Friday, May 05, 2006

Chamorros Giya California

A few years ago I put together the historical narrative below to support an application for a California history grant, which would have provided the money for a historical display chronicling the story of Chamorros and the state of California. Unfortunately the project never went through, but I came across this narrative earlier today and thought it interesting enough to share.

If I were to write a grant such as this now, my history would be slightly different, especially in the last couple of paragraphs where I have cultural description. But the paragraphs towards the beginning are actually a nice little history of Chamorro migration to the United States.

Guam and the Chamorro people's first entry into American history books begins in 1898, when the island was taken as a spoil of the Spanish American War. However, even prior to that Chamorros had already found their ways in large numbers to Hawaii and California. They had left Guam as bayaneru siha (whalers) in the 19th century, and after disembarking in Honolulu or San Francisco, decided not to return to Guam, but instead find their fortune there.

But when Guam became a territory of the United States, the communities these men had formed became very important for other Chamorros leaving Guam to take advantage of educational and economic opportunities in the states. Chamorros gravitated to San Francisco in the early part of the 20th century because of these contacts. Young Chamorros attending school at Immaculate Conception Academy or St. Mary's College or other Bay Area schools could rely on help from their relatives both distant and close who had already set their roots down into California soil, but still maintained connections to Guam.

By the outbreak of World War I, many Chamorros in California joined the military to fight to protect their new nation. One such man, was Joseph Flores, who after fighting in Europe, set up shop in California, and established a successful newspaper called The South Market Tribune. Later he would return to Guam to become the island's first Chamorro governor.Sadly, even though these young men fought bravely to protect the US, the US provided them with little to no protections. Despite the fact that the American flag flew over Guam, the Chamorros were not considered citizens of the US, nor were they protected by its Constitution. Some Chamorros, such as Jose Muna Flores (Tun Sen Anga') or Juan Unpingco Pangelinan (Juan Male'), after serving in World War I, stayed in California in order to become naturalized citizens of the US, before returning to Guam.

Prior to 1950, there was no democracy on Guam, as the island was administered by the United States Navy. The Navy, not used to civilian populations, did little to improve the island, and one limitation was schooling on Guam. There was no college on Guam, and the first high school was established in the late 1930's. Peter Cruz Siguenza left Guam in 1937 when family members living in California offered their home to him, so that he could finish high school. Siguenza was enrolled at San Diego State College when the Second World War broke out. Upon learning that Guam had been taken by the Japanese, he immediately tried to enlist in the US Navy. At that time however, minorities in the Navy were only allowed to be mess attendants. Disappointed at the discrimination, Siguenza enlisted in the Marines instead, becoming the first Chamorro ever to do so. While his ship was enroute to Guam in 1943, Siguenza was called back out of action, and placed in an officers' candidate school, becoming the first every Chamorro Marine Corps Officer.

The US military would play the largest role in bringing Chamorros into the mainland. And to this day, the Chamorro communities in the United States, tend to pocket around military bases, such as Camp Pendleton in San Diego and Mare Island in Vallejo. The service offered economic benefits, but also a chance to see the world. Chamorros leaving Guam before World War II, often left to see the huge world that lay beyond Guam's horizons. Anai kahulo' yu' gi batko/ Hinasso-ku I gua'ot I langet. A popular folksong of the 1930's says, "when I got on the boat, I thought it was the stairway to heaven." Romantics aside, most of them just ended up in Vallejo.

At present there are 93,000 Chamorros or part Chamorros living in the United States and the majority of them live in California. They represent the third largest Pacific Islander group in the country behind Native Hawaiians and Samoans.

The Chamorro community of California is small, but visible to those familiar with it. While other ethnicities come to the states and try to recreate their homelands by setting up ethnic shops or restaurants, creating the façade of the land they left behind, Chamorros have always come to the states and reproduced a spirit and an energy, which is common amongst all Pacific Islanders.
Chamorro parties and fiestas are infamous for their scale and scope, and celebrations and the love of life that goes into planning and making them happen are a big part of being a Chamorro. Through Guam Clubs and Chamorro organizations, people from all around the state and country come to attend these Chamorro parties. Liberation Day, which celebrates Guam's liberation from the Japanese in 1944, is the largest celebration.On Guam it is a cliché that Chamorro will use any excuse to get together, barbeque, celebrate and have fun. But for Chamorros in the states, it goes beyond jus mere fun, but it becomes a part of their cultural survival and continuity.

On Guam, in the olden days the idea of inafa'maolek (interdependence or cooperation) was vital to survival on Guam. Coming together to work or to help each other, whether it was for thatching a roof, chenchulu' fishing (net fishing), or planting the fields, always ensured that in your time of need, your neighbors and your family would be there to assist you. But in California today, because of its huge size, and because of the scattered pockets of Chamorros all over the state, inafa'maolek has changed slightly. Rather than physical survival, the cooperation and interdependence becomes a part of cultural survival. At present there are more Chamorros in the United States mainland than on Guam. Coming together for parties and celebrations of history and culture, and vital for Chamorros in the states to maintain their connections and ties to Guam, as well as their connections to other Chamorros in the states.

One of the most common celebrations by Chamorros in the states, are village fiestas. On Guam each village has been assigned a patron saint. Chamorros from those villages still enjoy celebrating their patron saints here. Some people come from all over the country to attend the celebration of their villages patron saint, this is one way that Chamorros here, remain linked to their homeland.

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