Sunday, March 4, 2012

Breathe Life into the Chamorro Language

Breathe life into Guam's language, culture
Mar. 5, 2012
The Pacific Daily News

Let us imagine what it would be like if we could hear ourselves once again in the sounds of our language, the Chamorro language, the language of this homeland. When I hear the spoken language, it is like music to my ears.

The ancient Chamorro people arrived in the Mariana Archipelago thousands of years ago and lived on this beautiful chain of islands called the Gåni Islands. For thousands of years, the Chamorro language was alive and healthy as the people before us transmitted knowledge of the land through the spoken language. Language and culture was inhaled and exhaled through the sights and sounds of daily experiences within the Mariana Archipelago.

Generations lived and died while the language and culture carried with it the history and experiences of intertwined lives of island peoples. Knowledge of the environment and its secrets were deeply entrenched within the native peoples' lives.

In order for our language to survive in the Gåni Islands (Mariana Islands), we as Chamorro people must be strategic about it. There are many layers within our society; environment and communities that need to come together in unity in order for the Chamorro language to be breathed and to have recognition and life within the Mariana Islands. We may have our differences; however, we need to be of one mind when it comes to awakening and restoring the Chamorro language and culture.
Here are more thoughts on breathing life back into our language and culture:

•We have to be united in restoring our self-identity as peoples of this land. The Chamorro people were the first people of the Mariana Islands and we are still here walking the same ground our ancestors have walked on.

•We have to be committed not only in words, but in action for restoring our spoken Chamorro language. Our language and culture are deeply rooted to this land that we walk on daily.

•For the Chamorro language to be seen, there must be signs in Chamorro language in public buildings and public spaces, including street names.

•For the language to be heard, it must be spoken actively in as many settings in private and public spaces and domains.

•For the language to be actively spoken, it must be appropriated and be given opportunities for speaking and engaging people to speak it, such as in meetings, media, etc.

•For the language to be taught, it has to be made available to the native communities (and to others who choose to have it) at all age levels beginning with daycares, pre-schools, kindergarten, elementary, middle, high schools and post-secondary institutions. Teachings have to be in an immersion setting for maximum effectiveness. Chamorro immersion schools are critical for language revival.

•Our post-secondary institutions should have intensive studies in Chamorro language and cultures.

•We have to engage the different layers within our public and private communities and environments to help restore our Chamorro language in public domains and spaces. For instance, private organizations/hotels who hold summer camps may consider basic Chamorro language as one of their components of summer camps for young children.

•We have to create more language materials that will support our language schools and learners for the children of today and tomorrow. Chamorro language resources can be housed in a Chamorro Language and Culture Resource Center (Sahgåyan Guinahan Tiningo' Chamorro) for easy accessibility to the general public.

•We need to create a Chamorro Language Immersion Commission Task Force that will commit to "spoken language restoration and awakening" on Guam.

Some of these things are happening now. However, we are at a crossroads when it comes to our Chamorro language. We can work together to breathe life into the language and place it back where it belongs, alive and speaking it on this land.

Just imagine Chamorro language daycares throughout the island -- the east, north, south, and west, and children, young people and adults speaking our language. This would give honor and respect to our peoples and our ancestors -- i man mofo'na na taotao tåno'. Gef pa'go i fino' taotao tåno'!

Mina Sablan is a resident of Chalan Pago.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Chamorro Classes are Needed in Schools

Chamorro classes are needed in our schools

This is in response to Kaeshier Fernandez's letter regarding Chamorro education as "unnecessary, inconvenient, and uneconomical." First of all, I am glad to see a student voicing an opinion and challenging the curriculum. The freedom to express a dissenting opinion is one which continues to make our country great.

Additionally, I am saddened to see that Kaeshier's experiences have led him to feel that learning Chamorro in school was a waste of time and resources. However, that does not necessarily reflect the view of all students.

I recall the newfound appreciation for my culture and sense of self when I could finally piece together a few simple Chamorro sentences. I still remember the day I had a conversation with my grandfather in Chamorro and told him I got married. Now, I am a seasoned teacher at Untalan Middle School and I've seen firsthand how students not only enjoy learning the language, but also cultural aspects, such as weaving, singing and dancing. By the way, I am not a Chamorro teacher, but I know some really great ones at my school.

Let's keep in mind that not everything we take in school is going to grace a college resume. By that line of reasoning, we should give up art, home economics and many of the other electives students enjoy because most colleges don't care if you can draw, cook or sew.

Finally, yes, learning Chamorro is required because the alternative is to do nothing. Are we going to give up on Chamorro, which survived several foreign occupations, because some students don't like to take the class? Foreigners tried to kill, beat and fine the language out of our ancestors and, against all odds, it still exists. Can you imagine if it finally died out because we said, "Our chances are slim and some kids are complaining."

As a student sitting through another lesson on transitive verbs might, it's natural to wonder what it's all for, but there is a larger picture to be seen. The things that touch our soul -- art, music, culture -- may not be necessary, convenient or economical, but fill an intangible need that goes beyond the academia that pads a college application.

Letter to the Editor
Guam PDN