Sunday, May 17, 2015

Chamorro Public Service Post #27: Two Blasts from Guam's Decolonial Past

They say that what makes humans different than most other living creatures is their ability to visualize. To act not based on instinct or need or reaction to stimuli, but to hold within their mental processing an amalgamation of temporal moments, some of which have already happened and some of which could or never will happen. Humans therefore have the ability to strategize and adapt better than others, potentially. It also means they have a greater ability than any other species to lie to itself, to trick itself out of seeing obvious things and believing obvious things. To form intensely and exhaustively convoluted explanations for things, in order to keep them from being realized or understood, to suppress truth, to find ways to twist and neuter it.

People become so attached to the current moment, in the same way the white at the crest of a wave feels dependent upon the particular form of the wave in order for it to exist. This attachment makes them see everything they can behind and before them as a teleological game, where the goal is to find a way for everything to just make sense. It leads to a sense of forgetting, where the essential can be easily forgotten and the arbitrary is infused with a sense of inevitability.

For me, after being involved with conversations around decolonization, self-determination and Chamorro activist for more than 10 years now, it is interesting to see how peoples' memories work. How they arrive at the 10 word opinion they have about something. How they develop an ideological position in relation to something, generally in order to protect themselves or some social secret they don't want revealed.  How discursive space opens up and then closes, and although the fractures remain, the traces of fissures still present, people don't recognize them, let them float beneath their gaze.

Below are two articles from the 1990s which are interesting reminders, that many of the conversations we have today, we have had before. They are also an interesting reminder of how bad media can be at doing its job and also the importance of having media that comes from different perspectives, as it can help to reveal shadowed discursive that all others are committed to neutralizing and talking around.


American Culture Engulfs Guam

AGANA, Guam — Move a typical sleepy middle-American town to the middle of the Pacific Ocean. The result could be the island of Guam.

Fast-food chains such as McDonald's and spacious shopping malls dot the landscape. Sports cars race down Marine Drive as if it were a California freeway.

But some on this south Pacific island are not content with the hamburgers, milkshakes and gun clubs catering to hundreds of thousands of Japanese tourists yearning for a taste of the U.S. Wild West.
Native Chamorros who call Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands home are worried the pervasive U.S. influence will eventually overwhelm their culture and language.

"American colonialism is tearing our nation apart," said David Lujan Sablan, a 44-year-old Vietnam veteran and artist who has renounced his U.S. citizenship to support his call for the island to be given more control over its affairs.

"We Chamorros are doomed to be slaves in our own land to the United States," said Sablan, whose head is shaved, leaving only a tuft in the traditional Chamorro male hairstyle.

Jose Leon Guerrero, an education professor at the University of Guam, fears the next generation of Chamorros is rapidly losing the ability to speak the native language, a lyrical combination of Spanish and Polynesian.

Many children speak a combination of Chamorro and English and have difficulty understanding the purer version of the language spoken in the Northern Marianas, he said.

"It sounds like pidgin Chamorro and the kids laugh when they hear themselves say it because of the wrong grammar," one elderly Chamorro said. "It's worrying."

"The Americanization of the people has something to do with it. Look at me, I can read Chamorro but I cannot write Chamorro. If you lose your language, you're going to lose a chunk of your culture," Guerrero said.

Lt. Gov. Frank Blas said the government is trying to reverse the trend by encouraging a renaissance of the Chamorro language and culture and an end to decades of neglect in the island's schools.

Bilingual programs are being implemented, a Chamorro language commission is being set up and cultural shows are being sponsored to boost awareness of the island's heritage, he said.

Sablan is not optimistic. He believes his people "are going to be in deep trouble" as more migrants from the Philippines flood into the island.

Filipinos now make up a third of the 140,000 people in the U.S. territory, about 1,500 miles east of the Philippines. Chamorros constitute about 40%.

Demographic officials expect the Filipinos to become the biggest group by the year 2010 as migration of Chamorros to the United States increases.

"The Chamorro people and culture will slowly become extinct," Sablan said. "If it was up to me, I would choose independence for Guam," he said.

But one official who declined to be named said it was too late to win independence or some other form of self-rule for the Chamorros.

Few want to rock the boat, fearing a messy battle over independence might scare away the Japanese tourists who pump more than $1 billion into Guam's economy each year.

"Self-rule is something we could have fought for 20 or 30 years ago," the official said. "(But) everybody is satisfied now with the way things are going. Nobody is thinking of independence anymore."


Guam's Chamorros Are Trying To Reclaim Their Cultural Identity -- Their Language Was Suppressed For Decades

TUMON, Guam - Cathy Cruz Guzman's parents wanted their daughter to succeed in life. So they banned their native Chamorro language from the home and brought her up speaking only English.
Now a mother herself, Cruz Guzman says she won't make the same mistake - her children will speak Chamorro.

"I lost my language," said Cruz Guzman, 35, mother of two elementary-school girls in this U.S. territory. "Now I feel it's really important for my kids. I want my kids to know what their culture is about."

She is not alone. After hundreds of years under foreign control - by the Spanish, the Americans and briefly the Japanese - the Chamorro people of Guam are searching for their identity.

The growing interest in the Chamorro language is only part of it. High-school boys cut their hair like ancestors before the Spanish came - sides shaved, top in braids. Parents name their children after ancient Guam chieftains.

Chamorro is related to the Malay and Indonesian languages, and there are clear influences from Spanish. That is no surprise, since Spain ruled the Pacific island for more than 300 years, hence the Spanish names of Guamians.

The language has no traditional literature. But local songwriters are increasingly composing in Chamorro, and the island has a playwright working in the language. A prominent magazine, Latte, features a Chamorro page.

Cruz Guzman, who like many of her generation was encouraged to adopt American culture, is pushing her two daughters, ages 7 and 8, to learn fluent Chamorro. She has also enrolled them in traditional dance classes.

"If I'm Chamorro, I want to know what it is, to feel that identity," she said while watching her daughters rehearse their lines at a local TV studio for a series of one-minute spots on local legends.
It wasn't always like this.

Chamorros were encouraged to learn English after the United States took over the island from Spain in 1898. Chamorro came under more attack after the short Japanese occupation during World War II, when the U.S. military built up its presence and Guamians became American citizens. Those speaking Chamorro in public buildings were threatened with fines and jail terms.

"The American government, in its effort to get the people as Americanized as possible . . . hampered the use of Chamorro," said Bernadita Camacho-Dungca, director of the Chamorro Teaching Degree Institute at the University of Guam.

The Chamorros themselves also drove the language underground. Many parents thought that to get ahead, their children should concentrate on English. Many forbade the use of Chamorro in their homes. Students were slapped with rulers for using the language in schools until the late 1960s.
Camacho-Dungca, whose institute opened five years ago, credits the U.S. government with eventually helping to revive Chamorro through programs encouraging minority languages starting in the late 1960s.

That started a trend. In 1974, the territorial legislature voted to make both English and Chamorro the official languages, and four years later Chamorro began to be taught in the public schools. It's now a required subject.

Interest has been building in recent years, especially as the generation that grew up in the 1950s and 1960s has begun raising its own families, said Anna Marie Blas, director of the Chamorro Language Commission.

"It's a form of identity - it's a resurrection of our people," said Blas, who learned Chamorro from her grandmother. "With all the colonization we've had, we as a people want to stand up."
The boom in the language comes at a tough time for Chamorro identity. Chamorros now make up only 47 percent of the island's 150,000 inhabitants, and the thriving tourist industry has brought a flood of visitors and workers - and their languages.

Around the island's hotel district, Japanese signs are everywhere, and workers in hotels and restaurants speak the language with well-heeled tourists. On TV, Filipino programming is widely available, but there is no all-Chamorro channel.

Guamians say they have to get over the sense, pounded into them for decades, that to be Chamorro is to be second-class.

But Cruz Guzman said she has no fears that her daughters, Tonnie and Nonnie, are wasting time on learning Chamorro that could be better spent polishing skills in English or studying something else.
"They'll be rich in culture," she said. "They'll be rich in language, growing up bilingual."

Copyright (c) 1997 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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