Håfa Adai. Guahu si Lorimarie Naputi. For those unfamiliar with the Chamorro language, the above sentences translate to “Hello. My name is Lorimarie Naputi.”
I grew up confused about what exactly Chamorro culture is and what Western culture is. I was often times made fun of for “sounding white” due to the fact that my dad spoke in such a manner. When I was about 13 years old I moved from Guam to the mainland United States, and this still did not save me from being an outcast. I spoke Chamorro thinking that I was actually speaking English and when I would return home, I would speak English thinking that I was speaking Chamorro. I was lost. I was simply a little brown girl who felt out of place in the mainland and out of place on the island.
Truthfully, it can be very lonely and isolating to be a minority in the great big United States. It does not make it any easier that I am among a minority group among Pacific Islanders as I am not Hawaiian, which is often the most known (and often times only known) of the Pacific Island cultures. However, one thing I will say about being a Chamorro out here in the mainland is that I was able to find a new and deeper appreciation for my culture and an acceptance of who I am.
It was an insecurity of mine to often times felt like I was less of a Chamorro than everyone else on island because I was mixed. On a recent trip to the island, I was approached by a Chamorro lady who asked what I was. When I told her that I was Chamorro, she laughed and said, "There is no need to be ashamed of what you are mixed with. Every Chamorro is mixed with something." That stuck with me and I feel it needs to be said again in order to help other Chamorros who feel like they are less than enough.
Every single person you meet today who is Chamorro has come from a mix of Chamorro and many other ethnicities. I, myself, look Chamorro, and because of that, I am constantly receiving comments from mainlanders about my “foreign” or “exotic” traits. People who are familiar with the Chamorro traits take one look at me and they know right away that I am Chamorro. This, however, does not distract from the fact that I am mixed with a multitude of ethnicities. My mother is a mix of Chamorro-Filipino-Japanese, and my father is a mix of Chamorro-Cherokee-Polish.
In all the years of having to answer people’s questions about where I get my “exotic” features from, I was able to find my identity. I am Chamorro. It does not matter what I am mixed with nor does it matter where I am currently living. I am Chamorro. We are Chamorro. It is an identity formed and passed down to us by the ancient people who settled on our islands around 3,500 years ago and fought to keep it protected. It is an identity that we are now tasked with protecting and passing down to our descendants, just as our ancestors had done for us.
I grew up moving from village to village on the island, but I spent most of my time in Toto, which is the village I claim. I spent a lot of time living in the central area of the island so I was exposed to quite a lot of Western influences. My father was a military brat who moved all over the globe and due to this upbringing, my father was a very westernized Chamorro. My mother, on the other hand, had grown up on my grandfather’s ranch in Toto and she was not familiar with a lot of modern technology. My parents often joke about how my mom was such a lanchero (farmer), that because of her ranch life she had never seen a microwave until she was about 18 years old. Taking into consideration that I was raised by one westernized parent and one island stylin’ parent, I had a very mixed and often times conflicting childhood, but it helped me to experience the adaption of our culture and allowed me to see some of the culture in its pure beauty, something that is slowly disappearing.
Protecting the culture comes with many responsibilities, as our culture is rapidly dying. If you turn on the news, you will see protests taking place aimed at fighting the militaristic expansion and the taking of our native lands on Guam. Keep in mind, this does not mean that those protesting are anti-military or anti-American, but they are more pro-Chamorro than anything. This is the heart and pride of the Chamorro that has allowed for us to maintain our small and dying culture from becoming extinct. Our ancestors have done it before during the Spanish occupation and then again during the Japanese occupation. It is what our ancestors would want of us. It is what we owe those who established who we are thousands of years before us.
It sometimes amazes me how we can be confused about what our own culture is, even those who have never left the island. For example, I saw tiki heads for sale in a gift shop on Guam and I saw children who did not know about the dukduk (local hermit crab), or how they could call it out of its shell. Okay, so I admit that this one is minor detail, but it was a big part of my childhood and was taught to me by the manåmko' (elders).
As I have grown to realize the value in preserving our heritage, I have done extensive research, spending hours in libraries looking for books and resources to read, and asking historians and Oceania experts about their ideas. I follow many other Chamorro activists who share much information about who we were and who we need to be. We are the storytellers. We are the teachers and the craftsmen. We are bits of the past brought to the future tasked with protecting what we have left. That being said, being Chamorro is more than just where you are living or what your bloodline is. The first step to protecting the Chamorro way of life is to live it or at very least be knowledgeable of it.
Cultures change with time. Cultures are not stagnant. However, that is also the downfall of many cultures throughout the course of history. We move forward and often forget to look back. We may never truly know where we are going if we do not know where we have been.