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    Wednesday, December 12, 2018-1:00:15P.M.

     

     

     

     

     

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Chamorro Diaspora Project: Thomas Atalig Mangloña II

I MET 20-year-old Thomas Mangloña in the center of UC Berkeley’s packed and sprawling Sproul Plaza.

Club members and activists shouted from booths, someone banged on a wheeled piano, and a greying man handed out pamphlets announcing the apocalypse to students of every shape and color, crisscrossing the campus in all directions. Since 2016, this has been Mangloña’s world — a far cry from his quiet childhood on Rota.

 “There was no newspaper printed there and no reporter lives there,” he said of Rota. “I saw what the lack of media presence can do in terms of perpetuating silence around important issues, spreading misinformation, and allowing corruption to flourish.”

Mangloña is pursuing a degree in Media Studies, and has been active in the CNMI journalism world since starting his own blog as a junior high school student. Before graduating high school, he had already written extensively for Marianas Variety, Saipan Tribune, and Pacific News Center.

Berkeley presented Mangloña with the challenge of succeeding in an entirely new environment.

“I think it’s very easy to forget where you’re from when you’re in a big college town,” he told me. “I mean Berkeley has 40,000 students. Rota as 1,000 people. I remember thinking to myself, ‘Wow, that’s like 40 Rotas.’”

He said that his Chamorro identity also helps him define “what it means to gather around food, what it means to mourn a death, and what it means to come from an island.”

“I definitely identify with the centering of family and faith,” he added. “And when I say faith, it’s not purely rooted in religiousness; it’s faith that we are connected to things that are much larger than ourselves and that what we do in the family and community affects a much larger sense of what it means to come from a village or community.”

The trouble is figuring out how and when to return to that community after school.

“You hear about a lot of students that come from American towns and they leave the town and there’s no expectation for them to return,” he said. “I feel like it’s different for folks who come from the Northern Marianas because every time… we’re leaving for college, we always get asked, ‘Are you going to come back?’ So there’s that social responsibility to come back, not simply because that’s where you’re from, but because we’re committed to everyone’s well-being.”

“And I think that while there is this huge responsibility that a lot of people inherit when they leave the islands saying, ‘I will come back,’ and we have to also remember that sometimes, that coming back process takes a lot longer than most of us would like.”

“I do know that ultimately I do want to die in the islands,” he continued. “But for me what that means is, once I get my degree, I’m not finished here in terms of growing. There is more that I think if I absorb and learn here, then I can help the islands even more when I return, whether that’s two years later or ten years later.”

That said, Mangloña has been working hard to give back to the NMI community while abroad.

“When Rota was hit by Typhoon Mangkhut, we ran a donation drive through the Asian Pacific American Student Development Office which is also where I work; it’s one of the cultural student centers,” he explained.

Now he’s back at it, this time coordinating Yutu relief resources.

“I’m hoping to establish Berkeley as one of the drop-off points [for relief donations] and I’m helping to increase media coverage,” he added.

He said that helping his CNMI community from California is part of expanding his definition of home.

“Home means something else for everyone and home is not always a physical location — it is sometimes a feeling that you have simply by being in the same room with someone who is from that physical place,” he said.

“Going home is a continuous dialogue, and going home doesn’t always mean going home physically. it can mean connecting with family out here and finding home with them.”

“Whether or not you’re at home doesn’t determine how Chamorro or Carolinian or how islander you are,” he added. “I will always be islander, it’s not that I’m more islander when I’m home... I think that our culture does have language to describe that, it does have the capacity to describe those truths of being islander but not being on an island.”

When asked if he had anything to share with his fellow members of the Chamorro diaspora, he said the following:

“There’s a community of us just as big as our villages are and just as deep with connections back home… there is a village out here as well. We’re not physically next to each other, but we’re not alone.”

He said that remembering this was especially difficult as he heard news of Yutu.

“Many of us just wanted to drop everything — right away I was on United Airlines looking at flights. It can be easy to have our current lives fade away. But it’s important for us to be where we’re at, knowing that our place directly at home will come eventually… there’s work that we’re doing out here that does benefit our families, our sisters, our brothers, our uncles and aunts.”