Identity, Culture and other musings of a Filipina giya Guåhan

So I’ve decided to screw the whole “100 days” thing. I clearly don’t care enough about the pressure but I do feel a little bit more confident that I’ll be motivated to write more. 

As a child, I visited the Philippines 3 times and I barely remember the first one. My upbringing didn’t allow me to pick up a lick of dialect easily. My mom was told only to speak to my siblings in English after they moved here when my oldest brother was 4. By the time I came around, my siblings stopped speaking their native tongue altogether. Even so, my siblings understand it much better than I do.

In my own home, aside from food, I had a fairly western upbringing. I watched American shows, played with American toys. I spent most of my summers in the states and was sure I’d eventually move there.

Any inkling of cultural identity about where my family comes from, for the most part, doesn’t even come from them. Everything else, I learned from my friends (like I didn’t even know there was a name for “tabo” until middle or high school). As many of those who know me are aware, I am way more likely to answer a question in Chamoru than Tagalog.

I know a large part of this burden is on me. Until I met my Filipinx for Guåhan friends, I didn’t even feel that interested in learning anything about my heritage. Still, it’s a passive interest because of how hard I fell for Guåhan.

When I was in high school, I was probably one of the more interested students in actually picking up the language,  attempting to see if any of my friends would take a second year before it was mandatory (they didn’t lol). When I got to college, I found this amazing opportunity to know more and immerse myself in the culture and people of the culture. I read academic articles, wrote Triton’s Call articles and participated in events all for the sake of inestudian Chamoru. My senior thesis was centered around Chamoru language revitalization media BASED on a Chamoru web series that I wrote*. I did all this with the full intention of teaching my child(ren) how to speak the language, with the hopes that there will be even more Chamoru-based content readily available in the future.

But still, I was a Filipino. And at the time (in school), the only one.

I had people asking me “Aren’t you Filipino?” during discussions about CHamoru language and identity. Or “Why are you taking these classes?” when I would see the same people the semester after. I had people questioning whether or not my Filipino heritage makes my work count as Chamoru content or if I should even be allowed to create it. I have family wondering why I’ve made such an investment on a culture and language that isn’t theirs.

I have a massive cultural identity crisis over this, which has stopped me almost completely from writing creatively. I feel like I have to align somewhere but I don’t feel like I belong anywhere. I’m not CHamoru. I don’t know anything about being Filipino. I certainly don’t have any interest with identifying any further with American culture.

So what do I do? On an island amongst Indigenous people who are still grappling with their own identity, what do I do with mine? Can I continue to write things I love about people I love and the language I love? Do I have to learn more about the culture which birthed my parents? Is there a space somewhere in between where I can finally – for once – stop feeling like an imposter? Somewhere I feel like I belong?

I don’t really have a lot of answers for most of these questions, as you might guess. But I did find somewhere I belong and it’s with 5 other amazing women who understand this plight. Five women who identify with me. I used to feel so alone. The only Filipina in class, who felt out of place at in rallies, who often asked myself “do I belong here?” It is because of these women I was able to find my place and feel confident in answering “yes I do”. And it is because of these women that despite my self-doubts and reservations, I will continue to create, advocate and strive for a better Guåhan – a decolonized Guåhan.

I know people out there feel the same way we do. We want you to know you are not alone and that there is a space for you. We know how confusing it can be to traverse conversations about culture, identity and colonialism. That’s why we exist and why after several years of friendship, activism and coffee shop conversations we’re inviting you to join us. Find Filipinos for Guåhan on facebook, instagram or email us at filipinosforguahan@gmail.com and chat with us!

PS I didn’t originally write this to tell you about Filipinos for Guåhan. I just happened to be writing this at the same time we decided to become more active.

* which was an off-shoot of a class project, whose creator was my friend Anthony Tornito who I think is famous now lol

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