In August 2016, The Guam Guide published a post entitled, 7 Things You Need to Know About Marrying a Chamorro. It was written from the perspective of an outsider, specifically a person from Mainland U.S.A. interested in understanding Chamorro culture.
Were We Wrong? What You Had to Say
Some of our Chamorro readers agreed with the post, chuckled a bit at the similarities in their own families and lives, and shared it widely online.
A few other readers were offended by the article and/or disagreed with some of our points. (The Guam Guide is nothing if not a conversation starter about Chamorro culture on Guam.)
We nearly always answer reader emails and questions because well, we don’t claim to know everything about Chamorro culture! Secondly, we like hearing from you. And third, we value critical feedback, especially when it’s as articulate as the most recent reply to our marriage post.
A Letter to the Editor
Michelle N.B. Cruz wrote us on the subject with a bit of constructive criticism. Her response appears below, but first, her bio:
“I was born and raised on Guam, save a few years in my childhood and some post-college years spent living in the States. My mom is Chamorro, my dad is Caucasian, and my husband is Chamorro. I have three kids and am a former special education teacher and advocate for people with disabilities.”
Michelle agreed to have her email published and we hope it once again sparks conversation on the matter of inter-cultural marriage and Chamorro culture.
From a Chamorro: 7 Things You Need to Know About Marrying a Chamorro, Part 2
What follows is Michelle’s email in its entirety:
“First of all the family subsection had two statements that, in my opinion, are not accurate: the statement about the needs of the individual and the reference to one family matriarch. I completely agree that for the most part, the culture focuses on the family — but to imply that familial needs supersede that of one person, especially in an article about someone’s future husband or wife, seems unfair. Yes, we care about our families, but we would never choose the group’s happiness at the expense of our partner. And while some people may choose to do that, it is not something that can be applied to an entire group of people. Then the reference about the matriarch and how she can demand one’s child? No way! Yes, maybe years and years and years ago that could possibly happen and in some outer-island cultures, they might currently have practices where children are raised by family members other than their parents, but that is not commonplace. I would turn my back on my culture and family if anyone dared to take my child. Just no.
The section on money is also something I have absolutely seen and heard of, but it in no way is normal. We emphasize the family, so of course we try to help if someone is struggling, especially if it’s related to an illness or death. That isn’t Chamorro — that’s human goodness. Yet most people and families I know would discuss things as a core unit (partner to partner) to see how — or even if — they could help financially. The beautiful thing about our people, to me, is that when we see someone struggling and we know that we can’t help financially, we will do other things to help. Many of us research treatments/resources, work our connections to get information or help, or simply offer time and physical help to ease our loved ones’ burdens. We band together in times of hurt, pain, or distress — but we don’t hurt our “person” for anything… or at least, we try very hard not to.
I might have these definitions wrong, but I learned that pare’ and chenchule’ mean something different than what you wrote. A pare’ is a close family member or friend that you designate to be your child’s godfather; he is someone special to you that you feel will help raise your child, especially in the Catholic faith. To me, there is no higher honor and does not imply any type of preferential treatment or mandated favor in return. Chenchule’ is an offering (usually monetary) — something that your family can afford to contribute. It is never required and is done so in an effort to help a family as they celebrate a momentous occasion (wedding, birth, baptism, etc.) or as they grieve the loss of a loved one. You give what you can, when you can, and if you can.
Your section on death is, at least in my lifetime here, not true. When I was younger, we went to rosaries because our parents made us, not because our community required it of us. Yes, when you were younger, you had no choice in the matter. When you grew up, though, you went because you wanted to – you wanted to pray for the person who passed and support the family that remained. You take time off work if you can, you put off less important obligations if you can – you don’t do things because they’re required of you … Wait. I take that back. If your Mom or your Grandma tells you that you HAVE to go, then you have to. But really, that’s not a Chamorro thing. That’s pretty universal. 🙂
I hope my feedback was a little helpful. I got the impression your article was based on certain peoples’ experiences or bits and pieces of stories/articles from long ago. That feedback could absolutely be 100% accurate according to your sources … but please know that it isn’t true for all of us.”
Sources on Chamorro Culture
When producing content about Guam and Chamorro culture, we seek expert sources as well as sourcing anecdotal experiences from friends and acquaintances on Guam. Those expert sources include University of Guam history and cultural professors, Guampedia, and historical works written about Micronesia.
On the subject of chenchule’, here’s what Guampedia has to say:
Chenchule’ today is demonstrated most obviously at celebrations of life milestones—taking the form of different types of labor, food, drink or other supply contributions, gifts, or money at occasions such as weddings, childbirth, and funerals. At such events, a chenchule’ box usually graces the gift table, decorated in a specific design (such as a treasure chest, water well, or theme character) or is otherwise made attractive. Guests insert envelopes of money, labeled with their family names and oftentimes village of residence, through a slot on the box’s top. At weddings, chenchule’ can also be found on the dance floor during a money dance in which guests line up to dance with the bride or groom and pin paper money onto the newlywed’s garments during their turn.
On the subject of money, individualism vs. collectivism, and adoption, read Making Sense of Micronesia, which was recommended to our editor by Dr. Kelly Marsh of UOG.
Why Letters to the Editor Are Important to The Guam Guide
Michelle was not only articulate, but gracious and thanked the editor. She said: “Thanks again for reaching out. Your response is incredibly impressive and indicative of your character and what seems to be your desire to learn more about the island and its people — even if their experiences differ from your own.”
Thanks to Michelle and all our readers!
Have something to say about a post on The Guam Guide? Email the editor at webmaster [at] theguamguide [dot] com.