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Manaotao Sanlagu: The story continues

  • 5 min read

By Manny Crisostomo

As I continue to meet, photograph, listen and curate stories from my fellow manaotao sanlagu, I am enriched with an ongoing nuanced understanding of what it means to be CHamoru not living in Guam.

The documentary “Manaotao Sanlagu: Chamorus from the Marianas” launched four months ago in the PDN, the first photo shoot and interview was eight months earlier, but the concept and idea has been fermenting like fine tuba in my brain for about four years.

I always believed in it happening, but timing and circumstances never seemed right.

Back then I always thought the documentary would be a simple and sweet “love letter” to my people.

I wasn’t aware early on of its impact and importance until I started interviewing CHamorus on my early short list and they saw the idea, vision and power of the concept before me.

I am no stranger to long-term photography and narrative documentation; it’s my preferred way of working. I love the fluid nature of honoring the documentary’s mission statement but also being open to critical feedback, serendipity and the refinements that it brings. It’s part of the magic that keeps my creative soul engaged and inspired.

I am after all just a curious conduit, as I tell them: It’s your story, your migration, your family, your life trajectories and your universal truths.

I am humbled by the time and the stories they shared with me.

I revel in the conversations, the talking story, the oddly familiar, shared island experiences and new found familial re-connections, and it’s even better when I am being fed.

I have eaten more CHamoru food this past year than I have the previous four years living in the San Francisco Bay Area.

As I look back and push forward, I find the documentary makes me believe in something bigger than myself, it initiates gratitude and fills me with a sense of life purpose.

Today “The Story Continues” is another crop of CHamoru portraits, the second 110 manaotao sanlagu. But we also look back at the story so far and some feedback from those we profiled and from readers.

‘Resonate for years’

“Truly, the credit goes to Manny for thinking of capturing the essence of who we are through our culture. And I told him his work, which is far from being finished, will resonate for years to come.” This was a message from Pete Gumataotao, whom we featured on Sept. 16, 2021, on a Father Duenas class of 1976 WhatsApp group chat.

“I was just talking to my two sons and I was telling them how these weekly stories can help heal both sides: those of us here in the states and the CHamorus back home. I think it would help them to understand our experiences and journey being away from home. It gives all of us a bigger picture of how we are all connected and for me it feels like we’re so more included,” said Lyn Aflague Arroyo, whom we featured on Sept. 23, 2021.

“I really enjoy these conversations. I need more of them in my life. Thank you for grounding Jay and I with these ideas and helping us explore the things that are ingrained into our DNA from those that came before us. It is these moments that will ensure our culture will be ingrained into those that will come after us,” said Jeremy Castro, whom we featured on Dec. 9, 2021.

“Love and admiration for my aunties and mother is a huge part of the foundation in my life. And since the feature, my heart is full. They expressed that they’re so very proud of me and honored that Jeremy and I lead the way for the family. They now constantly validate my contributions to the culture and remind me that we’re blessed to be a part of something so much bigger than ourselves,” said Jay Castro, whom we featured on Dec. 9, 2021.

‘It was a blessing’

“How I feel: embarrassed by the attention; grateful to you for telling my story; humbled that you thought I was worthy of having my story told; and proud that people relate to me. I am blown away by how many people related to Moana the way I do. I feel like the very essence of our spirit was caught in the story and that song,” said Melissa Leon Guerrero Do, whom we featured on Sept. 30, 2021.

“I feel so grateful and humbled. And inspired to continue exploring, researching, finding ways to connect to the culture and honor my family, my ancestors,” said Lisa Tenorio, whom we featured on Oct. 14, 2021.

“My family already reached out earlier this morning to say that they enjoyed reading the article. Most didn’t know the extent of my tribulations to get to where I am today and my perspective of ‘home.’ So thank you for making sense of what mattered and delivering professionally,” said Rod Taitano, whom we featured on Nov. 18, 2021.

“It made me appreciate my family more, especially during this pandemic, which has kept me from my family. Your article made me feel even more connected to homeland, to home culture, and family. It was a comfort during this prolonged time of separation due to the pandemic. It was a blessing,” said Mary Therese Perez Hattori, whom we featured on Sept. 30, 2021.

“It wasn’t difficult to share my adversities and practices with Manny, since I grew up with his sister Arlene and she is my best friend. His series is a testament to the multiplicities of his artistry and love for our people,” said Fran Nededog Lujan, whom we featured on Dec. 2, 2021.

‘An epic journey’

“Very proud to read the many stories of Chamorros succeeding in a variety of fields from business, art, education, etc. and bringing the CHamoru culture with them.” said Johnny Gogo, whom we featured on Oct. 7, 2021.

“As someone who spent most of my adult life away from Guam, the mahålang feeling is real and worth capturing among people from the Marianas. My sister, who has been in NYC since the ‘80s still tries to capture her CHamoru-Ness, even trying to pray in CHamoru. I relocated home in 2013 because my mom was slowing down and I wanted to spend time with her before she passed away. She died a year ago and I’m glad I was here. Your project will stir up many emotions, some we will not realize we’ve been feeling,” said Juan Flores of Agana Heights.

“We are all over the world, but our hearts are always home. This should be an epic journey for you. Safe travels!” said Jeff Castro Harris of Pennsylvania.

Yes, the journey is epic as I continue navigating maháhalang yan såsaonao (from root forms mahålang and saonao) — my longing and belonging. Telling a story about our people, one mahålang sanlagu CHamoru at a time.