Hafa Na Liberasion? #10: Hayi Ta Silelebra?

There's a possibility next year, that my master's thesis which I did in Micronesian Studies at the University of Guam a few years ago will be published into a book. With this in mind I've been reading over parts of it throughout the summer and both marvelling at how much work I did to complete that thesis, but also how stupid and lazy I could be at times. I think that the thesis will be an important contribution to the general community, even if the theoretical parts people have trouble understanding. The title itself however might intrigue, confuse and upset people, These May or May Not Be Americans: The Patriotic Myth and the Hijacking of Chamorro History in Guam.

The basic question which my thesis was written around is, how did Chamorros who were for the most part indifferent to being Americans prior to World War II, become after World War II the super-patriots that we all know today? Through an analysis of pre-war education systems and a description about how the ways in which Chamorro history has been hijacked or twisted to reflect a timeless and inevitable love and devotion to the United States. The prominence of Liberation Day in Chamorro life and "history," can help us understand this twisting, since it above all others is the event which enthusiastically transforms the Chamorro into an object of eternal dependency and need. Although the way I'm phrasing this sounds very abstract and academic, my point isn't. If Liberation Day is the central event that characterizes the relationship between the United States and Guam in good ways, such as a moment where the benevolence of Uncle Sam is best felt or that the devotion and loyalty of the Chamorro is most patriotically obvious, then why wouldn't it also be the scene or the metaphor, which best expresses or captures the worst possible aspects? Its easy to forget when staring at all the cheap flags around the island, that Liberation Day is fundamentally a celebration of Chamorro dependency and eternal debt to the United States for everything from life, to toliets, to electricity, to internet, to education and to happiness. It is an event which freezes the Chamorro in that moment when during the ravages of war it is stuck, helpless, sick and starving, waiting for the arrival of the United States to save it and set it free.

I've decided to post the introduction to the fourth chapter of my thesis here, to give a sense of my thesis but also to continue my discussion about Liberation Day and its place in Chamorro history and life. I began this chapter with the following statement, which gets to the core of what my point is. For Liberation Day, “A more important question than what we are celebrating is who are we celebrating.”

The Only Ism on Guam is Americanism
The Hijacking of Chamorro War Experiences

I hadn’t attended a Liberation Day event in more than a decade when I took my younger brother to see the parade on July 21st, 2002. I had no idea when the parade was supposed to start or end. I wasn’t even sure there was going to be a parade at all. It had been raining a lot, and most people doubted it would take place. Although my brother had lived on Guam as a small child and was raised by my grandparents, he knew little of Guam and Chamorro history, and therefore little of Liberation Day. I figured that the best way to introduce him to Liberation Day was to take him to witness its more celebratory aspects, and at the same time tell him about the ugly, less jubilant parts.

From all the fanfare leading up to the day, it was already obvious to my brother that July 21 seemed to bring out the super-patriot in everyone. American flags could be seen everywhere, as if constituting their own force and will, on everyone’s hats, shirts, and cars. Slogans of patriotic luster could be found on nearly everyone’s lips at events such as these. In 2004, I walked along the Liberation Day parade route, asking simple questions of meaning and symbology with regards to the celebration to Chamorros young and old. “Liberation Day = Freedom” was the most common proposition, however, expressions of love and loyalty to America were nearly as pervasive. “We are here today to celebrate America and the Marines and all that they’ve done for us,” one Chamorro said to me, “without them none of us would be here today!”[1] His cousin visiting from California chimed in, “America is what makes Guam great, and we love them for it!”[2]

A bubbling and energized love of America seems to create this environment of wonderful and blissful patriotism and devotion to America and to the American military. At least that’s what you would think or feel if you read the local newspaper or watched the specials on TV. According to the late Master Chamorro Storyteller, Clotilde Castro Gould, immediately following the war, liberation day was a celebration of militarism and patriotism,[3]

…during my early years, the only thing that I can remember of Liberation is fun, fun, fun, fun, fun and military, military, military, because most of the participants were military and all it did was remind you of war. With guns and ammunition…and how you fight a war, and jeeps after jeeps, army jeeps and then reconnaissance trucks…but as the years progressed…we started slowing down with the military, and it’s becoming more local…[4]

But things have changed, and certain non-military traditions have slowly evolved around the holiday. It is traditional in recent years for families to bring tents or canopies to set up along the parade route and then gather to party and celebrate, sometimes days before the event takes place. They bring meat and barbeque pits, portable tables and chairs, and plenty to eat and drink. Manggupot yan mandana.[5]

On that Liberation Day 2002 morning, despite the poor weather, the crowds were still present.[6] They were huddled beneath their tents and tarps, or sheltered behind huge banners tied to canopy posts that informed all who passed by which family is camped there and who is sponsoring them.[7] I had parked well beyond the crowds, near the Kentucky Fried Chicken in Aniguak, where we patiently waited for the parade to start. In the meantime I lectured to my brother about Liberation Day, telling him some of the problems with how the day is remembered and how it still affects our lives. My brother tried his best to listen, but a rainy day lecture isn’t much fun (especially without a parade), and after an hour or so, he pleaded for us to go. I took one last look back down Marine Drive to see if a parade was on its way, but none was. I did see something else though, something that I should have expected, but didn’t. Through the splashes of rain, I saw Chamorros celebrating.

This was Liberation Day, etched in infamy as the day Uncle Sam saved the Chamorro people. But this year I could see no parade, no floats, no public celebration, no enlisted men marching in clean suits with guns on their shoulders. On that drizzly, soaking wet morning, the Chamorros lining the streets seemed to care less that there was no parade. The United States military and all its might was the last thing on these people’s minds.

Looking at the soaking wet kids splashing in pothole puddles and watching old ladies smile and laugh as they tried to stay dry, I thought about the original liberation day, and the little liberations that went on around the island as Chamorros encountered the arriving American troops. It must have been an atmosphere much like this, with masses of Chamorros celebrating nothing more than the fact that they were still alive. Thinking about these images reminds me of Robert Underwood’s 1977 article on Liberation Day titled “Red, Whitewash and Blue,” a compelling and still-important essay that provides perhaps the first formal critique of its celebration. According to him,

On Liberation Day, when the Chamorros wave the flag and thank the Marines (and appear to be patriotic beyond belief) they are in reality celebrating themselves, and their own experiences.[8]

That dynamic described by Underwood easily came to mind as I watched these Chamorros -- some who were sons and daughters of the war generation, and others who were their children and grandchildren – celebrate. The deep and personal debts we are all taught to feel to the military and to the United States by media representations and by patriotically drenched histories had been washed away in the heavy rains. All that seemed to be left were the pieces that the patriotic myth couldn’t cut off completely, but could find ways of hijacking, namely the Chamorro pieces. Watching these Chamorro families, I realized that they were celebrating themselves, their being alive, their survival, much as Liberation Days in 1944 would have also been.

Sadly, traditional tellings of Liberation Day tend to forget this Chamorro component of liberation. Despite the dues ex machina arrival of the Americans that we learn about each July 21st, it wasn’t the American troops who endured the occupation. It wasn’t the Marines who were whipped, beaten, beheaded or humiliated. And it wasn’t the military who worked all day to feed the Japanese, and who were then forced to forage for food in the jungles to feed their families and friends.[9]

A series of simple questions dawned on me as I watched the Chamorros celebrate on that rainy Liberation Day. Why is it that the American aspect of the war, their return on July 21, is given such a holy status? Why is it that the public discourse about this day and about the war is so drenched in American patriotic rhetoric? More questions arose. Did Chamorros just forget the racism from the pre-war years? Did they forget about the oppressive fines for infinitesimal infractions or the crackdowns on culture and language? Did they forget about the Navy’s abandonment of Guam in 1941?

Yet directly following the war, even in the midst of the actual “liberation,” some forms of discontent were recorded. In her publication entitled America to the Rescue, Crecencis Cespedes reprinted dozens of newspaper articles celebrating the American return and their benevolence towards Guam and the Chamorros, all of which she collected while attending school in North Carolina during the war. One article, however, slips through the otherwise rosy, American-loving rhetoric. In it, an unnamed Chamorro bihu dares to remind his readers that life may not have been that wonderful before the war or under America. In an article entitled “Liberation,” one Chamorro said, “High Jap officers would come in and eat with us. I liked Jap equality better. The Americans made us feel as if we were inferior.”[10]

Did the war erase these things from Chamorro memories? Is that what it would take to turn an island of reluctant American nationals into the sometimes rabid jingoists and super-patriots of today?[11] According to the late Guam Senator, Maga’lahi I Nasion Chamoru and Chamoru rights activist, Angel Santos,

Our history has been rewritten. We were brainwashed into thinking we were liberated but when you look back at the facts after the war, and at what happened before the war, then you realize the lies.[12]

I saina-hu Si Anghet magahet gui’[13]. The questions racing through my mind were ultimately questions about the canons of history, historical memory, and power. And although I was painfully aware of the “lies” and “brainwashing” that accompany our history, I also realize that the presence of advanced discursive weaponry like the myth of patriotism makes any attempt to re-take or liberate this part of Chamorro history mampos mappot.[14]

This chapter will show the shifts that took place in Chamorro consciousness, shifts that enabled them to overcome the ideological distance they had kept between themselves and the American regime in pre-war Guam and later become susceptible to the control of the patriotic myth. In terms of culture and identity, the distance that Chamorros had commonly felt and experienced in the pre-war period gave way to the trauma of the war. Gone for the most part was their suspicion and their minassa’[15] towards America and its offerings that had characterized the pre-war period. During the war and escalating after Liberation, Chamorros began to look to America for salvation, both physical and mental. The deeper that Japan invaded their culture and their lives, the more they longed for American belonging and the “freedom” it implied. It is in this shift closer towards America that the patriotic myth begins to take shape around Chamorro minds and discourse.

It was this belief of belonging, facilitated by the patriotic myth, which allowed Chamorros to feel, think and act patriotically. The myth pushed Chamorros in a sense to forget the past or forget pieces of the past, thereby ignoring the misdeeds of the Navy and allowing them to accept the inferior and subordinate position that America had created for them through its pre-war discourse on things such as education or politics. With this belief and the acceptance of American hegemony, America is absolved of its sins on Guam, giving the historical past and present that the myth proposes a feeling of naturalness.

As this chapter will demonstrate, as a result of Liberation, a close emotional and psychological interaction with America emerged. This intimacy led to feelings of Americaness which after the war assisted in forming an acceptance amongst Chamorros on Guam of American hegemony over them. The establishment of this hegemony is what made possible the creation of the patriotic myth, which has facilitated the hijacking of both Chamorro discourse and the retelling of the war experience. This hijacking of the Chamorro war narrative has created a mythologically Americanized version of the war that serves as the foundation for justifying contemporary Chamorro patriotism. As the war was the most traumatic and influential event in recent Chamorro history, even the smallest shifts of value or meaning from war experiences or memories can have huge effects on both the production of knowledge/discourse and historical memory. What these shifts amount to is the elevating of the American presence in the war, at the expense of and effectively marginalizing a more Chamorro-focused or more local narrative of the war.

In my research I uncovered several basic narrative and power-based points from which meaning, value, inspiration and strength were drawn from to endure the war. In particular, these are Si Yu’us, Minetgot Chamorro, and the idea of America.[16] Throughout the war, discourses around these narratives were invoked for psychological, and therefore physical, survival. All were used to navigate the reality of daily humiliations and intimidations. This chapter will examine the ways in which these narratives were hijacked and then distorted to reflect ideals of loyalty, devotion, indebtedness, and patriotism to America.



[1] Fulanu, Interview with author, Liberation Day Parade, Marine Drive, Hagatna, Guam 21 July 2004. I cite this speaker as Fulanu because his name is unclear in my notes, as later in the day I was sprayed with water by one of the parade floats, making some of my notes difficult to read.
[2] Frank Salas, Personal Communication, Liberation Day Parade, Marine Drive, Hagatna, Guam 21 July 2004.
[3] Clotilde Castro Gould is well known on Guam and deservedly so for her many accomplishments in protecting and promoting Chamorro culture. She helped in getting Chamorro taught in schools, wrote the famous Chamorro comic strip Juan Malimanga which can still be seen in the Pacific Daily News each day (except Sundays), and was recognized by the Guam Council on Arts and Humanities Agency (GCAHA) as being a Master Storyteller of Chamorro culture.
[4] Cecilia Taitano Perez, “A Chamorro Re-Telling of Liberation,” Kinalamten Pulitikat: Sinenten I Chamorro: Issues in Guam’s Political Development: The Chamorro Perspective, (Political Status Education and Coordinating Commission, Hagatna, Guam, 1996), 73.
[5] Translation: “They party, they get together.”
[6] Benigno Palomo, “Raining on our Parade,” Guahan Magazine, (2:1) July 2004, 16.
[7] A common banner will read the family’s last name, then the nickname of their clan, and then the name of the alcoholic beverage distributor that sponsored the family and paid for their banner.
[8] Robert Underwood, “Red, Whitewash and Blue: Painting over the Chamorro Experience,” Pacific Daily News, 17 July 1977, 6.
[9] I am not saying that the hardships and experiences of Chamorros receive no reporting or are undiscussed each Liberation Day, but rather that these hardships are recounted as a vehicle for emphasizing and celebrating liberation. The liberation celebration, as this chapter will explore, does not feed into the survival of Chamorros, but rather their survival feeds into America.
[10] Crecencis Cespedes, America to the Rescue, 1994, 38.
[11] It is an interesting response to history that makes Liberation Day the central celebration of the Chamorro connection to America, rather than the moment they actually became somewhat Americans politically, with the signing of the Organic Act.
[12] Angel Santos quoted in, De Ishtar, Zohl, Daughters of the Pacific, (Australia, Spinifex Press, 1994), 80.
[13] Translation: “My elder, Anghet is correct.”
[14] Translation: “Extremely difficult.”
[15] Minassa’: “discomfort or uneasiness.’
[16] Si Yu’us: God. Minetgot Chamorro: Chamorro strength.


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