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Digging the CHamoru identity

Dakota Camacho

By Johanna Salinas

Chamorro artist Dakota Camacho’s latest project, “Buried Beneath: Bombs & Lattes” is a melodrama, pieced together with Dr. Evelyn Flores and University of Guam drama students. The successful show played at the UOG Theatre from March 7 to 9 had nightly standing ovations.

“It was a beautiful process the whole collaboration with UOG students. I want to thank Troy McVey for his support and his insight that a queer CHamoru story at the theater would be helpful, useful and inspiring to the community,” said Camacho.

“Working with these students, I could see how important it is to have representation of queer CHamoru stories. It’s quite meaningful to have a specifically CHamoru way of working in the theater. I appreciate everything that the students brought to the work, their dedication, their insight, their power" Camacho said.

Like Flores’s “To Hanom-Mami, i Nana-ta," Camacho uses his art to promote CHamoru culture and identity.

“In terms of how CHamoru culture plays a role in my work, CHamoru spirituality and culture inform the way I work," he said.

Every rehearsal opened and closed with a prayer and acknowledgment of Chamoru ancestors.

“The work is all about my experience as a CHamoru person. Even growing up in the diaspora, our culture was very important to me because my nana is a techa, my papa organized the community to do fishing and other types of sustenance and living activities," he said.

"That was really informative for me as a young person and part of why I work in it explicitly in a CHamoru way, even in terms of the incorporation of chant in the word the fact that the story is not necessarily linear, but it's circular. It begins in this ancestral realm and moves through it and back. I believe that our culture is a medicine that we need. Our culture is the healing that we need for our people. It’s from this tradition of being storytellers, of being ma’lie, of being poets and oral historians that is what grounds me as an artist.”

Camacho sees great potential in “Buried Beneath: Bombs & Latte.”

“This show could’ve been documented a little bit better because it's possible this work could really tour. If we had a bigger budget, more time and more resources, we would just keep advancing the level that we could go to, more advanced lighting design,” he said.


Camacho also wishes the students could be paid for their work on stage and behind the scene.

"We don't have an artist union. We often see our artists get taken advantage of and asked to do things for free," he said, lamenting that "there's not enough people who see art as real labor that has a positive impact on our society," he said.

"If we’d been able to pay the artists on stage and those behind the scenes then I would’ve. We would have gotten feedback throughout the process from people who are organizing around these issues. And be able to pay them for that too.”

While Flores’s piece was a call to protect Guam’s water, Camacho’s piece was an exploration of CHamoru identity through music. Both works incorporated CHamoru chanting. Camacho had traces of hip hop in his story.

“The tradition of hip hop that I come from honors the ancestors of the art form,” he said. “We honor the art form as a sacred culture that extends back into the griots of West Africa, who were kidnapped and human trafficked to this place called Turtle Island. They brought their culture and traditions. This impacted and changed the lives of many indigenous peoples."

"It's an honor for me to be in connection and relationship to this art form and have it part of my experience as someone born and raised in Salish, Seattle South End.”

Learning traditional chants has helped Camacho practice CHamoru as a language learner.

 “As a cultural practitioner, I think it's important to be grounded in and perpetuate the traditions of our place, of our ancestors,” he said.

“Those types of techniques in terms of CHamoru chant have no real set foundation that we've discovered and reactivated as a people. In terms of my understanding of hip hop, there isn't that at a standard level for CHamoru chant," Camacho said

"There's been questions that people rightfully have about cultural appropriation. How do we create a regionally based localized expression of CHamorro chant as expressed by our ancestors? How do you listen to the sound of the land and the ocean? How do you listen to spirits and open yourself up so that they can trust you with their sound? Those are the questions that are important for us to ask. I don't have as much experience or knowledge. We're in the process of making it.”

Camacho hopes to release new music later this year on his Spotify, Apple Music and Bandcamp. He has been collaborating with CHamoru chanter Jeremy Cepeda on his new work.


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