Friday, May 22, 2015

Quest for Decolonization #4: The Most Famous Chamorro of All...

My students often ask me, "Who is the most famous Chamorro?"

Meaning which Chamorro has achieved the most, has achieved fame or stardom? Which Chamorro is a household name, not just in Guam or the Marianas, but in the world? Are they any Chamorros out there who can represent the island, the culture and the people to the billions of people who aren't Chamorro and don't even know what Guam or a Chamorro is?

There are lots of Chamorro musicians, some of whom have achieved minor fame outside of the Pacific, such as Johnny Sablan and Pia Mia. There are Chamorro athletes, many of whom are baseball players, but with the rise of fighting culture on Guam, we have seen some Chamorros truly shine in that regard. There are even a few Chamorro actors and filmmakers out there, although it can be hard to miss them when they appear in the periphery of major films. There are even Chamorros that have won Grammy Awards and Pulitzer Prizes.

But who should receive the honor as the most famous? The most well-known? The Chamorro that would appear the most on Google? The one with the longest Wikipedia page?

 As a joke, I sometimes tell them that the most famous Chamorro in history is a former President. A historic head of state. Students freak out trying to figure out which US President was Chamorro and the most random answers ensue, with students wondering if that is why Bill Clinton visited Guam (he was visiting his home). They heard at one point that Barack Obama is a Pacific Islander and while they assumed he was "Hawaiian" they now know that he is actually Chamorro. One student once joked that John F. Kennedy must have been Chamorro because of his love life and his many infamous achakma' siha.

But the most famous "Chamorro" isn't a US President, but a former President...of Nicaragua. Violeta Chamorro was one of the first female heads of state in the entire world when she was elected in 1990. She has no "Chamorro" blood in her as far as anyone knows. Perhaps someone has at one point asked her the question, if she is somehow connected to the mysterious people of the Marianas. Hekkua'. Many a Chamorro spending nights searching the internet for random Chamorro mentions have come across entries on VIoleta Chamorro and others who have Chamorro as a surname. 

This fact that "Chamorro" is found in Spanish, as a surname for various Latin American peoples and is also a word found in the Spanish language itself, is part of the structure of invisibility and impossibility that haunts Chamorros today. It is part of that powerful discourse that makes Chamorros feel as if they don't exist or seems to give credence to that terrible colonizing idea that the colonizer people are just a mere effect of colonization and only exist because of that violence. The idea that the word Chamorro is "Spanish" in origin provides an everyday talking point to this effect, even though, as I have argued in many other places that there is more evidence that Chamorro is derived from a mishearing of Austronesian terms than Spanish visitors giving the people this name because they were bald or had large calves. 

Violeta Chamorro is not at this seminar as she is no longer in power and her political opponents are. But one of the representatives of Nicaragua that is present actually does have the surname Chamorro. Whenever she walks by me, she points at herself and than me and says "Chamorro!" and laughs. 


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