I still remember it like it was yesterday. The shock when I heard her ask, the hurt I felt deep in my heart, and the worry I felt for the state of the Chamorro language. From 2010-2012, I was the founder of a student social justice organization named “F.I.T.E. Club” at the University of Guam. We would hold meetings every Thursday and would constantly invite people to join us. One Thursday we were planning a large festival that would celebrate unity in the Micronesian community. Thirty minutes into the meeting, a transfer student from Palau who had been in Guåhan for a month stood up and asked the most eye-opening question one could think of. She simply said, “Do Chamorros have a language?”
Five words is all it took for me to ponder the true state of our language. She went on to explain that in the month that she had been in Guåhan, she has only heard Chamorros speak English, leading her to be curious about our linguistic uniqueness. While one may argue that maybe she did not know what the language sounded like or maybe she was going to the wrong places, deep down we all know that her story is probably true. Deep down we all know that her question and genuine concern is a serious wake-up call for Chamorros to learn their language. If she had lived in France, the Philippines, or the Marshall Islands, she certainly would not have asked if the people have their own language/languages. Yet, in places like Guåhan, Hawai’i, and Aboriginal Australia, we face this problem. We face the problem of losing our languages, which is a darker picture than we are willing to accept. The vitality and use of a peoples’ language is a huge indicator of the vitality of a people’s culture. Thus, the more we lose the language, the more we lose portions of who we are as Chamorros. So, when this transfer student asked if Chamorros have a language, the subtext was truly asking “Do Chamorros exist?”
I challenge all of you reading this to really think about your lives. Listen to what language is spoken throughout your day if you live in Guåhan. When you go to the store, school, family parties, or the movies, what language does your ear move to the rhythm to? Ask yourself if it is right that the Chamorro language, the language of the indigenous people of this land, be treated with less respect than English? Most importantly, if you are Chamorro, what language comes off of your tongue? Ask yourselves “Does this Chamorro have his/her language?” If the answer is no, let us work together to change that situation.
So, at this juncture, I will begin a series of blog entries dedicated to the politics of Fino’ Chamoru, the what and how-to of language revitalization, the dangers of language endangerment, and most importantly, the linguistic beauty of our indigenous tongue, Fino’ Chamoru.
Na’lå’la’ i hila’-ta, Na’matatnga i taotao-ta!
(Give life to our tongues, make our people brave!)