Saturday, June 07, 2008

Island in Amnesia

I often marvel at the level of amnesia Guam has, and yet at the same time, the incredible memory it has for certain things.

The visits of famous people to Guam are moments which become like paladan gi i tintanos i taotao Guahan, seared into the memory of the island. They change for each generation though, different people, different sorts of visits, but they remain as crucial monuments that help define what Guam "meant" during that period. Prior to World War II, Jack Dempsey was a big name to come to Guam, and his visit still helps define the lives of Chamorro men my grandfather's age. In recent years, most of the celebrities who come to Guam are increasingly seen as "B" or "C" list caliber, and have little impact on the memories of people there. For instance when the Planet Hollywood opened on Guam, instead of Arnold or Sly Stallone showing up, they sent Sammy Hagar and Don Johnson. Also, more and more musical acts in their twilight years, just on the edge of oblivion are coming to Guam, and so when Sugar Ray, Shaggy or Three Doors Down have a concert on island it doesn't have the impact that a band coming on island used to. The big memory scars in recent years have all been political, especially Presidential. Bill Clinton's trip to Guam in 1998, as well as Nixon's trip in the 1970's and Reagan's visit in the 1980's are all moments which provide key sites in which people on Guam, through this minute form of recognition, were able to feel more American.

This is issue of what makes Guam more American or feel more American is the key to what makes things "memorable" on Guam, worth remembering or should be remembered. Other then these sorts of visits, where Guam, by virture of this visiting outside presence, can somehow at last transcend its limited, marginal, tiny existence and touch something more universal, more American, more modern and so on, we have as moments which must be remembered, landmark events in Guam's history of slowly (but surely) becoming American or more American.

The sort of meta-event in this list is of course World War II, the time where the place of the Chamorro in the United States family is created, not necessarily politically or legally, but in a way which is much more permanent powerful, emotionally. Chamorros created a very deep and intimate bond with the United States during World War II, one which was forged in the harshness of war and Japanese occupation, and which was far more potent than the bestowal of citizenship or limited voting rights which came after World War II. Because of this, even up until today, amongst Chamorros who did not endure I Tiempon Chapones, the war is still one of those moments which is key in defining the landscape of Guam and Chamorro identity, it is one of those moments where the metrics of what is important and unimportant in terms of historical and public memory is made most viscerally clear.

The paradox of the war in Chamorro memory is that it is the most significant event in recent Chamorro history and is something which should be remembered, as 32 month period which impacted all facets of Chamorro life. But, at the same time a particular way of remembering and interpreting the war then becomes the basis through which the present and the future are "supposed" to be determined or decided. Of all the ways of remembering the war or thinking about what it should mean in Chamorro lives, the version which tells us that the lesson from the war is that we are hopelessly dependent upon the United States and should be blindly loyal to them, is the one which gets repeatedly memorialized through media representations and public commemorations. To put it another way, the war is something to be remembered, an event which lessons should be drawn from, but there is no diversity to how it is remembered, at least not publicly. All of the anger, resentment, frustration, sadness, all of the emotions and possible political positions which could be derived from the war are distilled into the simple waving of an American flag.

This interpretation of the war is one of those frustrating moments where historical memory is so clear its almost frightening. The positions that one takes through this interpretation, are not in themselves bad or wrong. What truly makes these positions terrifying is the almost complete and utter lack of knowledge about the war, and the sheer amount of history that they disavow, ignore or refuse to recognize in order to enthusiastically and patriotically accept this Americanized version of Guam's history.

This brings me to the amnesia issue for Guam, which when it comes to anything, today or in the past which is critical of the United States or puts the way it has treated Guam or is currently treating Guam into poor light. These sorts of things, which can be racist, ignorant, patronizing have taken place regularly over the past 110 years and continue to happen today in politics, in media, in entertainment, in laws, and so on. But unlike those events which draw Guam and the US into a closer embrace, these kinalakas na hemplo, but never sink into the consciousness of the island, never create a sort of everyday anti-colonial or critical consciousness.

Its for this reason that for years, in my activism and in my academic work, I take Guam's history and the twisting and skewing of it very seriously, and work to create counter narratives, oppositional stories which contest the power of the more patriotic versions of the island's history.

For the Guma'famoksaiyan conference a few weeks ago I wrote up a modest timeline of general Guam/Chamorro history for those attending to take, and give them a taste of those alternate ways of remembering and reading Guam's history.
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1521 – Ferdinand Magellan stumbles across the Marianas Islands
1565 – Miguel de Legazpi officially claims Guam for Spain
1668 – First Spanish Catholic Mission is established on Guam
1671 – The beginning of the Chamorro Spanish Wars?
1695 – The last battle of the Chamorro and Spanish Wars takes place on Aguihan
1698 – The Spanish reduccion is completed as all Chamorros are forcibly relocated to Guam
1710 – First official Spanish Census is taken, only 3,529 Chamorros remain after decades of wars and disease
1742 – Only 1,576 Chamorros are counted by the Spanish census
1800 – Fort Apugan is built on a hill over looking the capital of Guam Hagåtña
1819 – Louis de Freycinet visits Guam
1849 – A massive earthquake hits Guam, destroying religious buildings in Hagåtña and Umatåk
1854 – The first American consul is established on Guam
1859 – Pale’ Jose Palomo is ordained in the Philippines and becomes the first ever Chamorro Catholic priest
1872-1877 - More than 1,200 political exiles from Spain and the Philippines are sent to Guam
1884 – Spanish Governor is assassinated by Chamorro nationalist Jose de Salas
1886 – An estimated 800 Chamorros are thought to be living in Honolulu.
1898 – As a result of the Spanish American War, the US buys Guam, Germany buys the rest of the Marianas
1899 – Guam’s first US Naval Governor revokes freedom of religion, assembly and speech
1901 – First petition is signed and sent to the US Congress by Chamorros demanding political rights
1907 – Racial segregation is instituted on Guam, in terms of education, housing and marriage
1909 – Guam’s first newspaper, The Guam News Letter is published (in both English and Spanish)
1914 – A citizenship proposal for Chamorros is rebuffed by Franklin Roosevelt, Assistant Secretary of the Navy
1917 – A German ship sinks in Apra Harbor on Guam as the island enters World War I
1919 – Whistling is banned by Guam’s Naval Governor, and the Northern Marianas Islands become Japan’s
1922 – Guam’s public educational system is formalized and modeled after the California School System
1936 – Two Chamorros travel to Washington D.C. to petition directly for political rights for Chamorros
1937 – Pan American makes its first flights to Guam
1941 – Japan bombs, invades and occupies Guam.
1944 – The United States bombards Guam for weeks prior to reoccupying the island
1945 – Tinian, which was taken by the US the previous year, is used to launch the Enola Gay
1947 – The Northern Marianas Islands and the rest of Micronesia becomes the Trust Territory under the US
1949 – The Guam Congress Walkout takes place
1950 – The Organic Act for Guam is passed providing citizenship for all residents of the island
1960 – Joseph Flores is appointed Governor of Guam, the first Chamorro to be officially appointed
1962 – The security clearance for Guam which was enacted after World War II is lifted
1969 – A plebiscite on Marianas reunification takes place, the North enthusiastically votes yes, Guam votes no
1970 – Guam elects its first Governor, after Congress passed the Guam Elective Governor Act in 1968
1972 – Antonio Won Pat becomes the first official non-voting delegate to the US Congress
1974 – Chamorro is made an official language on Guam, alongside English
1975 – The Secret Guam Study, which details plans to keep Guam as a US territory is written and hidden
1979 – People on Guam overwhelmingly reject an attempt to create a stated based constitution for Guam
1984 – Felixberto Flores becomes the first Chamorro Archbishop
1987 – The Guam Commonwealth Act is approved by Guam voters
1990 – War Reparations for Chamorros in Guam languishes and dies in the US Congress
1991 – The grassroots activist group Nasion Chamoru is formed
1993 – 18 years after it was passed, the Chamorro Land Trust Act is implemented
1997 – A bill which would give Guam Commonwealth status dies in the US Congress

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