On April 14 and 15 2006 more than 60 Chamorros gathered together in at the Sons and Daughters of Guam Club in San Diego to share their work and research and participate in discussions related to the future of their people and their islands. The name of this gathering was Famoksaiyan: Decolonizing Chamorro Histories, Identities and Futures.
Famoksaiyan means either “the time or place to nurture or grow” or the “time to paddle and move forward.” It was in this spirit that these Chamorros, pinat manhoben, the majority of whom were under the age of 30 came together to connect to their islands and each other, and work towards creating a more progressive future for us all.
The conference was structured around six panels (education, military, health, education, activism, history and decolonization) each with three presenters who connected the experiences of Chamorros to these issues. The presentations were incredibly diverse, ranging from Sabina Perez who discussed the dangers of water privatization in Guam, to Leiana Naholowaa, who discussed the role of public monuments in shaping memory and history in Guam, to Hope Cristobal who talked about the effects of colonization on the mental health of Chamorros. Through these interactions, those in attendance were able to connect to their histories and their islands in a way that went beyond just tattoos, nenkanno’ or bumper stickers, but was forged through a passionate commitment to a better future for Chamorros.
On the second day, in response to the excitement of the conference participants, we facilitated different work groups, which strategized short and long term goals for dealing with a number of the problems Chamorros today in the United States, the Mariana Islands or the Middle East are confronted with. Different action plans were developed for education, public policy, visibility, language revitalization, military and media.
Throughout the meeting, as people shared ideas and started working together, the word “historic” was often used to describe what was taking place.
As the main organizer for this event, I was mamahlao to accept such labels. Once the gathering was over however, I began to realize that something truly incredible had taken place, and that depending upon how the energy and the momentum from the gathering is conserved and focused, Famoksaiyan could become a historic event.
First of all, it was rare to see so many young Chamorros speak with such heartfelt interest and dedication to the direction of their people. They spent their own money, their parents money or received money from their schools to attend, flying from all over the country and even from Guam, and were thus intent on making sure the trip was worth it. The activism panel actually consisted of three young Chamorros, two who are undergraduate students and one still in high school. One of these students, Chaz Pangelinan, was actually flown down to the conference by his cousin, as a gift for his graduation from Seattle University this summer.
It was most prominently through family networks that people were informed of the gathering and encouraged to attend. Madonna Perez for example, was called by her mother every week and told that she must come to Famoksaiyan. Others were informed by uncles, aunties, some in San Diego, others in Guam. A common phrase was, “you should go, meet other young Chamorros like you, you can stay with auntie or uncle so and so…”
This conference made use of these family and social networks stretched across the Pacific Ocean and the United States. In our discussions we gave respect i manamko’, who have worked hard in build and maintain these kinship ties, in particular since the end of World War II.
But at the same time, what made Famoksaiyan truly historic, was the way it brought the social and the political worlds together into one space. If Chamorros as a people are serious about our survival, about issues of cultural and language revitalization, economic development, social improvement, both in the islands and in the United States, then we must bring the political issues that affect us, into our social spaces like fiestas and other events.
As I told one attendee at the conference, we have to go beyond the food. While we can take pride in the fact that hunggan, gof mangge’ i fina’tinas Chamoru, we have to assert our presence in this country as more than just another “ethnic” group that makes “ethnic” cuisine for the dominant culture. We need to band together with each other and with other groups and make demands. In the United States, these demands might be, given our poor educational and health statistics for equal access to government programs, education and health services. In relation to our islands in the Pacific, these demands might be for sovereignty, for an end to colonialism, a demand for justice.
For Chamorros, along with other invisible ethnic groups, our political presence and power does not exist by virtue of our numbers or our history. We must work to create it.
The last reason why Famoksaiyan might be historic is because of the way it provided the networking space and identification of skills that can make this creation possible. Young Chamorros who are upset at the way we are treated in Guam by the US Federal Government, or who are angry over the fact that even though we are a United States “colony” most people still think Guam is Guatemala, found a number of other Chamorros who feel the same, and who want to do something about it. And best of all, now we have the skills to do it. For example, Tiffany Lacsado has public policy experience. Miget Tuncap has a history of student organizing. Lola Sablan Santos has grant writing experience and a huge list of professional contacts. Also attending the conference were artists, poets, health professionals, lawyers, counselors and so on.
Over the next couple of months we will be having meetings in San Francisco and Seattle to solidify the networks we’ve made and start working on the projects we’ve proposed.
We are looking for more people, who are concerned about the futures of Chamorros and their islands and are interested in making a difference or a change. If you would like to know more please email me, Michael Lujan Bevacqua, at email@example.com, or sign up for our listserv at http://lists.riseup.net/www/info/famoksaiyan.