A couple of weeks ago I got a forwarded email from one of my fellow members of Famoksaiyan telling me this story that PNC has finally done a piece on. So it goes, while having lunch at a restaurant on Guam, Cara Flores-Mays, a member of We Are Guahan, overheard officials from the Joint Guam Program Office and Marine personnel having a flippant discussion about the marketing strategy for the build-up. As I understand the story, the snippet of conversation was full of arrogance and condescension towards the Chamorro people. They discussed ways to infiltrate the communities by way of the mayors and the pro-military stories of the manamko’ (Chamorro elders), exploiting the respect that we have for our elders. There was even a moment when one of the participants, JGPO Colonel Paula Conhain, ridiculed an older Chamorro man for the way he speaks and his lack of teeth.
Cara immediately wrote about her experience in an open letter and sent it out on the internet. One of the participants, Marines Public Affairs Officer Lt. Col. Aisha Bakkar, found her way to the letter via facebook and wrote a pretty heartfelt apology, taking responsibility for the conversation and admonishing the disrespect.
Still, as Cara touches on in her response to the apology (the first comment to Bakkar’s apology), Bakkar is part of a system that’s doing its thing, no matter how much she apologizes for it. It’s her duty to apologize, it’s others’ duty to shrug it off. Case in point, a few hours after this PNC piece came out, Col. Conhain issued a tepid apology of the “I’m sorry you feel that way” brand, giving the air that she only vaguely recognizes she did anything wrong.
Hm, it’s easy to drown in the negative in this situation, but Cara brought a positive into this whole thing. That conversation could have easily stayed at that table, in that restaurant that day, if Cara hadn’t blown it up. Way to keep them in check! And that’s what we got to keep on doing. Read the action letter below that Cara wrote as follow-up and contact your congressperson.
You may remember a letter that I sent a few weeks back where I detailed a conversation that I’d overheard at Mermaid Tavern. Though I did not know everyone at the table, they have since been identified. What I found particularly interesting is that the woman who made insulting comments about the older Chamorro man is Paula Conhain, JGPO Communications Director. The other Colonel present was Colonel Pond. Although COL Bakkar has reached out to apologize for the conversation that took place, no one else in that group has apologized for tolerating such blatant disgust of our culture.
It was Paula Conhain, JGPO Communications Director (working both in Guam and DC) who made the comments that I referred to in this portion of my letter:
I was most disgusted by the last piece of the conversation that I overheard where this group laughed at an older Chamorro man who was not present. They made fun of the number of teeth he had left and the way he speaks (his Chamorro accent, I’m assuming). They mocked the fact that he had received a degree at the University of Guam.These are the people who have been assigned to work on the Guam buildup: people who have no respect for our community, for the native language of Guam, or for people who can’t afford health care and maybe go toothless. These are people who lack the integrity to come forward to apologize, even when they’ve made a mistake. Instead, they allowed one woman, Aisha Bakkar, who was the only person who I could identify by name, to take the full fall for it.
I would encourage you to write a letter to the White House and Our Congresswoman, demanding that more respect be shown to the many sacrifices that our community has made in the name of “freedom, liberty and democracy”. And more, it’s time for our community to be extended the same rights to freedom, liberty and democracy. This military buildup on Guam has made a mockery of democracy and has dishonored those who die fighting for it.
To contact Congresswoman Madeleine Z. BordalloOR Call 477-4272
To contact the White HouseOR Call 202-456-1111
Biba Guåhan,si Cara Flores-Mays