Thursday, October 21, 2010

Dies Na Finaisen

Earlier tonight we finished, the second of four Fino' Chamoru na Inadaggao or Chamorro Language Forums which are being held at the University of Guam this week and next for those who are running this year for Senator and Governor on Guam.There is still another tomorrow for Senatorial Candidates and the final next Monday, the 25th for the Gubernatorial teams of Calvo/Tenorio and Gutierrez/Aguon. All of the forums start at 7 pm and end hopefully by 9, but more realistically by 9:30.

The forums so far have been interesting to say the least. I have been surprised at the Chamorro-speaking abilities of some candidates and appalled at the abilities and lack of trying of others. One of the biggest problems with the health of the Chamorro language today is the fact that so many people understand it or at least claim to understand it, but can't translate or transform that into actually using the language. There is such a strong social barrier which prevents people from even trying. I have seen several candidates so far, who clearly have some Chamorro ability, attempt in no way to try and use the Chamorro language during these forums. Some have excused themselves as being embarrassed others have claimed they would rather be understood clearly, then risk making a mistake and having people misunderstand them.

At the Mina'kuattro na Konferensia last week, I had to make two public speeches in front of anywhere from 100 - 200 people, the majority of whom speak better Chamorro than me and who have spoken Chamorro longer than I have been alive. There were many speakers last week who spoke some in English, some in Chamorro, and many who spoke entirely in English. I knew it would be easier to speak in English, I knew that I would be able to communicate better, more freely, I would sweat and stress far less. Everything would be so much easier and simpler if I just followed what is natural in Guam, and gave in to that quiet, but insistent pressure to let the Chamorro language be a beautiful, slang-ridden husk, which is better off empty, and just rely on the richness, authority and power of English to make my statements.

Yanggen ta imahina na este na lina'la'-ta, komo un saddok, pues este na fino' Ingles, Guiya kumililili hit mo'na. Guiya gumigiha hit, Guiya gumigiha i koriente. Kada nai un gof usa Fino' Chamoru,pi'ot para ayu na ti gof propiu na kosas Chamoru, munanangu kontra i koriente.

I stressed quite a bit both days of my presentations, but remembered a promise I had made at the last Konferensia, in Saipan two years ago. I had been asked at the last minute to be on a panel of political status big-shots from both the CNMI and Guam. I was not only the youngest on the panel, but also the least fluent in Chamorro. I struggled as I spoke, with my presentation mainly in English, with a few sections spoken in Chamorro to emphasize them. I felt so embarrassed however, because I have been speaking Chamorro for several years now, and I am fluent, but in front of large groups, gi me'nan linahayan as I usually say, I still get so nervous, ko'lo'lo'na yanggen manmas kapas ayu na gurupi (gi me'na-hu) kinu Guahu. I made a promise to those there, and to myself, that at the next Chamorro conference, my presentation would be entirely or at least mostly in Chamorro.

That promise stayed with me and kept me going, and at this last conference I succeeded in giving both of my presentations in Chamorro.

The Chamorro language can easily come back, it can easily become a vital and useful part of island life, but what is missing in almost everyones life, is that intention, that desire to make it so, to make it happen, to realize that particular dream. Those who can understand the language, already have many of the tools to speak the language, but lack that desire and that drive to actually step over those social boundaries, to overcome all the ways they or their language have been denigrated and try to reinfuse some meaning and value into the language again.

At the Chamorro Language Forums, the students who are asking the questions of the potential political leaders do not speak Chamorro. But as part of the forum, they are forced to ask, in the Chamorro language, very serious questions in front of hundreds of people. It is something which forces them into the language, it is something which forces them to overcome so many social barriers. I wonder if anyone of them realize that though and I wonder if any of them will actually build upon that start and work towards continuing to transgress the English hegemony and dominance on this island, which so many people perpetuate out of one side of their mouth, while out the other they are praising our beautiful Chamorro is.

In my column this week in the Marianas Variety, I listed a few of the questions which my students wrote for this forum. Here is an excerpt from my piece.

I took some time recently in my classes at UOG to discuss with my students the importance of the forum and give them all the opportunity to write down some possible questions to be asked, which would then be translated into Chamorro. The discussion was very spirited, because I pushed my students to be very intentional about what they were going to ask. I asked them not to fall into the usual traps that these events or these questions take, where politicians are asked the most generic and pointless questions, which don’t challenge them, don’t reveal anything important about them or the issue and allow them to merely regurgitate something they’ve already said 8,000 times that same week. I told me students to not be chained to what the “big” and “important” issues are usually thought to be, but to instead focus on something they felt was real in their lives. I knew that the following two questions, “What are your plans to fix the economy?”and “What are your plans to fix education?” were most likely the ones they felt were the most important, but I urged them to resist simply asking what they were supposed to ask, and focus on what they felt needed to be asked.

My students naturally asked, what kind of questions are the ones that “need to be asked?” I gave a number of different examples, such as the following after one student asked whether it would be okay to ask how she might phrase a question about whether or not the candidate could be trusted. Because in my World History class we were covering the origins of Christianity, I decided to give it a bit of Biblical flavor: “Jesus Christ said that it is easier for a camel to pass through the needle of an eye than for a rich man to get to heaven. Is this something that we should take seriously when choosing our leaders? If you are a person of financial means running for office, how can people trust you to make sure that you do not govern to promote yourself of your class, but are truly interested in helping everyone else on the island?” This is something that not only the wealthy should deal with, but all leaders as well. How can you ensure that you are acting for the benefit of all or most and not just for the few who are closest to you?

Some students found this and other similar questions too confrontational, and didn’t feel that this sort of thing was appropriate and that we should be more respectful to those who are our leaders, or wish to be our leaders. I didn’t criticize them, especially on Guam, where it’s very natural to think such a thing. Others found the bluntness refreshing and liberating, and in truth, that was how I was hoping they’d respond. That is after all the feeling of not just enjoying democracy, but actually participating in it. It stems from going beyond that abstract feeling of simply being part of a democracy, but being a part of it which can make intelligent decisions your society, and does not just cast a mindless vote, but actually attempts to educate oneself and find out what is the best choice.

I've decided to share below, my ten favorite questions (in English) which my students submitted. By far, my favorite are the aliens (ginnen estreyas) on Guam question, and the final question which puts everyone who for the past 5 years has said the military buildup will happen no matter what, on the spot.
1) Other than yourself, who is your favorite candidate currently running for Senator? You have to pick one, and you can't say all of them.
2) Trash is a very important issue for any island, since your space is very limited. But Guam has very little recycling. We are living in a fantasy world and not facing the fact that if we don’t truly start to recycle and stop importing more trash into this island. We might just end up capsizing! How would you propose to help wake up Guam and start making recycling a big part of our lives?
3) Do you support the changing of Guam's name from Guam to Guahan? Why or why not?

4) Do you think that we should make it required that all of our leaders in the Executive and Legislative Branches should be able to understand or speak Chamorro since it is an official language of Guam and they are the representatives of the island? Even if we don’t all speak Chamorro now, this could be a great chance to help encourage people to learn!

5) The US military has promised that new troops will be given cultural sensitivity training to help them adapt to living here in respectful ways. What kind of programs do you propose we can develop to help teach them about real Chamorro culture and real Chamorro history?

6) If aliens landed on Guam the day you are sworn into office, what would your first official act in response to their arrival?

7) Senator Frank Aguon submitted a bill last year which would increase the number of Senators in the Guam Legislature from 15 back up to 21. With the rapid increase of Guam’s population, do you support an increase of senators in the legislature? Why or why not?

8) What is your favorite legend or story from Guam's history, and why is it your favorite and what moral or lesson does it offer the people of Guam today?

9) If you were talking to a person who was not from Guam and did not know anything about Guam, how you would explain to them the importance and symbolism of a Latte Stone?

10) So many of Guam’s current and possible leaders have claimed that there is nothing that we can do about the US military buildup and that it is a done deal or not in our power to change. If the power was in your hands, if you were in charge of the buildup, would you stop it? How would you change it? Please do not say that it will happen no matter what, because then frankly you shouldn’t be anyone’s leader.

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