This is part of Guam's reality as a heavily militarized space. Where the web of militarized connections extend out to even those who aren't directly connected to the US military presence, but nonetheless make them feel like the bases or the military is necessary for their existence, necessary for their to be order or property on the island. In colonial situations, there is often a generalized sort of discourse of this nature, that focuses on the civility of the colonizer in terms of providing that foundation for stability and eventual progress. In Guam however much of that discourse is dominated by the explicit military presence. Rather than people arguing that we need the US because we wouldn't be modern or we wouldn't be civilized if they weren't here, they argue that if the military wasn't here, we wouldn't be here. We would be speaking Japanese or we would have been wiped out by Japanese brutality in World War II. It is an interesting phenomena to say the least.
But the pervasiveness of any discourse ultimately means that its own dissolution nonetheless lurks around the edges. As with any powerful discourse, it's potency also bears potential seeds of its disintegration. The ways in which the military presence empowers and takes form, can also end up creating resistance and creating opposition. We have seen this most prominently in terms of tåno' and the way land has come to radicalize or give Chamorus a position from which to assert an oppositional identity to their most recent colonizer. But there are most possibilities than that, and that was more than anything, what I enjoyed about the Sindålu exhibit, was exploring the ways in which Chamoru experiences in the US military did not only lead to increased feelings of Americanization, but also deep critiques that in turn helped shape modes of resistance to Americanization and the American military presence from the 1990s up until today.
Below is a short excerpt from one of the articles I'm working on, a section titled "Veterans for Decolonization."
But this patriotism was heavily tainted with colonial narratives that preached Chamorro inferiority and American supremacy. Because of this Chamorros, even if they now had adopted a patriotic framework for their relationship to the US, did not see themselves as proper American subjects, but minor, limited American subjects. The feelings of gratitude for the US return in World War II that forged this patriotic connection also established a relationship in which Chamorros did not become an equal part of the US, but had now been included in the American circle of belonging, but remained beneath their white counterparts, and still feeling the need to prove themselves to be worthy of their new status. Military service was one of the key ways Chamorros attempted to prove their worth, but silence was another strategy as well. Although the passage of the Organic Act improved Guam life in a number of ways, it did not settle the basic questions Dr. Ramon Sablan had posed decades earlier. What was Guam in relation to the US and what as a result were Chamorros? The Organic Act provided the basis for a far more benevolent and cooperative relationship, but Guam remained a colony and the new system of self-governance was a mirage provided by an act of Congress. But during the 1950s and 1960s Chamorros in general, but primarily those who served in the US military grappled with these issues, but did not feel they could speak out against them and assert that their treatment or the treatment of their island was unfair or unjust. Regardless of any outward expressions of patriotism and loyalty, there remained a glaring contradiction in that the US would send men and women into war without the right to vote or the right to real democratic representation in the US government.
By the 1980s and 1990s, the time of the emergence of Nasion Chamoru and other Chamorro rights movements, this limited subjectivity had been challenged in a variety of ways. Chamorro veterans had found their voice, but it wasn’t simple or unified. It was not as simple as being pro-military or anti-military. It bore the complications of the previous century and of the present colonial moment and as such, the voices featured aspects of patriotic devotion, frustration with their treatment by the US government and also desires for decolonization.
In the early 1990s we can see these variations in not just the way veterans such as Angel Santos used their traumatic experiences in the US military as rationale for seeking to decolonize the island and becoming independent from the US. We can also see it in how at the same time other Chamorro veterans were vocally supporting a Commonwealth change for Guam’s political status. The Commonwealth movement for Guam lasted for 25 years and was built around enhancing Guam’s relationship to the US, where it was more defined and Guam would receive a greater degree of autonomy and control over local affairs, such as immigration (San Agustin 123). Commonwealth would ultimately fail in the halls of Congress in 1997.
While Angel Santos and his cohort was protesting in the streets for decolonization, other veterans were also making their own arguments for decolonization and supporting Commonwealth status as an important step towards righting historical wrongs. Whereas Nasion Chamoru couched their activism in suffering as indigenous people, deserving of their rights to self-determination, whereby their military service tended to be another form of injustice that they were fighting against, these other Chamorro veterans couched their service as the reason, as Americans, they deserved a different and improved political status for Guam.
Several dozen veterans in the early 1990s penned letters written to the US Congress and the United States in general making their position clear. Their experiences of sacrificing for the US military and also facing discrimination and hardship did not convince them to seek to leave the US, but in contrast to the silence of earlier generations, it did compel them to speak up and insist that the US reciprocate by living up to its supposed ideals of supporting liberty, democracy and freedom. This letter from Miguel Cruz, a Chamorro who served in the US Marine Corps makes this point.
I belong to a select group of Americans who served our great country during the time of need . . . However, as a Chamorro, I feel that my country has not yet fulfilled its commitment to me and my fellow islanders – the opportunity to enjoy the right of full self-government. A people willing to defend their freedom must be allowed to govern their own future for justice to truly prevail (1994).