Marianas Variety

Last updateTue, 18 Dec 2018 12am

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    Monday, December 17, 2018-10:35:37A.M.

     

     

     

     

     

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Our Oceania | Chamorro Diaspora Project: Leah Baker of Asheville, North Carolina

WHAT are your Chamorro family names?

Flores and Taitano.

When did you/your family move from the Marianas?

We moved to the states in 1981.

Leah Baker

What brought you to Asheville?

My Grandfather on my Father's side was dying and we moved here to be closer to him and my grandmother.

What aspects of Chamorro culture do you identify with? Why?

I identify with the Chamorro sense of family. This was what I grew up around and this is what I bring to my family today. The Chamorro culture is an all-encompassing family. Everyone is welcome, everyone is family, everyone is there for you when you need them. Everyone is related to you somehow! I love how my mother's first cousin is my Uncle because it would be disrespectful to call him just by his first name. He is Uncle Jesse. Not cousin Jesse. If you are older, you are an Aunt or Uncle. It is steeped in tradition and respect for elders. I identify with the tradition of family because that is how I was raised and how I wanted my children to be raised.

What does being Chamorro mean to you?

It means not disrespecting the spirits or the taotaomona will get you. I have seen one. It means taking care of your family. It means gathering to tell stories and keep the old traditions and memories alive. It means retelling the elder’s stories so new generations know what they faced and how the culture has been affected by war, invaders, outsiders. It means love and respect.

What's it like to be a Chamorro in Asheville? What do you think it means to be a part of the Chamorro diaspora in general?

Being a Chamorro in Asheville means getting asked if you are a Native American all the time. It means you aren't white enough. It means your father must have been in the military if you are from Guam. I feel angry that Guam is reliant on everyone else. We are not a self-sustaining people. We are an oppressed society. We are citizens, without proper representation. Basically, we are f****d as a culture unless we stand up and do something. It means marrying white and thinning down the bloodlines. 

How connected do you feel to what happens in the Marianas?

I feel connected because I have family in Guam. I have a sister, brother-in-law, nieces, nephews, Aunts, Uncles, cousins. I also feel disconnected because I haven't lived there in a long time. I don't see the struggles, I don't see the culture on a daily basis. I get glimpses through Facebook and through phone calls.

Do you have children? How do you pass Chamorro culture on to the next generation?

I do have children. I have two sons, aged 30 and 24. My older son loves the culture of food and gatherings. Both have grown up with red rice, kelaguin, calami, tatijas, and finadene. I miss my grandmother's coconut candy and rosketti the most. My younger son is more interested in the culture, the history, what it means to be a Chamorro. We got matching latte stone tattoos for his 22nd birthday.

Anything else you'd like to share?

I would like to say that the women on my mother's side have been the ones to keep the Chamorro culture alive in our family. We love the food, but that is only the tool that is used to get us all together. We have a lot of conversations about family history so we can pass something along. I would really love for you to speak with my sister, Lehua Taitano. She is a Chamorro poet. She is published. She was chosen by the Smithsonian to present at their Expo in Hawaii last summer. She is a champion of the culture and attends a lot of readings and gatherings in California.