Sunday, April 23, 2006

Ethnic Achakma'

Check out the flyer above for information on the upcoming Tan Chong Padula Humanitarian Awards to take place next month in Garden Grove.

Each year the Chamorro community in Southern California and the Guam Communications Network puts it together. One organization or individual will receive the main award, while a number of others will receive medallions (I was lucky enough to receive one a few years ago).

Last year I was fortunate enough to attend, when the Kutturan Chamoru performers received the main award. This is truly an incredible group considered the types of performances that they are doing and that the majority of their members are stateside Chamorros. Their open debt to the work of Frank Rabon and Taotao Tano' is a welcome reprieve from the usual trajectory of Chamorro dance groups (both on Guam and in the states), which is usually hula, hula and more hula.

Chamorros are scattered throughout the United States, but they have nonetheless been able to maintain crucial social networks through events such as this and organizations such as the Sons and Daughters of Guam Club or the Guam Communications Network. The Tan Chong Padula event is huge, hundreds of Chamorros from all over the West Coast come to attend.

My use of the term "social" to describe these networks, should hint at what I'll say next.

If the preservation of our language, communities and culture is to be based on these networks, then they must go beyond being merely social, they must be political as well. Hunggan, debi di ta agradesi i manamko' sa' ma fa'tinasi hit este siha, but if these connections exist purely for parties or for social occasions, then their work is has little to do with the future of our people here or anywhere else, except in preparation for our little niche as a small but charming member of the patronizing American multi-cultural family. When I say political, of course I am referring to participation in political processes, such as securing funding for inclusion in health services, demographic data, and making sure that politicians in the states consider the interests of Chamorros when they vote (San Diego for example has 7,0000 Chamorros). But more so I am referring to our taking control over our forms of visibility and refusing to accept how we do exist and how we should exist. Not seeking to just include ourselves in the dominant culture, but remembering the sovereignty that our homeland still represents, despite its continuing colonial status. And recognizing the sovereignty we possess even in working to change that, to transform our situation.

At Famoksaiyan last week, someone asked me about the state of Chamorro affairs in the US today. I responded that, things are okay, the next and most important step we need to take, is to move beyond the food. Notice, how so many people in this country, white or anything else, have at least one Chamorro friend, and often speak graciously of the awesomeness of their friend's food. While we can take some pride in the fact that we do have great food, we have to assert our presence as something other than a producer of "ethnic food" that the US consumes. But this doesn't just go for Chamorros, but for other minority groups as well. Is our fate to be ethnic achakma' for the dominant group and culture? A little piece on the side, while ultimately it is "whiteness" that dictates all things else?


Anonymous said...

So many chamorros feel the same way...that we have so much to be proud in our culture but not enough of the youth really know our culture...i am part of the youth...and i feel embarrassed and ashamed at not knowing how to speak my own language...i can cook most of the food and i remember to amen my manamku' at every family gathering but all the major traditions of our people are lost to most of the youth...i feel it and it hurts meeh...i want to know my history and every extent of my culture but since i moved to the states they dont provide the special Chamorro classes i recieved back home in Guam...i hang out with my cousins and talk about our heritage and how proud we are to be chamorro but we dont have all the knowledge we WANT...we complain about using only the chamorro words we know and wish we were all fluent...we feel torn apart from our own people...and though were in the states and dont have all the great opportunities to further advance our knowledge of our heritage, we know our cousins back home on the islands who also dont know those things...were being fed the ideas and beliefs of the "American" culture and feel were being denied our still looking for ways to regain my culture...

Anonymous said...

Kutturan Chamoru Performers doing something Chamorro? That is nothing Chamorro at all. Maybe the Spanish part, due to the fact that Chamorro is an introduced Spanish term meaning "to be bald or shaved."

Come on Miget you know that even though Franks group says they're doing Chamorro doesn't mean they really do Chamorro.

Many of their chants are either Hula Kahiko "Ancient Hula" by using their drums and Ipu Heke and putting Chamorro words to it, as well as traditional Maori Chants from Aotearoa, they take that and basterdize it by putting Chamorro terms. It makes us Chamorros look like copy cats and a people whose life is about "stealing" other peoples culture and "claiming" it is ours.

Only one group does it right and that's Guma' Palu Li'e from Guam.

Everything other group instructors teach are what they claim as "borrowed" but I claim it as "stealing."

Sahuma Minagahet said...

If you want to have a for reals discussion about this, it would probably be better if you emailed me.

But for now, I'll just say this. Be very careful about saying who does "Chamorro right." Guma' Palu Li'e borrows from many many cultures as well, its just not as visible. Since the Polynesian influences of Taotao Tano' style groups look similar to what the dominant perceptions is of Pacific dances, so people think of them as serial borrowers.

For me, this whole "borrowing" issue is troublesome and unimportant. All cultures borrow, but just that some because of their size and power don't get called out on it, by themselves or others.

Here is something to consider, and if you read enough history and then think about the way certain people talk, you'll see its true, even if you don't like it. Colonizers never borrow, it is only colonized peoples which borrow. I don't think this is true, but this is the perception that we are stuck with. When the United States borrows it is because they are multicultural and a tolerant nation. When Chamorros borrow it is because there culture is gone or they are just copycats. We Chamorros ourselves perpetuate this, and act as if we have committed impure sins because there are Spanish words in our language or that Chamorros a hundred years ago decided to dance Spanish dances.

The issue is not whether or not a group borrows, but what you do with it. When Taotao Tano' first came out they were rejected by people throughout the Pacific and Guam as being copycats. Since then however, they have slowly reworked the imagination of Guam and elsewhere to make a Chamorro place for their dancing.

Since I'm not interesting in finding the pure Chamorro which doesn't have to borrow anything, I can enjoy and accept this cultural success alongside a "purist" group such as Guma' Palu Li'e, since for me they aren't opposed or opposites, but just two responses to the loss of culture, identity and art. I am glad they both exist. Taotao Tano' style groups do not reject that colonization happened or continues to happen, and creates with that history, those influences. Guma' Palu Li'e tries to create a Chamorro language and culture that was never affected by colonization. Both of them, not just Guma' Palu Li'e are dealing with "the real Chamorro." One the real Chamorro at a certain point in time or if history had been different, the other, a Chamorro who has experienced colonization and survived and is interested in creating art despite what people say.

Please, though do not argue that Guma' Palu Li'e is truer Chamorro because it didn't borrow Spanish words, Spanish dances or Polynesian motifs. I think that creatively Guma' Palu Li'e is important, but when you say that its the truest or mas magahet na Chamorro, what are you looking for or trying to find? Purity? The real Chamorro? Too often the people who do this sort of thing forget the necessity of respecting or dealing with most or all of Chamorro history and culture, and not just the parts that seem to be the most indigenous or pure.

I will end here with a story, which proves to me why people who argue for a pure Chamorro in the distant past are wrong. My grandfather is Tun Jack Lujan, the Chamorro Master Blacksmith. Because of his work he is respected by many many people. Manamko' remember his father and him and their tools that they depended upon to survive on the lancho and in particular during the war. Even most of the Chamorro artists who represent themselves as producing indigenous works, recognize the importance that his machete and fosino symbolize in terms of Chamorro toughness and ability to survive and sustain itself. At one arts festival on Guam, my grandfather was talking to a group of artists near one of their booths, where they had bone, shell and wood carvings. My grandfather is in his 80's and uses a cane when he walks around. He got tired of standing around while talking and looked for a place to sit, and saw a wooden latte carving, which he could use as a stool. After he sat on it, one of the artists yelled at him, that he couldn't sit there, that is for our ancestors. My grandfather looked at this artist, gof lalalu, and responded that I AM YOUR ANCESTOR.

chamoruz said...

There will always be discussion as to what is correct.I see the importance of both the creative and traditional, no matter what definition of those words we choose to attach ourselves to.While i acknowledge the cultural influences of our past,I truly believe we as individuals create culture,and not the other way around.We see this every day in our interactions with all we meet.It truly is a living thing.I am happy when i see Chamoru groups, with different approaches, existing side by side.No matter what their differences, they are at least making an effort, and that participation creates Chamoru culture today, as well as helping to preserve our past...

Michael Lujan Bevacqua said...

Si Yu'us Ma'ase for your comment Chamoruz. I agree with you. We tend to think of culture in terms of uniformity or purity, so its healthy if every body's the same, does the same thing or belives the same thing, but in truth its the other way around. The health and vitality of our culture is based on how much different we can be yet still call ourselves Chamorro. If Chamorro is so delicate and fragile that it can only be represented by one dance or one group, then we are in trouble.


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