The Guamanian Connection

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For at least the last couple of years, word has been buzzing around getting the Chamorros stateside to speak up for our island-dwellers who do have not vote in the US political process.

The NOCVA veterans group talks about stateside Chamorros using their vote to influence policy around veterans benefits.  The We The People project talks about uniting with all US territories including American Samoa, Puerto Rico and Washington DC to gain a vote for all of these unrepresented 5 million citizens.  Now, the Guam Governor’s office is launching The Guamanian Connection which is asking people to let us tally up all our activities by using the hashtag, #GuamConnect.

Read all about it:

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The Che’lu Spirit

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Please meet some of my favorite people and the work that we love.

You may click to enlarge or read text below.

You may click to enlarge or read text below.

As it appeared in the Pacific Daily News, January 19, 2014.

The word, Che’lu means sibling in the Chamorro language.  To many, it also refers to Chamorro Hands In Education Links Unity, aka CHELU, a San Diego organizationwith the mission of promoting the Chamorro language, culture and health through education. 

 

The idea for Che’lu was born within the established Chamorro social network of San Diego as a means to create educational projects for the community.  Things came together when this longing for cultural resources and a city revitalization program partnered.   In 2006 CHE’LU became an official 501(c)(3) nonprofit.  Soon after, the group established an office in the newly built Jacob’s Center that was the centerpiece of a city improvement effort by the Jacobs Foundation.  Chamorros were one of many ethnic groups that the Jacob’s Center reached out to.  Chamorros answered the call.  CHELU is one of the Jacobs Center’s nine community groups, and built a latte house replica on the Jacobs Center site to represent the Chamorro presence.

 

CHELU has two currently well-known activities.  First, it supports the Sakman Chamorro project.  This Chamorro canoe was begun in 2010 and completed in 2011.  It is a one of a kind replica of the original Chamorro design.  The project is overseen by its master carver, Mario Borja who tirelessly works to share the history and craftsmanship of the 47-foot vessel to students and the public from California to the Marianas.

 

In 2010, CHELU established the Chamorro Cultural Fest (CCF), again the only one of its kind, to share Chamorro culture and arts.  The heart of the Fest is its cultural workshops, but fest-goers also enjoy the food, crafts, and entertainment of the day.  Meanwhile, families assemble, and old friends meet at the gathering of several thousand Chamorros and Chamorro-lovers.  On March 29th 2014, attendees will come from California, neighboring states, and even as far away as the east coast and the Mariana Islands to enjoy the 5th annual CCF.

 

More recently, in 2013, CHELU organized the first UNO HIT Conference on the day following the Chamorro Cultural Fest.  The next conference, held on March 30, 2014, will focus on Chamorro artists and their families who want to prepare for the Guam Festival of the Pacific in 2016.  Local experts and representatives of the Guam Festival of the Pacific organizing committee will present.

 

The UNO HIT dance program is the group’s latest project.  After two years of connecting the youth with Chamorro dance workshops, Che’lu has organized a weekly training for a new San Diego Chamorro dance group.  With about 30 dedicated students learning under Long Beach based fafana’gue Heidi Quenga, the San Diego students plan their first major public performance at the Chamorro Cultural Fest on March 29, 2014. 

 

This and numerous additional workshops and events keep the fifteen-member board of CHELU very busy.  Current President, Danny Blas’ philosophy is “If we do something, we’re going to do it great!”  The group sustains itself with a strong Che’lu spirit, working with other like-minded organizations to promote the unique Chamorro culture.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Pacific American Place

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With this article comes acknowledgement for all those who work long and hard to develop the resources to help our children be successful in the world.

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As printed in the Pacific Daily News 1/11/14.

Chamorros are among many Pacific Islander communities in San Diego.  This fact contributes to the feeling of belonging Chamorros can enjoy here.  We can find familiar island music, familiar island food, and even an annual Pacific Islander festival in the San Diego area.

In the last few years a Pacific Islander focused school has also become an option for the children of San Diego.  The Pacific American Academy (PA’A) is a San Diego public charter school.  The school is based on quality education for Pacific Americans, which encompasses pride and understanding of their native cultural heritage.

Because of its charter school status, PA’A is able to create a unique environment for its students.  The school keeps classrooms small, with about 20 students per class.  Their learning is project based, incorporating hands-on learning into their curriculum.  And because it is located in a highly diverse neighborhood in San Diego, it serves a wide range of ethnicities. PA’A believe that by teaching children about their own culture, it teaches children respect for all cultures. Chamorro children are among those enrolled in PA’A.

The school’s opening in 2010 was the fruit of more than a decade of effort by many in the southern California Pacific Islander community.  A major advocate and founder of PA’A is its Executive Director, Margaret Sanborn.   In conversations I have had with Margaret, she won’t hesitate to share the struggles that the school has faced.  However, the school’s success is now beginning to become obvious.  In its third year of operation, it continues to grow.  The elementary grades will expand next year to include middle school.  Eventually, Margaret says, the school intends to create a high school and vocational school.

The first of the cultural education offered at PA’A is Hawaiian language and culture.  The school is extremely open, however, to working with other cultural groups.  Currently, the campus provides space for a local Laotian group to meet, and has offered to be available for our Chamorro cultural workshops as well.   Additional curriculum offerings can also be developed over time.  It is encouraging to see this unique offering as part of the San Diego Unified School District, providing parents more options to choose from for their children’s all-important learning environment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Chamorro in the Arctic… and on Guam

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Here’s  a story from a while back, that I am just posting now.

Mr. Danny Blas is our wonderful Chairman of the Che’lu organization board in San Diego.  He has had many adventures from the Big Island to Arctic, but I don’t think I have seen him more excited than he was to be leaving for Guam recently.  This was his first homecoming since childhood, and he was looking forward to what he promised would be one of many visits back.

I recently saw Danny post a picture of himself with the Governor of Guam, where he invited Governor Calvo to our 2014 Chamorro Cultural Fest, and then discussed findings from his scientific Arctic expedition.  This is when I realized Danny’s article was not yet on GoIsland.net.

Here it is, better late than never.  Enjoy!

 

As it appeared in the Pacific Daily News on Oct. 10, 2013

Interesting people and places come together sometimes, with wonderful results.  This was this case this summer when local San Diegan and fellow Chamorro, Danny Blas set off for the Arctic. 

 

As part of a small group of teachers who work each summer with UCSD’s Scripps Institute of Oceanography, Blas was the one chosen to accompany Scripps Scientists on their three-week mission north of the Arctic Circle.

 

Blas explained that the purpose of the trip was to learn more about the conditions of a recent ice age, 13,000 years ago, by acquiring core samples that would then be analyzed back at the Scripps and collaborating Woodshole MIT laboratories.  The harsh Arctic climate creates a pristine environment for scientific research. 

 

Blas wrote a blog and video taped the experience to share with high school students and others.  He not only shared the scientific activities on board the ship, but recorded sightings of the abundant wildlife such as walrus and polar bears.  He interviewed the Coast Guard crew to offer a view of this lesser known branch of the military.  He also took the opportunity to learn about the culture of the native people through a member of the Inupiaq tribe who worked as a cultural consultant on the expedition.

 

Despite occasional rough seas, Blas enjoyed amazing scenery, great meals, and the times everyone was allowed to play on the ice, which they called “ice liberty.”  These always included scouts with binoculars who were on the lookout for approaching polar bears.  He quite obviously appreciates his experience of this secluded and sensitive area of the earth.

 

Blas received the Teacher Of The Year Award at his high school in 2013, and was awarded the Coast Guard Arctic Service Award as a result of his work this summer.

 

Danny Blas is the son of Jose R. Blas (deceased) originally from Hagatna, and Cecilia San Augustine Baza originally from Sinajana.  He is currently the Chairman of the San Diego Che’lu organization, and a teacher at Lincoln High School.  But most of his life has been in the Midwest.  As a young child, his family moved from Guam to Rantoul, Illinois where his father was stationed in the Air Force.  After going to school and working in Chicago, Blas moved to San Diego in 2002 to go to graduate school, and earn his teaching certification.

 

San Diego is the first place where he has lived among Chamorros outside of his immediate family.  Says Blas, “It’s the first place I can fully be myself.”   His next big expedition will be to go back to Guam this December where he hasn’t been since he was a child. “I want to explore my culture and learn more about who I am, and from where I came from,” he says.

 

You can see Danny Blas’ blog at www.DannyBlas.com.

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Happy 2014!

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Here’s wishing you a year of ease.  But should obstacles arise, here’s wishing you perspective and faith.

Adios to 2013.

Happy 2014!

As it appeared in the 12/29/2013 Pacific Daily News

With the New Year in sight, it is natural to look back on what the year before has taught us. Some lessons we have learned joyfully, and others with difficulty.

In my work to bring the people and projects of the stateside Chamorro community to light, there have been many joys.  There is the passion that motivates our experts in their work.  There is the persistence of cultural practitioners to pass down what they know.  There is the enthusiasm of our young people to acquire the knowledge and skills available to them. 

There is also disappointment.   People can’t always take the time to share their talents.  People don’t always make the effort to listen and to learn what is offered. 

To keep moving forward, we need to remember that despite the setbacks, there is a higher purpose to serve.  I remember hiking through the jungles of Guam and being uncomfortable with the mosquitos and sword grass along the way to my destination.  It was difficult to deal with these, but once past them, they were quickly forgotten.  What remained important was to reach that special place that I was determined to get to.  The swim at Cetti Bay or the view from Mount Lamlam made all the discomforts worthwhile.

Of course, the actual difficulties we face have to do with real people or circumstances that obstruct our way.  Dealing with these takes more effort than slapping away the mosquitoes, I must admit.  To persevere, we need compassion and faith; compassion for the circumstances that keep people from working with us, and faith that there is another way that we can go.

 Just recently, I was disappointed to learn that free space for our dance workshops was not available, as we had hoped.  The charitable foundation we worked with needed to rent their spaces for financial reasons.  We were disappointed, but understanding of their circumstances.  The necessary search for another place has actually brought out new people and groups who would like to help us.  At this point, we have identified a local Pacific Islander focused school that not only offers us space, but other valuable opportunities to work together.  Our path has veered, but it has brought us to an even better place! 

  When I struggle with setbacks, my husband wisely reminds me that everything we do is because of how we see things.  This year has taught me to go forward with my higher purpose clearly in my sights; to look past obstacles with compassion and faith.  The difficulties are ultimately forgotten with the joy of arriving at the desired destination.   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Happy Holidays from Guam’s Governor

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Please enjoy a holiday message from Guam’s Governor Calvo.

Happy New Year to All!

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A Chamorro Christmas

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The note on the front door reads “Maila’ Halom”

A Chamorro Christmas in the mainland US is not only possible, I understand that it is being observed by many.  This year I experienced for myself one family’s tradition of the Nobenan Nino complete with Chamorro prayers and a special addition of their own. 

Tony San Nicolas Treltas and Rose Pangelinan Treltas have lived away from their homeland of Guam for decades.  They raised their children in the San Diego area with the companionship of the large Chamorro community.  But it was when Tony and Rose became grandparents about ten years ago that they revived their family’s practice of the Nobenan Nino. “They were the ones who motivated us to do it, because I wanted them to know our culture”, says Rose of her grandsons.

Many years ago when Rose Treltas brought her one remaining aunt with her to California, she also brought her aunt’s religious statues and her Nino Jesus.  On this night of the nobena, her statue of baby Jesus resides in the family bilen, or nativity that is the focus of the Treltas’ Christmas décor.  Rose has also decorated her home throughout, including an extensive lighted Christmas village.  The smells are of bonelos or tamales or other holiday specialties that Rose usually prepares at this time of year.

While Rose and Tony conduct this annual nobena, they are steadily turning over responsibilities to their children, Tony and Cessa and niece, Alanna Pangelinan.  Rose is instructing Cessa and Alanna to become techa’ (Chamorro prayer leaders).  “They are in training”, says Rose.  “I don’t let them do it yet because they’re going to slow down the program and we’re going to be done in three hours”, she laughs. 

As we later listen to Rose’s rapid rhythm of prayers, we have to admire her fluency in the language and in the reciting of these particular litanies.

The Treltas’ nobena has a special addition too, because of their musical talent.  In the last two years they have been a part of the Island Rain Ukulele Ensemble, and the group has accompanied the Treltas’ nobenas.  They are a lively group of friends that play an impressive number of Chamorro songs. That may be one reason their nobena is visited by many, like Dorothy Camacho from Washington State, myself, and Father Eric Forbes visiting from Guam. The night I am there, the Treltas’ son in law, Enzo Naputi joins in on ukulele.  The grandchildren, Eric and Aidan play percussion.

Their prayers ended, the grandchildren carry the Nino Jesus to all to be kissed or nginge’.  The ukulele musicians and singers sing Dan Dan I Pandaretas.  For a lighthearted conclusion Rose and Tony and their friends end with the island version of Jingle Bells singing  “jungle bells, coconut shells, sticker burrs all the way…

Felis Nabidat todo hamyu!  Merry Christmas to all!

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A Veteran Advocate

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It is an interesting play on words with the term “veteran advocate”.  While the subject of this article is an advocate of veteran affairs, I am also referring to her long experience as an advocate for Pacific Islanders and veterans alike.  Please meet Terri Guevara Smith, a lady I admire and who has become a friend, from Washington DC.

As submitted to the Guam PDN and printed on December 15, 2014.

One of the things that inspire me the most is meeting long time advocates of our culture.  Just over a year ago I met such a lady.  Terri Smith had traveled all the way from the east coast to attend the Pacific Islander Festival in San Diego.  Friendly and outgoing she mingled with the San Diego Chamorros and joined in weekend events at the Guam Club.  I later found out she was a former president of the Guam Society of America in Washington DC.  She enthusiastically invited several of us to come to DC and share our cultural projects with the Chamorro community there. 

Although I haven’t yet taken up Terri’s invitation, we have kept in touch.  This last summer, I joined Terri as she visited Long Beach California to receive her award for Outstanding Individual Leadership by the Federal Asian Pacific American Council (FAPAC).

Then on September 20, 2013, Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Shinseki appointed Teresita Guevara Smith for a two-year term on the Advisory Committee for Minority Veterans.  She will be one of five new minority veterans advising the Secretary on Pacific Islander veterans’ issues.  Said Guam’s Congressional Delegate, Madeleine Bordallo, “I always enjoy seeing people from Guam do well and succeed, and I know that Terri will make our veteran community and our island proud as she serves on this important committee.”

Terri Guevara Smith is a former resident of Ordot village Guam, is retired from the U.S. Army, and is a Veteran of Foreign Wars.  She possesses what she calls a “taotao tano” (people of the land) spirit that compels her to advocate for Pacific Islanders and Veterans alike. She is a staff member of the National Organization of Chamorro Veterans in America (NOCVA).  She is also the Maryland Coordinator and the Advisor on Chamorro Women Veterans.  Being part of the Advisory Committee for Minority Veterans will provide her particular influence in advocating for Chamorro Veterans and Other Pacific Islanders.

Says Terri of her advocacy, “The Chamorros are certainly and with no doubt important, the Samoans, Carolinians, Tongans, Chuuckese, Belauans and others in the Pacific Islands are just as important and valuable.  I have had the honor and pleasure to serve in the Army with many Pacific Islanders; they took care of me and kept me safe and sound in peacetime and war.  Giving back and taking care of Veterans from the Pacific Islands is a pleasure and a great honor.

Pacific Islander veterans are welcomed to reach Terri Guevara Smith at fuunaguam@gmail.com.

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In the spirit of Thanksgiving

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In the spirit of the Thanksgiving holiday, here are the sentiments of some of our San Diego Chamorros attending a recent luncheon at the Sons and Daughters of Guam Club. 

Following are their answers to the question: 

As a Chamorro in San Diego, what are you thankful for?

Bobby Lizama:  I’m thankful for my family and my friends.  I’m away from home, so the people around me are my family.  So, I’m grateful for my family and my friends.

 

 

 

Ed Diaz:  I am grateful to be alive and in good health in spite of what I’m going through and health issues.  I take one day at a time.  I’m thankful for family support and the Chamorro community as well, especially here in San Diego. This is home away from home.  I come here Monday, Wednesday and Fridays, for Village Fiesta, NOVCA, Che’lu, Island Rain.  I’m grateful that we have such fine associations in San Diego.

 

Nicholasa Garrido (aka Auntie Sas): For the friendship and generosity of the Chamorro people.  They are so open and we all help each other.  Most of us carry the traditions over.  And some of the younger generation is trying to learn the language now. 

 

Loling Cepeda: I’m grateful that I have my husband who had his heart transplant in June.  I’m so, so grateful that my mother is alive and well and just moved into my sister’s house and doing so well.  She’s 86… And just the fact that our whole family is just being blessed by the presence of their Dad, their brother… just being able to see him have a new heart and being able to survive that.  A miracle.  It’s all a miracle.  Thank you Lord.

Robert (Robbie) Peredo: I’m very happy and thankful that there’s a place for me to come and enjoy my culture.  I’ve been away from the island for 14 years and just knowing that there’s family and a community of Chamorro people here, it’s very ecstatic. We host every Fiesta possible.  We even have a Liberation Queen, so I just love the tradition that they have going here, especially the senior lunch that they do Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.  It’s a true blessing to see all the manamko’ get together, and I try to support it as much as I can.

Jess ‘Bataik’ Cruz:  I’ve been grateful all these years for the founding fathers who were able to purchase this property that we now treat it as a home away from home.  I am so grateful for that.

 

 

These were only a few of the many who answered this question for this article.  Si Yuus ma’ase todo hamyo.

Sorry, no videos after all.

 

 

 

 

 

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Ms. Kalendarion Inetnon Chamorro

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It is important to recognize those connectors in our communities that grease the wheels for all the things that we do.  Although their work can easily be taken for granted, I like to shine some light on their contributions from time to time.  What a fitting thing to do on this Thanksgiving Day post.

If you don’t know her already, please meet Benni Schwab.

As written for the Guam PDN, published November 24, 2013

With its large number of Chamorro groups, novenas, fiestas, and fundraisers, there are a lot of social dates and details to keep straight in San Diego.  Thankfully, for many years now, a Chamorrita volunteer has provided a long time information resource.  Benni Benavente Schwab is the creator of the Inetnon Kalendario for Chamorros in southern California and beyond.

 

Originally from Mangilao, Guam, Benni is an energetic lady of many talents.  In high school she was a member of an all-girl band called Terry and the Venus Four. She was also a member of the women’s softball team that won a gold medal for Guam in the South Pacific Games in 1969. 

 

In December of 1969, Benni made her move to San Diego with $50 in her pocket and her uncle’s family to help her get started.  She got a job and completed her college degree with night classes. 

 

In addition to managing a career in accounting, Benni contributed to the Chamorro community in many ways over the years.  She was the San Diego based correspondent for the Gaseta, which was a San Francisco based newspaper for Chamorros originally founded by Shannon Murphy.  She was also editor of the Sons and Daughters of Guam Club (SDGC) newsletter, the Taotao San Diego that existed at one time.   Benni continues her activities for the community today.  You may find her playing the bass guitar for the Island Rain musical ensemble, or taking photos to record a club event, but she is best known for the Inetnon Kalendario, or “Group Calendar” which she started around 2003. 

 

Before the Kalendario, there was no central reference for the numerous events that filled the San Diego Chamorro’s social schedule.   Benni maintains the calendar weeks and months in advance, with ongoing edits each month as she distributes the Kalendario to her email list regularly.  It is not fancy or high tech, but with Benni’s dedication, it has become a relied upon source of information for many.    

 

Benni credits her many friends for their part in her many endeavors.  “I’m not the best at what I do, but I put my heart into everything I do.  Being part of the team is what makes it wonderful” she says.  The lady is certainly accomplished.  But with her characteristic humor she adds, “Just don’t ask me to cook”.

 

Married since 1977, Benni Schwab says her proudest achievements are her three children, Josefa, Julie and John.

 

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