Saturday, August 6, 2011

Talayero Tales

Talayero Tales: The simple truth of the English-speaking Chamorro

Guam PDN

2:00 PM, Aug. 7, 2011

Edward San Gil

I am often asked "Why don't the younger generation of Chamorros speak their language?" I thought about this question for weeks trying to come up with an honest answer.

It is easy to blame someone or an event in our history for the cause of this problem. For years, Chamorros have pointed the finger at the Americans. After all, they were the ones who punished the young Chamorro generation for speaking our language in school back in the 1950s.

For every issue there are two opposing sides. The popular side is where blame can be directed. In this case, the Americans or statesiders are the ones we are pointing to. As I said earlier, the Americans required the young Chamorro generation to speak English in school. Most would argue this was "the" main reason for the decline of the Chamorro language.

If you are content with this reasoning, you need not read further.

For the sake of keeping the course of history straight, let us go back to the 1940s and the Japanese occupation of Guahan. During the war, my mother was but 8 years old. She told me how the Japanese soldiers would reprimand those who spoke any language other than Japanese. You have to take into account the occupation lasted about three years. Even with the threat of death, the Chamorro language thrived.
After the liberation of Guahan, my mother attended school under the Americans who liberated us. She said the American teachers would walk around with wooden rulers in hand. If they overheard students speaking Chamorro, they would strike the back of their hand. This was to remind them English was to be spoken in school.

This brings up the issue of reprimanding the Chamorro-speaking student with ruler strikes to the hand. Do you honestly believe a punishment such as a ruler strike could change the course of a spoken language? The Chamorro language, for all we know, is several hundred or even thousands of years old. Mind you, this was not a matter of life or death.

What makes this issue complex are the monumental events so close in time. Guahan in the 1930s was a tranquil island. The early 1940s brought the war into our homes and suffering to our people. The dream of liberation became a reality in the middle 1940s.

Now the truth, ...

I was fortunate enough to remember the struggles my mother endured growing up on Guahan. We discussed the issue on why we did not speak Chamorro in our home.

I trust you understand the entire generation of Chamorro children born from the late 1950s to the 1970s was not subjected to the kind of treatment (ruler strikes) of the previous generation.

The Chamorros born in the era mentioned in the above paragraph -- according to my mother -- were taught the English language for the sake of higher education. There must have been a secret pact amongst my parents' generation to speak English to their children. They must have known the English language was necessary to achieve our goals. They felt the English language was the tool needed to assure a successful future. In many respects, they were correct.

I did not quite understand my mother's reasoning at the time. I just shrugged my shoulders and accepted it.

That was 33 years ago.

I have a brilliant idea. If we bring back the wooden ruler and strike the kids on the back of their hands for speaking English in school, perhaps we can revive the Chamorro language. This method of punishment was blamed for the near extinction of our language. Perhaps the same method could be used to bring it back.

Ed S.N. San Gil was born and raised on Guam and relocated to Washington State in 2001. His parents are Roberto C. and Dolores San Nicolas San Gil (deceased). He has three sisters and seven brothers. Both of his parents have 10 siblings and Ed happens to have a staggering 105 first cousins! His wife of 24 years is Luz Galendez San Gil. They have four beautiful children Liezl, Nicolas, Kayla and Kathleen.

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