Saturday, December 05, 2009

Chamoru Childhood

On Tuesday of this week (December 1st), I was given an astounding gift. My colleague and friend, Keith L. Camacho, came into my office and handed me, John McKinn and Matt Sakiestewa Gilbert copies of Chamoru Childhood, edited by Michael Lujan Bevacqua, Victoria-Lola Leon Guerrero,  and Craig Santos Perez. John flipped through it right away and noticed that Keith has a poem in the book. We asked him to read it aloud to us.

The book and his reading were (and are) terrific gifts that will warm my heart whenever I think of that day. Keith has a deep, warm voice and a terrific sense of pace.

I met Keith in August when he joined us in American Indian Studies as a post doctoral fellow. He is a Chamorro scholar from the Mariana Islands and is an Assistant Professor at the University of California, Los Angeles. His area of expertise concerns the study of colonization, decolonization and militarization in the Pacific Islands, with an emphasis on indigenous narratives of survival and sovereignty.

And as I learned that day, he is also a poet. His "my friend, jose"  is a thoughtful piece about how money and some experiences can corrupt us, turn us into something else.

Published by Achiote Press, Chamoru Childhood includes poems and stories by three generations of Chamorus. The last piece in the book is by Samantha Marley Barnett, who was eleven years old when the book went to press. Samantha's "The Stick" is a letter that starts "Dear Everyone," and recounts a game that sent her (inadvertently) to the hospital with a gash on her head. I leave you to imagine the details! Playing with sticks is something we did a lot at Nambe Pueblo, so, reading "The Stick" I found myself laughing out loud.

I laughed a lot, too, reading "The Back of the Pick-up" by Evelyn Sam Miguel Flores. Other than the beach, that particular story could have been me, my cousins, and one of my uncles---again---at Nambe!

Some of the stories are sad or painful to read. Coming from three generations of Chamorus, they provide a broad and deep story of the Chamorus experiences. Meeting Keith and talking with him, I'm learning a lot about the Chamoru people, Guam, and some more ugly truths about the United States and its treatment of Indigenous peoples in the Mariana Islands. 

A chapbook, Chamoru Childhood is ten dollars. In November, it was in the spotlight on Critical Mass: The blog of the National Book Critics Circle Board of Directors. See "In the Spotlight: I HEART Poetry Chapbooks, by Rigoberto Gonzales.

Order a copy from Achiote Press. I'm pretty sure most libraries have nothing at all like it... That is, I'm sure most libraries have nothing at all written by Chamoru writers. You should. We should all know more about Guam and the Mariana Islands.

[Update, December 6, 8:47 AM----A reader wrote to ask who (age group) the book's audience is....  Chamoru Childhood is not a picture book, but I would definitely read-aloud "The Stick" to a group of children in elementary school. As for who-would-I-hand-the-book-to, I'd say middle and high school students and of course, adults.]

1 comment:

Matt said...

Very happy to read this post about our friend and colleague, Keith Camacho.