On April 7, from 4 to 6 p.m., at the field in front of Adelup, the Respect the Chamoru People Rally will take place. It’s free and open to the public. It will feature speakers, music, poetry and dance — all focused on the need to respect the Chamorro people today, celebrate their presence in this world and help protect their basic human rights. Full disclosure: I am one of the members of the community who is helping to organize this event.
Mes Chamoru — Guam’s annual month-long celebration of Chamorro culture, language and history — has been overshadowed by a number of blatantly disrespectful acts against the Chamorro people. From military expansion into lands sacred to the Chamorro people, to court cases challenging the Chamorro right to self-determination and even potential threats to the Chamorro Land Trust, it is easy to forget that Guam has long been and should continue to be, i Tano’ i Chamorro, the homeland of the Chamorro people.
Calls by Dave Davis, conservative media outlets or any others that a non-binding decolonization plebiscite limited to a group of historically oppressed people amounts to Jim Crow racism or discrimination are disingenuous at best. It is a laughable comparison, attempted by those who want to take what is a unique set of circumstances in Guam and try to characterize it in familiar ways for a stateside audience. Anyone who buys into that equivalence clearly knows little about Guam today or U.S. history in general.
Each year the Chamorro Studies Program at UOG holds the the Inacha’igen Fino’ CHamoru competition, featuring hundreds of students from schools throughout the Marianas speaking, singing, chanting and writing in Chamorro. For the children’s choir, or Korun Famagu’on, category this year, elementary classes sang “Kotturå-ta” by Remy and Jocelyn Toves. This is a simple and touching song about the importance of young people keeping alive their language and culture.
The second verse for the song begins with two lines that are very telling. “Pinasensia todus hit na klåsen taotao/I direcho-ta ayu ha’ ta gågagao.” We are a patient and polite people. All we are asking for is our rights, our human rights.
Over the past few centuries, colonizers from the East or the West have come to claim Guam as their own and deprived the Chamorro people of their basic rights. It’s not unreasonable and shouldn’t be dismissed as unconstitutional that the U.S. and others respect these long-denied rights.
It is in this spirit,that the Respect the Chamoru People Rally is being organized. Although part of the emotional impetus for the event are feelings such as fear, unease and frustration, more than anything this gathering is meant to be a celebration. The Chamorro people have endured and survived a lot, and have adapted and been changed through the process.
The Chamorro presence is important in what makes Guam and the Marianas unique. That presence is not simply a color in a multicultural tapestry — it is the culture and the people that have evolved in this place over millennia.
It should be the responsibility of all who call Guam their home to protect and respect that presence. This rally is meant to be a place to help facilitate that conversation.
Michael Lujan Bevacqua is an author, artist, activist and assistant professor of Chamorro studies at the University of Guam.