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

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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.