I was born and raised in the Midwest United States. A far west suburb of Chicago, to be exact. But since I have lived most of my life here on this beautiful emerald gem in the western Pacific Ocean, I am a Guamanian. And since my husband and children are CHamoru, one of my mother-in-law’s late friends once told me I am CHamoru by… Well, let’s just call me a CHamaole.
Thank God. Because I have to say if you are from the mainland United States these days — especially if you are a white person who is creating a ruckus about not wanting to wear a mask because it infringes on your “rights” or your “choice,” or you say you can’t breathe with a mask on, whatever— how embarrassing. I am literally måmåhlao to tell people from where I originated these days.
I’ve seen way too many news stories, articles, and of course those ubiquitous “Karen” videos on Facebook about (mostly) white people going ballistic because they are tired of being told to wear a mask to protect themselves and others from the spread of Covid-19.
Forget about the fact that most health experts, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health and a career civil servant, tell us that wearing a mask is one of the most important things you can do to protect yourself and others from the spread of this virus. Forget about the fact that most of them say that because this particular viral strain is brand new to humans, that we don’t even know what we don’t know about it yet. These scientists are literally writing this pandemic playbook day by day.
So why would you not wear a mask? The only answer I can think of is that you are just not cool. My children think my use of the word “cool” is outdated. They say “chill.” But I am a child of the 70s, back when things were cool. So, cool it is.
On Guam, everyone wears a mask out in public, or into a grocery store, hardware store, clothing store, wherever. We are actually used to seeing people masked up because our friends and tourists from Asian countries have worn masks on planes and out in public for decades. That’s right. They got the memo a long time ago that masks help stop the spread of many illnesses: the common cold, flu, upper respiratory infections, etc., and now Covid-19. I haven’t come across one person here who has refused to wear a mask, or thrown a hissy fit in a store because they are tired of wearing a mask and think it infringes upon their (again mostly white) privileged life.
So let’s face it: as a whole, the people of Guam are way more “chill” (Are you happy, girls?) than people in the mainland. We are generally nicer to strangers. Rudeness is not our first go-to behavior when we encounter someone new. And we have a built-in cultural respect for our manam’ko - our elderly. We want them around, because we love our nanas and papas and aunties and uncles. Also, they give good advice because they are generally very wise, having lived longer and seen more than the rest of us.
My favorite “wear the damn mask” meme is the cartoon about the two naked guys, where it shows one guy urinating on the other because neither is wearing any clothes. But if the one man is wearing pants and the naked guy urinates on the one wearing pants, only some of the urine gets onto the skin of the one wearing pants. If both guys wear pants, the urine from the one urinating will just run down the inside of his pants, because he is wearing them. Thus protecting both men from the spread of the urine. It’s definitely an attention-getting analogy.
It’s also not rocket science. So those of you in the mainland who are still, for some unknown, warped, possibly bad presidential example reason not wearing masks, I have a message for you: Be like us— the people of Guam. Wear your mask. Help stop the spread of the virus. Wear a mask even if you don’t think the virus is real (it is).
We wear masks. Because we are cool.
Jayne Flores is the director of the Bureau of Women’s Affairs and a long-time journalist. Contact her at email@example.com.