Saturday, October 14, 2017

History within the Chamorro Context

Rlene Santos Steffy published the article below during the summer as part of her iTintaotao Marianas feature series in The Guam Daily Post. I was honored to be included amongst so many other older and more esteemed activist and scholars. I conducted several long interviews with Rlene, some focusing on history and others on political status. I was surprised by her chosen route for this article, focusing on my learning the Chamorro language and my relationship to my grandparents. I was surprised, but not disappointed. The quote that she used at the start of the article is very much what I continue to feel about my Chamorro identity. Namely that if not for my grandparents, I wouldn't have much of a Chamorro identity and probably wouldn't speak Chamorro or care as much about the fate of the Chamorro people.

Reading this article made me sen mahålang for my grandparents. I miss them every day, everytime I use the Chamorro language. Kada fumino' Chamorro nina'siente yu' triniste put i tinaiguen-ñiha. Lao bei hu sungon ha' i piniti, sa' guaguaha meggai para bai hu cho'gue. Ma irensiåyi yu' ni' este na guinaiya para i tinaotao-ta.

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Michael Lujan Bevacqua: History within the CHamoru context
by Rlene Santos Steffy
The Guam Daily Post
June 5, 2017

"Any sort of CHamoru feelings of consciousness or identity that I have, it comes from my grandparents." - Michael Lujan Bevacqua

Editor's note: This the 12th in Rlene Steffy's iTinaotao Marianas feature.

He wears a mustache and a full beard, his long, curly hair pulled back into a bun or ponytail most of the time. He dresses in a T-shirt, shorts and Birkenstock sandals all the time, and that includes to work. In fact, that's what attracted him to be a professor at the University of Guam – modeled after a former professor who dressed that way to teach his class. Michael? That's right, he's the activist who talks about nothing except decolonization and independence for Guam — Michael Lujan Bevacqua.
However, there is something that he also speaks to and that's history in the sense that it brings light on how souls lived and how you can appreciate the past through speaking CHamoru.

"Any sort of CHamoru feelings of consciousness or identity that I have, it comes from my grandparents. Although I lived some in the states and other parts of the world, when I lived on Guam I always lived with my grandparents. And it wasn't until I lived with them for 10 or 15 years of my life, that I really began to appreciate them — in a CHamoru context.

"My mom doesn't speak CHamoru, my grandparents spoke CHamoru to each other, and my grandfather was a blacksmith and he talked about passing it on to his kids but his son had not taken it on, and he didn't think that any of us – his grandsons – would be capable of it, so he preferred to pass (his knowledge) on to others."

So, when Michael attended UOG, he signed up for a foreign language class, and took Spanish, and when he was done with that and about to take Spanish 2, one of his aunts said, "Why are you taking Spanish? That's really stupid."

Michael paused and thought about what she said, then replied, "You're right it is kind of stupid." She defended her statement by saying, "You should take CHamoru, you're CHamoru," and Michael said, "Okay, I'll take CHamoru instead. I wonder what that's going to be like?"
He took CM101 with Peter Onedera.

"I was so lost — cause you know, in my grandparents' house, there was not even cursing in CHamoru so I didn't even know what laña' (expletive) meant. I would hear other people say it and I wouldn't know what it meant. I thought it was a Tagalog word or something. So, in that class I was like, so lost but it was good because every day I would come back from class and I would talk to my grandparents and I'd be like what is this word? And, they would laugh at the way I pronounced it, but my grandmother (Elizabeth de Leon Flores Lujan), who is the most beautiful soul in the world, she loved it."

Michael improved his CHamoru lessons through his grandmother's patience and help, and passed CM101. He decided to take CM102, and went to his grandmother.

"'Grandma, I actually want to speak CHamoru, now. It's like fun. It's a really cool language, you know. Will you promise to speak to me in CHamoru only, from now on?'

"She was so ecstatic. She was so excited about that because Grandma was really somebody who loved the CHamoru language. It was what she grew up with, you know, the language that she experienced most of the world with, I mean, her family had been part of the group that translated parts of the Bible for the Baptist Church. So, she really loved language. And even up until the day that she died, she was taking Bible stories and translating them into CHamoru, just for herself and, she said, for her grandchildren and great grandchildren."

Michael said she told him, 'I'll teach you CHamoru now and this is like me giving back — after what was lost — this is me giving something back.' She was apparently referring to not teaching her children to speak CHamoru. So, while he had one grandparent lamenting what appeared as a mistake, Michael said, his grandfather (Joaquin "Jack" Flores Lujan) was not happy with his new interest, and Tun Jack cracked jokes at Michael's attempts to engage him.

"My grandfather was not a supporter, (and) he cracked jokes all the time. I'd speak CHamoru to him and he'd be like, 'Ah! Is that Indian… håfa, what is that,' and I'd be like, 'Hey Grandpa, ayuda yu' (help me), ayuda yu', and he'd be like, 'Ah, can't you just take Japanese instead, you know, and you can get a job in Tumon and make some money.'

Michael would strengthen his position, "Ah, Grandpa you speak CHamoru every day. You and Grandma speak CHamoru all the time. I want to speak CHamoru so I can hang out with you guys. He's like, 'No, no, no.' And then he'd joke and say, 'You know what, speak Tagalog instead. Why don't you go and take Tagalog classes,' and he would joke, 'There's so many Filipinos now, soon everybody's going to speak Tagalog. You'll get ahead.'"

That first year of learning how to speak CHamoru put Michael on a totally different life course.
"Tun Jack eventually came around, because he realized that I was speaking CHamoru and he was speaking CHamoru to me. It was funny because I'd always take him around to his events stuff, like displaying things, or like CAHA or artist meetings — and one day, somebody came up to him and said, 'Hey Mr. Lujan, gof maolek fumino' CHamoru i yo'-mu grand." And, he was like, 'Really?' And, I was sitting there and he said, 'Yeah, I'm so proud of him! I'm so proud of him. Yeah. Huguan.'"
From that point on, Tun Jack paid attention to Miget's CHamoru.

"He would go to everyone and he would say, 'Hey fino' CHamoru-yi si Miget. Fino' CHamoru-yi si Mike, he wants to speak CHamoru. Speak CHamoru to him, his CHamoru is always different than mine, but speak CHamoru to him.' He still always makes jokes, but now he always speaks CHamoru to me."

Joaquin Flores Lujan was a pre-war blacksmith and built a shop at his home, and he and Miget would speak CHamoru when at the shop together.

"He really likes that so I feel so blessed that my grandmother helped me on this path, because it connected me in ways (with them) that would never be possible otherwise."

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