Chamorro Studies has only existed as a program for a short while, but its existence is questioned all the time. During the Chamorro Experience gi Fino’ Chamorro lecture series one elderly Chamorro man asked me flat out, why people should learn to speak Chamorro when the language is clearly on its way out? During the Chamorro Studies launch event, a middle aged Chamorro women asked why a degree in Chamorro Studies should exist when it cannot help you in life. this despite the fact that she had just sat through a panel presentation explaining how it can help you through life. It is interesting because very few students have made these sorts of comments, in fact despite the short existence of the Chamorro Studies program it already has more than 20 majors and minors. On the launch event we held in October of 2013, we signed up 7 majors and 7 minors in a single day. Over the Christmas break in 2014 we signed up more than 10 more. Although it is easy to lose track sometimes, we probably have around 30 majors now.
But for the older generation it is difficult for them to get by the barriers of the past. Those barriers were created by colonization and later on Chamorros themselves came to decorate those barriers and be sentries to defend them. When Chamorros wanted to start creating dances a generation ago in “native” styles and forms, Chamorros gathered to defend that barrier and continue to deprive Chamorros a feeling of sovereignty over their culture and existence. When Chamorros attempt to revive certain customs or bring to life ideas of long ago, they camp out in front of those colonial barriers like scarecrows preventing attempts at decolonization and mocking those who even try.
Colonization creates a place for the colonized and decolonization is challenging that place.
The Chamorro Studies program is the result of so many movements within the University of Guam, within academia in general, within the Government of Guam, within the wider Chamorro community to collect and build upon those shreds of sovereignty. To try to piece them together to create a Chamorro who is not the pathetic caricature of the past. It is a project that can take place on so many levels, but it is a worthwhile one.
The last person who asked me about why Chamorro Studies is important I gave the following answer.
I asked if he knew about the massacres in Malesso that took place during I Tiempon Chapones.
He said of course, almost insulted that I would ask him such a simple and easy question.
So, as we look back in history, what can we learn from those massacres.
He responded, that the Chamorro people suffered greatly during World War II and that the Japanese victimized them and really punished them. In his answer, he interpreted things the way most do, with Chamorros as victims.
I built upon his answer. This is why, in a sense, Guam has developed the way it has. When we look at our history, the history we accept as ours, we see this victimization and we can see why Liberation Day became a celebration of the United States and how it had saved Chamorros.
This led to some back and forth about how Liberation Day doesn’t have to be about the Americans, Chamorros also celebrate themselves on that day. I agreed that more recently the day has had less and less to do with its historical roots and more about community celebration, representation and marketing.
The problem however is that this history we accept as ours is barely ours. It is a poor testament to the experiences of Chamorros then and poor history to chain ourselves to today.
This led to more back and forth about how I was being disrespectful about those who survived the war and how they would never criticize the United States. I deflected this however by asking the man if he knew what the first Liberation Day celebration was like. He wasn’t alive at the time and guessed there was a parade and some troops marching.
I told him no, the first parade accurately expressed the feelings of Chamorros at that time. It was incredibly Catholic and religious. Santa Maria Kamalen was carried at the front of a procession. All the patriotic stuff came later and came about primarily because of certain groups of elite Chamorros who wished to perform a certain relationship to the United States.
The man was flustered, as most people become when they attempt to take stands on things that they don’t actually know much about and their amount of knowledge has just been proven wanting. He wanted to know what all of this had to do with Chamorro Studies.
I returned to the start of the discussion. I asked him again, how many massacres were there in Malesso during the war. He repeated in an irritating way, “two, Tinta and Faha.”
I said, “Wrong. There were three.”
Generally in conversations depending on your level of ideological commitment, you can only have the discursive floor beneath you pulled away so many times because you just have to admit you can’t stand on the basis of your own knowledge anymore. The more ideologically encased build up their own elaborate defenses to keep that from ever happening, but your average person generally isn’t that invested and can be toppled pretty easily.
“Tinta and Faha are the ones that people remember and commemorate because it fits within the idea that the United States saved the Chamorro people, that is why it historically has been given so much attention beyond just the people of Malesso commemorating the loss of their relatives and neighbors. But third massacre is the one that changes everything and should change the way that we think about our past and ourselves.”
The third massacre took place at Atate, except it wasn’t Chamorros who were killed, it was Japanese. Some men of Malesso, under the leadership of Jose Soriano Reyes, known as Tongko, rose up and killed the Japanese guarding them and then took canoes out into the ocean to try to signal the American ships and let them know what was happening on the island.
This story changes everything because this means that Liberation Day actually starts with Chamorros, the people of Malesso who liberated themselves prior to the Ameicans reoccupying the island.”
For the past year I have been assisting one of the men who fought the Japanese, Jose Mata Torres with the publication of his memoirs, “The Massacre at Atate.” Torres was a young man at the time who and wasn’t a main organizer for the attack but he said that he had never felt more inspired or exciting in his life, than to see the men from his village rise up and in order to defend their families and their lives, face off against their violent occupiers. On February 24th at 6:30 in the CLASS Lecture Hall at UOG, the book “Massacre at Atate” is being released. There will be a reading by Jose Torres and then a panel discussion afterwards. Please come and join us for this important step for Chamorro Studies, but also just the remembering of Chamorro history and in turn Chamorro possibility.