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(Re)Enter the Guamanian

Guamanian is a term that has been used regularly since World War II, but has fell out of use for a time in Guam. It is only recently, during the terms of Governor Eddie Calvo, that we have entered a new “Guamanian era” and hear the term being revived. “Guamanian” has been used in varied ways for the past 80 years and so it can be confusing to unpack both the meaning and history of the term.

Since he began using the term in his campaign ads and his speeches I get regular queries as to whether or not Guamanian is something we should be using today, or whether it should be banished to the Ordot Dump of history along with terms like Ladrones, Indios and Marianos. My take on this particular topic is probably different than most, but here is the short version.

The term Guamanian is perfectly fine as something used for and by non-Chamorros. It is a term which can be used to articulate a different sort of connection beyond mere passport or ethnicity. Guam is home to many people who are not Chamorro and so the term can be used by them as a way of connecting themselves to an island that they have come to accept as their home. The problem is when Guamanian is used for Chamorros. This is where the term achieves a colonial aura and effect.

The term itself emerges out of the wreckage of WW II, where Chamorros lived a schizophrenic existence of feeling intensely loyal to the United States, but also seeing huge amounts land cordoned off and their human rights held in check for national security needs. It came out of the twin desires of 1: differentiating themselves from Chamorros in the Northern Marianas Islands (who had helped the Japanese occupy Guam), 2: paying tribute to the Americans who saved them in WWII. According to historians there were even informal votes held around the island, with a list of possible new names that Chamorros could choose from, to take them into the new postwar world. Guamanian was chosen because it was the most American sounding, the best way to commemorate their new lives as second-class citizens.

Guamanian was not the most accurate, most interesting or most fun choice. Chamorros could have chosen anything, but instead they wanted to pick the one which would be the easiest for Americans to pronounce and recognize. And so for decades “Guamanian” became the way that Chamorros would politically and ethnically represent themselves.

Eventually at some point 40 or 30 years ago depending on whom you ask, the term started to die out. It was replaced again with Chamorro and that brings us to today, where the only place you hear Guamanian actively used amongst Chamorros is when you visit a Guam club in the states. You can point to many reasons as to why the term Guamanian would have disappeared, but one that I find the most interesting is how it disappeared as a way of Chamorros regretting some of the Guamanian mistakes they had made in postwar Guam related to their language, culture and overall sovereignty.

The Guamanian was something initially forged in the fears of war. It was something which had seen the dangers of the world out there and had decided that Guam and Chamorros could only survive and prosper if they abandoned their culture and their language and instead became Americans. It was not becoming American in terms of equality but rather out of necessity. It was an American identity built not on fraternity or solidarity but rather dependency.

The Guamanian accomplished much in the short term, and Guam advanced greatly, but it could only go so far. It was a creature which existed to be dependent and to always cower in the shadow of the US. The Guamanian always looked to the US for answers, for money, always coveting whatever it saw the US as having and ferociously wanting that on Guam and that to be in its life. It saw Guam and most importantly the Chamorro as having little or having nothing and so everything American had to be brought in to fill the void.

Naturally, the Guamanian was not really built for sustaining a community. It was not built for the long term management of this island or culture. Eventually the Guamanian choices which had been made, shifted the island too far, and people began to feel the loss of something, which no amount of Federal money or the existence of Guam stamps or coins could overcome. They began to realize, that no matter how much you crave being American or prance around as if you are, you cannot sustain yourself for very long if you entire existence is built around feeling dependent upon another. This is especially so for an entire community. Taichalan hao anggen i chalan-mu mismo i chalan otro.

As a result, the Chamorro came back in hopes of somehow countering what had been done. The return of the Chamorro represents the ways in which Chamorros woke up from their dreams of Americanization, or decade’s long fantasy/nightmare that by simply doing everything the American way, they would all be richer and happier.

For Governor Calvo the term is an easy way of referring to Guamanians as just another form of multicultural Americans, but it has a tendency of erasing the native status of Chamorros and make Guam just one big melting pot.

For Chamorros, it is my opinion that we should continue to reject the term Guamanian as a remnant of an earlier, more colonized time. It is something which we can allow others to use, but have to be careful not to revive for ourselves, not only because of the unpleasant reminders, but because of the way we may be, for the sake of multicultural convenience, erasing ourselves.

Na'listo hao

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One thought on “(Re)Enter the Guamanian

  1. Growing up in California, kids would laugh at me was when i said i had family on Guam; always because they’d never heard of it, but also because the sound of its name was peculiar,even odd. I’ve certainly found it an ugly combination of the guttural preceding the open vowels that are then brought to a slam door ending with that no nonsense ‘m’. As a word without grace both in origins and usage its should be regarded as an outsider’s term and remnant of a passed time.

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