Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Two Articles on the Chamorro Diaspora in San Diego

The Chamorro Diaspora
Michael Lujan Bevacqua
The Marianas Variety
April 23, 2016

I spent five years of my life in San Diego while I was attending graduate school there at UCSD. It was an interesting experience that truly helped to shape and deepen my understanding of Chamorros as a people today. 
We may see Chamorros as tied to home islands in the Marianas, but the reality is that more than half of the Chamorro people live in the United States in what scholars refer to as “the diaspora.”

For most of my life, I have moved back and forth between Guam and this diaspora — spending a few years in Guam and then a few years in Hawai’i, a few more years in Guam, a few more years in California and so on. Although people tend to conceive of Chamorros as being either the “from the island” or “from the states” variety, there has, since the revoking of the military’s postwar security clearance, been a constant back and forth migration of Chamorros. Individuals and families travel east for education, military service, seeking new opportunities, and they also move back west into the Pacific, because of homesickness, family obligations and even for new opportunities.

In the formation of a diaspora, people can settle anywhere they choose but tend to follow particular patterns. The Chamorro diaspora to the United States began in a limited way with bayineru siha, or whalers who left during the late Spanish and early American colonial periods. They settled primarily in Hawai’i, the West Coast and even New England. During the 20th century the U.S. military, in particular the U.S. Navy became the next means of aiding in Chamorro migration. Chamorros began to settle in places where some whalers still retained a sense of being Chamorro, but more so they settled in areas with Navy bases. San Francisco, Virginia, Hawai’i and San Diego were all places where the Chamorro population was significant even before World War II.

After the passage of the Organic Act and the onset of the Korean War, more Chamorros began to join the U.S. Army and eventually the Air Force. This changed the Chamorro diaspora even more as Chamorro populations began to grow in areas like Texas and Washington. Chamorros traveling to the states who weren’t in the military would nonetheless follow these same routes, taking advantage of family members and friends who were already settled.

At present, the Chamorro diaspora still remains structured around these large populations, but Chamorros now migrate because of perceived economic opportunities, with people seeking places that are nice to live in, have affordable housing or possible job opportunities.

San Diego is the area with the largest diasporic Chamorro population and you could call it the ma’gas na sinahi of Chamorro diaspora communities. What makes San Diego different than other areas with large numbers of Chamorros is the amount of presence they have created for themselves and to represent themselves to others. San Diego has several different types of Guam clubs, the largest of which is the Sons and Daughters of Guam Club. This club is considered to be a central location in terms of the Chamorro diasporic landscape, because unlike many Guam clubs, it has a large permanent physical space. The clubhouse is used for all types of activities, from fundraisers to dinner dances to conferences. Chamorro language and cultural dances classes are also sometimes held there. The clubhouse is even rented sometimes by non-Chamorros for quinceañeras or debutante balls for young Latinas. The clubhouse also acts like a senior center where manåmko’ can hang out and play cards and also eat lunch. 

The San Diego Chamorro community has also come to a certain level of consciousness that through the nonprofit CHELU (Chamorro Hands in Education Links Unity) it now organizes an annual fair. This past March, they held their most recent “Chamorro Cultural Fair” that drew crowds of thousands. Chamorros from across the Western United States converged in San Diego to eat Chamorro food, buy Chamorro themed arts and crafts, listen to Chamorro music and watch Chamorro dance. A highlight of the festival was the display of a 47-foot replica of an ancient Chamorro canoe, or sakman. The canoe was carved by the group Sakman Chamorro, and not only is the canoe a sight to behold, it also does sail. Mario Borja, the main carver for the project, is promoting the idea of the sakman making a voyage to Guam in 2016 just in time for the Festival of the Pacific Arts.

It is often easy to dismiss Chamorros in the diaspora as being “po’asu” or “taimamahlao” because of their distance from the home islands of Chamorros. People sometimes think of them as being a lower type of Chamorro, possessing less knowledge, less respect and, in general, being less Chamorro. I would argue against these stereotypes. Chamorros everywhere are concerned about issues of language and cultural loss. Chamorros in the states don’t benefit from having easy access to a lot of the things that people in the Mariana Islands take for granted. On Guam, it is still easy to find a place where you can be surrounded by the Chamorro language, if you live in Nebraska that might be a bit more difficult. But it is exciting to see Chamorros in San Diego working to create more regular spaces for maintaining their heritage.


The Making of the Sons and Daughters of Guam Club
By: Guilllermo Taitano (Gil)
From the Sons and Daughters of Guam Club Website

Somewhere back in time, the spring of 1953, the formation of a Sons and Daughters of Guam Club began in San Diego, California. The initiators of the club were Jose Flores (Cabesa), also known as Joe Flores, and Guillermo Taitano (Calextro) also known as Gil Taitano.

Joe Flores came to California when he was sent by the bishop of Guam to continue his studies for the priesthood. Family problems and the draft board changed all that for him. Joe then joined the Marine Corps stationed in Camp Pendleton. He left the service after the Second World War.

Joe lived in San Diego with his cousin Jose Aquiningoc (Cabesa). It was during this time that he started the idea of a Guam Club. Years later, Joe joined the Merchant Marines on Guam. It was soon after this that he caught pneumonia and passed away.

Gil Taitano joined the Navy in 1937 and was stationed in San Diego. In 1950, he decided to move his wife Rosa Reyes Finona and their children to San Diego while still in service with the Navy. It was during this time that Gil met Joe and helped him with the idea of starting a Guam club. At present, Gil Taitano still resides in his first home in San Diego.

The club was formulated to serve common interests such as learning English, so that our members and their children could compete in the American mainstream and still keep the customs of their Chamorro heritage. It also served as a recreational outlet in the form of a softball team that played on the weekends. Through the group efforts of its founding members and weekly meetings, the idea of a Guamerican club became a reality.

Jose Flores (Cabesa) and Guillermo (Gil) (Calextro) Taitano
The Essence of the Sons and Daughters of Guam Club

We the members of the Sons and Daughters of Guam Club do agree to bond together with the purpose of aiding, assisting, and promoting all matters beneficial to our members and their families. It is our hope that we would realize the full potential of our God given rights, the search for the "good-life", the blessings of liberty and the pursuit of happiness. These are the goals which direct our lives. It is this bond that will bring about peace and security during troubled times.

The Beginning
Early on, the prime movers and shakers were Joe Flores and Gil Taitano. One evening, Joe was talking about his desire to get the Chamorro people together who were living in San Diego. This conversation was held at the home of his cousin, Jose Aquiningoc.  Jose's wife, Sixta, and her sister, Gloria Taitano overheard Joe's conversation and joined in the discussion. The suggestion was made to talk to Gil Taitano, brother of Sixta and Gloria.  Joe Flores was invited to Gil's home at 317 San Albetto Way, San Diego, California for coffee and "dunkin' doughnuts." At first the conversation centered around the family and Gil's new baby.  Joe offered to be the Godfather and Gil consented.  Afterwards, the conversation turned toward Joe's initial idea.  Joe asked Gil to join him in the endeavor of forming the Guamerican club. Joe and Gil worked closely with some other lead members. Several informal meetings were held and it was decided to hold a general meeting in the backyard  of Gil Taitano's house on May 1, 1953, just two months before the first Liberation  celebration. Between 40 and 50 people were present at the meeting.  The following roster shows the first temporary officers:

President - Joe Flores
Vice President - Gil Taitano
Secretary - Maria Mendiola
Treasurer - Juan Duenas
Hospitality Chairperson - Carmen Garrido
Master at Arms - Jesus Garrido

In The Fullness of Time, We Have Arrived

The meeting began with the posting of the flag of Guam and the American flag. The Vice-President led the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag. The meeting was called to order with the drop of the gavel. The president opened the meeting with a prayer, invoking the Holy Spirit, "Enkindle in us the fire of God's love. Grant that in the same spirit, we may be truly wise and ever rejoice in His consolation." The constitution and by­laws of the club were discussed at later meetings. The first order of business was to plan the first Guam Liberation celebration in San Diego. The assignment of chairpersons for the various Liberation committees were made, such as fundraising, entertainment, Queen selection, guest speakers, music, hotel accommodations, master of ceremonies, invitations, dinner menu, and no-host cocktails. At the conclusion of the first meeting, a motion was made to make all of the temporary officers permanent. The meeting ended with a social gathering.

All of the details for the first annual Guam Liberation celebration were worked out and put in place at subsequent meetings of the Sons and Daughters of Guam Club. The meetings rotated from house-to-house of the current members until Joe Flores rented an apartment around 20th and Market Street.  The club also used the Navy facility on Main Street for its annual celebration. As the membership grew this space became too small to hold the meetings. The club members rented a building on 11th Avenue. It was at this time that Adrian Sanchez formed the Master Chef Catering Service in the Guam club building. Several years later, the members of the club negotiated the purchase of the present Guam club on Ozark Street, now known as Willie James Jones Street in San Diego.

The property consisted of a five acre lot with a large house that was used as a home for handicapped children.  The house was formerly owned by the Tokels. One of the greatest triumphs of the Sons and Daughters of Guam Club was the enthronement of the Statue of Our Lady of Camarin in the St. Joseph's Cathedral; the ceremonies were performed by Bishop Maher, Bishop Flores and Bishop Chavez.

The full cooperation of all of the members was rewarding for those involved with the club's beginning. What made the club successful was the dedication of the members. To this day, Joe Flores (in his memory) and Gil Taitano remain grateful.

I said to the man who stood at the gate of the Year, “Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.., And he replied, " Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way!"

I want to dedicate this story of the early years of the Sons & Daughters of Guam Club to Chairperson Lee Ann C. Cruz, and her staff, because they have worked so hard to create the Chamorro Directory.

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