First Chamorro woman with Ph.D in mathematics gives lecture on embracing uniqueness
On Thursday night, as smells of empanadas, chicken keluguen—a traditional dish of the Chamorro, indigenous peoples of the Mariana islands— and shrimp fritters filled the air, UP students and members of Guam Club gathered in St. Mary’s to hear Rebecca Garcia’s story. Garcia is the first Chamorro woman to receive a Ph.D in mathematics, and she is a long-time friend and former student of the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, Herbert Medina. She was invited to speak as part of Diversity Dialogues.
Garcia was born and raised on the island of Guam in the village of Tamuning. Her talk covered embracing what makes you unique to how to make a positive difference in the world. She also discussed both the difficulty and the opportunities for Chamorro people in their lives as a minority outside of Guam and the Pacific Islands.
“One of the things that can be easy in this day and age is to call people racist for not knowing who you are, what you are,” Garcia said. “Just know that for the rest of your life, because you’re from Guam, you’re going to get a lot of questions. Don’t be annoyed by it. I don’t think it’s racist. It may be a little ignorant, but I think we should just embrace it and teach them.”
Garcia spoke about her academic journey from undergraduate classes at Loyola Marymount University to finishing her Ph.D in math from New Mexico State University while pregnant with her first daughter. Throughout her talk, she emphasized her pride in being Chamorro. Now a math professor at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas, Garcia said she uses the classroom as a way to share her culture with others.
“Because of our uniqueness we’re going to have something different to contribute to the world, and you have to believe that,” Garcia said. “I didn’t think so as an undergraduate. But you do have something different. Part of our culture is what we can share with the world. And there are beautiful parts of our culture that we can bring, not only to our everyday lives and our families, but to others. I don’t hide my Chamorro. I use that to connect.”
Junior Nathaniel Martinez, himself from Guam, said that he appreciated Garcia’s talk.
“It’s amazing that she’s using her platform to expose Guam because Guam is a very unknown island,” Martinez said.
Of the small group of attendees, the vast majority were Chamorro and from Guam. For junior and Guam native Charis Manibusan, Garcia’s story showed her an example of using one’s talents to give back to the world.
“I thought it was very inspiring considering we have to come so far out of Guam to get an education and pursue what we want to do,” Manibusan said. “Most of us when we graduate, we want to go home and bring our education and make a difference back home.”
Wes Cruse is a reporter for The Beacon. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.