Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Bota Fino' Chamoru!

Bota Fino’ Chamoru!
Michael Lujan Bevacqua
The Marianas Variety

During the summer, the Hurao Language Camp at the Chamorro Village in Hagatna held several waves along Marine Drive. This is un såkkan botasion, an election year and so waves are about as common as Japanese tourists, with candidates sometimes standing in the early morning and the twilight hours, hoping to make eye contact with you as you speed by. Hurao’s wave was somewhat different. It wasn’t for any particular candidate, instead it was for “Fino’ Chamoru” or the Chamorro language. Children held up signs with “Håyi hao?” and “Hu tungo’ håyi yu’” on them, and shouted out “Bota Fino’ Chamoru!” to those driving by. Johnny’s Sablan’s immortal classic “Mungga Yu’ Mafino’ Inglesi” or “Don’t Speak English to Me” blared in the background.

It is that time of the year, when young 18, 19 and 20 year old in my classes, who will be voting for the first time start to wonder about this new rite of passage they are about to go through. Most of my students don’t come from very political families, and so an election year feels like some frightening hallucinogenic dream, where a legion of smiling people with numbers next to their names keep asking, keep demanding a vote from you. Those that do come from political families are always excited to get their chance to vote for someone who is a family friend or whose signs they’ve helped put up before, who whose waves they’ve helped to populated before.

Classes will invariably get distracted as someone will ask for the thoughts of others on a particular candidate or on a particular issues. Sometimes students will just come right out and ask who they should vote for, unsure from the multicolored signs, that look like massacres of Guam seals and American flags, who would be the best choice. How does one pick good candidates?

When it is an election year I will routinely offer my students choices about what project they would like to take on next or what kind of exam they would like, but I will do so in a way that is meant to make them think before they vote. I will offer them two to three choices, and provide some warm and fuzzy, but in truth empty, and largely meaningless words for each choice and then ask them to vote on which they would prefer. My students of course get a little bit irked at this, they then complain that it isn’t fair since they do not know what they are voting for. That’s my cue to smile and chide them by saying, it is an election year and the same holds true in November. What do you really know about the candidates that you are supporting or that you will vote for?

How easy is it for a candidate to say nice things about all the major issues? How easy is it for them to create and for the public to consume such political platitudes? If a candidate says they are strong on this particular issue, how can you tell? How many people pay attention to all the flurry of activity in an election year and then have no idea what is going on for the months after that? If what you know about a candidate comes primarily from that candidate and their own promotional materials, how much can you trust that information to be objective?

I have two main points of advice for my students when picking candidates. If you want to pick your candidates for intellectual reasons, on the basis of their platform that is admirable, but be sure that you actually know something about those candidates. Make sure you know something about the issues involved. If you think someone is a great candidate because of their record, make sure you know their record, and not just the things they blazon and won’t let anyone else forget, but also their mistakes along the way. In Chamorro we say “I linachi-mu siha muna’kapas hao” meaning that a person’s mistakes may say more about their character than their successes.

But this route is not for most people. This route requires research, requires asking questions, requires challenging the assumptions of yourself and others in order to determine candidate compatibility. The other route, is the one most people take and that is selecting candidates on more “heartfelt” reasons. Because they feel connected to a candidate, because of a strong positive memory involving the candidate, even because a candidate attended a family event or the memorial for a loved one. My students are always surprised when I propose that these reasons are legitimate reasons when picking a candidate, but they are. Politics is not just platforms, it is also relationships and connections. On an island like Guam these sorts of connections can have great meaning for people. For example, Politicians who go to family functions often times contribute chenchule’ or ika’ bringing them into the reciprocity networks, becoming a member of one’s extended network.

But at the end of the day, I tell my students, you should, at the very minimum understand why you are voting for someone. Whether it is something that is very analytical or something very personal, at least understand why you are casting your ballot in this way.

For me, the chief criteria for picking candidates is the Chamorro language. Are they able to speak the Chamorro language? Are they learning the Chamorro language? This has nothing to do with whether they are Chamorro or not, because non-Chamorros have historically learned Chamorro on Guam and I am in full-support of that. You might find this requirement to be strange or silly, but from my perspective it is critical. Chamorro is an official language of Guam, and one that has been spoken here for thousands of years. But when I look at the list of candidates this time around, there are less Chamorro speakers than ever in an election, just as there are less Chamorro speakers in general on island. I feel that those who want to represent this island should be fluent in both of its official languages and if they don’t speak it when starting in office, they should commit to learning it.

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