Tuesday, October 04, 2005

What is this thing, Chamorro, that I say I am?

More and more of my time lately has been spent answering emails from Chamorros how there that I haven't had the pleasure yet of meeting. When I started the Chamorro Information Activists and Minagahet Zine I was hoping for this kind of networking and connectivity.

There are so many Chamorros out there who are trawling the internet for answers to their questions. Questions which are created through the absences in their lives. Gaps and voids in the speech of their parents, that create the language they speak to each other a non-language for their children. The absence of a star on the American flag which would indicate Guam's presence in the United States. Absences formed through the movement between Guamanian and Chamorro/Chamoru which always push the Chamorro closer towards the United States, trapping their identities in multicultural American contexts (basically, Guamainian is easy, Chamorro is harder).

Given what was out there on the internet a few years ago, there didn't seem much hope for those searching for answers.

I started Minagahet with the intent of providing better and more critically Chamorro answers to the usual questions of identity and culture, and better yet, hopefully provide some better questions for them to ask.

Young Chamorros in particular in the United States, confronted with these very particular absences are seeking answers, and sadly the help that they receive only further disconnects them from Guam. Chamorro American is a term I am sadly hearing far too often lately. The possibility of being Chamorro only seems terrifyingly impossible thus it must be carefully augmented with the American, thus making it fit in equivalence with other esta approved ethnic categories (Asian American, African American, Native American, etc.)

And then there's the insane refrain of "I'm not Chamorro but my parents are." Thus we see the absences associated with being a Chamorro in the United States as being fixed through a plea to the American nation itself. The Chamorro is recast as an immigrant, thus solving the problem of an status fraught with absence, by naturalizing whatever disconnects exist, as being part of the movement from there to here.

Its important before something like "I'm not Chamorro but my parents are" becomes someone's narrative mantra (the thing they don't just say to others, but more importantly constantly say to themselves), that someone intervene to disrupt that logic. Someone provide the materials for a different narrative or mantra to be formed.

For a time the Chamorro Information Activists consisted of half a dozen of so of us who took up this task, whether through emails, MSN or Yahoo chat, or on our message board. Over the summer however a slight splintering took place and so its been just me pretty much ever since. Ai adai, manmacha'gue, na'ma'ase, lao bai hu sungon ha' ya bai hu usuni mo'na.

Anyways, here's an excerpt from one email that I sent recently, to a Chamorro that I've been emailing for the past few weeks. She had actually started a zine of her own several years ago, but couldn't get enough community support to keep it going. I had asked her if she would want to write something for Minagahet and she had responded that since she didn't really know what it means to be Chamorro, maybe someone else would be better.

Before you read it, just a warning, I do have a tendency to ramble and rant and go off into the langhet on some topics.

You should submit something for my zine, because the fact that you don't know what being a Chamorro means, makes you just like everyone else (regardless of what they say). We can easily establish who can and can't be Chamorro, any blood connection or mapoksai (raised as Chamorro by a Chamorro family) but anything beyond that is life itself. I always get into arguments with Chamorros who say they don't have identity crisises and know exactly who they are, and no one can tell them any different. For them, an identity crisis is an easily answerable question, "who am I?" Well that's simple, "you're Chamorro." But in reality our identities aren't that simple, its never just "who am I?" its always "who or what is this thing that I say I am?" That's what life is all about, and it never stops, the questioning, establishing, unraveling, recalling, forgetting and reinventing of the things that we say or feel we are. People often ask me what it means to be Chamorro, or what exactly is being a Chamorro, and sometimes I feel inclined to give a practiced response, like it means inafa'maolek, respect for elders, etc. And those things are of course part of it. But the response I'd much rather make is that the answer to those questions is a conversation, is a life, is lives strung together. If you settle for anything else, then you weren't really looking for what you said you were looking for.

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