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From the island to the bay: Diaspora and homeland experiences

We are both native Chamorus from the Pacific island of Guam, an unincorporated United States territory and one of the last United Nations recognized colonies in the world. The island and her people have experienced a long history of colonization and an ongoing reality of militarization. Many of our family’s lands have been unjustly taken for use as US military bases, and today one-third of the island is owned by the US military. Currently, the US military is planning to build a live-fire training range at Litekyan, one of our island’s sacred sites. Furthermore, our island is facing threats from North Korea directly because of the US military occupation of our homeland.

While we are both native Chamoru students at Mills who grapple with learning about our island’s history of colonialism and are involved with the movement for decolonization, we have different migration stories and connections to our homeland.

Being raised in the states I don’t think I spent much time understanding what being Chamoru meant. My mom left Guam to come to the states shortly after finishing high school, and eventually settled down in San Francisco, where she had me. I had never thought too much about associating the way I was raised to my heritage. Being mixed race, and growing up in a place where “Guamanian” was often confused with “Guatemalan”, I felt as though there was not much to embrace. I later realized I was wrong. My mother’s attitude and the way she raised me and my brother is undeniably connected to her roots. She always instilled in us a sense of respect for the water, and the resources around us. She played Chamoru music on Saturday mornings, and every so often would tell us stories of working on the military base. These things were fundamental to her identity, and she was able to bring a piece of that to the states.

Over the past few years, with the help of the Internet, I’ve been able to embrace and learn more about the histories of Guam and its people. I’ve been able to read about the history of the occupation, and how the war affected my great-grandmother. While I’ve been able to begin accessing these histories, Mills is no more representative of Chamoru culture than any other space I’ve been in. There is a feeling of familiarity when finding another Chamoru in your midst. I believe that in a small community like this, it is impossible to not find one another. I have often been the “one Guamanian friend” that someone has, so upon finding another it is like finding a piece of home in an unfamiliar place.

I was born and raised on Guam, and I moved to California to attend college. In the Bay Area, I’ve started learning about the Chamoru diaspora experience – or the experience of Chamorus who were born and raised away from the island. To be honest, I think many Chamorus on Guam have feelings of resentment towards those in the diaspora because they are privileged with access to stateside education and resources. When my cousins who were raised in the diaspora visited Guam, my family and I would quietly judge them for being disrespectful because they didn’t practice the culture or have the same knowledge that we did. We thought they were spoiled, and assumed they thought they were better than us because they were raised in the States. While I think issues of diaspora privilege are relevant, both diaspora and Chamorus living on Guam experience loss when we are unable to connect. We come from a culture of storytelling and reciprocity, and there is so much that people in the diaspora and those from our homeland can learn from each other. Since I’ve been living in the States, I’ve learned more about how the high numbers of Chamorus living in the diaspora are directly related to our island’s experience as a US colony. Many of our families lost land because of the military and migrated off-island, and the US military-build up has made our economy more hostile to Chamorus. The cost of living on island, particularly the cost of rent, have risen to target military salaries, and many local people are unable to afford housing. Militarism has transformed the story of our homeland; the diaspora experience is also part of our story as indigenous Chamoru people. Chamorus were the first Pacific Islanders to navigate in the open ocean beyond the reef, and now both diaspora Chamorus and Chamorus on Guam have to learn to navigate across our differences and work towards the freedom of our people. While living in the States, the most powerful friendships I’ve built have been with the diaspora Chamorus that I’ve met. I’ve witnessed the true resiliency of our culture, and it’s so beautiful and unexpected to see how Chamoru culture has survived and continues to grow away from our homeland. I’m so grateful for our stories and for the love and power that sustains us across the ocean.