Monday, October 01, 2007

Lemlem

The word lemlem in Chamorro, is one I rarely hear spoken, but am nonetheless regularly made to feel its meaning is being invoked. This is especially so in the diaspora, when people constantly, tragically circle around the term when they speak of Guam and how its changing, losing its culture and its flavor, and never going to be like it was when they were there.

"Lemlem" means roughly "to fail to recognize something because of how it has changed" or "to be surprised at how different something is when you see it again." I remember during my research years at the Micronesian Area Research Center, finding an article from the Guam Daily News in the late 1960's about my great grandmother's brother Jose Pangelinan De Leon, who after spending more than twenty years in the states following World War II, was returning to Guam to visit relatives. A section of the article towards its end, dealt with how surprised Jose was about the look and the composition of Guam, linemlem gui’ ni’ i matulaikå-ña Guahan.

In the diaspora it is almost commonsensical and automatic to invoke the meaning of this word when speaking about why you or your family are in the states, and why despite the fact that there are regular flights and decent opportunities on your island homeland, you aren't returning home. For these Chamorros, or even other people from Guam, who are out here, but feel ashamed because they left, lemlem becomes a way of jusitfying leaving and staying away. Although you can use lemlem to refer to how marvelled or simply surprised one is by something's changing, it can also be used to put down or show disgust or sadness at how something is just so drastically different and will never go back to the way it once was! You can find waiting in the discourse of nearly every Chamorro out there (and even sometimes on Guam), they will lament the changes that are taking place, how people are no longer close, how the island is so complicated and fast moving now, and doesn't run like it did back in the day at the pace of a bullcart. Ai linemlem yu' ni' taimanu ma tulaika Guahan, sen na'ma'ase.

For these people the island will never be the same, never the simple ways it was in their memories. In a more practical way of approaching this topic, anyone who understands the stakes of the current course that the island is on right now, knows that things will never be the same. I mean this both in terms of the local governing of the island but also the increases of military personnel and presence that the Department of Defense is proposing and currently enacting. For those who want more military, and see nothing but dollar signs and economic recovery and prosperity, then the fact that things will never be the same is fantastic! For those who see the military as posing a general political, social, economic and environmental threat to the island, the fact that things will never be the same is a terrifying and dangerous possibility!

Therefore, if you only listen to fragments of the speech of both Debbie Quinata, Maga'haga i Nasion Chamoru and Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo, they might sound exactly the same. And because of this similarity of positions despite being on opposite ends of political opinion and ideology, it is very easy for the idea that things will never be the same to lose alot of its meaning or impact.

Regardless of how people may get tired of hearing this point, it is nonetheless true and is not something that should be dismissed just because people are manggagu pat mano'sun.

The island is on the edge of some very drastic, very dangerous and potentially irreversible changes. And when I say this, I am speaking somewhat to the dangers that the military poses to the island, which we are already feeling economically and politically, and in fact in health terms, have been feeling and being poisoned by for decades. But I am also talking about the dangers that we are facing in terms of private development. Over this summer, I witnessed firsthand how much literally, the landscape of Guam is being gutted, bulldozed, and built upon. The economy is shifting in anticipation of the military increase and the windfall it will bring. Land is being sold (or trying to be sold) left and right, and carpetbaggers and vultures from the United States and Asia are moving in swiftly and quietly to take advantage of our island. Corporations and franchises from the United States are moving in very quickly, to open up shop, establish themselves for the Americans that are going to be transferred to the island from Okinawa, who will be looking for friendly American businesses to spend their pay on. As the economy of Guam is already fragile, many existing retail stores and restaurants will be savaged by these franchises.

The population increase to the island is discussed with almost no sense of what it really is. If the 50,000 number is accurate. then roughly 30,000 will be military and dependents, and the remaining 20,000 will be mostly by laborers from the Philippines and Micronesia, joined by a handful of random people who follow the opening of Guam's market here from Asia and the United States. Those which have the spending power to support the burgeoning economy of Guam, will spend the majority of their money on base and not off.

Julian Aguon wrote last year in The Marianas Variety about the "Myth of Military Money" and he was right on. We are led to believe by businessmen and by military spokespeople that the Marines and their families will be lining all of our pockets, just basically handing over all of their money to the local merchants and millionaires. Such is not the case. What Guam will get from the military is what it always gets, a trickle here or a trickle there. Yes, the island will benefit from the increased tax revenues, but that is hardly the economic miracle and orgasm that everyone from the PDN to Madeleine to Gerry Cruz to David Cohen is promising. The real estate industry will most likely benefit, although these profits will go to those who already have means and money, and most likely se'se' these who don't. The rest of it will be bits and pieces here and there, the majority of which will be snatched up by the corporations, such as Hooters, Home Depot, Chilis, Ruby Tuesdays, Coldstone and Motherhood Maternity, which are all rushing to open up shop on Guam. They reason they are rushing, is because they've learned the lesson that when Americans are "overseas" they prefer to shop at places that are familiar to them.
But as the island is being developed at rapid pace, it is important to ask ourselves a number of questions, and then push ourselves to act. What is being lost in all this development? Is that which we are losing worth it? Is this development good for Guam? Or more specifically who is this development good for and not good for, and who is benefiting from all of this? Should they benefit, is it right that they benefit? If you believe that these are real questions and issues, and that things which should not be lost are being lost, or that people who should not profit are profitting, then the next step is not to simply find a way of tragically lamenting everything, while doing nothing!

Island economies, island ecosystems are fragile, everyone must do their part in order to maintain them. We know this from our history, and the ways in which people had to always come together to help each other and help shelter and feed each other. One could not thatch your roof by yourself, nor plant your farm and feed your family by yourself, there were networks which helped you do it.

Today it is very very different, because of notions of private property, and the idea that whatever is someone else's, they should do whatever they want with it. If a corporation from the United States or Asia wants to come into Guam, they simply can, no matter how large they are, or how much potential damage they can do to existing businesses, they can just set up shop without any real oversight as to how they will impact the island. Life on an island cannot be like this, we saw this with the brown tree snake and its destruction of most of the bird life on Guam, and the principle is the same for our island environmentally and economically. You cannot simply just let everyone in, and let everyone do whatever they want. There have to be limits, and there has to be a process whereby we on Guam, who are not rich, who are not powerful, whether its Home Depot, the US military or Wal Mart, can in the name of the greater good, say no!
Will this ever happen though? I doubt it. Managing an economy in a sustainable way is difficult and requires that people not see corporations as buddies or friends, or saviors or liberators, or worse yet, sites where they can, through purchasing things, make themselves more American! Furthermore, it requires that people be engaged with the future of their island, beyond just complaining about the government or voting every two years. I don't know if Guam is at that place yet, but I dream that it will be someday like that. That people will discover or re-discover community, and think differently about what their roles as people of Guam are, and become far more active in running and maintaining their island, beyond simply griping about the poor state of Guam's public toliets or complaining about litter. When that happens, then I will be overjoyed and proud to use the word lemlem to describe, with tears in my eyes, the incredible ways that Guam has changed, and how I no longer recognize it.

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This post was rambling and ranting, and spurned on by my frustration and anger over the destruction of Chamorro remains that has been taking place at the construction at the Okura hotel in Tumon, and also the planned development of Gun beach into a massive condo, shopping mall and hotel structure. The Gun Beach development is especially depressing, as a beautiful part of the island will now be sacrificed to create a glut of condos that few people on Guam will be able to afford. At present, the Okura remodel has been put on hold due to insufficient funds. After reading about this, one of my friends said her mother's response was "this is the curse they get for what they have done to my ancestors."

Si Yu'us Ma'ase nu Si Fanai Castro, sa' guiya gumuahayi i litratu siha ni' manggaigaige gi este na post.

1 comment:

Mellani said...

When I think of what's happening I get absolutely ill. It's a feeling that starts in the stomach and then reaches up to what is, I'm sure, a broken heart.

I think its important that people who go abroad to get educated, gain work experience, etc--also return home. Now more than ever before its important that people remember that they have to be the change they want to see. It is our turn to protect what is ours--we all owe that much to the land that nurtured us as children.

p.s. I'm really glad this blog exists.

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