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‘RACIST’ COMMENTS OVER CHAMARRO RAISE HACKLES Guam congresswoman Bordallo outraged

By Therese Hart HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Marianas Variety, Nov. 11, 2010) – What started off as a conversation in a local restaurant has reached Washington, D.C., and Congresswoman Madeleine Z. Bordallo wants an explanation to certain seemingly racist comments that Joint Guam Program Office director of communications for Washington D.C. and Guam Paula Conhain made.

But Conhain said portions of the conversation were taken out of context and she had since apologized for any offense that was taken.

Bordallo, who is in Washington, said she’s disturbed over the incident and had since sought a meeting with the Joint Guam Program Office in the nation’s capital.

"If the reports about the comments are accurate, it shows a lack of understanding about our culture and disrespect to our people. I have requested a meeting with officials in the Joint Guam Program Office in Washington to receive a full accounting of this matter," said the congresswoman who will be meeting with JGPO Executive Director Joe Ludovici

Cara Flores-Mays, a member of the anti-military buildup group We Are Guahan, said she overheard Conhain making remarks about a ‘manamko’ (elderly) while having lunch with Lt. Col. Aisha Bakkar of the Marine Force Pacific Public Affairs Office and Lee Webber, former Pacific Daily News publisher, who was a Marine colonel.

"Paula Conhain was making fun of an older Chamorro gentleman for his accent, his University of Guam degree and for missing teeth," said Flores-Mays.

"I was most disgusted by the last piece of the conversation that I overheard where this group laughed at an older Chamorro man who wasn’t present. They made fun of the number of teeth he had left, the way he speaks (his accent, I’m assuming) and his university level education which they obviously didn’t respect. Although not everyone in the group participated in this part of the conversation, no one stopped it," she added.

Flores-Mays publicly announced what she overhead through a letter to the editor that the Variety published on Nov. 5.

Bakkar wrote via Facebook: "Unfortunately Cara is correct about the comments made by individuals from off-island eating with me. This demonstrates how much disrespectful comments, regardless of the context in which they were made, can be used to undermine any sincere efforts to reach out and communicate to the people of Guam."

Bakkar also wrote that she had spoken to Speaker Judi Won Pat about the situation, "and I know she feels betrayed...and that makes my heart hurt. I hope she and you all have not lost faith in me."

Speaker Won Pat said yesterday that she had placed her trust in Bakkar and after hearing about the conversation, she felt hurt and betrayed.

Won Pat said that before she met Bakkar, she heard a lot of good things, and during Bakkar’s promotional exercise, she was touched when Bakkar attempted to speak in Chamorro.

"When she tried to speak Chamorro, she touched my heart. I felt that this woman had some kind of connection to us; she had this kindred spirit with the Chamorros’ and I believe that she was a Chamorro in her past life."

With the whole military buildup, Won Pat said there hasn’t been enough concern about the issues facing Guam residents.

Dededo Mayor Melissa Savares said since the incident, she has spoken to Bakkar, who told her "not to worry. Aisha assured me, and I did share it with the mayors, that she will protect us."

About 80 percent of Dededo will be affected during the buildup.

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