Today is a special day for CHamorru self-determination with the completion of the Fanohge (stand up) March for CHamoru Self-Determination this morning.
At the center of the march is Robert Underwood, former congressional delegate and retired president of the University of Guam.
Robert and I have an interesting history relative to the written form of the CHamoru language as well as the self-determination movement as a whole.
If we were to take note of people on Guam who have been at the forefront of these movements, Robert would most certainly rank high among those such as Angel Santos, Ding Gould, Bernadita Dungca and many others.
At 10 a.m. March 25, 1978, when I was the circulation manager for the Pacific Daily News, a group of people called PARA PDN who included members of the CHamoru language commission, gathered in front of the newspaper and demanded to be able to publish an advertisement written only in CHamoru. At the time, the commission was developing the official orthography for the language.
Then-Publisher Robert Udick had decided he would not accept their advertisement nor any other non-English advertisement without a corresponding printed English translation.
So, the commission members, Monsignor Flores from the Catholic Church and about 100-plus other interested folks including Underwood, gathered at the front of the newspaper office in Hagåtña and protested. This included burning the newspaper in effigy in the street while chanting Udick, Udick, Udick.
I walked into Bob Udick’s office and asked him if he was going to go out and talk to the people. He said no. So, I asked if he minded if I did so. He said something to the effect of it was all right, but to be careful.
When I went out the front door, everyone became quiet and I asked them what this was all about. They told me it was because Udick wouldn’t print their advertisement in CHamoru only. After some discussion, I said I would accept it and simply asked if I could have an English translation that could be shared with anyone interested in knowing what the advertisement said since very few people could actually read CHamoru.
We also agreed to meet in the coming days and discuss other ways that would assist in this new learning process for the language.
This was the beginning of what came to be the cartoon, Juan Malimanga, as well as the I Fino CHamoru column in the other Guam newspaper.
At the inception of both of these printed pieces in CHamoru, Jesus Charfauros also had an all-CHamoru radio program on KUAM and after speaking with him, he agreed to read the I Fino CHamoru column each day on his radio show. This was done so that CHamoru speakers could both hear and see the language in its newly written format.
While discussions on proper spelling continue to this day, at least there is a formal orthography for the language and that is part and parcel of the history behind what continues with today’s march that Robert will lead.
While I am not much for marches, and it is clear that not everyone who is marching is doing so for the same reasons, the march itself is a worthwhile event as it draws attention to a promise that was made to the CHamoru people so many, many years ago.
Biba CHamoru. Biba Guam and Biba America that comes with the freedoms we all enjoy in our nation and under our Constitution.
Lee P. Webber is a former president and publisher of media organizations on Guam and Hawaii, former director of operations for USA Today International/Asia and is a longtime business and civic leader on Guam.