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Highlighting Guam During Asian Pacific Islander Heritage Month

Date: May 28, 2020

Highlighting Guam During Asian Pacific Islander Heritage Month

Written by Joanne Villavieja

In 1978 a resolution was proposed in Congress and signed by President Jimmy Carter to proclaim a 7 day period beginning on May 4th to May 11th as Asian/Pacific American Heritage Week. This period marks the importance of dates like May 7th, 1843, the first arrival of Japanese immigrants to the United States, and May 10th, 1869, the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad since the majority of the railroad workers were Chinese immigrants. In 1992, this week of celebration was extended to the entire month of May.

While countries in Asia such as China and Japan are more well-known and referenced in daily American culture, smaller islands in the Pacific such as Guam have received less attention and were unknown by many American citizens in the past. However, the United States is home to the largest population of Guam descendants, known as the Chamorro people, outside of Guam itself. 1980-2000 Census reports show a rapidly rising rate of migration of islanders to the Mainland since the US’s acquisition of the territory in the Treaty of Paris on December 10, 1898.

The first records of migration began with two occupations, the first being whaling. Young Chamorro men, also called “Balleneros”, joined whaling ships that stopped in Guam and would then sail to ports in California and Hawaii. Working as a Ballenero gave a young man the opportunity to work and travel, and many decided to leave their native island permanently.

Military enlistment also brought many Chamorros over to the US after World War II. In the 1940s, Chamorro families would settle in US Naval Bases in California, such as Vallejo, Alameda, Long Beach, and San Diego. In the 1960s, Typhoon Karen caused heavy damage to many homes in Guam, further pushing families to relocate to California to join family members.

An article on Chamorro migration says that an average increase of “23.6 percent per ten years during 1980-2000” was observed. The article goes on to say that during this Census period the largest population of Chamorro people in the US was located in California.

While Chamorro culture is strongly influenced by American customs and values, efforts are being made to reconnect descendants on the island and in the diaspora with their indigenous roots, which is threatened of being overwritten by centuries of occupation and colonization by countries such as the United States and Spain. Cultural centers across the country devote time to teach Chamorro families about their native culture. The Chamorro language can be learned online through extensive language resources. In metropolitan areas such as Las Vegas and San Francisco, Chamorro and island-fusion cuisine are growing trends.

Because of their longtime Spanish occupation and proximity to the countries like the Philippines, you’ll find that Chamarro surnames are often shared with the popular surnames of these cultures. According to genealogy resources like Forebears, the most popular surnames shared by Chamorros are the names Cruz, Perez, Camacho, or Flores. Few families have surnames derived from Chamorro , but those that do are families with a long line of recorded history on the island. These names include Gumataotao (“house of people”), Taitano, (“the landless”), and Taimanglu (“no wind”). Famous people in American media that are of Guam descent include the singer-songwriter Pia Mia and the former longtime NBC news reporter and Today show anchor Ann Curry. With the rise in cross-national representation in American media, cuisine, and overall culture, more is sure to be seen from the Chamorro people and the island of Guam.

For more information, contact:
Karen Sinisi
Director of Sales and Marketing
Ethnic Technologies
(201) 953-5380