decolonization / estoria / kuttura / militat

Rethinking July 21st

Several years ago when I first began what I refer to as my “information activism” there was a Chamorro living in the states who would often email me and respond to the things I would in my zine Minagahet.

One of his statements which stayed with me and profoundly influenced the thesis in Micronesian Studies that I was writing at the time, dealt with the patriotism of our elders.

In one piece I wrote about the colonial nature of the American rule of Guam prior to World War II. The wife of a Naval Governor referred to this period from 1898-1941 as a “dictatorship American style,” making the autocratic rule over Chamorro lands and lives by the US Navy sound like some 1970’s variety show. The list of injustices against Chamorros of this time are many, albeit banal, and therefore often forgotten or excused.
Chamorros were kept almost completely out of the governance of their island, yet subject to all the mandates of the US Navy. The health and bodies of Chamorros were controlled, especially in schools and hospitals, the tongues they could speak, the layout and make up of their yards, the lengths of their skirts, the types of plants and animals they could have. Guam during this period was run like a military base. It is for this reason that I sometimes refer to i tiempo antes di gera guini giya Guahan, as the “USS Guam Period.”

Otro fino’-ta, if you consider the impact this type of controlled life would have on Chamorros, it explains alot of the annoying complaints about how civilians on Guam and Government of Guam can never keep things as nice as the military can. For years, I experienced a form of colonizing dejavu each time I would drive through the area known as Tiyan (formerly the base NAS Agana), which had been returned to the Government of Guam in the 1990’s. In the years since, Chamorros, including my late grandfather Joaquin Flores Lujan, upon seeing many of the rundown former military housing, with paint chipping away, mold, tall kala’u na cha’guan, remarked about how beautiful Tiyan once was, when the military had it, but once they returned it to the Government of Guam, it becomes like this…

Para Guahu, the “beauty” of military bases, and their neat and tidy yards and glimmering houses, holds no sway. I kustumbre-ku kalang babui, pues taya’ minalago’-hu para ayu na klasen ginasgas. But for grandpa, who had grown up into the restrictions of the US Navy on Guam, the appropriate matrix of cleanliness and value was clear. To keep things ridiculously sparkling and clean, even up to the point of wasting huge amounts of money on it and not to mention water and other resources, was incredibly important. For those looking for answers as to why people are the way they are on Guam today, this fact is key to the ways we live and breathe militarization daily, even if we aren’t in the military.

Returning to my initial point, life in a “dictatorship American style” was for the most part tolerable, because the Department of Defense (just like the Spanish Government before them) never truly put any significant amount of funds for development into Guam, to force any massive change. So in prewar Guam, you could go most of your life without seeing an Marine or a sailor, except for when you entered into the two centers of US military power on Guam, Sumai and Hagåtña, or if you entered what I refer to as “spheres of Naval influence” or zones such as schools, hospitals, public offices where you would be persistently bombarded with civilizing lessons and techniques of control. A few families encountered trouble with the Navy, having land stolen, being discriminated against, racism, fights with military, one family reported their house being demolished by the Navy for one of their members criticizing the Naval Governor of the day.

It was these methods of surveillance and control combined with the blistering hypocrisy of the Navy (preaching freedom and democracy, lao taya’ giya Guahan…), that kept most Chamorros from believing the civilizing dinagi siha of the US.

The war would of course, as I’ve written many many times, would change all of that, transforming a people who, save for a few Chamorro elites, could care less about being “American” into people who were desperate to be American and in Vietnam, Korea, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, willing to die to prove it. Ha gof tulaika hit. Buente manlinemlem i mañainå-ta, anggen ma li’e’ hit på’go.

The Chamorro that I mentioned thought my litany of Naval sins was insane, and his weak commonsensical counter-reasoning contained the standard point, the liberation of Guam. According to this Chamorro, if things were so bad under the Navy, why don’t Chamorros talk about it? Furthermore, all the Chamorros who lived during that time, are incredibly patriotic, and speak nothing bad about the military, but only good, for helping Chamorros, in particular for liberating them in 1944.

The simplicity of this point, is one of its most frustrating problems. In my research I found so much rage against the United States, whether in writings, articles, interviews, so many people upset and angry at the way Chamorros have been treated. The problem always seemed to be though, bringing that disaffection out, talking to people about it, sharing it. Most manamko’ would list their gripes against the military, present and historical, but then ask me not to tell anyone what they had said. In one of my most memorable and saddening exchanges of this nature, one Chamorro elder used the term ti sanganiyon or not able to be told, as a way of describing her anger or frustration towards the United States, that given how patriotic Chamorros had suddenly become, she had no outlet to express.

In 2003, I wrote an article titled Nihi ta Fanagululumi: Inferiority and Activism Amongst Chamorros on Guam, which was partially published in The Galaide, from the Guam Communications Network and can also be found on the Minagahet/Kopbla Amerika website. The article tackled this problem, the idea that there is no critical consciousness amongst Chamorros, or that there is no legacy of disaffection or disgust with the United States. My lens for doing this was by discussing the legacy of Chamorro activists throughout history.

It is truly depressing the type of filter that World War II and the often times bland, photocopies and uncritical patriotism that emerges from the war as the most natural expression of a Chamorro, creates in terms of our history and what we value from the past and what we see as important for navigating the future. Following the war, through complex, occasionally intentional, occasionally unconscious processes, the gloriously uplifting things about the United States and its military become public knowledge and common sense (liberators, civilizers, keepers of order and justice). On the other hand that which casts the US in a more colonial and less benevolent light, is to be cast on the cutting room floor of history.

So, the way things are supposed to work now is that the US should be remembered as the beacon of democracy who valiantly brought it with them to Guam and shared its wonders with us (positive). We are not therefore to remember how in 1899 the United States revoked the indigenous democracy which had formed itself in response to the power vacuum left by the removal of the Spanish and the indifference of the Americans. Nor are we to remember the tokenist and empty democratic gestures that characterized the prewar and immediate post war years, where Congresses were created for Chamorros which basically had no actual power (negative).

In the whole of Guam history over the past 100 plus years, we find enough historical material for your average Chamorro to either love or loathe the United States. The coconut Chamorro whom I mentioned, weakly attempts to show that I have gotten reality wrong, that because his elders have never spoken a word of hatred for the United States, my history is inaccurate. He is incorrect however, because he cannot actually question my sources, he can only call me wrong, because my points don’t reflect the levithan which has become reality, the common sense frameworks of meaning/history/identity which make the Chamorro a constantly pathetic dependent American in waiting.

For example, if the grandchild of a Chamorro who participated in the Guam Congress Walk-Out in 1949 does not know that his ancestor spoke out and acted out against the United States, does that mean that it never happened? I have encountered so many grandchildren and great-grandchildren of these brave solons, and few of them had an inkling of this act by their ancestors. The same goes for Chamorros who protested or went on strike after World War II, demanding better wages and an end to the Navy’s policies of discrimination. Do the children of these men have any idea about these actions? Do they know that men and women, including my grandfather were then targeted by the US Navy for surveillance or whisper campaigns meant to discredit them and their critical thoughts? Even if they do know this, can they understand it in that historical context or do they simply dismiss it as Manåmko’ trivia?

The injustice happens, it is felt, it creates a wound, it is remembered by those who cannot deny it and cannot forget it, but what is to be done with it beyond these few? What can be done with it, when the world around you seems to be built upon it remaining unspoken? These acts helped shaped the world that Guam is now, yet why is it that they are passed down in timid and often whispered ways?

History is a process which we take part in making at every single moment, most especially in our inaction, in our self-censorship, in our anticipation of our statements and ideas being rejected and the pragmatic silence that follows. Following the war, as the voices of those closest to the United States rose to deafening levels, the voices of those who didn’t care about the United States or did not trust or like the United States were forced into silence.

Sometimes, such as in the case of Jose Camacho Farfan they were threatened into silence, but most of the time, Chamorros chose to silence themselves, to sungon ha’, sa’ i mesngon u manggana’.

The case of Jose Camacho Farfan is an interesting one, because he is one such voice which has almost completely been forgotten. In 1949 Farfan questioned a group of US dignitaries visiting Guam, about the political mistreatment of Chamorros by the United States. For this question he was labelled by the delegation as a “communist.”

He was truly an interesting person in Guam’s history, but sadly one which has been largely forgotten despite the critical thoughts and comments he made during his life. I was first introduced to him in an article from the Guam Daily News in the 1970’s, which discussed his meticulous note-taking about historical events and village happenings. Later I found an article, pieces of which I will share today, that he wrote for the Guam Tribune insert Panorama, published in the 1980’s under the editorship of Chris Perez Howard.

In his article titled “Guam Notes and Remembrances of Wartime” Farfan provides one of the most clearest and well balanced accounts of the prewar and war periods on Guam. When I say clear and well-balanced, I mean that the ridiculous patriotism that often fogs the lens of everyday history in Guam is largely absent. This does not mean that Farfan is a raging anti-American communist, although this is precisely what he was labelled in postwar Guam.

After arriving at this theoretical point, we encounter an interesting paradox. Any clear and balanced re-telling or interpretation of the history of Guam over the past century, will most likely be labelled as “anti-American” or “trouble-making” by the majority of the people on Guam. Why? Because any balanced account of the last century will put the conduct of the United States into a very poor light, making its status as a colonizer undeniable and unable to be covered up by any number of welfare checks or the addition of Guam to the North American Numbering System.

But furthermore, any position which positions itself as balanced in the sense of impartial or disinterested is most likely the most active possible positions. This is something that always comes up however, as Chamorro identity, in nearly all forms, even those that are explicitly cultural or tied to Ancient cosmologies, are nonetheless cruelly entangled in American articulations and contexts.

In my master’s thesis defense in Micronesian Studies, this very issue came up between me and Robert Underwood, whose work I did not directly critique in my thesis, but whose work my thesis nonetheless constantly brushed up against and utilized several dozen times. This is a common sort of dynamic for Chamorro scholars today, as Underwood was and continues to be such a strong critical and political presence in the conversation. One of my students joked to me recently, that they will quote me one day, with the frequency with which I quote Robert Underwood. Puede ha’ mohon.
In his seminal article “Red, Whitewash and Blue: Painting Over the Chamorro Experience,” Underwood discusses how the expressions of uber-patriotism that take place on Marine Drive each July, where Chamorros appear to be patriotic beyond belief, aren’t really celebrations of America and its greatness, but really celebrations of the Chamorro, and its endurance, its survival. Underwood made a strong argument in a historical context, about Chamorros using American symbols to celebrate themselves, but the meaning and implications when we look today, when Chamorros erase themselves, their history, their culture and their language, by invoking those very same symbols.

While I recognize the important truth in this position ya hu tatangga todu tiempo na magåhet este, based on what I deemed important in my master’s thesis, political engagement and activism working towards the decolonization of Guam, it was meaningless to me what these Chamorros were celebrating. The division between their thoughts and actions, their inwardly indigenous celebration combined with their outwardly pro-American spectacle created a balance, a middle ground, through which political engagement was irrelevant, since the position itself, becomes the post-ideological award. This middle ground that the Chamorro persists in, rational to the core and therefore not fooled by the rhetoric of liberation that the United States trots out each year, may have the game figured out, but is politically useless if this realization is to be the end result of one’s analysis or of one’s actions.

This middle position, this position of balance is already skewed far on behalf of the United States despite its obvious passivity. To act only in your head, to figure things out there alone is just fine with the United States, its military and the Federales. They win this battle of Guam’s exploitation by our inaction, by our inward enjoyment. To wrap this up very simply, whether or not the Chamorro waving the American flag truly believes or loves the United States is irrelevant to me, what matters is what that consciousness does and moves. If it becomes nothing but a source of secret indigenous enjoyment, and its own end, then it is not resistance and it is nothing to celebrate.

What is always missed in discussions on Guam, that involve our connection to the United States, its political, its strategic, its socio-cultural or its emotionational content, is that our patriotism and our loyalty to the United States is barely a factor in this equation. We may think the world of the United States, and treat our connection to it as the most important thing in the world, but that is not how the United States, at nearly every single possible level sees Guam. Their primary interest in Guam, is its military importance, and it currently gets this whether people on Guam truly love the flags they are waving or not.

Returning again to Tun Farfan, his article that I will share with you is definitely of the first balanced forms. The rhetoric of American civilizing did not sway this particular bihu, as he very clearly points out the flaws in American rule on Guam and their colonial character. As he states in his article under a section titled “Invasion,”

Guam was invaded on 10 December 1941 by the Japanese, the third nation to violate the sovereign rights of the Guamanian people. The Spaniards were the first and the Americans the second.

Similarly, the war is not whitewashed and America not cleansed of all its sins, as it is for most Chamorros. Instead Farfan recounts the sins of the Americans just as clearly as he accounts the sins of the Japanese. He provides in a section titled “Manifestation of Loyalty” one of the many moments which have almost been expelled from Guam/Chamorro history, this particular instance being the retaliation against Chamorro sailors on Guam who in 1941 had petitioned the Naval Governor of Guam for the opportunity to support the United States in other locales and in other forms then merely serving on Guam. For this expression of loyalty from more than a hundred sailors who were paid less than their white counterparts and considered an inferior form of human life by US law, the Chamorros were actually punished for submitted this petition of overzealous loyalty. Here is an excerpt from Farfan’s article:

“On 3 March 1941 most Guamanians were prompted with a desire to serve beyond Guam in the war efforts, 128 members of the “Irregular” Navy petitioned the Governor-Commandant, volunteering to be transferred anywhere in the event of war. Instead of praise of their action, they were black-listed for violating Section 65 of the Naval Courts and Boards…Some of the leaders and instigators were punished by reducing their proficiency rating in seamanship, mechanical ability, ability as leader of men and conduct. In retaliation, since Navy Yard Piti had the maximum members of Insulars signing the petition, their work routine was drastically changed…When the Japanese invaded Guam the work routine was intolerable, much worst. This generation of men were not old enough to taste the Spanish lashes so evaluation analysis could not determine which was more severe. The right to petition was 768 years old, as old as the Great Charter of Liberties, the Magna Carta. The U.S. Congress had no power to curtail people from petitioning the government for a redress of grievance…”

What Farfan creates through his text is that position which is constantly lost on Guam, but always sought to be remade and maintained by those such as myself, the position of the Chamorro, politically independent.

When a number of Chamorros and non-Chamorros of the patriotic persuasion read an article such as Farfan’s or even some of mine, their most common response to this sort of gentle critique of the United States is as follows, “Would you rather be under the Japanese?”

(One of my most common responses to this vapid and pointless point is, “Sure, they were much much better at economic development in Micronesia than the US was.”)

What should be obvious to anyone who takes this ultimatum seriously is that it assumes that regardless of the time, history or circumstances, the Chamorro must be ruled by someone! That the Chamorro must be under the authority of someone, never standing on its own!

That is the simple beauty of Farfan’s position, is that the Chamorro he represents and the Chamorro he writes from, the history he creates through his writing, is a Chamorro who stands between empires, and who sees them not as liberators but as they are, as they have treated us for so long, whether it be Spain, Japan or the United States, as empires, as colonizers.

The history that Farfan represents is such a crucial one for the future of Guam, and one which must not be hidden or renounced. It is a history which produces a Chamorro who can see through the rhetoric of liberation. I am reminded here of a letter to the PDN editor from Brandon formerly known as “Kaluko” Cruz during the whole Marine Drive renaming mess in 2004. In his letter Cruz tells us readers that he has a copy of a photo from World War II with Marines on the beaches of Guam holding up a sign that says “Invasion of Guam.” His response to this sight was a casual but obvious, “Doesn’t that sound awkward to you? I mean if they liberated us, then they should say “liberating of Guam?”

From the history that Farfan proposes, the truth “Invasion of Guam” remains, and is not reformulated and reworked to become “Liberation of Guam.” The crass strategic intentions of the United States military remain in the history of Guam and are not replaced patriotically with rhetoric of care and concern and desire for liberating loyal Chamorros which cannot be found anywhere in any military planning documents from the day.


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