By Manny Crisostomo
A few years back Melissa Leon Guerrero Do tearfully shared how the 2016 Disney’s animated film “Moana,” profoundly affected her.
“I watched ‘Moana’ and there was this line in her song, ‘See the line where the sky meets the sea/It calls me.’ Because my entire life, until I moved, I had seen that line in the sky.
“And then you move out here. And it’s not there anymore. And you really don’t realize just how much that horizon just becomes a part of you,” said the former Dededo resident who left Guam in 1998 as a newlywed to start life and raise a family with husband, Vu Do, in Fremont, California.
“‘Moana’ really resonated with me, because she was this girl who just wanted to leave the island and I was this girl that just wanted to leave the island. It really isn’t until you’re gone for a long time that you realize that that island is such a part of you. It stirred something within me.”
That stirring and her stubbornness of clinging to her CHamoru identity moved her from identity crisis and soul-searching to action.
“When I first moved out here I resisted the idea of feeling like I was home here, because I didn’t want to lose my loyalty to being CHamoru, to being an islander. And so I really resisted feeling like this was home,” she said.
“And after a while, a few years ago, I moved back to Guam. And one thing that I realized is that I missed California because that really was now a part of who I was.”
“Now I think that it’s OK for me to think that I have two homes, Guam and California, and I am very lucky in that I have a foot in both worlds,” said the 51-year-old who works as an executive assistant at a San Francisco venture capital firm.
“But it took me a while for me to be at peace with that, to make space to be from both places.”
Her parents are Peter P. Leon Guerrero, familian Nacha, from Dededo and Betty Blas, familian Tugon, from Yigo. She was close and influenced greatly by her paternal grandmother, Ester Leon Guerrero Benavente, familian Nacha, of Dededo, who passed away last year.
When she left Guam over two decades ago she was constantly calling her grandmother to help her cook the foods she missed.
“When I moved out here I was 28 years old, and I didn’t know how to cook,” she said. “I was one of those girls who would ask my dad or my grandma and say, Hey, can you make me whatever? And they did.’
“And so when I moved out here, suddenly, that was something that I didn’t have anymore. I would call my grandmother and ask her for the most basic things. ‘Can you teach me how to make red rice? Can you teach me how to make potato salad, I didn’t know how to make any of that stuff.’ But slowly, I started to increase my repertoire.”
She added, “there was a website called Auntie Charo, where you got kind of a little bit of the gossip, but she had a bunch of recipes, and a lot of those recipes were really island based. And whenever I needed a taste of home, I always went to her site and between her and my grandma, the two of them were the village that taught me how to cook.”
Melissa Leon Guerrero Do doesn’t have any Chamoru extended family members in the Bay area to help foster i kustumbren CHamoru to her two children, Tyler and Christopher.
But she counts on family members who visit often and frequent trips to Guam as her “it takes a village.” Plus she now has CHamoru food cooking skills and an innate sense of “CHamoru family” that has permeated not only her kids but also to her husband and his Vietnamese American family.
“It’s all about the family. It’s always been about the family and that’s something that I’ve instilled with my children,” she said.
“My husband’s family, they’re close, but they’re not as close as you know, we are on Guam, where we just kind of welcome everybody. That’s also another way that I really feel it’s so important to, to honor where I came from, and to share that with everybody.
“My kids are very much a reflection of that. They’re proud to be Californian, but they’re also really proud to be CHamoru. When my son just graduated from San Jose State, the stole that he wore was the Guam seal. And he was so proud of the fact that he was able to have that,” she said.
“My daughter, now that she has her own place, invites a lot of people over to her house and creates this spread. She’ll send me pictures and I love it because I know that that’s my influence. That’s the influence from my grandma, my grandpa from my auntie Fina (Leon Guererro) from my uncle Pete (Leon Guererro).”
I checked in with her recently and found out she and the family were booked on a flight to Guam the next day.
“I am so mahalang right now that I cannot wait to just just be in the middle of everyone,” she said.
“Because we don’t go there so often, it’s always very special and I always try to make the most out of those moments. You know, the quiet moments where we’re able to kind of reminisce about growing up and it’s Christmas time and everybody breaks out their guitars and everyone’s singing. It’s stuff that I grew up with and it’s stuff that my heart just longs for.”
Her excitement was palpable, and I asked “what are you so mahalang this time around?”
“I think that with COVID, and quarantine and all of that, I believe that there’s global trauma,” she said.
“Part of that trauma about this virus is that it has kept everybody away from each other. And that’s not something that we (CHamorus) are used to, being apart from each other. It’s made me want to hold people tighter.”