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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Bikini Moms and My Inadequacy

2chbnn I am a woman with many insecurities.  You name it, I question it: appearance, intellect, productivity level, professional accomplishments, and most recently… quality as a mother.  I know; this is unhealthy.  I am working on it (constantly).  These past few months, I realized that there was something very specific in my life that made the ever present struggle to feel self satisfied harder than it had to be for me personally: social networking, more specifically, facebook.  Somewhere, a long time ago, like many other women I know, I developed the terrible and self destructive habit of comparing myself to other females. For a long time, it was women in magazines or on TV, women I could later remind myself did not really exist. I would turn off the TV, close the magazine, look around, and tell myself to get a grip.  There were more important things to worry about, more meaningful ways to exist. Somewhere deep inside, I know that while comparison is natural, there are limits to which I should engage.  But I have this funny way of abandoning logic from time to time.  I’m a smart woman with the tendency toward really dumb habits. You would think that becoming a mother would put this behavior into perspective.  Who has time to compare when you have the life of another human being in your hands?  Well, apparently, I did.  And I found that after becoming a mom, I was comparing myself with an intensity that could not, in any way, be good.

It seemed like I was the only mom in the world waking up looking like shit, occasionally crying, or hiding from my kid to pee in solitude.  Sometimes, I walk into work dressed like a mental patient and don’t realize it until I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror between classes.  I wasn’t always this way.  I have BECOME this way and can’t quite figure out how to pull it all back together again.  I’m freaking humpty dumpty, people.  The horses, the king’s men, they haven’t been able to fix it since I fell from that wall!  Sure, I’ll do it for a few months at a time.  I’ll get a real nice rhythm going.  I’ll feel like Superwoman. Then, I slip for a while and feel completely out of control. My house is a mess; I’m grading papers and accidentally spilling the dinner I’m cooking all over student work; I am ditching the work out to sleep; I am letting the ipad babysit my child so that I can get the floor swept; and more than anything, I am neither graceful nor pleasant. I know, for a fact, that in real life, there are other women who have experienced this.  But facebook had a funny way of making me forget that.

Crap like this is real big with my mom-friends on Facebook. You better, WORK, bitch.

Crap like this is real big with my mom-friends on Facebook. You better, WORK, bitch.

All I saw were women thin enough during pregnancy to take maternity photos in a bikini, moms running 5ks in their third trimester, women with multiple children posting inspirational messages that reminded me that, like them, if I wanted it all (“all” meaning ‘the body, the job, the family, and the well adjusted kids’), then I just needed to WORK hard enough for it.  Because, you know, all the rest of us are just a bunch of lazy, unmotivated, unambitious heifers. So, for a short while, I summoned my inner drill sergeant and tried to kick my own ass.  I didn’t summon just any drill sergeant either.  I summoned Gunnery Sergeant Hartman from Full Metal Jacket.  All these other moms were posting about having it all, encouraging others to get it all, and how if you didn’t have it, you simply weren’t focused enough. So, I was like,  “Okay, if they can do it, I can, too”  But that shit got old real fast for me.  Maybe I don’t want it ALLLLL.  Maybe constantly trying to get it ALL is just turning me into a completely gross person to be around.  Do I really need it ALL?

I was also forgetting about some of the really cool stuff I actually do.  I love my job teaching college undergrads and I think I’m pretty good at it.  My son and I have fun and we spend lots of time together.  I have a husband that I love, who doesn’t make me want to punch him in the face (I just read Gone Girl by the way).  I am not a fitness model by any long stretch, but I’m healthy and my family eats well.  I have great friends and lots of meaningful activities going on in my life. I’m not in desperate need of anything and my resume isn’t completely pathetic.  So why did I never feel like it was enough after logging into Facebook?  What was wrong with me?

One day, while catching myself sinking into self pity and staring at a picture of a mom who had delivered a child then began training for a bikini competition, I decided I needed some major social networking detox.  I knew, and still know, that the problem does not lie with these other moms.  They’re amazing.  (Actually, as I’m writing this, I’m starting to think I could have also solved the problem by having less impressive girlfriends.  Where are all the real mediocre girls at?  Let’s do lunch!) The problem is definitely with me and my horrible tendency to “compare my behind the scenes with someone else’s highlight reel.”  You like that line?  Some other mom posted it on my facebook wall three months ago.  It was in an ugly cursive font over a picture of Marilyn Monroe.  I remember looking at it and thinking, this quote, over a picture of a woman who committed suicide, is definitely not helping me right now.

Without thinking too hard, I deleted my facebook account. In a few brief seconds, I saw, very clearly, that I was not enjoying myself when I logged in.  It was just the opposite.  I came out of each fb session feeling like a subpar mom, questioning the critical thinking or reading comprehension skills of 85% of the people on my friends list, and completely disturbed by the news stories flooding the daily newsfeed. Election season was in full swing and there are few things more disturbing than Guam’s politicians. It was information overload. I needed quiet.  I told myself that after a few weeks, when I put myself in check again, I could open a new account.  But it has been three months and I still haven’t found it in me to log back in.  I don’t think I want to.

Without it, I have got more writing done (both professionally and personally).  I have enjoyed my family guilt free, thinking less and less of how much I was doing for them compared to how much other moms might be doing for their families. I am less disturbed by all the ugly things happening in our world.  Catching up with what’s happening once a day by reading the news is good enough.  I don’t feel like a complete failure as a woman for not working out as intensely as others do. I pray and meditate more deeply. And more than anything, there is less noise in my head throughout the day.  Less interruption.  No invites to every little event and the pressure to show face. Now, if someone really wants me there, they can call or e-mail.  I can’t tell you enough how being off facebook has freed up my schedule.

I think facebook can be a really fun, positive place.  But when it comes down to it, I just kind of suck at it.  It takes a lot of discipline for me to find mental calm and content. It always has. So, for those of you who keep asking me why I have “disappeared” or been “so quiet” lately, here’s my update.  I’m still here.  I’m still kind of obnoxious and loud.  No big, tragic thing has occurred which led to the deletion of my account.  I am not mad at anyone.  I simply wanted one less place to connect.  We have so many places already these days. And for all you mommies “doing it all, getting it all, and making it all happen,” you keep on with your bad self.  I admire you.  I just can’t look at you and your bikini-mom photos right now.  

Otherhood

The clip below was shared with me this morning.  I appreciated it so much that I thought I’d share it too.  I’m all for “otherhood” and the decision NOT to have children.  I don’t believe every woman needs children to feel inspired, complete, or fulfilled.  It’s not for everyone, and it’s important to respect that. Hell, I’m a mom and I’m still not sure it’s for me most of the time.   I wish that I received this message  as a young woman more than I was asked: “When are you going to have kids?” “Why don’t you want kids?”

A full, happy, and accomplished life IS possible without a child. It’s possible without a husband too. You are not less of a woman for choosing not to have either.  By all means, secure them for yourself if it’s truly what you want, but don’t assume women who opt out are making “the wrong choice.” It’s ignorant, you sanctimommy, you.

I know that some of you reading this may think all of this is obvious, but Guam is a very traditional place.  Young, accomplished women are pressured so much by family and friends to have children and get married that it literally makes my stomach turn.  I have friends who have done amazing things. They’ve earned their doctorates, traveled the world, started their own businesses; and I’m always confused when someone approaches them and seems to belittle their amazing feat by reminding them that they still don’t have a kid or that now, “a child should be next.”  It doesn’t have to be next if you don’t want it to be.

I love the idea of re-writing the fairy tale.  I hope the women, especially the young women, in my life know they have all the power in the world to write their own stories and set their own goals.

Helfty: Post WWII Parents and Nutrition

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Vicente snacking at the beach after school

New parenting advice is constantly being uncovered.  New discoveries in child development warn against practices and ideas long held to be true by previous generations.  We all want what is healthiest, safest, or best for our child; and new mothers make a habit of latching on to the most current information and running with it.  I haven’t been a mother very long. I have lots to discover.  I am constantly learning, which is something I truly appreciate about motherhood.

I’m within my second year of motherhood and I am already seeing how different parenting philosophies from today are from the generations before me.  Lately, I’ve been bumping heads with my parents, particularly my dad, on nutrition philosophies. My blog readers know that within the past six months, I’ve been working on nourishing my body differently (some days more successfully than others).  As I eat better and feel better, it’s only natural to want the same for my family, most especially, for my son. My parents were raised by people who had emerged from concentration camps to find most of their ranching spaces confiscated for military use.  Their parents, who had formerly subsisted off of small farms, fresh fish, and fruits or vegetables grown close to home, were quickly introduced to military food rations, which included cans of condensed milk, canned meats, navy biscuits, and other food-stuffs that had long shelf lives.  Their ideas of what our children should be eating “to be healthy and strong” are largely shaped by the war experience, which I completely understand.  However, the war ended quite a while ago, and it’s hard to convince them that some of the habits they formed growing up as post-war children could use some “reconsidering.”

When Vicente stayed home with me for his first year, I had the luxury of preparing every meal for him.  He was on a steady diet of green smoothies, fresh fruit, vegetables, home cooked stews or soup,  meals with high quality meat, and very little processed sugars.  When I went back to work, it was necessary for me to enlist the much-appreciated help of “Ray Ray and Papa” (that’s what my son calls my parents).  Ray Ray and Papa rule. This past few months, they’ve been godsends.  When we’re running late for work, Papa is kind enough to give our son a ride to school, and when work keeps us late (which it often does), Ray Ray is sweet enough to pick up our little guy.  In the best interest of our favorite monster, we all agreed to make sure that Vicente continue eating “healthy” when mommy can’t be around.  I thought we were doing really well with this until one day, I realized that my dad’s idea of “healthy,” was very post-WWII. We both thought we were feeding Vicente “healthy” food, but we had very different ideas of what Vicente needed to be “bråbu.” 😛

“Me and Vicente are eating a good breakfast,” my dad proudly announced one morning.  My father suggested I walk next door to partake in this “good breakfast” he was preparing.  When I walked in the door, I found my son happily running around his beloved Papa, who was frying an assortment of canned meats in oil.  Most of the “meat” he was frying really didn’t even need to be fried.  He was just throwing them in oil for tradition’s sake.  He proudly laid out a blanket of paper towels, letting his fried canned meats sit.  Then, he started dropping eggs into the fats and oils of those fried meats.  Then, he chopped more canned meat and fried it with garlic and frozen or canned vegetables to mix with white rice, which he would again fry before plating.  I watched him for a little, wondering if it would be too tairespetu to ask if there was something else for my two-year-old to eat besides, well, a heart attack.

“Dad, is that food for baby too?” I asked gently.

“Yes, it is!  This is for papa and his BOY!” he cheered.  “Why?” he asked, suspiciously.

“Oh well, it’s just, I try to make sure Vicente has a healthy, nutritious breakfast to get him going for the day.”

“But Des, this IS HEALTHY!”  he said, incredulously.  I wish you could have seen my dad’s face. He was truly, sincerely, shocked.  How could anyone call his breakfast, which was prepared with pride and love, “unhealthy?”  He held up the plate, pushed his glasses up, and began pointing, like a science teacher, to the items on the plate.  “That’s carbohydrates; that’s protein; that’s vegetables; and the juice is fruit!” he exclaimed, satisfied.  In that moment, I realized that all those afternoons, when my dad said he and Vicente were eating “good,” my dad had been serving him his version of “healthy.”

I paused, looking at my dad.  His outrage was really funny to me. I realized that he was taught that the food he prepared was a balanced meal.  He believed in the quality of his meal with every fiber of his being.

“Tell me why this is not healthy, Des,” my dad tested.

“Well, there’s a lot of saturated fat and oil in it, dad.  Also, those canned vegetables you’re using have lots of preservatives and salt.  The meats are loaded with sodium and that sausage… that sausage is loaded with nitrates, which don’t help with preventing cancer.”  My dad stared at the plate, scratching his head thoughtfully.

“Cancer and sodium?! But I’ve been eating this for years! I was raised on this!” he exclaimed.  “I know, dad. It’s bad for you.  I keep telling you that, but you never seem to get it.”

“No, Des.  This stuff is only bad if you eat it in excess.  I don’t eat it in excess.”

“How often do you eat it, Dad?”

“Only three times a week.  The boy doesn’t have to eat this every day, just every other day. So what?  You don’t want Vicente to eat my cooking?” he asked, annoyed.

“No, it’s not that!  It’s just, maybe I can bring over some extra stuff and combine the breakfast?”

I ran across the property to my house and pulled out some of the things I usually make for Vicente’s breakfast.  I scrambled a fresh egg, sliced an avocado, and plated a bunch of fruit in front of my son. I took away the canned juice and gave him a cup of water.  My dad stared, confused, as Vicente started reaching for the fruit and eggs.

“You like that, boy?” he asked, a little confused and disgusted. “Des, he’s going to be hungry without something more substantial.  That’s just a snack,” he warned.  “No, dad.  This is a good breakfast for him and he eats it.  He doesn’t need spam and fried rice every morning,” I responded gently, noticing that my dad seemed a little hurt that I basically called his breakfast “cancer on a plate.”  Still unsure, my dad clung to his plate.  “Okay, well Papa is going to eat the breakfast he made and I’ll just try some of yours.”  He sat near my son and scooped his fried rice and fried eggs on to pieces of white bread, which he folded into, what I can only assume was a “fried rice sandwich?”

“You guys are missing out! This is good!  Papa’s breakfast makes you strong! It makes you grow!” he insisted.  He offered Vicente a bit of his fried egg.  Vicente pushed it away, not wanting any. “Okay, let me try yours,” my dad conceded.  He scooped up some of Vicente’s avocado and egg and took a bite, then grabbed some of his fruit.  He chewed thoughtfully.

“This is healthy?” he asked.  “I guess.  It’s probably better for baby in the morning than what you’re eating,” I responded.  I watched my dad take a few bites of Vicente’s plate and alternate them with bites from his plate.  I could tell that through the entire meal, he was thinking. When we were done, my dad laughed a little.  “Laña boy, Papa thought this was healthy,” he admitted.  “So dad, this whole time, when you said you were feeding Vicente ‘helfty,’ was it stuff like this?”

He laughed, “Yes!  I always make sure he has a carbohydrate, a protein, and a vegetable.”  I talked to him about how yes, we do need protein, vegetables, and carbohydrates, but where we get them and their quality plays a big role in determining how “nutritious” they are for us.  KFC chicken, red rice, and coleslaw was a balanced and nutritious meal for my dad.  My parents are so cute, because after that breakfast, they truly did start looking at nutrition for their grandson differently.  I noticed they started buying him more fruits, cooking a little differently, and driving past fast-food places quietly.  They’ve really made a wonderful effort to reconsider their ideas on nutrition.

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Vicente enjoying a well-deserved, very UNHELFTY and sugar-filled, treat at his friend, Keala’s, birthday party. I wish I could be one of those moms that successfully implements the “no junk at all” rule. But I can’t. I’d be a hypocrite. I try to eat healthy, but sometimes, I just NEED a cupcake.

Three of my girlfriends complained about their parents recently to me.  Apparently, quite a few of them were going through this with their post-war Chamoru parents.  One girlfriend, who came home to visit, was horrified to find that her parents were feeding her little brother “buttered canned corn with salt”  as his vegetable serving.  She kept scolding her parents for what they were feeding her brother.  Whenever she complained, they tuned her out and teased her for trying to get them to eat “like a haole.”

I also don’t think canned corn drowned in butter and salt is very nutritious, but the way she went about trying to get her parents to change their ways didn’t seem effective.  I had another girlfriend who came home recently and decided she’d get around it buy filling her parents’ refrigerator with more fruits and vegetables.  I was happy to give her a ride to the grocery store to stock up on some fresh fruits.  She explained to me that, like the other friend, her parents also thought buttered corn in salt was a good way to get your veggies in.  I’m 99% sure that after my preachy friend  left the island, her family returned to their normal eating habits.  I think the girlfriend who left behind healthy food for her family to experiment with might have made a difference.

I think it’s important to remember that they come from a completely different time and place.  Their parents were raising children under very different circumstances.  Their parents were trying to give their children sustenance without the ranches and farms they were used to. They gave their children what they had access to.  You can’t be mad at someone for something they don’t know.  You have to watch the spirit of your criticism when you talk to them about the food choices they are making.  And in all honesty, we have access to fresher foods and information about healthier ways of living because of some of the things they have laid the groundwork for.  The next time you come home and find your well-meaning parents stuffing your kid with oil and canned meat, instead of panicking or getting too bent out of shape about it, just try TALKING to them about it.  Don’t be preachy and don’t scold them (because some of my girlfriends were totally being preachy).   I mean, really, how well do you take to someone coming to your door and just telling you everything you do and believe in is wrong ?  It’s obnoxious!

Share the new information about health and food that your generation is so blessed to have by giving them the opportunity to ask questions and have a dialogue about it.  They’ll probably enjoy talking about what they ate when they were young and why.  They love their grandkids! When they start to make the connection between the diseases plaguing our island’s people, like diabetes, gout, or cancer, they will quickly decide they want to do anything they can to spare their grandkids from these horrible things.  You can share without being disrespectful or unappreciative. It really helps to actually expose them to new ways of cooking and new food items.  Cook breakfast at their house.  Use it as an opportunity to exchange information and revamp recipes.

Recently, my friend, Ursula, developed a recipe for, what she called, “decolonized champaladu.”  It looked delicious and I’m going to ask her permission to post her recipe soon.  I loved it because it was a perfect example of how you can take something that our parents make often, which isn’t very nutritious, and use the new information you’ve had access to in order to make it more nourishing.  What are some popular dishes that you have made “helfty” for your family?

How do your ideas on nutrition differ from those of your parents? How does your family discuss them in productive way?

December 7 is almost here: Our Islands Are Sacred Movement

A picture uploaded by baby Lina'la's mommy in support of the Our Islands Are Sacred Movement.

A picture uploaded by baby Lina’la’s mommy in support of the Our Islands Are Sacred Movement.

December 7 is quickly approaching.  This date is significant because it is the final day for our residents to submit testimony in response to the US Department of Defense’s MIRC EIS.  I plan on submitting a comment because, as a Chamoru woman and a mother of a Chamoru child, it bothers me to think of all that has been done, continues to be done, and now, wants to be done, in our Micronesian region. Our poor islands have become a training ground for wars we have nothing to do with. As the years go by, we’re starting to see that it is not good for us. It is not good for our children.  It is not good for our health.  It is not good for our water.  It is not good for our land.  It is not good for our culture.  It is not good for our animal and plant life.

It is not good.

Information on the MIRC from We Are Guahan

Information on the MIRC from We Are Guahan

In November of 2010, thousands (from both on and off island) rallied together when the US Department of Defense released an EIS detailing their plans for the realignment of Okinawan troops.  When the residents of Guam saw what the US wanted to do to our island, we weren’t happy.  I mean, no one would be.  It was actually kind of unbelievable what they wanted (want?) to do.

It was officially rated as the worst EIS ever.  Their plans were met with disbelief, confusion, hurt, and a whole lot of anger.  And while it was truly terrible, it was also really inspiring for me to see that our island has had enough.  We’re no longer cool with people coming here and saying they’re going to do whatever they want to our home.  We may not have a whole lot of political bartering power to stop it, but a part of me believes that there is power in the voice of people collectively saying “No,” even if those people are second-class, non-voting, non-represented people residing in a US colony.  People responded to that EIS, lots of people. Those responses helped me to see that with education, information, and community involvement, quite a bit is possible when it comes to speaking up on our home’s behalf.

So, this time, our island is being given another set of plans explaining what our colonizer, our possessor, would like to do with our home.  I have been watching from afar as a movement called, “Our Islands Are Sacred,” has worked to spread awareness about this recently released EIS.  They’ve mobilized people from all over the world online and within our community.  They seem mostly comprised of young people and, what I’m really happy to see, are young mothers.  Seeing that so many young mothers are involved in this effort inspires me.  I know where their hearts are and immediately, their efforts resonate with me.  Our islands ARE sacred.  Our children will inherit these islands and culturally, as CHamoru women, it is our obligation to do what we can to protect this place.  So many CHamoru (and Guamanian) mommies read this blog that I felt the need to share this.  By the way, thank you for reading it.  I really do appreciate your emails and messages.

Guahan momm, Eva (mommy to Eli), at one the MIRC public hearings at UOG.  This pictures is from the Our Islands Are Sacred Facebook Page.

Guahan mommy, Eva (mommy to Eli), at one the MIRC public hearings at UOG. This pictures is from the Our Islands Are Sacred Facebook Page.

I hope that, no matter where you are, you will contribute your voice to this discussion.  I know that it is very hard to keep up with everything happening on our island.  To be honest, I always kind of feel like I’m running around trying to figure out what’s going on, but nothing is more worth trying to stay informed about than the fate of our home.

Image by Tasi Benavente.  This image has become my favorite one from the Our Islands Are Sacred group.  I love the way it uses CHamoru female symbols, reminding Chamoru women of their traditional role to protect what is sacred about our people and home.

Image by Tasi Benavente. This image has become my favorite one from the Our Islands Are Sacred group. I love the way it uses CHamoru female symbols, reminding Chamoru women of their traditional role to protect what is sacred about our people and home.

The 2013 Educators Symposium on Soil & Water Conservation

My favorite field trip stop during the Symposium was to the Guam Organic Farm in Mangilao.

My favorite field trip stop during the Symposium was to the Guam Organic Farm in Mangilao.

I spent this past week at the Northern Guam Soil and Water Conservation District’s 2013 Educators Symposium on Soil and Water Conservation. The symposium took place from 8:00am – 5:00pm, and from August 5th through the 7th. It was a wonderful experience that I am grateful to have been a part of. On the first day of the Symposium, Dr. Robert Underwood emphasized the importance of the event by explaining the way in which children on Guam, as a result of being under such a heavy Western influence, tend to learn many lessons “vicariously.” To help the audience understand what he meant, he shared an experience he had at a local elementary school: While walking through the hallways, he noticed a beautiful bulletin board, decorated by our island’s students and teachers that read, “April Showers Bring May Flowers.” He was immediately put off by the bulletin and approached the school’s principal to point out how ridiculous it is to teach Guam’s children that “April Showers Bring May Flowers.” April showers may bring May flowers for children in other places around the world, but on Guam, it is one of the driest months of the year!

Apu Calori checking out Guam's hydroponic lettuce (and catching frogs!).

Apu Calori checking out Guam’s hydroponic lettuce (and catching frogs!).

Within my classroom, I can also  think of many ways in which Guam’s children learn “vicariously” through experiences documented in Western literature and curriculums  within our schools. There is a disconnect between what is actually unfolding around them and what they are reading about in their books; a disconnect that may not form as large a gap as it would, say, in California. I see this disconnect clearly when I read or interact with the children in my family. When I read them books that contain Pacific Imagery, local jokes, or that incorporate experiences from their lives, they react and recognize things more quickly. It’s more meaningful to them. Within many of our local schools, our children are not always taught to connect with the island around them. Their immediate experiences, as Pacific Island children, are often dismissed or framed as experiences that are lacking in comparison to those of stateside children. What this symposium did was remind our island’s educators that the immediate experiences of our island’s children and our local environment are valid and worthy of incorporating into formal education.

It was a bit depressing going to the coral pit and understanding what we're allowing to happen to our island.

It was a bit depressing going to the coral pit and understanding what we’re allowing to happen to our island.

During the 32 hours we spent at the symposium, we were provided with in-depth presentations that helped educators, especially those who do not specialize in science, understand how unique and wonderful our island truly is. It was impossible to leave each day of the symposium without feeling a revitalized connection between yourself and the soil beneath you. I found my mind running a mile a minute every time I used our faucet or put something in our trashcan. As a matter of fact, I think I came home and annoyed my family, because I was suddenly on fire with all the new information I was given.

Some of the wonderful "party favors" we received throughout the week.

Some of the wonderful “party favors” we received throughout the week.

I noticed  that the rest of the educators in the room felt the same way. It wasn’t necessarily that in the past, we did not care for our island’s ecosystem, but we were not yet educated, in a complete way, on our relationship with local soil, water, plants, and animals.  Many of the educators in the room were much older than me.  Hearing about their experiences and the ways they have witnessed ecological changes on our island over the years made me realize just how much I want my son to experience Guam for the beautiful place it already is.  I don’t want my son to grow up being taught that our island is lacking.  I want him to see, very clearly, what a place of abundance our home is.  I want him to take pride in the fact that this is his home, especially as a CHamoru male.

Visiting the Tilapia farm in Yigo

Visiting the Tilapia farm in Yigo

I have to laugh a little thinking about all the A’s and high marks I received in science classes  in school. I learned so much about the ecology of the rest of the world, but we never once stopped to study Guam. What I did know, that was specifically about Guam, prior to the Symposium was gathered in bits and pieces from the manamko in my family or other relatives who grew plants or raised animals on our land. I can’t summarize everything I learned into a single blog entry, but what I can do is bring this new awareness into my classroom and my home. I’m excited! I don’t have a degree or specialization in ecology or biology, but at this symposium, I realized that it was completely possible to work conservation into my curriculum anyway. Our island is full of resources and qualified professionals who are eager to help make this happen.  Now, I know where to find them!  Now, I know where to begin.

One of my favorite pictures from the Symposium of PJ San Nicolas on the trongkon mames.

One of my favorite pictures from the Symposium of PJ San Nicolas on the trongkon mames.

In addition to becoming excited about the information as an educator, I couldn’t help but connect some of the things occurring in my personal life to each presentation.  As most of my readers already know, I have, for the past few months, made some drastic changes to my eating habits. I have made a big effort to remove processed foods from my diet and have, as much as possible, incorporated locally grown, organic plants into my meals.  Doing this has completely changed my life.  Some of my friends and relatives don’t believe that it could all boil down to food, but I am convinced it is.  For the two  years after I had my son and lost my grandmother, I struggled terribly to crawl out of depression.  Changing what I eat and exercising more has turned me into a person who is more excited about the day ahead of me.  My body FEELS different.  Before I started doing this, I felt broken (inside and out).  I have not completely healed myself yet, but I know, with complete certainty, that I am moving somewhere better.  The information presented at the symposium almost seemed to help me understand WHY changing what I have been eating has made such a big difference.

I wish this picture wasn't so blurry.  We earned these certificates of completion at the end of the symposium.

I wish this picture wasn’t so blurry. We earned these certificates of completion at the end of the symposium.

I want to thank the island’s conservation districts and the Guam Department of Education for making this last week possible. It was a wonderful way to begin the new academic year.

The Nana yan Patgon Act, Decolonizing your Baby’s Diet, & Why a Woman Who Did Not Breastfeed Can Support Nursing

Nana yan Patgon Act

Nana yan Patgon Act

When I first returned to Guam and began teaching post-secondary students, I applied to a doctorate program and for a position to become a full-time instructor. Shortly after I did this, a male colleague questioned my ability to do either. He felt that because I was a young, married woman, I would want a family (which would eventually interfere and make me less capable of performing up to standards). For some reason, this man didn’t have much faith in me as either an academic or a professor. As a matter of fact, he told me that I “probably wouldn’t get in” to the doctorate program I applied for, because someone he knew, someone who was “better” than me, applied and was rejected. (Never mind that he didn’t really know me enough to judge how good I was or how much “better” someone else might be. I now realize he must have made quite a few assumptions about me because I was young, female, and local). Oh well, what’s new?

He also felt the need to remind me that many marriages slip into divorce within academia. I remember being offended, but a little stunned at the comment. It was only later, after I went home and processed my feelings about his remarks, that I decided they were, most definitely, wrong. After marinating in his words, I actually became enraged with him. Luckily, I was offered a permanent position elsewhere shortly after the conversation, at a place where being a married woman, who might someday have a child was never an issue or distraction. I was also ecstatic to find out that I had been ACCEPTED to the doctorate program I applied for. They simply asked me to revise a minor detail on my statement of purpose, which I did. It felt amazing.

A few months later, I ended up with child. I never ended up enrolling within the program that accepted me. I felt disappointed in myself. With a baby and a husband who traveled often, I couldn’t handle it. When I made the decision not to enroll, my heart pretty much broke. The former colleague’s comments came back to haunt me. They loomed over my head for months. So, when I finally delivered my child, I decided that NOTHING was going to get in the way of me being the very best, most productive young professor I could be. I was already embarrassed to have people hear that I didn’t end up going to the program I was accepted to.

I felt the overwhelming need to prove people like him wrong. Because I was due over the summer, I was not eligible for maternity leave. I had to get back to work two months after my c-section (while my spouse  was away for a long period of time). I decided that in order to resume work and power through the long hours of standing up, lecturing five undergraduate classes, and still do all of the extra stuff that is expected of you as a professor (committee work, research, recruiting, community service, etc), I would NOT breastfeed. I got a lot of criticism for not breastfeeding my son. But I also received many comments from people in my field that reminded me committing to breastfeeding would make my performance suffer (or even make it impossible). One man told me that was why academia “was not a good place for young, married woman.” I was starting to wonder if he was right.  But all I’ve ever wanted was to teach undergraduates and I didn’t want people who thought that way to “win.”

When I returned to work and people began to learn I wasn’t breastfeeding, some made faces at me; they implied that I was not as good a mother as one who opted to breastfeed. People warned me that my child would fall ill or develop slowly. People called me “lazy.” Some women would even post images on my facebook wall that compared breastfed children to formula-fed children. The drawings of the breast-fed children always had brighter eyes and a more attractive, happier appearance. I’m not going to lie; I felt like shit. I know that there are quite a few mothers out there who still believe that I deserve to feel like shit for not breastfeeding.  They’re entitled to their opinions and I respect that.  But make no mistake, their mission was accomplished: By the end of my first semester back at work, I was laden with self-loathing and guilt for not doing it and for not staying home with my child to do it longer.

Two of the beautiful breastfed nenis who were present at the public hearing: Tanom (puppy bear) Camacho & Luca (lovey face) Cepeda.

Two of the beautiful breastfed nenis who were present at the public hearing: Tanom (puppy bear) Camacho & Luca (lovey face) Cepeda.

Luckily, my son has grown beautifully. He’s smart; he’s just as smart, bright-eyed, and developed as any breastfed child. He is not, nor has he ever been, obese. He doesn’t have trouble eating his veggies or natural, unprocessed foods. He does not have eczema or asthma (as some insisted he would). He’s taller than most. He’s perfect. I have spent quite a bit of time being ashamed for my decision. I was called me selfish; and I think a part of me was. I guess it was a selfish decision to choose my career (but I worked hard and long  in order to get that job. I really wanted it; and I wanted to be good at it). One friend even told me that she just loved her baby more than I must have loved mine. OUCH. I sometimes lied and said I was breastfeeding, just to avoid the hurtful criticism. I figured, my boobs are big, people won’t know I’m making it up! 😛

So, when I heard about the new local bill that would ensure rights for nursing mothers and infants, I was curious to read it and explore my feelings. Would reading it just make me feel worse? I read it and when I put it down, I decided that it was something I would most definitely get behind and support. At the hearing yesterday, I did not offer testimony (though I now plan to). I wasn’t sure if I had a place in the conversation after not breastfeeding my own son. Would people call me a hypocrite if I publicly supported it? But sitting in on the hearing made me realize that passing the bill was crucial for our island, especially because Guam, American Samoa, and West Virgina were the only places on US soil that do not have a local law in place to protect nursing mothers. This bill raises awareness and normalizes breastfeeding, encouraging people, like the individuals who questioned my ability to be both a mother and an employee, to understand that breastfeeding is a natural right, one that should never be questioned, by anybody. It’s a natural process that is good for our children and no woman should ever sit and wonder whether or not doing it in a public place (or at her workplace) will make her seem rude or less capable. Despite having not breast-fed, I was empowered, as a woman, by listening to the testimonies presented by the Director of Public Health, other mothers, and local lactation consultants.

Ani and Cara Flores-Mays: Another beautiful CHamoru mother and child who showed up to support the bill.  Obviously, Cara's daughter is no longer being breastfed, but she showed up anyway to support the bill.

Ani and Cara Flores-Mays: Another beautiful CHamoru mother and child who showed up to support the bill. Obviously, Cara’s daughter is no longer being breastfed, but she showed up anyway to support the bill. I thought it was really cool to see men and women who did not breastfeed offer their support.  The bill is not just about breastfeeding, it’s about the health of our island’s children and the rights of our local mothers.  Who can’t get behind that?

I was listened with interest to the testimony presented by James Gillan, the director of Public Health. He is the father of three beautiful daughters, all of whom were breastfed. He explained that for our island, breastfeeding was the norm up until WWII. In the past, women on Guam breast-fed without a second thought. With the arrival of infant formula and new societal structures on our island, there was a “departure from the natural process.” He even mentioned other Pacific, colonized islands (such as Kiribati) that had once predominantly breastfed, but later shied away from the practice.

The arrival of Western supplies and ideas transformed having access to infant formula and having a bottle to feed your child with into a kind of “status symbol.” Speaker of the Guam Legislature, Judith T. Wonpat, also admitted that Guam, being one of the most “westernized” pacific islands, has moved further and further away from natural ways of operating, such as breastfeeding. The funny thing about Guam is that we have quite a few people in our community who still view having anything from the states, whether it be clothing or a degree, as a status symbol.  Just yesterday, I saw a big billboard that advertised homes for sale that were described as “just like that states!”  (My personal opinion is that Guam homes are cute and I love them.) Our poor little island is infected by this false notion of Western superiority, even I am guilty of it sometimes. The speaker called on the many different women’s groups on island to help promote and encourage breastfeeding on Guam. So many interesting and thought-provoking topics were brought up during the hearing.

For me, it made me realize that if I were to ever have a child again, I might feel differently or maybe make a different choice. I know that it has always been my body and my choice and that, technically, it was always in my power to have selected breastfeeding. I’m not blaming anyone here. BUT I am saying that when we increase awareness of issues like this, we are doing something good for ALL of our island’s mothers.

We’re letting them know that whatever they choose, there is no shame and no second-guessing. We’re providing a little extra ammunition for women to work with when they meet people who aren’t educated, progressive, or open minded enough to realize that being a mother doesn’t make you less able to do anything, especially if our society starts leaning more heavily toward motherhood’s acceptance.

If you’ve been reading this blog, then you know that I have become very motivated to eat more natural and nourish my body with simple foods. Breast milk is the most natural thing I could have given my child. The introduction of this bill has forced me to reflect upon the decision I made. It has encouraged me to sort through some old, unresolved feelings, and figure out where some of my actions were rooted when I made the decision. I think I feel ready to let the guilt die now. I have an amazing, healthy son and no matter what some people may think of me for not having breastfed him, I think I’m doing a decent job of showing him my love and taking care of him. I did what I did; and I have learned some valuable lessons through the experience.

I hope that you will take some time to look at this bill as well. You have nine days to submit written testimony in its support to Speaker Judith T. Wonpat’s office at the Guam Legislature. Testimony may be e-mailed, faxed, or dropped off in person.

Here is a link to read the bill: Nana yan Patgon Act

Thank you to all the mothers and individuals who provided testimony at yesterday’s meeting. I truly appreciated your perspectives and am excited to see that so many of our islanders are eager to make returning to this natural process more comfortable and more accepted in our community.

Individuals offering testimony at the public hearing.  In the middle is Jennifer Camacho, who spearheaded the Nana yan Patgon effort.

Individuals offering testimony at the public hearing. In the middle is Jennifer Camacho, who spearheaded the Nana yan Patgon effort.