Hafa na Liberasion? #12: Tumutuge'

I haven't been posting much lately, and I've been out of phone and email contact with most everyone lately since I've been struggling to finish an article that I'm writing about American colonialism, war and Chamorro resistance.

The article is taking longer than I had anticipated and I'm now two days past my deadline.

I won't be writing anything new on this blog for a few days, because right after this I've got my dissertaton to write as well.

Comic Con is next week and I swore to myself that I would only be able to go if I finished drafts of at least two of my chapters before the first day. So far I have one and a half done. If I can just finish this article in the next day or so, I should be fine for the remaining half of my second chapter. I'm thinking about dressing up for the event. With not much time left, I don't think I have many cosplay options. One suggestion ginnen i che'lu-hu Si Jack is Tsume from Wolf's Rain. Hmmmm, hekkua'.

I've been so wrapped up in writing about i tiempon Chapones, gera, yan pinadesin Chamoru that I've almost completely forgotten that Liberation Day is just around the corner. I don't know how everyone else intends to spend Liberation Day, but since I'm in San Diego, with a dissertation to write, I will be spending it writing about the negative impacts of American colonialism, militarism and imperialism on Chamorros.

Just to get the blog fresh, thought I'd post a section from the article I'm working on. I've chosen to share the section on the shifts that take place in Chamorro consciousness because of World War II, where an island full of people who did not think of themselves as Americans and really didn't care about being Americans, are suddenly transformed into an island full of people who could imagine themselves as being nothing other than American!

Hope you find it interesting, I'll post more details later on when, where and if it's getting published.


At the start of World War II, we see a Chamorro entangled in American colonialism, but ultimately a sovereign subject, one which does not accept American control over its fate or its identity. As Guam historian Robert Underwood notes, prior to the start of the war, “the Chamorro people were not Americans, did not see themselves as Americans-in-waiting, and probably did not care much about being American.”[1]

Just a few years later in a 1944, an American news article would proclaim that the Chamorros of Guam were most definitely Americans, and exceptional ones at that, as they possessed a “patriotism would put many a US citizens to shame?”[2] How did such a drastic shift take place? All answers point to the brutal experience that Chamorro endured for 32 months under Japanese occupation.[3] During this period, hundreds of Chamorros were killed through massacres, executions, bombings.

Chamorros were forced out of their homes to make way for Japanese soldiers and officers, and could at any moment be the subject of physical beatings or humiliations. An unknown number of Chamorro women were raped, and the entire island was enslaved in order to provide food for the occupying Japanese military. Chamorros were prohibited from speaking English, and were often beaten or executed if the Japanese suspected that they were in anyway assisting the Americans.

The Japanese claimed to have expelled the United States so that they could include Chamorros in the brand new propserous empire comprised of all the Asiatic (and Pacific) peoples. However, as their occupation of Guam become progressively more and more brutal Chamorros saw through this rhetoric very quickly.[4]

The United States military would return to re-occupy Guam in 1944. Their invasion which began on July 21st, would be preceded by a massive bombing campaign which resulted in more Chamorro deaths and whose intention was to destroy every structure on the island. The intentions of the United States in returning to Guam were far from altruistic, and despite what mythology has been created today by both the military and Chamorros, Guam was not retaken to liberate the Chamorro people from Japanese oppression.[5] That was just a fortunate byproduct of a broader military strategy. Given its valuable geographic position the edge of Asia, Guam was considered to be a key base in continuing the military push Westward against the Japanese.

In her article “Psyche Under Siege: Uncle Sam Look What You’ve Done to Us,” Chamorro feminist scholar Laura Souder provides one possible explanation for this drastic shift.[6] She notes that despite the fact that America’s intentions were not altruistic, they did nonetheless space Chamorros from any further massacres, beheadings or forced labor under the Japanese. She contends that given the prominence of reciprocity in Chamorro culture at the time, this liberating gesture by the United States, would be treated just as if it were some other generous social act or form of assistance, and use the concept of chenchule’ to respond. Chenchule’ is a sort of active family/clan memory which recalls different individual and collective acts of generosity, reciprocity, obligation and responsibility.[7] The intentions of the United States are irrelevant. What matters is the massive debt that is incurred when this “invasion of Guam” is incorporated into the worldview of Chamorros.[8]

Thus, even after having their island and way of life destroyed both by Japanese brutality and American indiscriminate bombing, Souder states that Chamorros offered up what they could, “In deeply felt acts of Chamorro reciprocity, our people extended the most valuable of their possessions, albeit the only possessions they had to give- land and their very spirits, to Uncle Sam.”[9]

This theorization is attractive, but can be deceiving. It gives the Chamorro a form of agency in this desperate and disastrous moment of their history. It provides an indigenous explanation for the radical shift in how they understood their relationship to their colonizer, by arguing that the intimacy that emerges from the war, is the choice of Chamorros and not necessarily a victory for American colonialism.[10]

But as this explanation provides a semi-sovereign space for Chamorro, it is deceiving, since the drastic change that takes place in Chamorros, happens precisely because of the loss of that sovereign space. What happens during the trauma of the Japanese occupation is that the hegemonic idea amongst Chamorros that they exist independently of the United States evaporates and is quickly replaced with a new-enhanced version of the pre-war colonial assertion of Chamorro nothingness and lack of value. In war, this idea is taken to its next logical step, namely that if the Chamorro is nothing and America is everything, then the Chamorro cannot survive without the United States.

During World War II, or i tiempon Chapones, Chamorro experiences of forced labor, concentration camps and drunken massacres, all help instigate a comparison of colonialisms, through which the American brand emerges fresh, innocent and freedom-smelling.[11]
The racist and colonial, self-aggrandizing narratives that sought to colonize Chamorros during the pre-war era, were suddenly no longer abstract, silly or hypocritical. As 22,000 Chamorros sought to weather the typhoon of Japanese occupation, they found themselves now actively clinging to the ideas that America was great, was powerful and most importantly was their master, their savior, who would use its great military might to protect them. When American returns and reoccupies the island in 1944, these narratives have gained sudden incredibly consistency. The self-aggrandizing stories of the Naval greatness, and therefore by default the colonial slander of Chamorro backwardness and need for civilizing, all achieved the status of being hegemonic truths. The ideas that the Chamorro is static, incomplete, dependent were no longer a rogue narratives in Guam, which Chamorros refused to engage with, but had now become incredibly intimate ideas, which pierced the very core of how Chamorros perceived themselves. Therefore, the Chamorro which is “liberated” in World War II is no longer the indifferent native whose life is a daily struggle to passively resist and avoid their colonial master. The Chamorro is now that colonial thing which is always dependent, always in need of intervention, and always of course, in need of some sort of liberation.

We can perceive this change in Chamorro identification through an August 10, 1944 letter written by six Chamorros expressing their gratitude to the United States for saving their people from the Japanese. As these Chamorros commend the President of the United States and the Commander of the Pacific Fleet, Admiral Charles Nimitz for the liberation of their island, they inadvertently articulate the new subordinated subjectivity of Chamorros.

Five of these six signatories were Chamorros who would be considered manakhilo’ in terms of social standing and ginefsaga’.[12] All six had also found comfortable niches in the pre-war colonial regime, whether as judges, administrative officials or educators, and would continue in these privileged roles after the war.[13]

In this letter, they claim to express “on behalf of the people of Guam” the “heartfelt thanks” the Chamorro people feel for the American recapture of Guam by “the strong and invincible forces under [Admiral Nimitz’s] command.[14] Beyond the obvious sweet talking of these colonial subjects before their powerful master, the letter’s tone and sentiment expresses very well the changes that were taking place in public discourse after the war, and how the relationship between the Chamorro and the United States would be understood. In offering their thanks, the authors of this letter refer to the United States as “our common nation,” despite their cognizance that the United States in almost every sense of the word, meaning government, people, media, didn’t feel that way, and in 1944 Chamorros were still colonial subjects who lived at the whim of the United States Navy. The letter goes on to describe how the only thing that maintained the Chamorros’ mental and physical health was the power of American ideas and the American military. According to the letter, “what kept us throughout the thirty two months of Japanese oppression was our determined reliance upon our mother country’s power, sense of justice and national brotherhood.”[15] Although the Chamorro clearly survives World War II, this letter indicates the terms and contractual limits of that life, as it will always appear to be an effect of the United States.[16]


[1] Robert Underwood, “Teaching Guam’s History in Guam High Schools,” in Guam History Perspectives, ed. Lee Carter, Rosa Carter, William Wuerch (University of Guam, Mangilao, Guam, 1997), 7.
[2] Crecencis Cespedes, America to the Rescue, 1994, 48.
[3] The most complete account of the Chamorro experience on Guam during World War II is, Tony Palomo, Island in Agony, (Self-published, Hagatna, Guam, 2004).
[4] Statement taking over Guam.
[5] Camacho
[6] Laura Torres Souder, “Psyche Under Siege: Uncle Sam, Look What You’ve Done to Us.” Sustainable Development or Malignant Growth? (Suva, Fiji. Marama Publications, 1994), 193-194.
[7] According to Robert Underwood, “Reciprocity is the optimal value in Chamorro culture; you assist and you expect assistance in return; you sacrifice now so that someone will sacrifice for you later; you give chenchule’ now in the full expectation of receiving chenchule’ in your time of need or the need of your loved ones later on.” Uncle Sam, Sam My Dear Old Uncle Sam, Won’t you Please Be Kind to Guam, Thinking Out Loud Lecture Series. University of Guam, Mangilao, Guam. 20 August 2003.
[8] Brandon Cruz, “Debt of renaming road imposes on Guahan.” Pacific Daily News, 10 February 2004.
[9] Souder, 193.
[10] For other interventions which take on the same sort of intervention in terms of revealing agency see, Robert Underwood, “Red, Whitewash and Blue: Painting over the Chamorro Experience,” Pacific Daily News, 17 July 1977, 6-8. and, Vicente M. Diaz, “Deliberating “Liberation Day”: Identity, History, Memory and War in Guam,” Perilous Memories: The Asia Pacific War(s). T. Fujitani, Geoffrey M. White and Lisa Yoneyama Eds., (Duke University Press, Durham, North Carolina, 2001).
[11] Tiempon Chapoñes: Literally “the Japanese time.”
[12] Manakhilo’: Elite or rich person; Ginefsaga’: Wealth
[13] Francisco Baza Leon Guerrero, Vicente Camacho, Agueda Johnston, Jose Manibusan, Jose Roberto and one name I can’t read.
[14] Don Farrell, Liberation – 1944, (Micronesian Productions, Tamuning, Guam), 181.
[15] Ibid.
[16] Michael Lujan Bevacqua, The Scene of Liberation, Paper presented at the 14th Biennial Asian Pacific American Student Conference, Oberlin, Ohio, 17 February 2006.


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