Håyi Gayu Mu? Voting in Guåhan

By: Desiree Taimanglo Ventura
Democracy and Community
From left, clockwise: 1)Telena Nelson campaign ad in the Guam Daily Post Voter Guide General Election 2016. Courtesy of the Guam Daily Post. 2) Ricardo J. Bordallo and Richard F. Taitano campaign ad for Guam's first gubernatorial election. Courtesy of the Guam Public Library System. 3) Frontpage of Marianas Variety, Issue date Nov 7, 2012. Courtesy of the Guam Daily Post. 4) Joe Shimizu San Agustin campaign ad. Marianas Variety, Issue date Nov 6, 2012. Courtesy of the Guam Daily Post. 5) Joaquin Arriola and Vicente Bamba campaign ad for Guam's first gubernatorial election. Courtesy of the Guam Public Library System.

Look closely at election signs when November rolls around. In addition to awkward headshots and strange graphic design, you will find powerful evidence of indigenous collective values that benefit, not just the individual, but the entire family/clan.  Beneath candidate names, many running for office still list every CHamoru family/clan name their bloodline intersects with, signaling that whether you have a personal relationship with them or not, as a member of the candidate’s larger family/clan, you will be thought of, considered…maybe even extended additional consideration in matters that could impact your entire family. 

Like many cultures in the Asia-Pacific region, the CHamoru culture is a collective one. This means the individual’s needs are subordinate to those of the larger group. As a collective culture that has been colonized by an individualistic one (the United States of America), a strange push and pull occurs within the minds and hearts of contemporary CHamorus in Guåhan as they navigate the daily social and political choices that must be made for continued survival.  

As marginalized people in our own home, full adoption of the individualistic values  upheld by our colonizer leaves us continually disenfranchised, unable to keep up when owned by a nation whose “equality” does not equal “equity” for indigenous people. In the same right, a refusal to let go of a completely collectivist system of operating makes us vulnerable within Western structures. In an attempt to keep our heads above water, strategies employed since the days of our ancestors as they negotiated family/clan dynamics, persist.

Within Guåhan politics, a “Democrat” isn’t quite the same as a stateside liberal; and a “Guåhan Republican” fails to fully meet the rubric for what makes a truly conservative American statesman. In many cases, the family/clan name still counts for more than the political party you are formally registered with. 

While some turn their noses up at the idea of voting by clan in the year 2021, the power of the CHamoru clan system is evidenced in the willingness of non-CHamoru candidates who, upon deciding to run for office, appropriate CHamoru clan names on their election signs, knowing that by doing so, they are announcing that other CHamoru families “vouch” for them in a community where unspoken suspicion and resentment continues to linger after years of historical injustice. The integrity of doing this, of course, is an entirely other discussion.

This past year, while teaching Critical Thinking for Civic Engagement to Guåhan undergrads, enrolled students participated in a senatorial candidate forum. During this forum, candidates seeking office were pressed by students on urgent matters facing our CHamoru people: self-determination, land rights, and continued militarism in Guåhan. What became clear was that our island’s young people are passionate about preservation and their right to determine their home’s future, but their votes were greatly tempered by an inability to question or publicly reject a candidate who might share a family bloodline. They did not want to be perceived as rejecting their family’s “gåyu.”  

The modern CHamoru should feel no shame or embarrassment in recognizing, or even tapping into, the power of their family/clans. The almost biblical style of recounting CHamoru bloodlines serves us in many ways today, ranging from conflict resolution to further rooting us in our identities as indigenous people. However, we may want to pause and expand our personal understanding of who is part of our family/clan when the most basic of resources and rights are in jeopardy. Perhaps an even deeper return to collectivist values is needed when we remember that whether a Kotla, Deza, or CHåka, none of our families can thrive as indigenous people if any candidate elected is opposed to basic human rights and the preservation of our land, air, and water resources. Our CHamoru mangåffa is comprised of every indigenous family in our region, desperately in need of the political and natural resources that have sustained us for over four millennia.
Democracy and Community