By Arlene Dennistoun
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
The Asia Pacific Cultural Center’s 19th annual New Year event featured Guam this year, and Guamanians cheerfully shouted, “Hafa Adai!” which means ‘welcome’ in the Chamorro language.
The event drew thousands of people who staked out the best viewpoints to catch performances by Guma’ Imahe’s dancers, who were graceful, powerful, and at times, fierce.
Gary Lizama, president of Guma’ Imahe since 2012, said Guam is unique because of its hospitality, and visitors are welcomed and made to feel a part of a family. There are village fiestas every month for honored patron saints, and parties are open and free to the public. “Our culture teaches people that we work together as a family and a team,” said Lizama. “It’s all about bonding as one.” We share food with our neighbors, and when there’s a party, everybody has a hand in it.
Lizama quickly called on Francisco “Frank” Rabon for a quick history lesson on Guam’s Hispanic influences. Rabon received an honorary Master of Micronesian Creative and Traditional Knowledge degree in 2015 for his 30 years of teaching Chamorro dance, chants, and music. Rabon also received a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Guam Council of the Arts and Humanities for his dedication to Chamorro dance and culture.
Chamorro people are the indigenous people of the Marianas and have existed for 4,000 years, said Rabon. In 1521, when Magellan landed in Guam, Spanish influences began to permeate Chamorro culture, which explains why many Guamanians have Spanish surnames. Although Western culture and technology have influenced a new generation of Chamorros into primarily speaking English, families and schools in Guam are doing their best to keep the Chamorro language and culture alive.
The loss of cultural practices, due to colonization and wars, led Rabon to resurrect Chamorro culture by recreating standard dance steps and movements, which Rabon uses to depict the heritage of the Chamorros. After Spain’s colonization between 1521 and 1898, the United States possessed Guam between 1898 and 1941. Between 1941 and 1944, Japan’s military attacked and occupied Guam. The United States and Japan waged war on the island until the United States recovered Guam from the Japanese in 1944, and made the island a territory in 1950. In keeping the Chamorro culture alive, Rabon embraces the history of everything that’s happened in Guam, including the colonization and wars.
Robert R.C. Hofmann, mayor of Sinajana, Guam, spoke to the crowd about “our slice of heaven on earth.” Guam’s visitor bureau’s motto for 2017 is the “Year of Love.” Hofmann said the motto captures Guam’s love of food, culture, history, adventure, new experiences, and family. Guam’s greatest contribution is their ability to share their stories and culture of the indigenous people, said Hofmann. “Embrace who you are — this is a time to learn more about one another, so we can build new relationships and understanding.”
The Federal Way High School Pacific Islander Club dancers got the New Year celebration off to a rousing start, and it seemed everyone in the audience whipped out their phones to capture the action. The event was an immersion fest, with over 90 booths displaying visual and audio offerings of a multitude of different cultures, and the fragrant scent of cultural dishes wafted enticingly throughout the Tacoma exhibition hall.
Numerous community leaders came to support the annual celebration, including Lt. Gov. Cyrus Habib, who thanked the Washington Attorney General’s office for leading the way to halt the Trump immigration ban. It got personal for Habib. “My parents wouldn’t have been able to come to the U.S. had the Trump immigration ban been in place.” Habib thanked the Asian Pacific Islander community for its support and “showing solidarity in these difficult times.”
Derek Kilmer, U.S. Representative for Washington’s 6th congressional district, also spoke to the cheering crowd about welcoming refugees and immigrants. Marilyn Strickland, Tacoma’s mayor, also reassured the thousands in attendance, “Tacoma will always welcome people from all parts of the world. Period.” Regardless of your country of origin, how you worship, or your immigration status, said Strickland, “There is a place for you in this city.”
As the first Asian American mayor of Tacoma, Strickland said she’s proud of her, and the city’s, cultural background and the shared political power, love of art, food, music, and business.
Arlene can be reached at email@example.com.