SAN DIEGO COUNTY, Calif. — Their traditions are 4,000 years in the making.
Chamorros are the indigenous people of the Mariana Islands, with the majority of them living on Guam. “It's a beautiful culture,” said Danny Blas, a local leader in the Chamorro community. “It's a beautiful language and it's a beautiful way of living.”
Danny grew up on Guam, but then his family moved to Illinois. “Coming to Illinois, the only people I knew that were Chamorro were my brothers and sisters and mom and dad and my cousins that would come to visit,” he said. “So, I kind of lost my way.”
It's a common story with Chamorros. Through colonization and moves, the traditions started getting lost. But when Danny moved to San Diego for a job in 2002, he realized Southern California had the largest Chamorro population away from Guam, with nearly 20,000 Chamorros currently residing in San Diego County. “I landed in the right place to learn more about my culture.”
And while traditions started to fade, there was one thing Chamorro people never lost – their warm and inviting way of life. “The most friendly, most welcoming people that you will ever, ever meet,” Danny said with a big smile.
That welcoming spirit is seen at the annual Chamorro cultural festival, which Danny helped organize. The event, which takes place here in San Diego County, welcomes thousands of visitors with open arms. And, more importantly, encourages kids to learn about their culture, participate in native dances. “Through dance and through the arts, the performing arts, that's one great way to get our youth back into and embracing their culture and their language and so that's what we've been doing - is promoting those opportunities for our youth.”
It's also making sure traditions don't die, and Danny can see that it's working. “Here in San Diego, what I am sensing, and what I'm feeling, and what I'm seeing is kind of like these educational programs that Chamorros have been putting together are instilling pride in Chamorros and Guamanians throughout this area.”
WATCH RELATED: Flash mob of middle-aged women shine spotlight on Korean culture in San Diego:
That pride has adults longing for foods from their childhood, so things are really heating up for restaurants serving traditional Chamorro food. “This is the red rice with the Achiote seasoning, garlic, fresh onion,” said Ray Rodriguez stirring a big pot filled with love from his homeland.
Ray, the owner of JJ's Island Grindz in Bonita, is from Guam. His menu is filled with popular items from home. Chamorro restaurants saw a big rise around the county before the pandemic forced a few of them to close. It’s food that serves as a friendly reminder of great days on the island. “Cooking, barbecuing, everybody kicking back around the barbecue,” Ray said thinking about his time on the island. “Uncles with the guitars and ukuleles, and all that stuff - so that's just our culture.”
Danny set us up with Ray because food is so important in Chamorro tradition... bringing family together. “My mouth is watering now Steve!” Danny said with a laugh. “Every time I think about our cultural food, I just think great things!”
But Danny doesn't have a lot of time for thinking about food because he's already helping to plan the next Chamorro cultural festival in March of 2023. And he hopes you'll come out to learn about the rich history of his people. “It is welcoming, it is friendly, and it's loving.”