Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Ha'anen Fino' Chamoru ha'

Ha'anen Fino' Chamoru Ha'
by Michael Lujan Bevacqua
Marianas Variety

A constant question in my life, something that I am always considering and pondering and people around me always bring to me seeking answers is, “How can we save the Chamorro language?” Students ask me in class. Elders ask me in line at the grocery store. Random people come up to me at the mall and ask me. Last week someone started talking to me about it while we were at urinals next to each other. People are always seeking big ideas or fantastic innovations. They want to hear about plans involving Rosetta stone or language apps or TECH talks or fancy new curriculum created by people with shiny degrees or ancient words that reveal the true nature of Chamorro cosmology. These are all cool ideas but saving the language can be so much easier and simpler than all that. All we need to do to save Chamorro is that those who know the language use it with those who don’t and those who don’t know how to speak it, learn from those who do. As UOG President Robert Underwood wrote recently, using the language is the key to saving it.

The problems are that those who can speak Chamorro, the majority of whom are elders, don’t normally use the language with those younger then them. They speak it to their peers and others who already speak the language, but rarely do we find the oldest generation passing on the language to their children or grandchildren anymore. Those who don’t speak it, but might want to have to turn to books, dictionaries and classes to try and learn the language. This divide exasperates the issue of language endangerment, because it means that those who possess the knowledge aren’t taking advantage of those that they are most directly connected to in order to transmit the Chamorro language. And those who want to learn can’t learn the language through normal, natural transmission but have to do it through classroom learning. Learning in a classroom can be effective, but is nowhere near as effective as using the language in the home with those who are young.

Much of my work both in the classroom and the community is connected to trying to get people to overcome this divide. Get those who already know the language to speak to those who don’t and push those who can’t speak but want to, to learn and make the language a part of their daily lives. Unlike many endangered languages, we still have tens of thousands of speakers of Chamorro and so if we were to encourage those who know the language to those who want to learn, we could easily save Chamorro. The key, as I said, is using the language, keeping it a part of everyday life, rather than something just found in dictionaries.

To this end, I have been helping a friend and colleague of mine Ken Gofigan Kuper organize an event titled “Ha’ånen Fino’ Chamoru Ha’” or “A Day of only Chamorro.” This event, set to take place on March 1st, 2015 is a challenge to anyone and anyone willing to take it to spend the day using the Chamorro language in all their interactions. On March 1st, no matter what you are doing or where you are at or who you are talking to, the goal is to use the Chamorro language, even if the people around you might not be able to understand. If you are posting on your Instagram on March 1st, post in Chamorro. If you are ordering food at Taco Bell, order in Chamorro. If you are chatting with friends at the beach, chat in Chamorro.

The motivation behind this day is not only to encourage people to speak and use Chamorro, but also to act as a reminder that the Chamorro language is an official language of the island and that it is an essential part of the island’s heritage. The Chamorro language is being used less and less today. For a small portion of Guam’s population, which is according to studies primarily an elderly demographic, the language is living, audible, something that is always part of their everyday lives. But for most people, including most Chamorros, the Chamorro language is not something they are constantly surrounded by. It is something they hear during Mes Chamoru, or when their grandparents talk to each other, or perhaps in the background of a fandango, but as they go about their days, English is everywhere. Ha’ånen Fino’ Chamoru Ha’ is meant to be a symbolic act, where we can, at least for one day, increase the amount of Chamorro that is spoken, increase the amount of Chamorro that is heard, and hopefully inspire as many as possible who want to learn to learn it, and those who already know it, to teach it and pass it on.

For those wishing to participate in Ha’ånen Fino’ Chamoru Ha’, there is a Facebook page where you can join the event and receive information. Updates will also be made available through the UOG Chamorro Studies Facebook page and also the website Mumun Linahyan ( For those still learning Chamorro, 24 hours of speaking the language can seem daunting. Ken and I are organizing a meeting this weekend, February 22nd at Port of Mocha in Tamuning at 12:30 for those who want to learn more. We’ll be helping people strategize their own personal Ha’ånen Fino’ Chamoru Ha’, and giving them tips for succeeding and surviving a day in Chamorro. We hope that as many people as possible will join this event.

Nihi ta na’lå’la’ i fino’-ta! 

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