a kid or teenager is doing something terrible on this island; and when you see these kids constantly, you often learn enough about them and their stories to see the gray areas in between. You also end up kind of loving a lot of them, rough edges and all. Basically, what I am saying is that I love many of the young assholes who come through the classroom. 😛

With the rise of social media, naming and shaming people who do things we disagree with or are upset by has become commonplace. There is much of that happening on our tiny island; and being a small and connected community can sometimes make it intense. This past week, the Guam seal and a bunch of cars in local parking lots were tagged with graffiti. Graffiti is nothing new on our island. For as long as I can remember, bus stops were being painted and repainted to hide the restlessness and misdirection of local youth with nothing better to do, most of them from low income families or communities lacking activities and places for young people to productively spend their time with positive mentors. I can think of several people who have had their cars or property vandalized.

The difference is that now technology makes it possible for us to put these things in the forefront. It also allows us to more directly comment on and discuss the people who did it. This past week, the offenders included a middle school boy and a group of teenagers who had their photos plastered and shared all over the internet. I don’t agree (at all) with what they did; and hope they are held accountable for their actions; but man…our community responded in such an ugly and embarrassing way.

Beneath the pictures of these young people were ugly names, comments with racist undertones, public shaming of parents (none of whom anyone seemed to actually know), and even a local public figure suggesting that we should “start building a wall,” implying that people from neighboring islands are the root of the island’s graffiti problem. As a public school graduate and teacher of many public school graduates, I can definitely tell you that’s not true. Aimless kids of all backgrounds have been known to write something on the wall or vandalize things.

I remember a few of the boys in my high school classes identifying themselves by the names they would spray paint over the sides of buildings and bus stops. I also have a few local College students who have written about their “tagging days.” They weren’t making smart choices (that I always knew); but I was also aware of what homes they were coming out of and what they were working with in terms of adult guidance, love, and financial stability. Sometimes, they came from completely healthy homes with lots of love. Sometimes, kids just do dumb shit. It’s as simple as that.

Some of the boys I went to school with who did things like this never quite made it out of self-destructive cycles; many others did. One became a realtor (who is now probably annoyed when people tag properties he is trying to sell). Another is an officer in the United States Armed Forces, another is a teacher, and a couple of them have evolved into wonderful fathers or family men. I am certain they are glad social media wasn’t around to name and shame them during those years of misdirection. I can also tell you that some of them were Chamoru, some of them were Filipino, and yes, some of them were from the FSM. It was, and is, more of a poverty and lack of guidance problem than it is a race problem. Sometimes, it’s also just a “dumb and young” problem.

I get that it is irritating to have the Guam seal spray-painted on. It’s great that it was so quickly and so easily cleaned up after. I get how completely infuriating it is that cars have been spray-painted on. I would be livid if it were my car, too. What I don’t get is how our community was able to muster so much energy to shame, name call, and harass the kids who did it while remaining largely silent when our island is REALLY being contaminated and destroyed: Not a peep when soil had to be overturned or declared too sick to plant in within certain villages. Not a whisper when toxic chemicals are stored on the island. No real community effort when invasive species began attacking our trees. No voiced disappointment over the military’s role in endangering our birds, trees, or some of our animals. Not even a little outrage when it was confirmed that the history of contamination here is literally killing our people and linked to our disproportionate cancer rates. Silence when we learned that military contamination has made servicemen who were once stationed here sick. And now that there are plans on the table to further jeopardize our water sources, land, ocean, limestone forests, and native species…there is still an underwhelming amount of dissent from the general public. We give awards to (and even praise) people and institutions that are engaged in an even more insidious “vandalizing” of our island, but can find it in us to call a middle school child all sorts of racial slurs and accuse his parents, people we don’t know, of being horrible human beings. It just seems like we need to re-prioritize our outrage.

I am more furious that I have had to watch six people I love die within a span of six years, at far too young an age, because of cancers linked to their environment. I’m furious that so many of our families are still living on contaminated land that the military has failed to clean up. I’m more ready to shame the military for trying to say they are good stewards of the environment when they are clearly the biggest polluters of our island. Pollution is not just trash on the side of the road or spray-paint (that stuff is bad too though). Pollution is also putting lead in your water, burying mustard gas in your back yard, and spraying the place with agent orange. Pollution is also detonating things in our waters and letting lead get near our water aquifers. Vandalism is also servicemen who draw eagles in ancient caves near our burial sites.

I don’t think it’s okay to spray paint the Guam seal. I don’t think it’s okay to victimize other people in our community by spray-painting your name on their personal property; but I think that all of you claiming to shame these wayward kids because you care about Guam’s “environment” and the “beauty of our island” need to redirect some of your anger. The middle school boy with the stupid tag name is not as big a threat to our island’s beauty as the storing of nuclear weapons, bombs, toxic chemicals, and putting lead in our water.

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Messages Delivered. Message Received.

Messages sent on Chamoru activism since childhood:

They do not like Chamoru activists that are uneducated and ignorant.
They do not like Chamoru activists that are “too academic and over educated.”

They do not like Chamoru activists that are messy, dark, and poor.
They do not like Chamoru activists that are bougie, light skinned, and wealthy.

They do not like Chamoru activists who are too loud, aggressive, and militant.
They will not bother with Chamoru activists if they are too passive, friendly, and quiet.

Chamoru activism through art is “not real”; do not waste your time doing it.
Chamorus have no real culture because they do not have enough art; you should take the time to create it.

Chamoru activists who speak inarticulately are jokes. They will be mocked.
Chamoru activists who speak too articulately are self-righteous and overly dramatic. They will be mocked.

Chamoru activists from off-island don’t count because they haven’t put in enough time on Guam.
Chamoru activists who have never left Guam can’t be taken seriously because they haven’t lived outside of Guam.

Chamoru activists with a lot of land should shut up and be grateful they still have land.
Chamoru activists without land should shut up because they already lost their land. Get over it.

Chamoru activists who are old should retire and “give it up already.”
Chamoru activists who are young should stop and “grow up.”

Chamoru activist-women should go home and take care of their kids instead of protesting.
Protests led by Chamoru activists should not be taken seriously because not enough people showed up.

They can’t take Chamorus seriously because they do not speak, read, or write in their language.
It’s pointless for Chamorus to keep trying to learn to read, speak, or write their language.

There are no Chamorus anymore.
There are too many Chamorus.

Message received:

They do not like Chamorus… be a Chamoru activist anyway.

Yes, I’m Bringing the Kids

Life here sometimes feels like an endless stream of funerals and birthdays. The quick transitions from celebrating a new life to mourning one ended can be overwhelming. This past month, I have gathered with family around loved ones taking their last breaths twice, stood over the coffins of relatives at four different funerals, and within the past two years, my young child has seen five dead bodies. One of my girlfriends (who is not from here) expressed deep worry over this: the volume of death we’ve witnessed and the constant exposure of our young children to death and death rituals. We tried to explain to her that for most people here, death is truly a part of life and these things are not uncommon within our culture. From early ages, we are brought to nightly rosaries for the dead, to family viewings, and brought before open caskets. This struck my girlfriend as ghoulish. She shook her head and covered her mouth at the idea of babies being brought before open caskets and people on their death beds. We laughed a little, because strangely, some of our most happy childhood memories are at funerals. They also serve as a time when the entire family is together. Relatives who have been away for years come home and we hang on to this special time wherein we can eat, laugh, and cry together. Some of my happiest death memories include:

– Getting in trouble from our elderly aunts for creating a “Chamoru ABC” rap song outside of the church social hall.
– The old lady who had to swallow back phlegm singing Gogue Yu’us.
– The kids fighting over chips outside of the ICU.
– The completely inappropriate, and sometimes bitingly funny things relatives allow themselves to say when they are approaching death.
– My grandmother throwing a banana peel at a priest who entered her hospital room trying to give her communion.
– My uncles swinging around brown tree snakes at the finakpo’ to entertain and scare the children.
– A cousin snorting loudly while crying as a casket closed… which led us all into hysterical laughter (and left us with pictures of us erupting in laughter over my grandfather’s dead body, which we are certain he will appreciate).
– Reuniting with cousins and their children who have been away for years.

Obviously, it’s a death and these happy memories are placed alongside the deep pain of losing someone; but these rituals that some find “ghoulish” are also what helps us to find peace of mind through difficulty.

I guess it would seem ghoulish…or morbid if it were something you are not used to, if you have been raised with the idea that death is a rare occurrence (or if where you live, death in your circles is so rare that when it happens…you are confused and afraid of the things that surround a loss of life). That’s not the case here. You are introduced to death in early childhood, and as you get older, you begin to look at it differently. The rituals that surround death here are oddly comforting, because during a confusing time, they keep you busy and surround you with support. You are swept away for nine to nineteen days welcoming relatives, attending nightly rosaries, planning, and serving those who come to pay their respects. By the time it’s all over, you often reach a new level of inner peace and exhaustion that helps you to confront the loss on your own with new resolve.

Because we are a small interconnected community, it might seem to happen with an intensity and frequency that people from larger communities might not be used to, that they might be overwhelmed by. My husband is not from Guam; but after several years here, he is now beginning to understand the process, even coming to appreciate its value.

The most frequently accessed part of our island’s local newspaper is the obituary section. My relatives only ever bother with the publication for the death announcements. When free papers are offered at local coffee shops, I’ve seen them skip straight to the death announcements, tearing out obituaries as reminders. My grandmother used to have a constant collection of newspaper obituaries strewn around her nightstand and tables. She needed to plan her week around which funerals she would be attending (and dragging me to). In all honesty, I cannot count the amount of funerals I have been to since childhood. I cannot count the amount of open caskets I have seen. There are too many; and I do not view these memories as trauma. I view them with quite a bit of pride, pride in our people for the beautiful way they come together to support families during a time of loss, pride in the closeness of our families and the amount of love that is shown.

In particular, I am always struck by the beauty of how many people that did not get along well with the deceased show up to offer themselves and their sincere condolences. At quite a few funerals I’ve been to, I’ve seen people with long running feuds set their differences aside to focus on the ways in which they appreciated the person who passed. This has always been an important reminder of the power of death; and that power is not limited to a devastating humbling of those in mourning. Death can also be uplifting, unifying, and beautiful. Our island has taught me this. Our people have taught me this.

I have been taught that when death gets close to my loved ones, I shouldn’t panic and turn away. I have been taught that I should not hide death from my children. I should include them and talk to them about it openly, answering their questions and allowing them to question the world around them. I have learned that it’s important to approach death head on and with love and strength, because it transforms you. I love that when someone is dying or sickly, we do not hide it in hospice centers where only immediate relatives come by to stand vigil. Here, in our families, we literally bring it home. Relatives, close and distant, come into the home to visit those passing; and we laugh and we let our children run wild outside of the sickroom as we keep our loved ones company.

When someone takes their last breath, they do it surrounded by up to twenty relatives, all whispering their love and offering them support as they slip away. Of course it’s painful, of course we cry, and maybe you do not understand the rosaries whispered or why we do it; but doing it so many times has helped me to realize something: there is nowhere else I would rather live or die than Guam. And yes, I will most definitely be bringing my children to every part of the services. Do not worry about them. Watching their families display their unity during a time of loss is a great gift that I know they will take with them into adulthood, something they will come to find great beauty in, in the same way so many of our people have done from generation to generation.

Just A Few Questions

Today was my eldest child’s first day of school. He’s in first grade! We woke up excited and eager to escort him to his classroom, so much so that my husband even took the morning off so we could both meet there to see him start his first day of elementary. When I entered his little Guam Public School, I could not help but grin. I love our island’s children. The Pacific is stamped all over them, in the way they walk, talk, and joke with each other. They’re a particular brand of sneaky, happy, and funny that I have never seen anywhere else; and I love it. It makes me grateful to be a daughter of Guam. I waved to friends who were happily dropping their children and loved the happy back-to-school buzz filling the humid hallways. I loved the sound of chickens making noise in the grassy areas around the school. I loved the kids talking to a boonie dog through a chain link fence, and I even loved the scared little faces of students with tear-streaked faces resisting their first day of school.

As I guided my child up the stairs toward his new classroom, a woman with a camera crew stopped me. I’m wary of the media. You never know how they’re going to frame and edit you to fit their narrative. I am still bruised from past interviews with media about family land issues and the possible use of ancestral land for military buffer zones. Everyone wants our stories. Everyone wants to help us “tell the world what’s happening here.”

“Excuse me! Can I ask you a few questions about the first day of school?” the woman asked.

I paused, knowing much is happening on our island and not feeling like talking about it.

“About the kids? And the first day of school?” I asked, double checking.

My son was excited about the camera and looking up with curiosity. The woman gave me a friendly smile and affirmed that “yes,” it was just “questions about the children and their first day of school.”

I smiled and agreed. She asked me about the grade my child was entering and if he was excited. We proudly announced that it was first grade and we were excited because he’s officially in elementary school. She was warm and friendly and I was starting to have fun sharing about my son’s first day of school, even thinking how cool it would be to have this moment captured.

Then I froze, unprepared and stunned by her next question.

“With the threats from North Korea, have you spoke to your son about what to do if there is an attack?”

My heart raced. I stared blankly at the camera, smiling like a Stepford wife. “How to prepare?” I asked again, nervous. “Yes. Are you prepared? Is your son prepared?” I looked down at my son, who I haven’t discussed a possible bomb on the first day of school with. Why would I ruin his first day by bringing up the possibility of a Nuclear attack while away from his parents?

“No. No I did not talk to him.”

Desperate and reaching for words, I eeked out something about having faith and just trying to have a normal day. I said something about our island being threatened many times before and just doing our best, about how there was no real way to “prepare” for a Nuclear attack, about it not being like a typhoon or an earthquake. A nuclear attack…what could we possibly do that would really protect us?

The woman nodded, still smiling. I looked up the stairs at my husband, who had somehow escaped the reporter and was looking down at us. I suddenly felt like bolting. The hallway looked so long.

“What about the school? Do you feel the school is equipped and prepared in the case of an attack from North Korea? Has anything been done to help prepare you to leave your child here? Is the school ready?”

My mind was racing. I had no real answers.  I looked at the school.  It was a small village school with happy, but old classrooms. I thought about the “comfort kit” his teacher asked for. I have sent him with a “comfort kit” containing a favorite snack and extra water. I remind myself not to say that, because I will sound like an idiot.

“Ummm no.”

“What do you think should be done to prepare?”

I am no expert on Nuclear attacks. I was literally just trying to get my kid to the first grade.

“I don’t think we can prepare,” I say nervously. I tell her, while sweating profusely, that I just hope these threats force us to look at why we are in this position in the first place and that we look at our relationship with the United States. My son was holding my hand, confused.  He has heard people talking about North Korea, but I have never mentioned an actual Nuclear attack to him; and now that we were being asked about it, I felt as if I were hiding some dirty secret from him. The woman thanks me and asks how to spell my name. She asked how long I have lived on Guam.

“All my life. I am Chamoru,” I tell her awkwardly, trying to remember if I had just said anything embarrassing and struggling to recall the words I had blurted out only seconds ago. I ask her if that is all and she thanks me. I walked up the stairs to my husband, overwhelmed and suddenly anxious. “What was that about?” he asked.

“It was weird. Just awkward.”

I brushed it off, trying to focus on why we were there: my son’s first day. We sat in front of his classroom, talking to other parents. I watched my boy closely, hoping the conversation with the reporter did not plant any worrisome thoughts in his head. When his teacher opened the door, he rushed in with excitement. He claimed a blue chair, happily approached friends from the last school year, and we took pictures in a Dr. Seuss “selfie frame” the teacher had made. I stayed as long as possible before my son gently reminded me I could go. I gave him a hug, reminded him to be good, and took one last glance at him while exiting the classroom.

While leaving, I saw the principal. I asked where the news crew was from and why they were here, she tried to respond before the explanation emerged in front of me. It was our Governor, smiling happily and escorting his grand child to the first day of school. Another parent whispered in my ear from the side “he arranged for the foreign news team to come film today. Media opportunity to show that we’re all fine and everything is business as usual.” I nod quietly, staring at him waving and making a spectacle in the hallway. I quickly wiggle past the news team and our Governor, thinking of my son and turning around to look down the hallway again. The reporter’s questions kept replaying in my mind: “Are you prepared? What will you do if there is an attack at school? Have you talked to him? Do you feel safe leaving him?”

I didn’t have any of the answers for those questions. Didn’t North Korea say they would back off if the American President chilled out? Did he chill out? I don’t know. They’re all entrenched in the Nazi racist stuff over there. Are we okay now? Were we ever okay? Isn’t Guam always in danger as long as the U.S is here? I didn’t know the answers to some of those questions.  I still don’t. All I know is that I left my son. I left him there without any of those answers, and when I see him after school, I cannot wait to find out what his first day was like and hug him. I hope he gets through a single day at school without having to hear talk of war and possible danger. I hope he reads lots of books, plays lots of games, and gets into a healthy amount of trouble; and this is my wish for all our island’s children. I wish all our children a day without war hanging over them.

Faith Strategies

When I was a little girl, one of my favorite priests told me to kick my worrying habit.  He reminded me that worrying is removing trust in God’s plan.  I try, as much as possible, to remember that, but I am, by nature, a worrier.  Motherhood has only increased my tendency to worry;  but with Pale’s words in mind, I do my best to cast worry aside and approach the days as they come.  So yesterday, I did I all I could to eject myself from the dialogue about North Korea.  The night before was spent waking up every few minutes because of the planes flying overhead and the thunder storms.  My eyes kept darting around the room, making sure it was just mother nature, but I also found myself opening my bedroom door, so I could rush to my children more quickly if ever the deep rumbling turned out to be more than military exercises and thunder.  I kept trying to remember my grandmother’s description of the sound bombs make when they fall to make the distinction.

When morning came, I packed my children up and headed outdoors.  Another thing my priest once told me  (he gives lots of good advice) was that when I feel lost and overwhelmed, going out in nature helps us to ground ourselves again; so I did that.  My girlfriend and I loaded our children in trucks and took the long bumpy road past the military bases to Litekyan, the pristine stretch of beach and jungle once populated by hundreds of ancient Chamorus.  I figured the spirits of our ancestors and the startling beauty of the island would erase the seeds of worry planted inside me.  But as we were there, reminders kept materializing out of thin air.  I had to explain to my son why birds no longer sing in our jungles.  Auntie Emily, the Chamoru woman who has so lovingly worked at the refuge for years, told the children how the military had cleared and destroyed many of the ancient latte sites.  As we were driving down, planes flew overhead.  I did my best to be present, but it was hard.  I peered across the water at our sister island, Luta, and was reminded that they will also be affected should the crazy men making threats at each other not pull it together.

When we got home, I tried to play board games with my son, but he kept asking questions.  He hears the news and is very embilikeru.  He eavesdrops on the conversations occurring around him.  “Is Guam a safe place?”  “Is America bad?”  “Is Korea bad?”   I answer him quickly:  We are always safe if we trust in God, America is not bad.  Korea is not bad.  War is bad.

Later that night, I went to Chamoru classes.  I lost myself in the laughter and love of practicing my mother tongue.  I appreciated that everyone in the class was intentionally avoiding the subject, but then my phone went off.  Screen shots of Chamorus off-island promoting their personal brands and young men making light of the situation with tacky memes appeared in my messages.  I rolled my eyes.  What a privilege to be young…what a privilege to be far away.  I turned my phone off.  In ancient times, women were in charge of all battles.  Battles could not be fought with out their permission.  Battles ended when the women said so.  They would stop them before anyone was too seriously hurt.  I think about how different things would be if women were in charge.  We do not joke about war.  War is not a time to promote ourselves or beat our chests.  There is no reason big enough to kill another person’s child.  Our Lady always wants peace.

When I came home from class, I entered to see my husband’s sad face.  I ask him what is wrong and learn my in-laws have made a phone call, asking us to leave my island and live with them in California.  Leaving would be hard, expensive, and unrealistic.  Who’s gonna pay the thousands of dollars it takes for ONE flight out of here? We are a family of four, six if we take my parents.  We are too rooted here, plus…I am unhappy when living in the Continental US.  My spirit dies there.   My American friends have all been reminding me I should move, I should come live near them.  I appreciate their offer, but I also wonder… instead of moving us, can’t your country just stop making bases here that put a big red X on our back?  We could move….or YOU could.  Every time we have been bombed, it has been because you are here.

I tell my father of all the people encouraging us to leave.  His face becomes stern.  “You tell them we’ve been invaded before.  We’ve been bombed before.  We are Chamoru.”  He grabs my baby and sniffs her neck, “you tell them this baby is a Chamorita!  A maga’haga!”  I laugh and look at her little face.  She is.  She is the toughest, most dadao little girl I’ve ever seen.  I laugh, but my laughter is broken by the sudden and uncontrollable thought of a box found in my great grandmother’s house after her death.  It contained a small handkerchief with the name of a baby she lost during the war, a baby girl.  I put my girl down, unsettled.  I tell my girlfriend about this and her brother, a young man rooted in a faith, reminds me to remember the stories of our people, reminds me that we are all being testing.  I desperately want to pass this test from God, and I remember the stories as he instructed.  Why is the first story that pops into my head one of my grandfather leaving his mother on the side of the road to die so he and his siblings could stay alive?  I look at my son and feel like crying.  I try to think of another story, but it’s a story of children in a nearby island dancing beneath nuclear fallout, thinking it was snow and having their skin peel off.  I decide this strategy is not working.

I go into my room and take out the beautiful rosary given to me by a student who went on a pilgrimage to Rome.  “It was blessed by the Pope, Miss!  And it’s blue, so I thought of you.”  I wrap the beads around my hands and begin reciting the prayers my grandmother once told me could soothe any heart.  And it works.  When I am done, my heart is lighter and the stories have managed to file themselves somewhere deep in the back of my mind.

I leave the rosary out.  I do not return it to the pretty box my student presented it to me in.

“I will be needing you a lot these days,” I whisper, patting it lightly before exiting the room and turning off the light.

This morning, I stare into the jungle behind my kitchen sink, rinsing mashed aga’ off of plates.  My son makes small noises in the background, noises of Ninja Turtles loading the Turtle van with “Be Bop” and “Rock Steady.”  A tight knot sits in the middle of my throat and I remind myself to keep it tied.  At any moment, it will loosen and release a flood of tears.  My son has asked me why I am quiet, why I look sad this morning… twice:  once while I was serving him breakfast and another time while gently reminding him to keep the noise down.  I asked him more nicely than usual, which has alerted him to my sadness.  I collect the aga’ peels and walk outside, grateful to be away from his watchful eye.  I throw one peel into the jungle.  I stop.  The knot is beginning to loosen, and this upsets me.  I throw another peel, this time more aggressively, and it happens:  the knot  unravels and I am crying.

Dropping the rest of the banana peels beside my feet, I press my palms to my lips, trying to muffle the cries.  I remind myself to pray.  I call on my Saina, begging for their strength; and I lift my heart up to the Blessed Mother, as my grandmothers have always taught me to do, asking her to remember us, to intercede for us.  I hear my son calling me from inside the house, but I am not ready to look him in the face just yet.  I remind myself this has happened before.  Our island has been bombed and threatened many times.  The United States has put our home in danger many times.  They have abandoned us, made us a target for every foreign threat, occupied us…and we’re still here.  I close my eyes and think of the generations before me, their many stories have come alive in my head.  They have somehow made it possible for me to stand before this jungle, throwing banana peels from trees they once planted, despite slavery, genocide, concentration camps, and colonization.  I remind myself that if forced to relive their experiences, with a deep faith, I can get my family through anything.  I stand still for a few more minutes, waiting for God to see me through the clouds.

I turn around to find my son standing at the front door, watching me.  “Mommy, what are you doing?”

I smile and walk toward him.  “Throwing away your mess!” I yell cheerfully.  He giggles as I pinch his behind. He is pretending to run away from me while sticking his dagan out for me to grab.  I chase him back through the door.  “You’re not sad anymore, mommy?”

“No, neni.  Mommy was never sad.  Sometimes, mommies just have a lot to worry about.” I glance at my phone, it is full of messages from relatives and friends off island.  They are sending love because they “saw the news.”  I remind myself to be nice.  Why don’t I feel like thanking them for their messages?  Why don’t I feel like comforting them?

I log into facebook and see off-island activists posting angrily, indignantly, about this recent threat.  There are many “I told you so’s” and I scroll past them.  A popular author messages me, she wants to know what everyone here is thinking, what we’re saying (because you can never trust local media to tell you) and she’s not seeing many posts from people actually living on Guam.  “I only see the diaspora and haoles raising hell about it online.  What are you thinking?  What’s everyone there saying?  What are you guys doing?”

I don’t feel like answering her, but she means well and I consider vomiting out all the anger, bitterness, complete lack of surprise, worry, exhaustion, apathy, hopelessness, hope, and sadness that I (and many other friends are experiencing this morning).  I type it out and then delete it. I try again (this time, summoning a voice more rooted in political fact).  I delete it.  Third time is the charm, right?  I type a very preachy response, invoking the tone of confident allies who do not actually live on Guam.  I read it and cringe.  I sound like a bitch. I delete it, too.  I try again, letting three seconds fall between each word before typing the next.

“I, we, feel a lot of things.  Thanks for the note.  More later.”

I hit “send.”

 

 

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.