Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Hafa Na Liberasion #4: Ti Mandadagi i Mita'


Liberation Day stories about ecstatic and jubilant crowds of tattered and pathetic looking Chamorros are common in Liberation Day specials and political speeches. So are stories about Marines handing out candy bars, cigarettes, powdered milk and cans of Spam to eager young boys or suffering old women. These stories always end with throngs of smiling Chamorros peering dutifully into a tall Marine’s eyes, who of course represent the benevolent and ever-loving Uncle Sam who had at last returned.

Whenever critiques of Liberation Day (or even the US in general) take place, these crowds and these Marines are always invoked in order to dispel such attempts. The imagery holds much power in emotionally disabling dissidents, especially from Chamorros. But despite this seeming power, the story always goes on, even when the celebratory telling stops. And as with most public, colonial mythology, that which is editted out, is vastly more revealing about the nature of the world, then that which is highlighted.

At a family gathering, one of my great-grandmother’s sisters sat at a large wooden table, with more than half a dozen of us gathered around listening intently as she recounted her experiences under Japanese occupation in World War II. She began with the initial attack by the Japanese, a bombing of the US Navy’s facilities, and then a swift invasion and occupation. As she relived i tiempon Chapones, she moved from her being forced to interpret for the Japanese, the hardships of life in the concentration camp in Manengon Valley, until at last she reached the Liberation of Guam. Her face lit up and beamed, as if the memories and emotions she was feeling were a room full of long lost or forgotten friends gathered in a room she had just entered.

As the Japanese fled, the Marines began to arrive, there were stories of them, rumors. Her face lit up with joy as she described the moment when these stories and rumors eventually materialized with a group of US Marines coming over a hill towards her family. As she continued, her face began to somber. She told of Marines who gave her and her family and those with them all sorts of food, such as chocolates, milk, bottles of Coke, Spam and other canned goods. After the weeks of desperately searching for food in the halom tano’, combined with their happiness over being rescued, they gorged down all the processed American food as fast as they could. My auntie wasn’t by any means distant from the Navy or the pre-war American presence. She had worked as a teacher, and her and her sisters were famous for dancing with American officers. Fihu ha chagi i kosas Amerikanu. She regularly ate canned food, drank Coke and so on.

But for some reason, from the stress, the trauma, or the malnourishment from the Japanese occupation, she and all the others threw up their food just as fast as they ate it. Todu ayu na nengkanno’ ya insigidas manmuta’? All that food, their bodies had just spat it right back out. She started laughing and it became contagious. We all began to laugh at the idea of our grandparents and aunties puking up Spam and Coke.

I’d heard this story before from other people who survived the war, but it is rarely told in comparison to other more patriotic experiences of the war and post-war period. Furthermore, when the story is told it rarely goes beyond this episode of light-hearted laughter. In fact most oral histories or stories you’ll hear from individuals as well as from news or history sources will not tread seriously beyond the initial humanitarian meetings between Chamorros and American troops. According to Chamorro poet Cecilia Taitano Perez, “History seems to stop once these meetings take place.” But for those who push past the sheer joy and patriotism there are slips of the tongue and mind which hint at discourse being hidden. My auntie continued.

“Our bodies were trying to tell us something. They were telling us something was wrong.” I could see she wasn’t quite sure where she intended to go with this statement, her face had sobered up a bit. Such a statement is so out of place in how these stories are usually told. Usually the focus is on how everything is right, wonderful, couldn’t be better.

I probably interpreted this story and in particular her last statement differently then everyone else present, as well as most Chamorros who hear this story. For most this is a hilarious footnote to what was a glorious and exciting period of Guam history, where the Chamorro people were saved by Marines, beaming benevolence with pockets of infinite chocolates. But for me it was a metaphor for something more, and alluded to the fact that something in her story was being forgotten, glazed over. Smalls details were being left out to tell a far more patriotic tale.
In everyone’s hurry to celebrate the American return, whether by joining the service, by waving the flag, by proclaiming one’s loyalty and devotion, or by consuming Coke and Spam, things were being left out. I saw my auntie, throwing up the Coke and Spam, because her body was warning her that tremendous shifts were taking place, that a way of life was being uprooted, the spirit of a people perhaps being hijacked or colonized in an incredibly intimate way. After the arrival of these Marines, the accepting of these gifts of life, and the re-establishment of the American military presence on Guam, everything is different on Guam in so many ways. A very deep, very foundational, very intimate linking takes place between the United States and Guam takes place, which to reaches from the the landscape of the island to the very core of how Chamorros imagine themselves.

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