The Chamorro language is heard less and less around Guam nowadays. I couldn’t speak Chamorro for most of my life and so the Chamorro I heard around me was like noise to my ears. My grandmother speaking Chamorro to her friends when I was young was nothing but old people chatter. My grandfather speaking Chamorro to others at the barber shop was an irritating soundtrack. There was Chamorro everywhere, but when I was younger I couldn’t understand it and so I didn’t really care.
But nowadays it is becoming scarcer. You can still hear it on the radio and sometimes in businesses that play KISH or Isla 630 on the weekends. You can still hear it in church sometimes. You can hear it when older people gather. There is even an month when you hear it more than usual. But overall, English dominates and the Chamorro voice continues to soften.
Whenever I am at some event where Chamorro is being used prominently, I try my best to record it, either with my phone or my camera. This language has been an integral part of the Chamorro story for millennia. It is so frightening to think that it might be silent soon. Something dead or sleeping, found in books and on recordings, but no longer something that belongs to the world of the living and part of everyday human activity and creativity.
One place where Chamorro can sometimes be heard is during public hearings at the Guam Legislature. I belong to a group of people who regularly testify there and do so in Chamorro, even if the Senators and politicians present may not understand. Sometimes we are criticized for doing so, and accused of being racist or exclusionary because some people can’t understand Chamorro. It is times like this that I am thankful for a certain Guam Legislature of the 1970s who had the foresight to make Chamorro an official language of Guam. It was a gesture that is largely pointless and mainly symbolic, but it provides those of us who want to push for the revitalization of the Chamorro language more cover to protect and promote our efforts.
I’ve included below a video from part of the testimony of Howard Hemsing, a noted Chamorro rights activist on Guam.