Thursday, June 29, 2006

On Ethnocide and Genocide

There has been a lot of talk about genocide in the CNMI papers lately. The governor and the people writing the Letters to the Editor have mistakenly been using the word “genocide” when they should have been talking about “ethnocide.” Genocide is the wanton killing of a racial or ethnic group. Ethnocide is the destruction of a CULTURE without having to actually kill the people that make up that culture. Ethnocide and genocide usually occur concurrently, so it can be difficult to differentiate one from the other.

Historically, Chamorros have been the victims of both genocide and ethnocide. When the Spanish came and killed all of our warriors, that was genocide. When they rounded up the survivors and forced them to move to Guam, convert to Christianity, and live under Spanish rule, that was ethnocide. The killing off of our culture over the next few centuries may not have been deliberate or systematic, but it happened none the less.

The wanton killings have stopped, but the cultures of the indigenous people of these islands are constantly under attack. Just because somebody got the terminology wrong and called it “genocide” instead of “ethnocide” doesn’t mean that it isn’t happening.

I’ll use my own family as an example. My father is full blood Chamorro. He has six children and (by the end of the summer) nine grandchildren. Eight of those grandchildren are ¼ Chamorro. None of them speak our native tongue.

My father was born in 1949. It took less than sixty years for his grandchildren to forget their language. What else are they losing?

When the terms of the Covenant were being negotiated it was agreed upon that these islands should maintain their Chamorro and Carolinian identity and character. To accomplish this, they came up with Article XII and the agreement that the CNMI would control their own Immigration and Labor. This slowed the erosion of our culture, but it didn’t stop it.

That brings us to the situation that we are in today. The indigenous people are no longer in the majority, for a variety of internal and external reasons the economy is in the dumps, the federal government wants to alter the terms outlined in the Covenant, and recently a law was passed that in effect amends the Constitution so that well-heeled, foreign-born retirees (or anybody else, for that matter) can take permanent and long term interests in the CNMI by purchasing a condominium (how does one define a condominium anyway?).

This “hippie rooted liberal” recognizes that the 50,000 or so foreign born nationals currently residing in these islands are actual people. They have hopes, dreams, and aspirations just like the rest of us. They teach our children, heal us when we get sick, and build most of our roads and buildings. Some of them are even Myspace friends (ask your kids if you don’t get the reference). I also recognize that Article XII isn’t perfect. It suppresses land values, can be a deterrent to foreign investment, and within 50 years, a large percentage of Chamorros and Carolinians won’t qualify to own land (i.e. most of my father’s great-grandchildren).

The threat of ethnocide is very real and it needs to be dealt with. These islands should retain the character and identity of the Chamorro and Carolinian people, but we have to consider the new realities of today in doing so. The protections that were handed down to us by our parents aren’t enough to protect our land, our language and our culture. Our parents were successful in handing it down to us, now we need to make sure that we hand it down to our children.

Underwater Angelo

I tested out my new gear today with one of my volunteer divers. In this picture I am demonstrating how NOT to wear your mask:

Do you see how my hair is under the mask. Tsk, tsk, tsk...I am indeed a novice.

Even so, I'm sitting in about 40 feet of water, just off of Obyan Beach. It was a pretty sweet dive. We saw a humphead parrotfish, two flounders, a blue trevally, a white blow fish that must have been almost over two feet long, about 20 crown of thorn starfish, and a school of parrotfish, each at least two feet long.

We are helping CRM with a Biosearch survey. If you're interested in the kind of stuff we were looking for, you can download the survey here. If you are on Saipan, you can mail completed surveys to me:

Click HERE to download the survey
Click HERE for more info on the survey

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Plant those trees!

Here's a quick little video of our tree planting this past Sunday:

Lao Lao Diving

I finally got my underwater housing. Here are some pictures from my first dive:

Sunday, June 25, 2006

The Saipan Blog endorses Save the Grotto

Please click on the above link and join the campaign to save the Saipan Grotto. The online campaign to save the Grotto is asking people to send in letters to the editor AND to add a banner to their livejournals, blogs, myspace profiles, websites, or whatever. All the information you need to write a letter or add a link is on the Save the Grotto blog. Just click on the appropriate link in the right hand column.

Please help!

Saturday, June 24, 2006

CNMI Women's Volleyball

Will somebody explain the rules of volleyball to me? The ref kept doing the signal for traveling. What does that mean?

I also don't get why the first four games were played to 25 points and why the fifth game only went to 15 points. WTF?



Look at those girls move:

What is EJ thinking in this picture:

The CNMI Women's Volleyball team rocked tonight! Unfortunately, the Pohnpei team rocked just a tad more. They won it in the fifth game. Bummer. No need to fret though, there are still 3 more games to play before the elimination round, so our team still has plenty of time to make a comeback.


The team probably lost because I wasn't cheering loud enough. After the game I ran out and bought two one gallon bottles of water. Add some pennies, decorate them a little bit, and those things are FRICKIN' LOUD.

I pity the CNMI's next opponent.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Friday Night Disco Party

After rocking the 6th Micronesian Games Opening Ceremony we did our usual Friday night rounds in Garapan. God, I hate my life:

Best party pic EVER (of an anonymous coral reef biologist):

2006 Micronesian Games: Opening Ceremony

The 6th Micronesian Games kicked off in Saipan this afternoon. Emily and I went to the opening ceremonies with the intention of just being spectators, but somehow we ended up volunteering to hand out Gatorade to the athletes as they walked onto the field. Here I am with, from left to right, Qamar, Ken, and Tina:

I had no idea that the Micronesian Games had so many participants! In all, over 1000 athletes from 10 different Nations are participating. The Nations are the CNMI, Guam, Kosrae, Marshall Islands, Palau, Pohnpei, Yap, Chuuk, Kiribati, and Nauru.

From the tent where we handed out drinks we were close enough to get a good look at all of the athletes. The first group of athletes to enter the field were the Hall of Famers, mostly CNMI athletes from the first Micronesian Games back in 1969. My cousin Michael (Villagomez, duh!) was part of that group. He's the young(ish) looking guy in the back of this photo:

Following the Hall of Famers was the 2006 Micronesian Games banner.

From the Micronesian Games Program:

Fakpi as the birds are called in the Chamorro language, suugh in Carolinian and tropicbirds in English, are found throughout the Northern Mariana Islands and Micronesia. They fly with athletic attributes of speed, grace and style and represent the athletes of the Micro Games, ascending to new heights.

Two birds flying side-by-side symbolize cooperation, coming together as one. At the
same time they represent competition with one slightly ahead of the other for first and second place. Additionally, they denote father and son, mother and daughter, brother and sister, and special friends who come together each striving to reach their full potential in a friendly competitive setting.

The multi-colored Micro Games text symbolizes the multiple cultures found within Micronesia. The white birds symbolize the peace and goodwill that exists among the Micronesian people.
The birds really do fly like that. A few weeks ago I posted a picture of two tropicbirds flying. Click HERE to see that picture.

The rest of the athletes came after the Micronesian Games banner. Each nation entered one at a time, some being more rowdy than others. This is a video of the Kosraen team singing as they enter the field:

I really like this picture I took of the Palauan delegation. I've always thought of Palauan guys as being big and burly. Looking at this picture, I'd have to say that big and burly pretty much sums them up:

The CNMI had the largest delegation.

That's our friend EJ in the middle of that last picture (she's the cute Korean girl with the brohan shades). We promised that we'd go watch her play volleyball tomorrow. I'm guessing that that's the rest of the CNMI volleyball team with her.

Leaders from all of the Micronesian Nations represented were in attendance. They were sitting up on the main stage. Governor Ben Fitial (center) and Lieutenant Governor Tim Villagomez (right) were sitting in the front row.

That's going to have to do it for the pictures. It was kind of overcast and I should have been using my flash. Since I didn't use a flash, most of my pictures came out blurry. Oh well, live and learn.

Without or without the pictures though, overall it was a really great kickoff for the 2006 Micronesian Games. After the procession of the athletes, the singing of the National anthems, and the speeches from important people, there were dancers and other entertainment. I didn't stick around for all that, but from what I saw it looks like the games are going to be really successful.

(Emily went home early because she wasn't feeling well, so thanks goes out to Gus and Cinta Kaipat for giving me a ride home!)

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Save the Grotto!

For those of you who don't know about the Saipan Grotto, check out the RC&D post about the Bird Island Sanctuary. The Grotto is a part of the sanctuary (scroll down to the bottom of the post for the Grotto pictures).

Let me start off by saying that this post is not a joke.

Somebody wants to build a monorail down to the Grotto.

Let me say that again just to clarify:

Somebody wants to take the #2 cavern diving spot in the world and build a loud, oily, mechanical monorail from the top down to the bottom.

Here is the original newspaper article announcing this project to the world:

Click HERE to read the article

Since that article appeared, there have been several letters to the editor for and against the project. This is what has been written and published thus far:


Tuesday, June 13, 2006
Tuesday, June 20, 2006


Monday, June 12, 2006
Wednesday, June 14, 2006
Monday, June 19, 2006
Thursday, June 22, 2006

Needless to say, I'm against the idea. My Dad took me swimming there when I was a kid. When I have kids, hopefully in the DISTANT future, I want to take them swimming there, too. AND I WANT IT TO BE EXACTLY THE WAY IT WAS WHEN I WAS A KID.

The arguments put forth for building the monorail are to improve the economy and to help disabled people get down to the Grotto.

Well, the economic argument is garbage. Right now diver's aren't charged to dive the Grotto, the #2 cavern dive spot in the world.'s an idea: Charge a fee! Then in addition to the divers paying for their hotel, airplane, SCUBA gear and training (economic activity), they'll be paying to use the area (more economic activity). I've had to pay to get into almost every state or national park, museum, or culturally important place I've ever visited. It's time to start charging people to visit the Grotto.

As for the disabled argument, go ahead and read these articles (or just read the headlines) and then decide if you think people with disabilities should be encouraged to go swimming in the Grotto:

Two Divers Rescued Off Grotto
Grotto Nearly Claims Another Life
Drowning Victims Were Japanese
Tourist Missing in Grotto Waters
Korean Diver Drowns in Grotto
Near-Drowning Victim Still in ICU

Had enough?

Grotto Claims Two More Lives
6 Swimmers Stranded at the Grotto
USS McCain Sailor Rescues Saipan Tourists

All of these stories are from only 2001-present. God only knows what happened in the 90's when the tourist industry was at its height.

Can you see where I'm going with this? The Grotto is a very dangerous place. PEOPLE DIE THERE ALMOST EVERY YEAR. Why would we want to make it more accessible, especially for people that might have otherwise been turned off by the long staircase?

So will you help me keep this project from happening?

Please write a letter to the editor stating your opposition to this project. The two main newspapers on Saipan are the Saipan Tribune and the Marianas Variety

The Tribune has an online submission form.

Click HERE to send a letter to the editor to the Saipan Tribune.

Mail your letter to the editor to the Variety to

Leave me a comment if you write a letter and I'll keep an eye out for it. The editors of both papers publish almost every letter they recieve.

I know that at least 70 people read this blog every day. Please help. This is really important. I especially ask those of you with Chamorro or Carolinian names to write a letter.



Monday, June 19, 2006

Nana and Tata

Auntie Connie has a great photo of Nana and Tata in a frame sitting on a shelf in her living room. I asked Uncle Frank if it would be okay if I took it back to Saipan so that I could scan a copy into my computer. He said it was okay.

Isn't it a nice picture? Can you see the tabby shoes my grandfather is wearing? Local fishermen still where those shoes when they go fishing on the reef. People are also still wearing flip flops that look like the ones my grandmother is wearing.

I sent the photo back via Priority Mail this morning. I threw in a copy of this photo of my cousin David and I:

David was my father's godson, so by Chamorro convention he is also my godbrother. In the photo we are about to have dinner at TGI Friday's on Guam.

Seventh in a Series - Bonding with Frankie

Of my 50 or so Villagomez first cousins, Frankie Q is the closet to me in age. He's less than a month older than me. My mother didn't want to have to give birth in Saipan (remember, this was back in the 70's), so she spent the final months of her pregnancy living in Guam with Frank and Connie. Uncle Frank tells a funny story about how he took Connie to the hospital to have Frankie and then how less than a month later he took my mother to the same hospital to have me (I think the better story would be to hear about what it is like to live with two pregnant women).

27 years later, after not having seen each other for at least a decade, Frankie and I went out for drinks.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Getting Sick

I started feeling groggy right after lunch. Then I felt kind of blah all afternoon. Now I think I have a sore throat coming on. This really sucks.

Emily is spending the night in Guam with my Aunt Connie and I'll in Saipan all on my own. This should have been the perfect opportunity to go out and party like a rock star. Nope. I was supposed to go to the novena at the Kiyu house over in As Perdido and then go to happy hour at PIC to meet up with Joe and EJ, but I skipped both and now I'm just sitting around the house hating life.

I hope I feel better in the morning; I don't want to be sick while I'm in Guam.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

This is Saipan TODAY

I'm having trouble uploading the audio from my radio interview with Harry Blalock. I'll try to work on it tonight. In the meantime, here is a video I captured the other night:

The guy in the video's name is Champ. He's a Korean bartender at a place on Saipan called The Flair. All of the bartenders put on a show every night that reminds me of Tom Cruise's character from that classic 80's movie Cocktail.

The drinks are pretty cheap, they have karaoke and darts, the bartenders are fun to talk to, and oh yeah, the drinks are pretty cheap.

This isn't my mother's island anymore.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Harry Blalock Morning Show

Jeremy and I were on the radio this morning. I'm working on getting the audio online. Look for an update soon!

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Album Cover and Winging it to Bonzai

If we start a band, this is going to be the cover:

You're looking at the five champs who survived the hike from Wing Beach to Bonzai Cliff. We hiked for four hours across the reef flats and cliffs that run along the shore.

Today was a Spring Tide, so I figured it would be a safe day to attempt the hike. WRONG! The ocean was really rough today, so even though the water was really low, every once in a while a huge wave would crash onto the reef flat and flood our ankles.

About 3/4 of the trail is on the reef flat and about 1/4 is up on the cliff. In a few places the reef flat is impassible, so we kept having to climb up and over until we got to a spot where we could safely walk along the shore again. Walking on the reef flat is much more preferable as it is much flatter and the rocks aren't nearly as sharp. The reef flats weren't without their perils, though. There was the ever present danger of the waves and falling into a big hole of water was pretty easy to do, too. There was a lot of seaweed in the tide pools and it did a really good job of hiding potholes. I think pretty much everybody fell in at least once.

Take a look at this cliff:

Can you see Trent, Qamar, and Joe? We had to hike over that! I took this picture while I was standing on the reef flat down below. It puts in perspective how steep some parts of the "trail" were.

It was an unbelievably beautiful hike. Suicide cliff is always behind you and then eventually you get to Marpi Point where you get to look up at Bonzai Cliff from sea level.

If you look closely, you might be able to see Scott and Dee up on the cliff.

Unlike the Japanese during WWII, we didn't have to jump off the cliff; We had to climb up Bonzai Cliff! This was the most difficult part of the hike. We climbed up a 40 ft cliff face that was almost perfectly vertical. Good times. For a while I thought we were going to have to leave Joe at the bottom, but he turned out to be a champ and climbed up.

Dee and Scott were still waiting patiently for us at the top. It had been almost 4 hours since we started the hike. Scott took a few pictures of the hikers by the cliff, hence our new album cover and this picture:

Thanks, Scott!

Can you tell that we had just been hiking for four hours or that we had just climbed up BONZAI frickin' cliff?

This is definately going to be one of those hikes that gets better as the days go by. Even so, it is also definately one of those hikes that I only need to do once every ten years. I'll do it again in 2016...maybe.

Friday, June 09, 2006


A while back I made a request for postcards. This is what has arrived so far:




Asuka, Susie, Jerry, David, and Michael, your postcards are in the mail!

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

SOMEBODY Got Left Behind...

Emily is going to teach English at one of Saipan's high schools in the fall. This is of course dependent upon her being offered a job, which is dependent upon her passing the PRAXIS I and PRAXIS II, which is dependent upon her actually being registered for the PRAXIS I and PRAXIS II.

Therein lies our problem.

The PRAXIS is the CNMI's solution for meeting the mandates set out by No Child Left Behind. No Child Left Behind is that unfunded mandate that...wait a minute, let's not even go there.

PRAXIS I is a general knowledge test and PRAXIS II is a subject test. She has to pass both before she can even be considered for employment with the CNMI Public School System (although she could be a permanent substitute teacher without taking the tests).

She registered to take the PRAXIS II on Saipan over a month ago. She signed up to take the test this Saturday. She was supposed to receive in the mail some type of admission ticket that would permit her to take the test, but it never came. A local teacher told her that she could print it up online and that all she had to do was to go to the PRAXIS website, log in, and follow the directions.

When she tried that, the website wouldn't let her log in.

Uh oh.

When she called the PRAXIS ETA hotline they told her that she wasn't registered for the test and that her name wasn't anywhere in the system. Her credit card had already been charged $115, so she was pretty sure that SOMEBODY there had heard of her.

They asked her to fax proof that she had paid for the test. She logged onto her bank account, printed up the information, and then right before sending in the fax, she called back to make sure that she had the correct fax number.

The person she spoke with this time was different from the person who told her to send in the fax. When she tried to confirm her identity a second time, the person on the phone noticed that there was somebody registered with the last name Giron"E"a in some strange country called Marianas Pacific.

It turns out that when Emily registered for the PRAXIS over the phone, the person taking down her information registered her under the wrong name and in the wrong country. You see, there is no country called Marianas Pacific. MP is the postal abbreviation for the CNMI. It is part of the United States of America.

Even though the new operator was able to fix the problem, it looks like some call center operators got left behind. Maybe they should be the ones taking an exam.

Either way, Emily is now 100% officially registered to take the PRAXIS II on Saturday. She's taking the PRAXIS I next Friday in Guam. Wish her luck!

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Bird Island Sanctuary

We went down to Bird Island today. We hiked down to the island, snorkeled inside the reef for a bit, went back onto the island to take some pictures, and then snorkeled outside of the reef for a bit.

The Japanese used to call Bird Island "Moon Viewing Island." I tried to take a photo that incorporated the moon, the birds, and the island. The above photo is what I came up with.

Bird Island deserves her name. There truly are a lot of birds there.

I took a few pictures of some other birds, too. Here are just a few:

White Tailed Tropicbirds:
Golden White Eye (Cleptornis marchei):
Bridled White Eye (Zosterops conscilliatus):
Black Noddy:

We saw a few other things, too. I still don't have an underwater camera, so you will have to make do with above water shots for a few more weeks. Here you go:

I think that will do.

I am going to jazz up and repost this for my coral reef outreach blog. The post will be about the entire Bird Island Sanctuary, which includes the Grotto and extends to the Bird Island Lookout. I'm not going to do it today, but go to that page and bookmark it. You might learn something.