Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Adios Senot Torres

Adios Siñot Torres
by Michael Lujan Bevacqua
Guam Daily Post
October 14, 2015

I spent last week asking several dozen people about the favorite classical musical choices of an eighty-eight-year-old Chamorro man who had just passed away. It was a saddening, sobering, but also inspiring experience.

Jose Mata Torres, a man I’ve spent the last two years working with, passed away on September 28. Through the Chamorro Studies program at UOG, I assisted him with the researching, writing, editing, and eventual publishing of his memoir “Massacre at Atåte.” The book recounts not only his general wartime experiences but also a truly heroic event where he was among a group of men in Malesso’ who rose up and killed or drove off the Japanese in their village in July 1944. I feel privileged to have helped him publish this book, which, he joked, schoolchildren may be forced to read for generations to come.

When I learned of his passing, I immediately felt the need to do something to commemorate him and his contributions to the community and to Chamorro history. I’ve been a host for “Beyond the Fence” on Guam’s public radio station KPRG for many years and decided to produce a tribute episode in honor of Mr. Torres. This was fitting, as Mr. Torres himself had been a host at KPRG, where he manned his show “Classical Concert” for twenty years. In addition to his other accomplishments, there was something about his love of classical music that I admired, as it pushed the boundaries of Chamorro possibility in ways that I still find fascinating.

Mr. Torres was a proud Chamorro man, who felt it was very important that Chamorros keep their language alive and also keep alive a memory of their culture, even if it had changed substantially from his youth. I admired him for this, because so many in his generation had come to believe that Chamorro language and culture were worthless and that we should simply throw it all away. I also admired him for his actions gi Tiempon Chapones, when he joined with other men from the village and killed the Japanese in Atåte – liberating themselves. I later admired him for his dedication to seeing the story of those mighty men of Malesso' be documented. I was inspired by his unwillingness to let that story fade into oblivion, his drive to ensure that future generations should be reminded of it.

But now, with his passing, there is something else that I have come to admire about him, and that is his willingness to sometimes push the boundaries on what is or isn't Chamorro. I have long written in my “Marianas Variety/Guam Daily Post” columns, as well as through my personal blog, “No Rest for the Awake - Minagahet Chamorro,” about the need to expand the Chamorro language and push the boundaries of what we imagine to be Chamorro. So long as we imagine the Chamorro language as only belonging to things of the past, we will ensure it feels irrelevant to those living today, and hence especially the younger generations may be less inclined to learn or value it.

I have tried to challenge these Chamorro conventions for years, by translating manga comic books, writing about everything from postmodern philosophy to U.S. Presidential politics in Chamorro, and even making a short film, “Pakto: I Hinekka” with my friend Ken Kuper, showing how to play the fantasy card game “Magic: The Gathering” in the Chamorro language!

For me, the issue is simple: if you somehow imagine that things which are not normally Chamorro then cannot or should not be talked about in Chamorro, you are pushing the language closer to its death. If you imagine that things which are "contemporary" or come from other countries then cannot or should not be talked about in Chamorro, you are limiting the language and hence the consciousness of the people. You are tying it to the past and not allowing it to evolve and move forward. You are not allowing it to change and to find new forms, more durable and relevant forms, as the people themselves change. You are basically advocating that the language be less important and less interesting, less cool, less viable today, and, as a result, you are seeking to quench its vitality for the sake of some preferred version of authenticity.

We should not be limiting our uses of the Chamorro language or culture, but expanding them. As we become more connected to the rest of the world, if we feel our existence is small, is minor, is too rooted here, we won't survive the transition. We will silence ourselves and erase ourselves in a casual and pointless manner. All that we are and were and could be will enjoy eternity in the authenticity oubliette.

Loving classical music was one powerful way that Mr. Torres embodied this idea of the Chamorro not sitting silently to watch the world of potential wonder rush by. But rather, he felt that, whatever is out there that strikes us in a very personal way, that we feel connected to and find a meaningful source of emotion and passion as a result, we should find ways to connect that interest to our language or culture. Hearing Mr. Torres speak about classical music in the Chamorro language was such a treat. As he spoke of what touched him about Bach in Chamorro or why “Ode to Joy” by Beethoven was one of his favorites in Chamorro, it was like nerd prom for my Chamorro nerd sotteru. Most would never associate classical music written mainly by long-dead Europeans with having any Chamorro connection, but, for Mr. Torres, it didn’t matter. For him, if there was room for it in his heart, there should be room for it in the Chamorro language. This is the consciousness, the mentality, which will keep the language alive today. This is the still-beating heart of our language.

Even beyond his love of classical music, Mr. Torres and I also discussed ways we could take other things he enjoyed and appreciated, literature and plays, and translate them into Chamorro or transform them into Chamorro settings. We were working on just such a project when he passed away, and I am hoping to be able to finish it in his honor.

Si Yu’us Ma’åse Siñot Torres para todu un få’nu’i yan un fa’nå’gue yu’.

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