Anthropology major Artemia Perez promotes cultural preservation through community service
On the top floor of the Guam Museum is a room full of artifacts from Guam’s recent and distant past — colorful art from local creatives, weathered photographs, indigenous tools. It is here that University of Guam senior Artemia Perez spends many of her afternoons, cataloging items as part of her internship for the anthropology program. She plugs in her headphones and sorts through ancient treasures imagining the stories they might hold.
“I’m just looking at these artifacts and touching real pieces of history. And I get to describe them and catalog them and keep them safe,” Perez said.
Currently, she is curating photographs from an album donated by the family of a World War II veteran who was stationed on Guam during the war.
“They just found it and mailed it to us with a note,” she said. “It said, ‘I think this is probably more beneficial to you than it is to me. It’s a piece of your history, so here it is.’ It has a bunch of scrapbook pages with really cool photos.” The photographs show villages, landscapes, soldiers and CHamorus from that era.
“It’s so beautiful,” she said. “I love the idea of all of these artifacts being in one place.”
What she likes most is that the museum tells CHamoru history through the perspective of CHamorus, shedding light on her island’s history and people.
Perez said her interest in CHamoru studies was sparked by a gender studies class she took as a freshman at the University of Guam. The class reading list included texts analyzing CHamoru legends and regional history. She said it was her first exposure to her heritage from an academic perspective.
“In high school, there’s no Guam history class, there’s no CHamoru language class. It’s really just U.S. history and U.S. government, that was the curriculum. So college became my opportunity to just learn more about our island and my culture and really invest myself in that,” she said.
UOG professors have encouraged Perez to explore the world from the CHamoru perspective.
“We talk about real-world issues and then relate them back to our island,” she said. “We are learning about the world but contextualizing it to Guam.”
Outside of the classroom, she has been able to explore her heritage further through membership in Mañe’lon Marianas — the UOG student organization working to sustain and spread CHamoru culture. Through the club Perez has met movers and shakers in the student and local communities working toward a common goal.
“Pursuing CHamoru studies only betters your experience at UOG because you learn more about the culture, the island, the people that you’re going to end up helping if you stay on Guam,” she said.
Perez is a recipient of the Merit Scholarship — a full-ride scholarship from the government of Guam awarded to the top performing students at Guam’s high schools. Thanks to the scholarship, she has been able to take advantage of many of the opportunities the University has to offer, including her internship at the museum.
Last year, she also participated in the Bali Field School, a two-week immersive program in Bali that is part of the Community Development course taught by Professor of Sociology Kirk D. Johnson. Her project on the trip involved exploring the effects of modernization on traditional cultural identity.
“It was about seeing a culture that’s very similar to ours in the way we experienced colonialism and our struggles today with keeping our own culture alive in a modern world,” she said.
Perez and her classmates stayed in a traditional homestay, living with a local family and immersing themselves in the culture. They met with community organizers focused on grassroots development and sustainable consumerism. The program also explored the concept of deep tourism, in which tourists travel off the beaten path to gain a deeper cultural understanding of the place they’re visiting.
When Perez and her classmates returned, they presented what they learned at the UOG Center for Island Sustainability’s annual Conference on Island Sustainability. Their zero-waste display detailed how Guam could similarly leverage deep tourism as a means to grow its tourism industry in a sustainable and culturally sensitive way.
The Bali Field School also inspired Perez to take action at home. After the program, Perez and her classmates volunteered with the Guam Preservation Trust creating trails in Santa Rita to transform the area into an attraction for deep tourism.
But they’re not stopping there. In her final year at UOG, Perez said she and her classmates are focusing on community service as a way to promote cultural preservation. “We want to help our community — that’s kind of our jam,” she said.
From volunteering at Harvest House to feeding the homeless during the holidays, they are committed to doing everything they can to better the community.
Through her experience at the University of Guam, Perez has come to understand that cultural preservation starts by strengthening and empowering the community and everyone within it.
Students interested in attending a future Bali Field School can contact Dr. Kirk D. Johnson at (671) 735-2856 or firstname.lastname@example.org.