May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month and in honor of that observance, this week’s post is about Guamanians in Los Angeles.
BRIEF HISTORY OF GUAM
Guam (CHamoru: Guåhan) is an island in the Micronesia sub-region of the western Pacific Ocean. It is the westernmost point in the Greater United States. It is the southernmost of the Mariana Islands (CHamoru: Manislan Mariånas) and the largest. Guam’s capital is Hagåtña and its most populous village is Dededo. The indigenous people of Guam are the CHamoru and, like most Pacific Islanders, they are descended from the Austronesians who fanned out from Taiwan across the Pacific and Indian oceans. They likely settled Guam somewhere between 1500 and 1400 BCE. Their native language, CHamoru, is an Austronesian language spoken by about 25,8270 people, according to the 2010 census. As of 2020, there were 153,836 people living on Guam, about 37.3% of whom are CHamoru, 29.3% of whom are Filipino, 7.1% of whom are white, 7% of whom are Chuukese 7%, and 2.2% of whom are Korean.
GUAMANIANS IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA
Ferdinand Magellan, a Portuguese explorer in the service of Spain, arrived in 1521. Spain colonized the island in 1668. An estimated 90 to 95% of of CHamorus died from diseases introduced by the Spanish. Chuukese, Refaluwasch (Gu’palao), and Filipinos were brought to the island to fill the void.
The American Empire conquered Guam on 21 June 1898. The rest of the Maraianas were sold to Germany. In 1919, all of the Marianas except Guam were given to the Japanese Empire. During their reign, Koreans, Okinawans, and Taiwanese were brought to the archipelago. Guam, too, was occupied by the Japanese Empire for two years during World War II.
Americans re-conquered Guam on 21 July 1944, a day known as Liberation Day. Under their liberators, CHamorus were banned from speaking their own language until the 1970s. Like the other citizens within the Greater United States whose homelands are not afforded recognition as states, residents of Guam are considered to be American citizens and pay taxes but are denied the right to vote in US presidential elections. There are about 4.1 million such territorial “Americans” who are excluded from representation, in large part, because about 98.5% of them aren’t white… aka “alien races” who can’t understand Anglo-Saxon principles and are thus denied constitutional rights afforded mainland Americans. US military bases occupy 27% over Guam’s land mass and one in eight Guamanians is a US military veteran… and yet.
As of the 2000 census, there were about 83,590 CHamorus living in the Mariana Islands. There were about 93,000 living in Hawaii, Washington, Oregon, and California. In the 1960s, many CHamorus emigrated to California and found work as fruit pickers in Southern California. Many eventually settled near military bases in San Diego; and in Los Angeles’s Harbor Area communities of Carson, Long Beach, San Pedro, and Wilmington in Los Angeles County. As of 2019, there were an estimated 3,594 CHamorus living in Los Angeles County — a decline from the 6,084 counted in the 2010 census.
Traditionally, CHamorus subsisted on a diet of bananas, bats, birds, breadfruit, coconuts, fish, rice, taro, and yams. They cooked foods with heated stones buried in pits, much like many Polynesians. The Spanish introduced Annona, cashews, chocolate, coffee, eggplants, maize, lemons, limes, oranges, papayas, pineapples, tobacco, and tomatoes. The culinary influence of Mesoamerica is evident in the popularity of atole, chilaquiles, tamales, and tortillas. The US military introduced highly-processed, high-calorie canned foods like Spam and fast food chains; consequently, heart disease is the island’s number one cause of death.
Today there are handful of Guamanian home cooks, restaurants, and restaurants serving Guamanian dishes. They include Chamorro Grill, Guahan Grill, Island Soul Bistro, JJ’s Island Grindz, Smack’n Guamanian Grill, and Tio Chino. Former Guamanian restaurants included EJ’s House of Chicken & Ribs.
Three Chiefs Brewing was created by Guamanian brewer Charles Rapadas, and brewed a Guam IPA. I’m not 100% positive but I get the feeling that they’re no longer brewing. In fact, I’m pretty sure that it’s no more.
GUAMANIAN ART & ARTISTS
Traditional CHamoru arts included weaving and pottery. Painting became a popular artistic pursuit in the 1980s. Illustrator and designer Jerilyn Guerrero is a Guamanian Angelena of mixed CHamoru and Filipina ancestry. She grew up in Guam and New Jersey, earned a BFA in from the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, and then moved to Los Angeles.
GUAMANIAN MUSIC & MUSICIANS
Traditional CHamoru music was made on various instruments including the belembaotuyan, a stringed instrument, and the nose flute. Kantan is a type of improvised vocal work song. Serenatas are derived from the musical traditions of Spain and Mexico. Modern Guamanian includes elements of American, Spanish, Filipino, and Polynesian music. Naturally there is pop music as well and Pia Mia Perez, who was born in Guam and lives in Los Angeles, was the first Guamanian to have a song on Billboard’s Top 100, 2015’s “Do It Again.” Guamanian Angleno musicians Alex Lugwa, Dennis Caasi, and Nathan Taitano. Guamanian San Diegan musicians included Tony Jae and Tribal Theory.
GUAMANIAN CLOTHING & CLOTHING DESIGNERS
Historically, CHamorus wore little clothing… usually just a tifi (a bit of palm bark to cover the genitals), a skirt made of leaves, an apron-like garments made of turtle shells, and an akgak, a hat made out of Pandanus leaves. Flowers were used to decorate bodies. The Jesuits introduced clothing similar to that which was developed for the Philippines and also popular Mexico known as “mestiza.” 2014’s Miss Guam, Brittany Bell, is also the woman behind the Mama Gang clothing line. Bell is a Guamanian Angelena with a CHamoru mother.
GUAMANIAN SPORT AND ATHLETES
Guam, like many territories in Greater US, enjoys American football, baseball, and basketball. Like many of its neighbors in the South Pacific, rugby union is also popular. Guamanian Angeleno John D. Aguon is a creative producer for Angel City FC and produced the “Angel City Anthem.” Jeanette Allred-Powless is a is a Guamanian Angelena long-distance runner. Allred-Powless is the mother of the mother of professional cyclists Neilson and Shayna Powless.
Local Guamanian organizations include Guam Communications Network and Sons & Daughters of Guam Club.
paleric [a CHamoru Angeleno blogger]
As always, additions and corrections are encouraged and appreciated.