I didn’t realize what I was until I attended a California catholic school. A group of girls were playing during recess and I asked to join. Their response– “you can’t play with us cause’ you’re not white.”
Until I got home, I asked my mom why my skin wasn’t like hers. My Chamorro mother, with lighter skin, sat me down and explained to me why kids are like that, then she told me I might face trouble being biracial.
Looking back at it now, I do feel grateful growing up in the Bay Area, however, during my time there were not many people who either identified as Chamorro or were not Chamorro at all.
I questioned my cultural identity for years. Often times, if people would ask me what I am, I would respond Filipino because it was easier. Even if I would say what I was, the joke was to mispronounce Chamorro with churro. Believe it or not, it was really irritating.
It wasn’t until I left my small hometown and moved to San Francisco for college. I took some Pacific Islands studies classes and was connected to a whole new culture.
I was the only Chamorro in a classroom full of Polynesians. I mostly kept to myself, but I will speak on issues I’m passionate about.
However, there were times where I felt bad because I didn’t even speak my own language like everyone else. Some of my classmates came from Sāmoa, Tonga, Hawai‘i and Fiji–they all spoke their language.
I asked my mother why she never taught me. My mother, who grew up on Guam, said it was a survival skill.
My mother had a past she doesn’t talk about, and I hope she will never read this.
She was a victim of domestic violence. Her ex-husband, before my dad, used to abuse her. She would tell me the family would think she’s crazy, but she has two children from that marriage.
My mother said since she had lighter skin she was mistreated. She couldn’t take it anymore and had to start life all over again in the mainland. Because she couldn’t afford to take my older brother and sister with her, she had to leave them back in Guam.
She still regrets leaving them.
For my mom to survive in the mainland, she spoke more English to blend in what is supposed to be suited as “American culture.”
I used to think she was a self-hating Micronesian. She would tell me things like to never date a Chamorro not because of the island’s joke about being related, but she would say because “they’re all alcoholic.”
I knew she was referring to my older siblings dad.
2017 was the year my professor asked me to go to a Pacific Islands conference at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. I was hesitant to go, but my persistent professor urged me.
So I went to document. I felt OK, until I met other Chamorros there. There were students and professors at the conference. In the campus center ballroom, there were a group of Chamorro students presenting their dissertation. They seemed nervous presenting, but their topics looked important.
Toward the end, questions were supposed to be asked, and I was the only one to go up. I didn’t know what to say to them, and I don’t remember exactly what I said–I just cried. I cried because there are a group of people who look just like me thriving in higher education.
Though some of them moved back to Guam and the others are in Alaska, I still keep in contact with them today hoping that we can meet up again.
Fast Forward to now, I’m here at UH Mānoa. As I’m writing this now, I’m writing this way past deadline hoping my boss doesn’t kill me.
I’m taking Chamorro classes, something that was never offered in the mainland, and I’m not going to lie, the language is kind of hard. My professor will jokingly laugh how I try too hard to pronounce my “ng,” It’s like saying that in the end of “so‘ng.’”
But everyday I’m working to find my identify….scratch that, I found my identity.