Hello, hafa adai, mabuhay, and ran annim! The list of standard greetings from Guam’s incoming 35th Legislature might do well to include Chuukese – now that Guam’s first senator of Chuukese descent has been elected to office.
Guam – It’s a season of firsts for the island’s elected government. Marking a return to Guam’s traditional matrilineal heritage—as an electorate celebrates its first maga haga or woman governor-elect, even its forthcoming first “first gentleman”, its first openly gay lieutenant governor-elect, and the first female-majority legislature poised to call session in the history of the United States of America.
Yet there’s another deeply meaningful first for Guam’s newly elected government.
Former Pacific News Center anchorman Clynt Ridgell has just been elected the territory’s first senator of Chuukese descent. His mother is from the Mortlock Islands of Chuuk State in the Carolines. And he deeply appreciates the Pacific Islands’ tradition of feminine power.
On election night, Nov. 6, PNC asked Ridgell how he felt about the female majority he’d likely be facing at the opening session of the 35th Guam Legislature in January.
PNC: This next legislature, it looks like there’ll be a female majority.”
RIDGELL: “Oh yes!”
PNC: “And how do you feel about that? You’re going to be outnumbered.”
RIDGELL: Oh, that’s awesome, that’s great, I mean, it’s the rise of the maga haga! And so people have heard about how in olden times, in ancient Chamorro society, you know, the women had a lot of power. The women were rulers, and that’s throughout Micronesia. That’s actually all of Micronesia, and even Polynesia, a matriarchal society and matrilineal society, where a lot of things are passed down through the mother’s line, and that’s throughout, across Micronesia, including on Guam in the ancient Chamorro days. So I think it’s only fitting to have a woman rise to that prominence again.
Clynt Ridgell’s ancestors are from present-day Chuuk. And Chuuk is among the Freely Associated States of the Western Pacific whose citizens enjoy technical assistance and migration rights to the US via their Compact of Free Association with America.
But FAS citizens’ struggle to balance their assimilation with cultural preservation when they settle in US Guam often subjects them to distress, ridicule, and shame when their way of living and period of adjustment clash with local mores—even into the second and third generations born into US citizenship right here on Guam.
“The people of the FAS and FSM descent have not had a voice in the local government, but they are part—we are a part—of the community,” Ridgell told PNC News First’s election-season sister program, Coffee with the Candidates before the general election.
FAS migrants have deeply enriched Guam with their commitment to hard work and advancing their education — their presence forever reminding their Chamorro brothers and sisters of a shared seafaring tradition and deep connections to nature and tribalism.
But those FAS migrants who fall through the cracks and wind up dependent on federal assistance or substances, or who become prone to lives of violence and crime must bear the magnification of their purported sins in the eyes of those grown intolerant of migrants who are stereotyped as more a burden than a boon to society — at a time when so many US citizens are still living paycheck to paycheck on US Guam. Misguided prejudice may be part of what makes Ridgell’s ascendency so timely.
“What’s important to me is bringing everyone together,” Ridgell told Coffee. “I want to be a bridge between the Chuukese community, the FSM community and the FAS community and the Chamorro community, or the rest of the community on Guam.
“United we are stronger, and if we’re a united community that comes together, and works together, I believe we can solve the problems here on island if we work together. As long as we’re divided, there’s less probability of solving these problems.”