Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The Liberators Who Deserve the Title

A few years ago, during the debate over what to "re-name" Marine Drive, I sent a letter to the editor of The Pacific Daily News, contributing my two cents. When finishing up my master's thesis in Micronesian Studies at the University of Guam, I collected all the letters to the editor, editorials and articles about this topic from The Marianas Variety, The Pacific Daily News, and Kuam and wrote about how I saw a very particular cartography or mapping of patriotism and identity taking place in the way people were asserting that this history of eternal dependency and loyalty to the United States, was the history that had to be preserved and passed on. The position that I took was an uncommon one, of the dozens of articles and letters in support of the re-naming of Marine Drive, Marine Corps Drive, me and possibly two other people sent in letters critical of this act. Eventually as we all know, Marine Drive was re-named Marine Corps Drive.

I'm posting the text of my letter here, because it sets up the point I'd like to make about who should be celebrated as a liberator.

Rename Marine Drive after natural resource

For indirectly saving the lives of my grandparents and relatives, any of the soldiers who fought to retake Guam in 1944 are welcome in my home, and have my sincere gratitude.

But if we can be honest for a moment and think with our heads and hearts, rather then with the flags in our front yards, the Marines who fought and died in the retaking of Guam were not fighting to save the Chamorro people. Why should we rename anything after them?

The military cared nothing for Chamorros when they first came, and little has changed to this day. In both 1898 and 1944, Guam was taken and captured because of military strategy and security. We must remember this just as much as we remember those who sacrificed for liberty.

Why was Guam separated from the other Mariana Islands in 1898? Why were Chamorros denied citizenship until 1950? Why was (so much) of Guam taken/stolen after the war? All of these reasons have to do with military strategy.

Let's celebrate next July 9 as what should have been our 60th Liberation Anniversary and ask this question: "If the U.S. military cared so much for their loyal Chamorros, then why did they `liberate' Saipan first?" After the fall of Saipan, Japanese atrocities increased at a horrifying rate. In the last month of the war, more Chamorros died than in the previous 31 months. If the United States had thought first of saving their suffering subjects rather then some abstract military tactic, then hundreds of Chamorros might still be with us today.

Rethinking our relations and obligations to the military is becoming more and more vital if we are to negotiate with them as partners. The renaming of Marine Drive doesn't instill me with patriotism instead it fills me with sadness, for on Guam we have prized war and militarism for too long.I would rather Marine Drive be renamed after the ocean that surrounds us and has supported us for millennia, long before we ever had commissary privileges and American flags.

MICHAEL LUJAN BEVACQUA
San Diego

A few months ago a young Chamorro who grew up in the states and is currently attending college in Los Angeles sent me an email asking me very earnest questions about how to speak to power amongst our people, how to be critical of things like the United States military, when so many people are either in it, get their livelihood from it, or are so patriotic to absolutely refuse to hear any criticism about it.

Hearing your paper on the military, in some ways was comforting. You acknowledge that most of us are connected to it through family however you were also very critical of it. You said it was an academic paper but of course Chamorro people will read it. Did you consider in writing it that it wouldn't be received well by some people in the community? If so how did you overcome that? If not, did it not matter becaue of the good intentions you had in writing?

The entire email that this girl sent, dealt with alot of issues young Chamorros who want to speak out contend with. The most difficult is of course, how to speak to those of us, Chamorros who we know will react badly or violently to what we say? When we have the second Famoksaiyan conference next year, I would like to run a workshop on this very topic, preparing young Chamorros for these sorts of conversations and confrontation. Preparing them to speak what they know is true in their hearts and respond when attacked or told to shut up and not bite the hand that feeds them!

O'sun yu' nu este na kuentos, "mungga ma akka' i kannai ni' muna'boboka hao!" Sa' i hinasso-ku nai, akka' ha', ya pues siempre pon tungo' yanggen hunggan magahet na este na kannai muna'lalala' ha' hao, pat puru ha' dinagi ayu na kuentos.

The first step however in preparing yourself for being a Chamorro activist and somehow who is working for the betterment of Guam and Chamorros and not just the United States Military, is to develop your own sense of Guam's history, and from this develop your positions and explainations for things. This doesn't mean that whatever you know, just say whatever based on it, whether its a little or a lot, but rather that you have to engage with Chamorro history, you need to read books, articles, texts, listen to song, talk about it to people, and therefore engulf yourself in it, to the point where you are literally breathing it and sometimes you might feel you are drowning beneath the gravity of it.

When you come out of this kana' matmos, consider what you have learned, what you now know, what you feel and then connect it to the problems that Chamorros face today. As I've often mentioned on this blog, my master's thesis in Micronesian Studies, was my first concentrated and concerted effort at this. I literally soaked myself in Guam history for two years, looking for an answer that we all should be asking ourselves, why did Chamorros in such a short time, become so patriotic and loyal to the United States? Short answers to this question can be found everywhere in Guam, the re-naming of Marine Drive Marine Corps Drive already a big clue. Real answers though mean following that overwhelming engagement with Guam history I mentioned and not just taking the talking points of others. I mean this even if those talking points are progressive and critical. There are many young Chamorro/Guam activists who have all the right positions in my opinion, but do not necessary know why they have those positions or the histories that make them right. So while I may agree with them, hinassosso-ku todu tiempo, na debi di ma cho'gue mas, eyak mas, tungo' mas put i sinangan-niha, pi'ot nai sa' este na inaligao para u nina'listo siha para i siha ni' ti ma konfotme. This exercise isn't simple for the sake of tiningo', it prepares you for confrontations with those who will disagree. In other words, when you are challenged, you will be able to speak beyond the talking points, be able to sift through the sands of our history and create new answers, new responses, new talking points. You will have a position beyond just the simple point you made, and so despite the fact that you may not have the dominant opinion on your side, or common sense, you will still have a rock solid point which cannot be tampered with by the mere dismissal of you as "anti-American" or "mata'pang."

I'll share with you one such point that I have developed over the years through a hundred conversations on Guam and in the states, about whether or not Guam was "liberated" by the United States.

In the minds of many Chamorros, both who were there and who were not, it was a liberation. In the minds of possibly just as many, it was not a liberation. In a cruel twist of fate, the facts may be on the side of those who don't believe it was, yet the intense emotions are on the side of those who think it was. (for example, in the letter to the editor of mine that I posted above, one response disagreeing with me, used an interesting disagreeing strategy by admitting that all my points were "basically correct.")

I have had Chamorros attack me physically and verbally for saying the invasion of Guam in 1944 was not a liberation as well as engaged in long ass email and dialogue arguments over it. So in this occassionally terrifying (like when this one Marine generously offered to beat me up) and sometimes uplifting (when a formerly patriotic Chamorro at last admits that I'm right) process I have developed my position on this which brings together all sorts of evidence and statements to back up my beliefs about what happened July 21, 1944 and who should be celebrated for this event.

As I noted in my letter to the editor above, I have gratitude for those soldiers who hit the beaches in Guam, they did save my family, even if they had no idea there were Chamorros on Guam or had never heard of Guam before in their lives. But this gratitude in no way extends to the United States Military which has for a century not given a crap about Guam, ya esta ki pa'go ya-niha fuma'gaga' i taotao Guahan. From the vantage of the United States Military there was no "liberation of Guam" it was clearly the "invasion of Guam" and so we are idiots for treating the event as anything otherwise.

For me, from this perspective is becomes very clear who deserves the title of "liberator" on Guam. First of all, Chamorros themselves deserve this title, although they constantly force others to wear it. But second of all, some soldiers themselves deserve it. When I say this though I am not referring to those soldiers who demand gratitude and recognition like the ones that John Gerber and others profess to speak for, or embody injustices for. I do not give the title of "liberator" to the career soldiers who see life through the lens of military interests and therefore see Guam as a place which has great strategic positioning, but restless and rude natives who don't truly appreciate their freedoms that the US gives them enough. To these people Guam is nothing but an appendage of the United States, to be used as it sees fit. These are the soldiers who ride the rhetoric of liberation to its death, and trap places like Guam and Okinawa in insanely mythic obligations and debt.

Those who deserve to be called liberators are those who came not as soldiers in 1944, but as humans, and when they saw Chamorros on Guam, did not dismiss them as ants crawling on this prime piece of Pacific real estate, but as humans as well!

One moment in the early 1990's almost brought tears to my eyes when I read about it. In the early 1990's when soldiers who participated in the re-invasion of Guam came back they were greeted with the usual yinalaka of patriotism, fawning devotion and occassionally appropriate gratitude. But in that historical moment the genesis of the anti-colonial and radical positions of I Nasion Chamoru also greeted them.

One might anticipate, that when told by members of I Nasion Chamoru that Guam is still a colony and their invasion was not a liberation, that these soldiers would be pissed, sen lalalu put i tinaiagradesin i Chamorun Guahan. From the dominant rhetoric of the patriotic mouthpieces on Guam, we would understand that we must be subordinate to these liberators and the military that has taken over their task since, or else face the wrath of their anger over our lack of gratitude. This was not the case however, as many of these liberators, when told that Guam was still a colony, and now being treated unfairly and unequally by the United States instead of Japan, did not lash out, but instead accepted and understood that their job was obviously not finished. That they were indeed being welcomed back as liberators to a place that they never finished liberating.

For most of these men, Guam was not that the way military planners, the Chamber of Commer in Guam or most people on Guam perceive it, as a loyal footnote to the United States and its empire. For these men, the future of Guam could lay elsewhere, and for many the understanding that they had liberating an island, logically meant that Guam would not continue to be a colony of the United States.

It is for these men, those who do not claim to "own" Guam and do not assert themselves or the military as the "liberators" of Guam and saviors of the Chamorro people, that I would gladly confer the title of liberator. But to the United States government and military, despensa yu', lao taya' fuera di colonizer.

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