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.

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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.”

 

 

Conditional

I have come to learn that the good will and love some of my stateside American friends have for me has boundaries. Those boundaries often appear where my indigeneity begins. I get it, too. The truth of me, of us, makes some of them uncomfortable. I sometimes feel bad that knowing about my home makes yours feel less fun at times. I’m still trying to understand why acknowledging the actual history of our home insults some of them. How strange is it to be personally insulted (or feel disrespected) by historical and political fact? I wrote the poem below while thinking about these things.

 

 

You like me best when I am
A Catholic woman
head bowed low
beautiful pictures and
Witty banter over clinking glasses,

When I am “passing” for white.

But when the blood that made my daughter brown boils inside me,
You avert your eyes.
Handing me platitudes
telling me to cover up.

When tears fall over open wounds,
You remind me it’s just a scratch.
I’m not really bleeding.

Cuts like that don’t leave scars.

You like me best when I am…
Pretending.
When I am slip n slides
Birthday cakes
balancing babies on my hip.

You like me best when I am…not me.
When orange shells do not dangle from my neck.
When I am not choking on my own mother’s tongue.
Not bent in gratitude.

You like us best when me (and mine) … are gone.

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.

 

 

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

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.