Sunday, August 06, 2006

Why is the grass greener and the houses better painted on the military side of the fence?

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 governence 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.

(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 on Guam can never keep things as nice as the military can. Recently for example, as we were driving by Tiyan (a former Naval Air Base, but since the early 1990's returned to the Government of Guam, and in the past few years, some of the land has been returned to the original landowners), my grandfather 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...)

(To me, the "beauty" of militay 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 klasin 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 pre-war 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 Hagatna, 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 combarded with civilizing lessons and techniques of control. A few families encountered trouble with the Navy, having land stolen, being discrminated against, racism, fights with military, one family reported their house being demolished by the Navy for one of their members criticizing the Naval Governor at the time.

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 lies 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 and elsewhere, willing to die to prove it.

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 2003, I wrote an article, which was partially published in The Galaide, from the Guam Communications Network and can also be found on the Minagahet/Kopbla Amerika website (http://www.geocities.com/freeguahan/agululumi0). 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 crass, ridiculous 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, occassionally intentional occassionally 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 pre-war 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 depedent 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 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?

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, and I'm thinking about posting some of his writings on my blog, because they are one such voice which has almost completely been forgotten. In 1949 Farfan questioned a group of US dignitaries visiting Guam, about the political mis-treatment of Chamorros by the United States. For this question he was labelled by the delegation as a "communist."

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