Friday, April 11, 2014

Ode to Grandma

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English is my mother tongue, in the sense that it is the language that I grew up with and speak most comfortably. It is my first language. It is however not my favorite language, not the best language and certainly not i mas takhilo' para Guahu.

I am a non-native speaker of the Chamorro language as I learned to speak it when I was 20 years old. It is natural for me in some ways, but still unnatural in others, primarily when talking about things that are difficult in general to express in a Chamorro lexicon. This is not only something that I struggle with, but as the Chamorro language has become more and more limited in how and where it is used, many people find themselves constantly switching to English since a potential part of their conversation is something few people have actually used the Chamorro language to convey. For example, on the rare occasions that I've tried to discuss Foucault or Derrida in Chamorro, when speaking in general about it, there is a natural difficulty, but if I take the time to write and to translate it is not that difficult at all. You can find on this blog for example several times where I've shared my thoughts about post-structuralist theory in Chamorro.

What makes speaking, thinking and writing easier is if the topic fits easily within some existing framework or lexicon for carrying meaning. If that framework has been carved out over time or there is something native in the language already which can help ease the transition, than things are that hard. But if that connection doesn't exist, things can get very difficult. This is one of the reasons that they say country music made such an easy transition into Chamorro language and culture. It was drawn from a hard scrabble agrarian lifestyle, something that both peoples in the US and in Guam shared. It was something that Chamorros felt more intimately connected to than rock, pop or jazz, all of which Chamorros enjoyed listening to, but did not feel the need to Chamorrocize them the way they did country.

For me, although English will always be my mother tongue, Chamorro will forever be my grandmother tongue. It is a language I learned beside my grandmother and through sharing her beauty and her life. I can speak Chamorro today, on this blog, to my children, in the classroom because of her patience and because of her love. There are times since she passed where the Chamorro I am using sticks in my throat and I feel overwhelmed with emotions, when certain words I use or things I hear remind me of precious moments I shared with her on my Chamorro language learning journey.

My approach to the Chamorro language was defined by the gaikinemprende that I saw in my grandmother. When I would ask grandma how to say something, she would not shut me down or tell me there was only one way to say something. She would always provide me with options, a list of possibilities. When I would ask her a question, checking with her to see if the way I was saying something was correct, sometime she would say no it wasn't, but most of the time she would say, that's correct, but it isn't the way I would say it. There is nothing wrong with how you said it, but most people don't use it in that way. Grandma instilled in me not the intolerance and myopia that so many Chamorro speakers feel when they encounter people trying to learn and speak Chamorro. She instilled in me the potential diversity in the language and the fact that people will say things differently and that there are many ways of saying things which are correct even if people don't like them and wouldn't normally say things that way.

Over the years she helped me with so many of my projects around the Chamorro language. When I would do translations for example, I would often give her sections to translate and then compare them against my own, blending hers with mine to come to something that felt special to me, because I felt as if it was something we had collaborated on together. When I was first learning Chamorro I would sit with grandma at the dining room table, playing Chamorro CDs for her, asking her to help me translate them. Since grandma's hearing wasn't very good and my audio comprehension of Chamorro was terrible, we would wander a fun maze of Chamorro translation possibility. I would tell grandma what I thought they had said and she would tell me what that meant. Sometimes she would tell me that what I had said made so sense and I would put the speaker of the stereo up to both of our ears and we would strain to decipher what Johnny Sablan, the Chafauros Brothers or Flora Baza Quan were saying. Over the years I have naturally gone back and revised our initial translations, but my understanding of those songs feels like a string of beautiful moments strung together on a necklace made by my grandmother and me.

One of the last major project that grandma helped me with before she passed away was translating Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" into Chamorro for the Guam Symphony. Grandma was already sick at this time, but she was still writing and reading everyday, and so she still loved to help me even if she was exhausted sometimes because of the cancer in her or the medicine that was supposed to treat it. As usual, I gave grandma an English translation of the lyrics and then we made our separate translations. When I wove them together, I could almost imagine us singing together to that epic song. So often, even though she is gone, when I speak Chamorro, the pain of her loss hits me. I only speak this language because of her patience, and I will always speak her spirit when I use my grandmother tongue.

I've pasted our translation below for those interested in reading it.

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"Ode to Joy"
Pinila' as Elizabeth Flores Lujan yan Michael Lujan Bevacqua

Ai adai, ti este na tunåda
Maolekña ta fanuna gi mas asentådu
Yan mas na’magof na kånta siha
Minagof!
Minagof!

Magof, gefpågo chispas ginnen as Yu’us
Hagan Elysium
Manhålom hit, bulachu ni’ guafi
Linangitan, i liheng-mu!
I fuetså-mu ha na’daña’ ta’lo
Hafa nina’sahgne ni’ kustumbre
Todu i taotao siha mañe’lu

Månu nai dumeskånsa i papå-mu
Håyi ayu i gaisuette gi lina’la’
Ya Guiya i amigun i atungo’
Hayi ayu i ha gana i dibota na asagua
Maila ya ta fanmagof!
Magahet! Ayu i siña ha sångan
Maskeseha un ånte iyo-ña guini na tano’
Ya håyi tåya’ nai ha cho’gue enao
U piniti ya u suha gi este na dinaña’

I minagof todu gumigimen
Gi i sisun i naturåt
Todu maolek, todu båba
Dalalaki i chalan i rosåt
Ha nå’i hit chiku siha yan chuchumeku
Guiya ga’chong esta ki i finakpo’
I ilo’ mana’magof
Ya i anghet tumoghe gi me’nan Yu’us
Me’nan Yu’us!

Magof taiguihi i ma’lak åtdao siha
Gi halom i gefpago långhet ilek-ña
Fanmalågu, afañe’lus, gi chalan-miyu
Fanmagof taiguihi i manmanggana
Fanmatoktok, miyones!
Este na chiku para todu i mundo!
Afañe’lus gi hilo’ i ma’lak na långhet
Nai u såga’ i guaiyayon na tåta
Kao manekken hamyo, miyones?
Kao un siente i nana’huyong, mundo?
Aligao gui’ gi mas takhilo’ ki i langhet!
Sa’ siempre sumåsaga’ gi mas takhilo’ ki i estreyas

Fanmatoktok hamyo, miyones!
Este na chiku para todu i mundo!
Afañe’lus, gi hilo’ i ma’lak na långhet
Nai u såga’ i guaiyayon na tåta
Fanmatoktok
Este na chiku para todu i mundo!
Minagof, gefpågo chispas ginnen as Yu’us
Hagan Elysium
Minagof, gefpågo chispas ginnen as Yu’us
Chispas, i manyu’us!

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