“Oh, you’re Chamorran!? That’s so cool!”

I say nothing and sigh under my breath. Close enough to not correct them, I suppose.

It’s funny: I’m unsure of where people hear the word “Chamorran,” (the correct pronunciation and spelling is Chamorro), but I’m more surprised at how they know a derivation of the ethnicity itself. Chamorro is an ethnicity that I don’t really hear of when comparing ethnicities and backgrounds, out of curiosity, among friends.

Because my family lived in a military setting, I never really encountered too many Chamorro people while growing up. Of course, I’d visit my grandparents and other extended family in Guam (Guahan in Chamorro) the occasional summer during my childhood, but aside from attending Mass or indulging in traditional Chamorro cuisine (namely barbeques), I feel as though I know very little about my own heritage.

This month being Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, I thought it would be appropriate to trace my roots and learn more about my people as a people.

Just who are the Chamorro people?

“Chamorros are the indigineous people of the Mariana Islands of which Guam is the largest and southernmost on an island chain. Archeological evidence identified civilization dating back 5,000 years” (Taimanglo).

Okay, well what does that tell us?

(Many Chamorros reside in the Mariana Islands, even the Northwestern U.S., but because Guam is where the majority of Chamorros live, the main focus of this article will be on Guam’s Chamorro population.)

Through trauma after trauma, Guam has grown into the U.S. territory we know it as today.

Genocide and colonization, destroying nearly every home, every citizen of Guam in the mid-1600s by the Spanish;

the U.S. swooping in and staking their claim in the late 19th century after their “victory” in the Spanish-American War;

the Japanese forcing their occupation until 1944 after Pearl Harbor, when the U.S. and Japan battled it out in what resulted in the most scarring, violent destruction ever on the beautiful, 210 square-mile island.

If the information Patricia L.G. Taimanglo provides us is true, that means that my grandparents were born just the year before the utter ruin of Guam’s culture, that means that my great-grandparents likely witnessed these very tragedies with their own eyes. I only hope that they weren’t succumbed to the forced labor, the beheadings, the torture much of the island experienced.

But when people think of Guam, they don’t think of a once war-ridden island. They don’t think of a highly affected, contested knot in the tug-of-war of political maneuverings. Even now, China’s evidently pointing their missiles straight at Guam.

No, when people think of Guam, they think of “America’s second Hawaii.” They think, “Wow, I can’t wait to have my wedding in such a tropical place!” They visit places like Tumon to get their luxury fixes and appease their ocean water cravings.

People don’t see the villages or the culture still there today.

I don’t blame them for that; the lack of pre-Hispanic cultural significance is bewildering. As the result of war, most Chamorro culture has been erased from history.

Of course with the occupations came great shifts in, and approaches to, culture, although some originality is still fostered on the island.

For instance, most Chamorros are Roman Catholic, place a high emphasis on respecting others (especially elders), partake in fishing activities, and even have their own language. Both Spanish and Filipino heavily influenced the Chamorro language.

Unfortunately, the Chamorro language is dying. It seems as though only the older generations both understand and communicate in the Chamorro tongue. My grandparents typically switch from English to Chamorro in just one conversation.

I do know a few Chamorro phrases. “Hafa adai” (ha-fuh-dei) means “Hello” and “Hu guaiya hao” (hoo-goowai-dza-how) means “I love you.” Those were the easiest for me to remember as a child. I wrote the phrases my grandpa would tell me in a little black notebook, but misplaced it somewhere in the numerous childhood moves.

In a valiant effort to preserve the remaining culture, and increase awareness of the loss of Chamorro identity, according to Taimanglo, public schools teach the Chamorro language as an integration of the educational curriculum. There are also several cultural groups encouraging the learning of the history, culture, songs, and dances of the Chamorro people.

It’s important to continue raising awareness about these issues in order to prevent any further loss of culture or identity of the Chamorros.

Although we cannot resist the changes time often brings, we must develop a clear understanding of the Chamorro identity and not loss more than what was already lost in the first colonization of Guam.

Hu guaiya Guahan.