Tuesday, August 15, 2006

From "Invasion of Guam" to "Liberation of Guam"

I wrote a week ago briefly about Jose Camacho Farfan.

He was truly an interesting person in Guam's history, but sadly one which has been largely forgotten as a larger than life figure in Guam's history. 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 Chriz 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 pre-war 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.

To repeat the sad story, Farfan dared to question a group of visiting American dignitaries on the lack of rights and equality for Chamorros, and was vicously smeared for speaking up, by being called a "communist."

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 "troublemaking" 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.

One of the main reasons for this can be found in the following comic strip, which has obviously allusions to Liberation Day:










But furthermore, any position which positions itself as balanced in the sense of impartial or disinterested is most likely the most active possible positions. Me and i che'lu-hu Si Kuri were discussing this a few days ago in the context of patriotism on Guam. I was talking to Kuri about my master's thesis and my discussion about Chamorro patriotism and I guess what you would call a critique of those who provide indigenous explainations for why such excited and gushing outbursts of devotion to the United States exist.

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. 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.

While I recognize the important truth in this position ya hu tatangga todu tiempo na magahet 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.

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 American 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 "Kaluko" Cruz during the whole Marine Drive renaming mess. 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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