Saturday, February 06, 2010

The Decline and Fall of the Chamorro


Interesting. I was listening to a local talk show this morning. The host and the guest spent quite a bit of time discussing (lamenting) the disappearance - or at least the dilution of - the Chamorro culture.

The usual culprits were named: the military administrations of the past (Spanish, American, Japanese, and then American again), the immigration of many non-Chamorros, and of course the military, with special emphasis on the pending buildup.

The guest brought up the fact that not only is Guam losing its culture but that Chamorros now are an ethnic minority in their own island, only making up approximately 40% of the population.

With the public hearing for another pro-life bill (Bill 309 - The Child's Right to Live Act) set for this Thursday (1:30pm), I couldn't resist calling in and tying the discussion to the upcoming hearing.

You may wonder what the connection is.

While the declining population of Chamorros on Guam is due to many factors (not the least of which by the way is "out-migration" - more Chamorros have left Guam for the states than have non-Chamorros immigrated), there are two factors that are never discussed:

1. Chamorro families are having fewer (much fewer) children than did their forebears.
2. As per 2008 Guam Medical Records, 2/3 of all reported abortions are Chamorro babies.

I called and brought up these two points and noted that Senator Calvo, the author of Bill 309, as well as Bill 54 (The Woman's Right to Know Act - which is still tied up in the Legislature), and the successful ban on Partial Birth Abortion, which was signed into law in 2008, was partially motivated to introduce pro-life legislation as a result of seeing for himself the effects of abortion on the Chamorro race.

There are approximately 3300 births per year on Guam. If we use the 40% figure, that means that approximately 1320 of those births were of Chamorro ethnicity. 191 abortions of Chamorro children were reported in 2008. That means that 0.3% of the entire Chamorro population (1) on Guam was aborted in 2008 alone, and a staggering 14.5% of the "Chamorro class of 2026" never saw the light of day.

When you factor in the exponential aspect - fewer Chamorros who will not be alive themselves to further perpetuate the race - the result is exponentially catastrophic.

While I personally have great sympathy for the passion of native Chamorros who want to preserve their culture, their language, and their land, ultimately, the continuance - not just preservation - of the culture, language, and land depends on the production of successive generations. But at this rate, there will soon be no "successive generations".

The decline of the Chamorro population is a phenomenon not missed by the rest of the world. Note this study published as long ago as 1984 in the Journal of Biosocial Science (1984), 16:231-239 Cambridge University Press. Here follows a summary (emphases mine):

"Since the end of World War II, the Guam native population, who are mostly Roman Catholics, has undergone one of the most dramatic socioeconomic developments ever recorded. They have rapidly become incorporated into the dominant American culture and economy. This accelerated process of modernization has been accompanied by a very sharp fertility decline. One reason for this decline has been the increasing defection of Guam Roman Catholic women from the traditional teaching of their Church on the subject of birth control. This trend of fertility decline, although at higher levels, resembles that of East Asian countries with rapid fertility decline."

But back to our radio show. Both host and guest completely (though politely) disregarded my comment and my invitation for them to consider the actual data which is a matter of public record. The conversation immediately reverted back to the original lamentations about the loss of Chamorro culture due to outside pressures.

So while scholars as far away as Cambridge are aware of the real reason for the decline in Chamorro population, local Chamorro scholars (or at least the one being interviewed) seem not to be aware. So while we continue to blame the military and colonialism - albeit with some legitimacy- the slaughter of the Chamorro people goes on quietly in downtown Tamuning.

(1) Based on an approximate total population on Guam of 178,000

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