One of the high points of my life was the conference Famoksaiyan: Decolonizing Chamorro Histories, Identities and Futures. It was a gathering, the first of its kind, which I helped organize in San Diego in 2006. Chamorros living in the United States have for long held gatherings and formed organizations to keep their cultural and family ties. These organizations would focus around shared village ties or the Chamorro calendar, and so each year there are village patron saint fiestas and Liberation Day events from California to Nebraska to Florida.
While these gatherings would be fun and help families keep their ties even across great distances, they were hardly political affairs. They were meant to celebrate Chamorros as a social, cultural and religious group, and so more serious topics affecting Chamorros weren’t usually discussed. Myself and several other Chamorros attending college in the states decided that we wanted to create a space where Chamorros, especially i manhoben, could talk about political concerns such as Chamorro access to health care, militarization, war reparations, decolonization, language revitalization.
The term “Famoksaiyan” can have many meanings in Chamorro due to the dual meaning of the term “poksai.” We translated it to mean the place to nurture and grow, or the time to paddle ahead, We invited everyone we could get ahold of to come to the meeting. We anticipated only a handful of people would show up, and were amazed when we had more than 70 people, primarily young college age Chamorros attend. The conference was held over two days, divided into different panels, where Chamorro activists and scholars and students presented their research or thoughts on improving Chamorro access to health care, learning about the military buildup, helping more Chamorros get graduate degrees, decolonization as a political and personal process and how to tell our own histories.
For those who were there it was such an inspiring experience. Some of them had driven hours to get there, others had flown from the other side of the country, all at their own expense. They came because they were looking for a critical community. They felt like they were the only Chamorros in their family, in their community who seemed to care about certain issues. When they would try to talk to family members about political status, they would be told to be quiet or who cares? When they would talk about wanting to learn Chamorro they would be told to learn Spanish or Japanese instead.
Most everyone who gathered at Famoksaiyan was young, but a few elders did show up. One of them stood out more than the rest. He was a retired soldier, a member of Nasion Chamoru and a passionate advocate for the perpetuating of the Chamorro language. When we all came together for the final session to thank everyone and say goodbye, we decided to sing Fanohge Chamoru. This elder came to the front of the group and told us that we had one more song to sing before we left. Titled “Kottura-ta” it was a song that most there weren’t familiar with, and I admit I only knew the chorus at that time. This elder began to sing it, verse by verse, and the rest of us swayed back and forth, coming in for parts that we knew, but simply enjoying the moment.
The lyrics to the song are simple but beautiful and it was perfect for a youth meeting. They are both a call to action and a call to respect. In the first verse, the young Chamorros are told that life on this island is hard and so they must respect their teachers and take their education seriously. In the second verse the young people are told to keep firm in their beliefs, especially when demanding your rights. The chorus strings all of this together, reminding them of the importance of their language and culture, and the importance of standing strong and tall.
In times of difficulty and struggle I remember that moment and I remember those lyrics. For those interested, I have typed them up below:
Famagu’on, atende mo’na eskuelan-miyu
Sa’ i lina’la’ mampos makkat gi tano’-ta
Ekungonk yan en fanmanosge gi sainan-miyu
I ma’estra yan i ma’estro
Kuttura-ta gof impottante
Mo’na siha gi tiempo
I lengguahi-ta mungga ma na’falingu
Prutehi todu mo’na famagu’on i tano’
Ya ta sangan todu, Fanohge Chamoru
Pinasensia todus hit na klasin taotao
Direcho-ta ayu ha’ ta gagagao
Famagu’on na’fitme mo’na hinenggen-miyu
Kuttura-ta ta onra todu i tiempo