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.


Go Fund Me

Two days ago, an image of a military spouse and her children on a gofundme site went viral on island.  I would post the picture here, but I’ve been thinking a lot about the woman in the picture and I felt gross doing that.  I mean, she’s a mother with two beautiful children who (like me) just really wants to do whatever she can to keep her babies out of harm’s way.  I get that; but my immediate response to the picture circulating wasn’t as generous.  I had to stop and reflect on my initial reaction. I came to realize that my feelings are not about her; they are about the way her reaction to Guam’s situation highlighted the huge disconnect between Stateside military families and those who are from here.  She reminded us of an ugly history we don’t like to talk about. The image reminded everyone of everything that sits just beneath the surface of our “Military Welcome” signs hanging in small storefronts and our insistence (at least publicly) that we have no bitterness toward the United States. This, you might have seen, is quickly changing on island.

I was not alone in my reaction.  Many made it clear that they were rubbed the wrong way by this cry for money and a way back “home” from a military wife, a woman who has access to better schools, homes, beaches, grocery stores, recreational facilities, parks, and gets discounts all over the island.  Our island struggles to provide these things to the general public because the resources that allow us to be truly sustainable are largely controlled by the United States.  I mean, if she lives on base, she’s literally living on land taken from people here unfairly, which impacted the financial stability of quite a few families for generations.  People told her to “start swimming.”  Others reminded her that as a military dependent, she gets discounts on airfare and low cost (sometimes free) military flights (unlike Guam’s regular residents who are charged exorbitant rates on commercial airlines and have no other options to leave). Most telling were the tons of comments reminding her that if anything truly terrible were to happen on Guam, the military would evacuate people like her FIRST.  One man pointed out that she had nothing to worry about, because “America would get all of your kind off the island and come back if there’s anything they still want here after it has been blown to hell.” People kept reminding her about the “last time” our island was threatened and the US knew about it.

To add fuel to the fire, other military spouses started shaming her for not having faith in the military her husband was part of.  I mean, this poor woman got it hard; and at a certain point, I really started to think about whether it was this person as an individual we were irritated with or the completely shit situation ALL of us are in because of our local, national, and international leaders.  We can’t really be mad or offended by this lady wanting to leave a place that is not her home and that was just told it might be bombed.  We can’t really fault her for being scared and wanting to protect her children.  It’s also really not her fault that she isn’t attached enough to the island to want to stay and “have faith.”  Our home is where our home is.  Guam is simply not this lady’s home.  Why did this make people so upset?

It upset them because for years, our local and military leaders on island have tried to convince us that we are ONE.  That we are the SAME, that there are no differences between stateside military and local families. We’re all equal. They have told us that the military is “just like us” and that we need to be thankful for them, even when they aren’t being very nice guests on the island.  They keep telling us they love Guam and care about Guam the same way we do;  but no matter how many ribbon cutting ceremonies our island invites military officials to, it doesn’t change the fact that it’s simply not true.  If it were, they wouldn’t have to work so damned hard to prove it.  We wouldn’t have to shove it down people’s throats with constant articles, parades, and community engagement projects.  If we were the same and everything was fair and just, you wouldn’t need to keep telling us.

This lady did nothing but remind people of feelings sitting deep inside them, feelings about our ugly history and complicated relationship with the United States, about our fears and lack of options when it comes to doing what’s best for our family, and most of all…of how our home is seen by Americans in the Continental US (something many people here are in denial of).

So, to this young mother and her two children, I hope you DO get home. I hope you and your babies feel safe and that your heart isn’t too wounded by all the things said about you this past week.  It really isn’t about you.  It really isn’t your fault.  You are just one more person hurt by the United States’ insistence on keeping Colonial possessions.


*Now let’s talk about that viral thread detailing the conversations of military personnel bashing the island and its people at the Naval hospital.  ;P

A Normal Day in Guam, USA

I woke up yesterday happy, with renewed determination to live in the present.  I made breakfast for my children, packed my bags for a day of work, and exercised with Beyonce on full blast, my son hopping around me doing half assed burpees and push-ups.  Yes, I knew the threat of a Nuclear attack was still hanging over us, but what was I going to do? I cried the day before and could not bring myself to cry again today.  I fielded calls from off-island cousins, all of whom were bawling and expressing their desire to come home and be with us.  “If something happens to you guys, there is no use living for me anymore!” one sobbed through the phone.  I reassured her that we were fine and joked about sleeping with a bra on, so I wouldn’t be running around unsupported should we be hit in the middle of the night.  I reminded her not to worry because “as far as I know, all stateside military families are still here.”  My Uncles have been joking that we have nothing to worry about until America starts evacuating it’s “real” citizens (like last time).  I checked my e-mail and again, sent messages of comfort to friends and family who were a complete wreck far away, messages from friends and relatives I hadn’t heard from in months.  I updated my facebook status: “If I die in a nuclear attack, please tell people I was skinny and only use pictures from 1999-2010.”  116 Likes (most of them from friends far away).  When I posted the day before about being scared, I got 40 likes.  I am coming to realize my friends far away do not really know how to talk to me about this, but if I joke about it, they feel better; so I keep joking whenever one of them calls me… and this brightens their day.  They are able to move on with their lives without worrying about us.

I threw myself into my work, never stopping to think about anything other than students and deadlines and editing.  It felt good.  I laughed with one of my closest girlfriends and we watched our children run around as we tackled a to-do list.  Later in the day, my child entered our work space with a swollen face.  He must have come across something containing peanut or peanut dust that triggered his allergies.  I gave him medicine, rinsed him off, and began driving home, too busy to think of the world’s politics.  And I was grateful for all of this:  grateful for the deadlines quickly approaching, grateful for the students flooding my inbox with requests, even grateful for the allergy attack that put me into “mom medic mode.”  It kept me sane.

I welcomed my husband and baby girl home, grateful to see their faces, eager to sit at a table and eat with them.  As we bless our food, my daughter clasps her hands together and pretends to pray, a gesture we all find cute.  We end up getting distracted mid prayer to cheer for her and clap that she is “praying;”  (so our prayer wasn’t very solemn or respectful, but I think God understood).  I hear my phone.  A new message has arrived.  I look and see it is from my daughter’s daycare.  I almost put the phone aside and decide to look at it later before realizing it could be an important reminder for tomorrow.  Maybe someone is having a birthday party and I won’t have to make her lunch!  I look at the message.  It’s a document that needs downloading.  Curious, I click on “download.”

A blue, newsletter-looking PDF appears on the screen.  I look closer.

“North Korea Threat Briefing Information”

The document is nineteen pages long.  I start scrolling through it.  I flip through its pages, but  stand still reading the final page.

Page 19.

Before, During, and After a Nuclear Blast.

Lay on the floor face down.  Do not get up immediately.  Shock waves will come minutes after the blast.

Do not look at the blast.  It will blind you.

Do not leave your house for 24 hours after the blast to avoid radioactive material.

If you are outside, immediately take a shower and clean yourself with soap and water thoroughly.

Do not use conditioner in your hair because it will bind radioactive material to your hair.


I stop reading.  A painful lump emerges in my throat.  I promised myself I would not submit to panic and fear today.  I promised myself I would have a normal day.  I stand still for a few minutes and am able to compose myself.  I close the document and click on the message below it.  Someone has forwarded a video of our Governor talking to Donald Trump.  The Governor is clearly excited to be speaking to Trump.  He is all smiles and it reminds me of the time I went to a Cher concert in Las Vegas.  “The Governor is acting the way I acted when I first saw Cher,” I think to myself.  He tells him he has “never felt more safe” than with Trump “at the helm.”  Trump says something about us being a “lovely island.”  Disgusted, I turn off the video.

I was supposed to have a normal day, but more and more, I begin to understand that the longer I live here, the more I must return to my definition of “normal” and revise it.

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.