Display of culture
Embracing values key to prosperity
By Lacee A.C. Martinez
Pacific Daily News
lcmartinez@guampdn.com

People often stop longtime Guam resident John Sigrah to ask about the basket made of woven coconut leaves that he carries with him at all times.

Like a businessman carries his briefcase, Sigrah said the basket represents a status symbol for men in the Yapese community.

And although he’s a few thousand miles away from his homeland, Sigrah continues to proudly display a piece of his Yapese culture through the basket.
“We call our basket a man’s second house,” Sigrah said. “We look at our basket as a place of knowledge. Whenever we’re working, we stop to chew betel nut and we think about how to complete our work or conversation that will satisfy everybody.”

Holding fast to cultural values and customs even while embracing the cultures of a new environment, he said, has been the key to prosperity for the Yapese community on Guam

Sigrah, the chairman of the Yapese Community of Guam, helps organize Yapese community events like Yap Day, a huge annual celebration of the Yapese culture, which was celebrated last week on Guam.

Yap is part of four states that make up the Federated States of Micronesia. There are anywhere between 800 and 1,000 Yapese islanders living on Guam, Sigrah said.

Most of those who relocate to Guam, he said, come for education opportunities and better work.

Althoug Chrystal Chugrad spent most of her youth in Yap and a few years finishing high school in the U.S. mainland, she moved on island to attend the University of Guam, where she can be closer to home.

While Yap is only one part of the FSM, Chugrad said she’s sometimes frustrated with the assumptions about Micronesia.

“They like to call us Micronesians but Guam is part of Micronesia,” she said. “Guam is the ‘gateway to Micronesia.'”

Although it’s not often, Chugrad said she has encountered extreme cases of racism, particularly because she is from the FSM.

“Some people look at us like ‘oh, they’re inferior’ or we get this attitude that we may not be as intellectual because English is a second language for us,” she said.

“Overall, we’re all FSM and they do look at that, too,” Chugrad said. “But each island has their own unique culture and that’s what makes it beautiful.”

But it’s not so bad, she said, as she and her classmates at school don’t have too much of a problem at school with racism. Bouts of other stereotypes exist, particularly with betel nut, or langad in Yapese, chewing.

“Normally, us Yapese and Palauan are known for chewing and people from other islands chew and spit on the ground,” she said. “Then we get blamed for it.”

Sigrah said although the tradition of chewing betel nut in the region originated in Yap, it’s common practice for his people to carry something to dispose of it when they’re done.

At the university, Chugrah heads a small student Yap organization made up of 15 members. The group, she said, continues to provide familial support for each other both academically and culturally. The group even has a provision in its by-laws that allows them to give financial aid to members whose families are going through a crisis.

“It’s very important thing for us to hold on to our cultural values,” Chugrad said. “When we come here, there are some differences but we try to adapt to the environment.

“And when it comes down to our cultural traditions, we know it,” she said.

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