Monday, August 06, 2007

Hafa Na Liberasion #3: I Gera

Two more things to share on the topic of Liberation Day, the war and the experiences of Chamorros historically and up until today. The first is originally a piece I submitted as a letter to the editor of The Pacific Daily News several years ago, which wasn't as far as I know ever published, so I rewrote it along with some others and published it in Minagahet.

The second is another letter to the editor of The Pacific Daily News which was of course not picked up as well, that I wrote with my mother. In one of our discussions my mom had made a very simple point, which always gets lost in Liberation Day celebrations, and that is kao este ha' na sina ta silebra? Is this all that we can celebrate!? What kind of existence do we have when so much of our time, effort, energy and love is pumped into celebrating someone else? What kind of life is it when we place so much emphasis on building emotional and physical monuments to someone else and meanwhile treat ourselves as pathetic, helpless, dependent beings? The twisted but simplistic and nonetheless truthful answer is, a colonial one.

How is it that our culture and history have become reduced to stupid, infantile and often times ridiculous exclaimations of love and devotion for the United States? What process has taken place over the past sixty plus years where someone can say with a straight face and not have their brain try to escape through their eye-sockets, that the Chamorro people must rename Marine Drive, Marine Corps Drive in order to protect our "culture?" Several people have actually made this claim, that our devotion and recognition of eternal debt to the United States is part of our culture, and obviously a central part of it. In the last chapter of my master's thesis in Micronesian Studies I actually wrote about this, how certain people involved in the renaming debate would use arguments for cultural and historical preservation in order to force people to go along with the renaming of Marine Drive. Their argument is actually a very dangerous but expected one. In order for it to work, we must understand and accept the United States as the center of our being, and what makes our lives, our culture, our history possible. While in the abstract this might seem silly or taking my argument too far, but if we bring in the war and "liberation" into the picture, the centrality of the United States in making possible the past, present and future of Chamorros doesn't seem to outlandish. In fact, for so many Chamorros and others, it seems obvious.

Take for instance the following statement made by a Chamorro, Dr. Jeff Barcinas of Malesso recorded in Lee Perez's article "A Chamorro Re-Telling of Liberation." If not for America during World War II, “we [the Chamorro people] could have been completely wiped out and we could have been nobody in terms of identity of a people who are seeking right now self-determination.” Under Barcinas' "obvious" logic, whatever life we have right now is borrowed time, is only ours because of the generosity and benevolence of the United States. In the universe where this sorts of wicked and twisted statements are true, then the United States is everything, sits at the center of everything that makes life possible, that makes life worth living. If we think about Chamorro/Guam dependency towards the United States through this lens, through the war and Guam's liberation, things may seem much more depressing and frustrating, but they also make much more sense.

Both of these pieces were originally published on June 17, 2004 in Volume 2 Issue 6 of Minagahet Zine, titled "Preparing for War."

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THE WAR
by the CHAMORRO INFORMATION ACTIVISTS

The war has created many wounds both physical and emotional in Chamorros. Some have been able to put the war behind them. Others however haven’t found comfort or closure in the world that is created on Guam each July, which sometimes seems like nothing more than an ocean of red, white and blue flags and patriotic propaganda. Wounds, even those covered by colors that “don’t run,” can still bleed, and in many Chamorros they still do, and blind patriotism to the United States, does little to stop it.
In a war reparations presentation, Justice B.J. Cruz talked about his mother and her war memories. Not mentioning the Insular Guard or Marines at Manengon, all his mother would ever say was this, “it was terrible, and every night I pray to God that you and your sisters don’t have to go through what I went through.” This is not a unique statement, and its intensity is shared by many. Other families were and are emotionally unable to discuss the war. Many families just packed up and left Guam for fear another war would break out. Others suffered from the destruction of war, and the deception of the American militarization in terms of land. And a family stripped of its land, will feel that tragedy for generations.
The voices of those discontented with the United States have largely been ignored for decades, the loud, roaring patriotism of some, drowning out such whispers of discontent. Those who still feel pain, feel hurt, feel dissatisfied receive little validation as the celebrations we shroud Liberation Day, Marine Drive and others in, basically steam-rolls over many Chamorros, flattening and forcing them to become patriotic cut-outs. Their expressions of anger, resentment or sadness, rarely receiving meaningful validation.

We need to remember that for many the war did not end in 1944. Wars continue to this day, for peace, for happiness, by those whose lives, whose families were destroyed by the war, and whose ideas and opinions don’t fit into the patriotic photos that are usually published. Then there is the war that pits Chamorro survival against increased US militarization as well as the forces that threaten to reduce Chamorro history and culture to the naming of a street, or a newspaper insert which can be hummed to the tune of Uncle Sam Won't you Please Come Back to Guam.

Blind patriotism to America has gotten Chamorros some things, but there are many things it won't get us, and can’t do. It can’t heal the soul that cannot deny that for decades and possible til the present day many Chamorros are second class citizens. Doesn't heal the fact that many Chamorros felt abandoned in 1941. It certainly doesn't heal for many families who were tricked or lied about their land being taken. And blind patriotism won't improve Guam's status, but just ensure that Guam remains a colony, until it is either destroyed by nuclear war, or swallowed up by the sea because of global warming.
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"THERE ARE THINGS OTHER THAN WAR and the MARINES, THAT ARE WORTH CELEBRATING!"
by Rita Lujan Butler

On February 8, 2004 I was reading the Pacific Daily News online, and I was so excited to see so many letters from people who were interested in protecting Guam’s history. Unfortunately though, the only parts that these people wanted to promote or protect was Marine Drive and Liberation Day.
While I am so glad to see these people excited about Guam’s history and remembering important events, I always get very confused when I meet these people or read their letters, who care only about promoting or celebrating the parts of Guam’s history that have to do with the United States’ military. Implying that we don’t mean much without the United States or its military, which I believe is totally false.
But in the spirit of celebrating and remembering our past, I guess I’m wondering where are all the letters to the editor about how important it is to protect the Chamorro Land Trust? After all, isn’t that agency just a memorial or a historic reminder of how the US military stole almost the whole island after the war? Those land takings have just as much impact on Chamorro lives today, as Liberation Day. Our family was fortunate enough not to have our lands taken, but so many other families were not. Where is the memorial or the re-naming ceremonies for their children, that will explain to them why their families have no land?
If the past is to useful to us in helping us plan for the future, then we can’t just remember the patriotic parts, like the parts where American Marines unintentionally saved Chamorro lives. We also have to remember that for years after July 21, 1944, other military officers came and intentionally destroyed Chamorro lives by lying to them, by cheating them and by forcing them to give up their lands. .
I feel sick thinking about those days, when because of a war, the United States was allowed to destroy so many families, and handicap their futures. In one of my son’s Guam history textbooks, it tells the story of a Navy officer testifying before Congress about the land takings. When asked if the land takings had been legal, the officer replied that, no they weren’t, but then everything is legal in a time of war. I feel more sick thinking about today, where the president of the United States often talks about America being at war, and calls himself a war-time president. While visiting my parents last year, I took part in a protest against the Navy’s needless killing of carabao at Fena Lake. For the military, they are always at war with something, and so for them carabao don’t mean much. The Navy must of felt like that about Chamorros after the war, taking their land, their lives, because they don’t mean much. And since the president says we’re at war now, who knows what they’ll do next?

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