In a Cal State University Long Beach common room, twenty-five Chamorro youth are hearing about the art of the suruhana. Tan Perci Flores, the daughter of a suruhana from Santa Rita, tells of her experience collecting medicinal herbs and the cures they effected in her mother’s practice. The day before, UCLA professor Keith Camacho lead a discussion on the political history of the Mariana Islands.
This is the Ta Fan Apatte Chamorro cultural immersion camp. Ta Fan Apatte means “What we share,” in Chamorro. It is put on by the Kutturan Chamoru Foundation, sponsored by the Cheyenne Angelica Foundation and hosted on the Cal State Long Beach campus. For three days and two nights, these young Chamorros of southern California will be immersed in learning about the art, traditions, language, history and current issues of their native islands. Additional presenters include Mario Borja on the Sakman Chamorro Canoe, Peter Onedera on Chamorro language, and John and Janelle Fejeran on Chamorro history and artifacts.
While getting a focused education, the Ta Fan Apatte students will also be exposed to a taste of life on a University campus, sleeping in dorm rooms and spending time with a CSULB counselor who will assist them in their goals to attend college.
The organizers of this unique opportunity are Heidi and Joey Quenga, co-directors of the Kutturan Chamoru Foundation in Long Beach, California. The attendees have come together from various cultural groups including Uno Hit, Kutturan Chamoru, Irensia and The Chamorro Language Foundation. All students had to apply for their spot, but there is no charge for attendance.
After attending a session, I joined Heidi Quenga and the students at lunch, which they took along with other summer college students, in the campus cafeteria. Heidi shares how impressed she and the speakers have been with the level of discussion in the presentations.
“I keep asking myself, is this really happening?” said Heidi, “Have we made a small impression on our Chamorro kids to want to go to college and be proud of their heritage? Will this uplift our community one child at a time and show our youngest community members that there is a support system outside of their immediate family that cares about their success?”
After lunch, the group will be hearing from The Foundation for Chamorro Art, Crafts, Artifacts and Education and studying their display of the traditional Chamorro latte house and other artifacts of ancient Chamorro life.
I wished I could stay, but I had to head back to San Diego to avoid the worst of the afternoon traffic. But first, Heidi and I share hopes that this camp can be expanded. This opportunity was put together for a few thousand dollars. What could they do with more support?
“I can’t wait to have 100 Chamorro kids participating.” she tells me.
You can learn more about the Kutturan Chamoru Foundation and how to support their education efforts at www.KutturanChamoru.org.