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Last updateSat, 21 Sep 2019 12am







    Sunday, September 22, 2019-9:38:34P.M.






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‘Roots for tomorrow’: Free online Chamorro language course

BEGINNING on April 1, Maryland-based Chamorro culture non-profit Hale’ Para Agupa’ will offer over 100 registrants a tuition-free, online “Chamorro Language 101” course taught by University of Guam’s Dr. Miget Bevacqua.

“Our mission is protecting, sustaining and perpetuating the Chamorro culture by providing opportunities and resources for our growing, diverse, and multi-generational community,” said Hale’ Para Agupa’ or HPA Director Teresita Guevara Smith. “So really [our mission] is to protect what it means to us to be Chamorro — protecting our culture, being active, and making sure that our culture remains alive and strong.”

Guevara Smith and HPA Deputy Director Cevina Garner were both raised on the East Coast of the continental U.S.

“Seeing as both of us grew up in the diaspora — Teresita has actually been to Guam several times, I myself have not been to Guam, I’ll be taking my first trip there next summer with my family — we were immersed in only certain pieces of the Chamorro culture,” said Garner. “But then as adults, we’ve come to realize that there are so many aspects of the culture that we were not exposed to, one of those things specifically being the language.”

“And when we think about the Chamorro culture being colonized… if you want to be able to affect a civilization, you want to be able to affect a culture, you remove their language from them,” Garner continued. “Because if you remove that, everything else unfortunately will fall as well.”

“If you want to reclaim your culture, if you want to reclaim your power, then you learn your language,” Guevara Smith said.

Guevara Smith created HPA after being inspired by the months she spent in Guam leading up to the Festival of the Pacific Arts. Since then, HPA has offered in-person Chamorro language, dance, and cooking classes to members of the Chamorro diaspora in the Maryland, D.C., and Virginia areas. She said that all classes are free of charge.

“It really pays tribute to my journey in learning my culture,” she said. “Being a part of the diaspora at FestPac 2016… there was so much knowledge given to me for free.”

“When I left Guam, the one thing that my teachers had asked me to do is share what I have learned with others and share it in inafa’maolek or without asking for anything in return.”

“Our culture is an endangered language, so we don’t have the luxury to put any more barriers than there already are when it comes to helping as many people as possible, including ourselves, learn our language so that it can be passed down to the next generation and passed down to the next generation,” she added.

“So at the end of the day, we don’t want to stand by and see our language go extinct because we wanted to charge people to learn.”

“Chamorro Language 101” will be a 12-week course with two 60- to 90-minute language education courses during the week and a one-hour study session on the weekend. Students log in to their virtual classrooms through the web conference provider Zoom and turn in homework using Google Classroom.

Guerrero Smith said that making the courses available online is part of “recognizing that our small culture is so diverse, just in itself — it extends across generations.”

“We aim to bridge the gap between generations by honoring the voices of yesterday with the innovations of tomorrow,” she said.

Michael Lujan Bevacqua

HPA linked up with Dr. Miget Bevacqua when Guevara Smith learned that the well-known professor, cultural practitioner and activist was planning a trip to Washington D.C.

“I was familiar with the good work he did on Guam so when I found out that he was coming to the area, I took the initiative and I reached out to him to welcome him, and I let him know if he needed to get picked up or he needed a place to stay at our home, that he was welcome.”

Bevacqua took her up on the offer, and even taught an HPA language class. Soon after, the CHamoru Online Language Program was in the works. After a successful pilot class that ran from October to December, HPA made registration for their first Spring Course open to the public.

During Chamorro Language 101 orientation on Tuesday, Dr. Bevacqua virtually addressed his students for the first time. He spoke of learning Chamorro at the age of 20, after spending two decades surrounded by Chamorro conversations that he could not understand. He said that he was finally able to surmount a barrier between him and his elders, which is to say a barrier between him and his cultural history.

Now, as a father, he refuses to speak anything but Chamorro at home. He said that his grandmother was overcome by emotion when she first heard her great-granddaughter speaking Chamorro.

“Milagro este,” he remembers her saying. “This is a miracle.”

Registration for the Chamorro Language 101 Spring course was forced to close early due to the unexpected volume of registrants. But HPA will be offering more classes later in the year and has created a wait-list and notification roster for those interested more information about future courses.

You can join the roster here: