Guinaiyan Guåhan

Buenas yan håfa adai! Aloha nui!

As I took my final exams, thanked teachers, and packed up my dorm room to close my first year at Kapi`olani Community College in O`ahu, Hawai`i, I felt very sentimental. I couldn’t help but reflect on the beginning of a very pivotal chapter of the rest of my life. A lot of time, learning experiences, and preparation went into moving to Hawai`i, so it wasn’t a smooth, easy jump from the nest.

My first year as an independent adult in Hawai`i was very difficult. In the first two summer months, I struggled to make connections while maintaining a strong identity in a new land. I was somewhat lonely having only a handful of friends to connect with, and little to no means of transportation to explore. I had many expectations from the anticipation of arriving that led to many disappointments. However, encouragement from loved ones, and the warm, embracing arms of family and O`ahu herself eased me into a new life. Throughout my first semester, I struggled learning to live on my own; I had to fend for myself and defend myself. It’s mapot (difficult) to be independent; working two jobs and going to school full time leaves me with little to no time to be carefree. I struggled to manage my time and attention between school, work, and homework; manage my finances to ensure that I can afford living expenses and tuition; and take care of myself. I made gof meggagai (many many many) mistakes, and stumbled a few times, got sick and injured the most in my life, met and unmet different people, but grew tougher, wiser, and more responsible. I learned so much so quickly, ultimately because I didn’t have a choice; either learn to swim or drown. Despite all the hardships and i minahålang (the feeling of missing a person/people), I was exposed to the mana (spiritual potential) of Hawai`i. I opened my eyes, my ears, and my heart to her, and she blessed me with the beauty of her spirit. As I walked through i tano/ke `āina (the land), touched i hanom fresku/ka wai (the freshwater), and swam in i tasi/ke kai (the ocean), I could feel her feeling me. I learned fundamental pillars of Hawaiian culture, history, and heritage which helped me see Hawai`i from a more insular perspective. It wasn’t hard to love her.

Things began to turn for the better as I entered my second semester and seventh month in Hawai`i. I expelled all the negative energy and vibes from my life and let only positive energy flow through me. Hawai`i has taught me that what you put in is you get out, and what you give is what you get. For example, I shared sustenance and conversations with so many people because cooking with si nanå-hu biha yan si tatå-hu meant cooking to feed families. Per karma and inafa’maolek (see Inafa’maolek in earlier posts), my mini-fridge was never empty and my stomach was always full. I learned to manage my time relatively more efficiently, when to apply myself, and when not to apply myself. With healing time and trust in Asaina/ke Akua (the Lord), I was better able to open up, bring down defensive walls I built so high, and connect with genuine, loving people. I have learned that food, good times, and memories are most enjoyable shared.

I participated in an enriching service-learning organization called Mālama I Nā Ahupua`a which means to setbe (take care of) land divisions. An ahupua`a is an ancient Hawaiian division from the tip of a mountain to the coral reefs in which mågas siha/ali`i (chiefs) would manage resources to sustain local populations and future generations. Through the program, I helped restore sacred cultural sites and perpetuate traditional Hawaiian culture, values, and beliefs. I heard the stories of i taotaomo’na/nā kūpuna (those that came before) through the voices of their descendants. Both generations welcomed me, and I felt blessed, humbled, and immensely grateful. I learned a lot about plants and the island ecosystems of Hawai`i nei, which set the course for my college path. Ecology of the Hawaiian Islands taught by my Kumu Mike Ross unearthed my love and curiosity for the environment and the inner scientist in me. Kintodu i aniten tåno yan tåsi (with the spirits of the land and sea), I decided to major in Environmental Studies along with my original goal of Pacific Island Studies. Of course, I made meggai mistakes again, but I acknowledged them, accepted them, learned from them, and moved on taking the lessons as tools in my brain or scars on my skin. I was almost sad to leave.

Being away from my home island of Guåhan and my family for a whole year made me incredibly grateful and appreciative, because again, you never truly appreciate something until it’s gone. A year away from my home in another people’s home made me appreciate what it means to have roots and history. In Guåhan, I am a native daughter of a 4,500 year-old people, society, and culture where the ancient spirits communicated with me and loved me. In this big, new island of O`ahu​, I was a haole (foreigner) with no connections aside from my feet on the ground. Over time, I learned that what you do and who you associate with, whatever land you are in, are the seeds you plant. With time, love, trust, sunshine, rain, and a little dirt, your seeds will grow, root deeper and deeper into the land, and branch higher and higher above the earth, making all kinds of connections. Being away from family for so long made me love and appreciate i mangaffå-ku on a much deeper level. Although I have a few aunties and uncles in Hawai`i, I couldn’t lean on them as much as my family and I leaned on each other. Not only did I realize how much ma sumesetbe yan ma pumupulan yu (they took care of and watched over me), but how much I depended on them for love, comfort, support, and physical and spiritual nourishment. I didn’t have my parents to hug and kiss goodnight, nor my Grandma Kotla’s house where I can eat and sleep anytime, nor older cousins to keep an eye out for me in potentially dangerous situations. I was so scared at times, but with trust in God, the spirits, and my family, fear did not prevent me from life. I learned how to always have my own back because if not, no one else will.

I have been home for about four weeks now and every single day has been a blessing. Guåhan has never been so gåtbo (beautiful) and mångge (gooooood). I hinasso-ku, i tatatato-hu, yan i ante-hu (my thoughts, my body, and my soul) feel replenished, healthy,  and whole again. I’m watering my roots and absorbing i fino’-ta (our language), ginefli’en mañaina-hu (wisdom of my elders), yan guinaiyan Guåhan (the love of Guåhan) as much as I can before I have to cross the ocean again. I know that it will be 12,000 times harder to dingu ta’lo (leave again), and as much as it will puti yu’, hu tungo na siempre na fitme yu (hurt me, I know that it will make me stronger).

I’m wholeheartedly grateful and truly blessed to be home again. I wish that I can spend time with everyone I know and love, and go everywhere that I haven’t been, but time won’t allow me. Please forgive me if we didn’t have time, and remember that tatman yu mågi ta’lo (I will be back again) because this is where I belong.

Saina ma’åse pot i tinaitai-miyu.

Mahalo no ka heluhelu.

Thank you for reading.

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Tungo’ i Hale’-mu

Håfa adai and aloha todus hamyo!

As a Chamoru, Pacific islander, and Oceanian living in a Western world, my culture and values are challenged every day. My value of mangåffa’, belonging, and the past are almost completely opposite of those of American culture, or lack thereof. By beginning again and starting completely from scratch, it was easy to temporarily forget i hale’-hu (my roots). I thought I uprooted myself, but I didn’t truly realize how deep i hale’-hu actually go. I’ve been growing håle’ in i Islas Marianas for thousands of years, so no amount of distance or time could cut them.

Using my culture as a lens or way to see things, I try to observe society’s current realities. My current reality is that I live in a politically and economically Western place that is also a geographically and culturally Oceanic/Pacific island at its core. This goes for Hawai’i and Guåhan: we both have the U.S. flag flying over our lands (without choice or desire) but our cultures are in the roots of them. Although I have always seen it and somewhat knew it, I have finally come to understand that Western cultures value innovation, moving forward, and the future. They see time as a line: the future ahead of them and the past behind them. They turn their backs on the past and charge the future head on with full-force. They forget the rich knowledge gained by the people before them, therefore end up making the same mistakes. The newly elected president Donald Trump is the prime example. Growing up in a bi-cultural environment with Western surrounding me but Chamoru inside of me, I was somewhat a recipient of this mindset and way to approach life. I turned my back to the past and all the lessons it holds, and forgot that those lessons could guide me through the future. I always chose to learn the hard way and make my own mistakes even though someone I love and trust has literally been there and done that. Yes, I learned a lot from my experiences, but looking back now, I wasted so much time learning the hard way, and suffering because of it when I could’ve easily listened to my family, learned through their experiences, and learned something new and less painful. But hey, you live and you learn.

What I learned from my History of Guåhan class and am understanding in my Pacific Islands Studies and Hawaiian Studies classes are the Pacific/Oceanic approaches to life and views of time. Lilikalā Kame’eleihiwa said in her book Native Land and Foreign Desires,

“It is as if the islander (Hawaiian) stands firmly in the present, with his back to the future, and his eyes fixed upon the past, seeking historical answers for present-day dilemmas. Such an orientation is to the islander (Hawaiian) and eminently practical one, for the future is always unknown, whereas the past is rich in glory and knowledge.”

Micronesians, Melanesians, and Polynesians all view time as cyclical. Life is a natural cycle that we are very in-tune with (or used to be): the sun rises and sets, the tide comes and goes, i fufu’ mångga (the mango tree) gives you mangoes then leaves you waiting anxiously for next mango season. In the words of my kumu/fafa’någue (Hawaiian/Chamoru for teacher), “history repeats itself every day.” By knowing history, we can make sure we don’t repeat the same mistakes as our ancestors. There is so much to learn from the past that will teach us how to overcome our present problems. When you know your roots, you can grow. 

No, you don’t have to learn the entire history of your people unless you really want to, then you should. I actually highly recommend you to try! A good start is knowing your family history: ask your grandparents about when they grew up and what home was like, ask your dad the hardest decision he’s ever made, see how far back you can trace your genealogy. In knowing these things and the struggles that our own blood and spirits have overcome will inspire us and give us strength to overcome our own.

From there, learn the legends, stories, and significant historical events of your culture and people. Dig deep and unearth the wisdom and valuable information within those, and carry it with you kada ha’åni (every day) in everything you do and everything done unto you. One ancestor that we can look to for guidance for a present dilemma is Maga’låhi Hurao. In 1669, he unified 2,000 warriors to fight against the Spanish missionaries and soldiers whom colonized the islands, forcefully converted us to Catholicism, and exploited our people and resources. Four hundred years and two colonial world-powers later, what he did and said can inspire and guide us towards decolonizing ourselves from our new colonizers whom are similarly converting our ways of life and exploiting our resources. Maga’låhi Hurao said,

“The Spanish would have done better to stay in their own country… The knowledge which they have given us has only increased our needs and stimulated our desires… Under the excuse of instructing us, they are corrupting us. They take away from us the primitive simplicity in which we live they dare to take away our liberty which should be dearer to us than life itself. They try to persuade us that we will be happier, and some of us have been blinded into believing their words… If they didn’t have need for us, they would not expose themselves to so many perils and make such efforts to establish themselves in our midst. For what purpose do they teach us except to make us adopt their customs, to subject us to their laws, and to remove the precious liberty left to us by our ancestors?… If we are ignorant and blind, as they would have us believe, it is because we have learned their evil plan too late and have allowed them to settle here… We are stronger than we think! We must regain our former freedom!”

Now put that in today’s context and replace “the Spanish” with “the American government”. Everything still applies because history repeats itself.Although this was a great feat, Maga’låhi Hurao and his men failed three times. Failing three times followed by a typhoon says a lot about the situation. What we can learn from this is that we can’t decolonize ourselves with only 2,000 warriors, we need the entire island in this battle. We can learn that this doesn’t have to be a gory battle, but a well-coordinated transition. Instead of resorting to war, violence, and weapons, we can use peace, love, and education to regain the freedom given to us by our ancestors. Hurao was right though, we are stronger than we think.

Marcus Garvey said, “A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.” Realize and learn how you got here, who helped you, and why you are here. Plant your feet firmly and deeply in your land and strengthen that connection. Look forward to the past to be guided through the unknown future. Tungo i hale’-mu. Grow.

Thank you for reading.

Mahalo no ka heluhelu.

Si Yu’us ma’åse pot i tinaitai-miyu.

In Dependence

Buenas yan hafa adai!

I have just completed my first semester of college, and it was an adventure! I loved a lot of things about it, and disliked things too, but overall, it was a learning experience that I’m grateful for. In a couple of weeks, I’m going to start my new adventure: Spring semester. Yayyyy. Well writing for my classes has taken up a lot of my personal writing time, as it may have shown throughout the last few months. However, I killed two birds with one atupat and wrote about things pertaining to our Chamoru culture, island, and current issues. Here is my final essay for Freshman Composition called In Dependence without all of the APA citations. I hope you enjoy…

In Dependence

            Guam needs change. Guam is currently one of the last 16 colonized, non-self-governing nations with the longest colonial history in the world. Guam was colonized by Spain in the 1600s then given to the U.S. in 1898 as a spoil of the Spanish-American war. Although the native people of Guam, the Chamorus were forced to stop speaking their language, forced to convert from their indigenous spiritual practices to Christianity, forced out of their own land, suffered genocide in the Chamoru-Spanish War, and held as second-class citizens in their own home, they have remained resilient and managed to keep much of the culture and language alive.

Guam’s current political status is “unincorporated territory” of the United States of America, meaning that it is a possession of the U.S. that has limited self-government and is at the disposal of the U.S. According to Guampedia, the people of Guam are US Citizens and while they may acquire full political equality as individuals, if they move to any of the fifty states, they are in a subservient political condition if they remain on Guam. They are unable to vote for president, select members of US Congress with voting power and congress can overturn any law passed in Guam and decide which parts of the US Constitution apply to it” (Underwood 2014). Guam has no voting delegate in Congress or seat in the United Nations. This has and is still affecting our island’s infrastructure, culture, resources, and people in mostly negative ways. As an unincorporated territory, Guam is unable to manage immigration suitable for the island, therefore our infrastructure is not up to par for the amount of residents and visitors. Under the U.S. Department of Education and economy, Guam has become more “Americanized” with little to no Chamoru culture and language taught in schools and no use for Chamoru in everyday life. Guam is also dependent on the U.S. federal government monetarily, using thousands of federal dollars each fiscal year for programs such as food stamps, welfare, and even our tax refunds to name a few. As an unincorporated territory of the U.S., the federal government can take whatever land they want and is currently controlling one third of Guam’s landmass, not properly taking care of the resources within. Guam’s government and citizens have limited freedoms due to its political status which may be changed through decolonization. Decolonization is the freeing of a colony to become self-governing or independent.

In order for the indigenous Chamoru people of Guam and the migrated people who call Guam home to decolonize themselves, they must undergo the process of self-determination. Self-determination is the process in which the people of a colonial territory express their desire for a self-governing status. The people of Guam have three options of self-government: statehood, free association, and independence. If permitted by the U.S., in statehood, Guam will become the 51st (fifty-first) state of the United States of America in which residents abide to the laws and receive constitutional rights. Free association is in essence a bargain through which a degree of external sovereignty is freely exchanged in return for a defense commitment and the promise of significant economic assistance. Independence is becoming a sovereign nation. Each status will affect Guam’s land and resources, the residents’ rights, immigration, culture, legal system, education, and foreign affairs. Each status has its pros and cons, however, I believe that independence is the best status option for Guam. According to the Independence for Guam Task Force of the Guam Commission on Decolonization, “Independence is a chance for the people of Guam to truly determine our own destiny. For many centuries, Guam’s political course has been dictated for us—our people, our land, and our resources have been used to benefit other countries leaving us at a greater loss each time. Currently, Guam is stuck with a dependent and underdeveloped relationship with the United States. The colonial status of Guam keeps us trapped – economically, politically, mentally, and spiritually. Independence will allow us to work together as a community to grow into a more sustainable and regionally integrated people, who will no longer be stunted as a colony of the United States” (Hafa Ilek-mu Self-Determination, n.d.).  The native and indigenous people of Guam should declare independence from the United States government because of its dictatorial history, to protect the Chamoru culture and language, and to manage the resources to sustain themselves and future generations.

The United States government has expressed no interest in the wellbeing of the Chamoru people and the perpetuation and protection of the Chamoru culture many times throughout their colonialism on Guam. As stated earlier, Guam was purchased by the U.S. in the Treaty of Paris in 1898 as a spoil of the Spanish-American War. The U.S. bought Guam, the Phillippines, and all inhabitants as if they were animals and not human beings. Following the Treaty of Paris, the Navy assumed the position of the government of Guam. According to one of the first appointed Naval governors Governor Dyer, the Chamorus were to be Americanized and, “…taught, at once, to help themselves in ways to make themselves useful to us . . .”. After Guam was seized by Japan in WWII, the military leveled the island with thousands of pounds of explosives regardless of the presence of the local people. The U.S. then reclaimed Guam in 1944 and seized one third of the island’s landmass without adequate compensation, leaving many Chamorus homeless and poor. According to my grandmother Engracia Pangelinan, WWII survivor, the schools established by the Navy discouraged the use of the Chamoru language and forced English upon them in hopes of Americanizing the Chamorus. The Chamoru people resented the way the government treated them and sought for a fair government and civil rights. They believed that becoming U.S. citizens would give them U.S. civil rights and fought for such. They were granted citizenship in the Organic Act of 1950 which was modeled after the U.S. Constitution, but were not granted all the constitutional rights including the right to vote for President. There have been many efforts by the Chamoru people to decolonize themselves, but due to the lack of support from the federal government and education amongst Chamorus, they have failed. Today, the U.S. still owns one third of Guam’s landmass and is continuing to take more. They have recently finalized the taking of Litekyan- a wildlife reserve, ancient village, and sacred place to the Chamoru people to be used as a firing range. The U.S. plans on taking more for the highly anticipated military buildup- the relocation of thousands of marines and their dependents to Guam. Some say the buildup will be good for Guam, but many native Chamorus feel that it will be further detrimental to the land, culture, language, and survival of the Chamoru people in their own home.

Choosing independence for Guam will better allow the preservation and perpetuation of the Chamoru culture and language. Guam’s educational system is and has always been parallel to that of the United States, in which students learn the same things as students in the continental U.S., and are compared to American standards and statistics. My father Rick Nauta, whom does not speak Chamoru but has Chamoru-speaking parents asked his mother why she did not teach him Chamoru. She said that she did not want it to affect his English and how well he did in school. As one can see, the U.S. has affectively devalued the importance of the Chamoru culture and language in Chamorus themselves. Today, there are few courses in high school that teach Chamoru language, dance, history, and practices, however in my experience, they seemed underfunded and unimportant to the education of a Guam student as a whole. Public elementary students are only allotted 20 minutes each day for learning Chamoru. What can possibly taught, learned, and comprehended in 20 minutes? The perpetuation of the culture is obviously not a priority for the Department of Education, so if our culture and language is not taught, it will die. In Decolonization Through the Self-Determination of a People- An Overview of Guam’s Status and Options by the Guam Commission on Decolonization, independence will engender the “continuation of existing standards with large resource allocation directed to long-term residents… the local school system empowered to develop locally/regionally relevant curriculum”. As an independent nation, not only will Guam be able to implement Chamoru values and language into the curriculum, but teach the curriculum in Chamoru. In An Analysis of the Economic Impact of Guam’s Political Status Options by Joseph Bradley, “it is anticipated that there will be a resurgence in the Chamorro language and culture in the independent nation of Guam.  There is even the remote possibility that the use of the Chamorro language will be mandated for some of the island’s governmental activities”.

As an independent nation, Guam will regain access to all of its natural resources and manage them according to the needs of the people. As a small island with only 212 square miles of land, Guam is limited in resources including soil for agriculture and freshwater sources. The federal government currently owns land that has many resources including but not limited to the Mt. Santa Rosa Reservoir, Agana Springs, Tarague Natural Wells, the Tumon Bay Recreational area, and the Fena River Reservoir, totaling in over 43,000 acres. That land was taken from many Chamoru families whom were inadequately compensated, including my maternal grandmother Engracia Pangelinan. The military exploits the resources in those lands to benefit themselves and even sells the products back to the government of Guam. They do not properly care for the land as seen in their ownership of Tiyan. The military claimed it after the war, dumped biohazardous waste on it, and gave it back to the government when it was deemed toxic and inhabitable. There are actually 95 toxic sites on Guam alone, many results of mistreatment and disrespect. As an independent nation, Chamoru property rights will come first and local law will be redefined to accommodate local conditions and economic development. As an independent nation, Guam will also be able to control immigration and the use of public land to better stabilize infrastructure (Guam Commission on Decolonization, n.d.). All 43,000+ acres of land under the military’s control will be distributed back to their rightful owners, and the rest could be used for agricultural development or economic enhancement.

Many people believe that Guam is not ready for independence, however the longer we spend preparing and planning, the more land is taken away, the more our culture and language die, and the more our island becomes a big military base. It is going to be a drastic and difficult change, but it is possible. For guidance and reassurance, we can look to our sister island of Palau. With education of its people, government involvement, self-determination, and great effort, they have become their own sovereign nation where their culture and language thrive, their resources are loved and taken care of, and their people are interdependent on each other and their land. If Palau can do it, Guam can do it too. We must educate ourselves, join hand in hand, and vote for our right to be our own nation. “The foundation of Guåhan is the Chamoru culture in all its expressions. The ancients arrived thousands of years ago. The future generations will continue this journey in search of the expression of the human experience.” –Anthony J Ramirez. Guåhan is tano i man Chamoru—the land of the Chamoru people, and we should keep it that way. Together we can change our status from in dependence to independent.

Si Yu’us Ma’ase for reading.