Monday, November 29, 2010

Remembering War and Promoting Peace

In my endless quest to make sure that I always have too many things to do and not enough time to do them in, I've started working with the office of Senator Frank Blas Jr. on an event to be held on December 8th to commemorate the invasion of Guam in 1941 by the Japanese. Each year there is a Paka-level-strength-typhoon of memorialized and commemorating for the reoccupation of the island by US force, known as Liberation Day, but very little takes place to remember the island was first cast into the fire of war. This event will feature a photo exhibit at the Cathedral Gallery in Hagatna, a mass on December 8th as well as a war storytelling event to take place after the mass. This project is the most recent part of Senator Blas' push to get war reparations for Chamorros. If you want more information on that issue then they have created a website devoted to it called Guam War Survivor Story.

I'm pasting information on the project below, the photo exhibit and also some info on the mass and storytelling event, but also I was hired to help research for the exhibit and also help prepare a slate of columns written by the Senator in the weeks leading up to the anniversary. They are being published in the Marianas Variety the first of which appeared just last week. I've pasted that column titled "Strength to Go On" below as well.


Community Collaborates to Remember World War II and Promote Peace

War Survivor Exhibit to Open Nov. 29

November 23, 2010

For Immediate Release

Hagåtña, Guam – When Guam was invaded by Japan on December 8, 1941, hundreds of island residents were attending church services at the Dulce Nombre de Maria Cathedral in honor of their patron saint Santa Marian Kamalen. They were praying as the war began. To remember that history, the Guam War Survivor Memorial Foundation and the Archdiocese of Agana, in collaboration with several community groups, are hosting a photo exhibit at the Cathedral-Basilica Museum entitled, “Take My Hand: Remembering How the War Began, Promoting Peace in Our Land.”

The exhibit will feature photo collections provided by the Notan Museo, National Museum of the Dulce Nombre de Maria Cathedral-Basilica; the Guam Humanities Council; the National Park Service; the Department of Parks & Recreation; the Micronesian Area Research Center (MARC) and the Office of Senator Frank F. Blas, Jr.

“We must remember that the strength and sprit of our manåmko’ helped them survive the war and shaped who we’ve become today,” said Sen. Frank F. Blas, Jr. “This exhibit displays the photos and stories of our war survivors, and reminds us that they are truly our island’s heroes.”

The exhibit will open with a press conference at the Cathedral-Basilica Museum at 10 a.m. on Monday, November 29, 2010. It will run until Wednesday, December 8, 2010.

Exhibit Hours of Operations (November 29 – December 8, 2010)
Monday-Friday: 9:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m.
Saturday: 6:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.
Sunday: 9:00 a.m. - 2:00 p.m.
December 8: 9:00 a.m. - 9:00 p.m.

For more information contact Senator Blas at 687-1483 or 472-2527. Please visit our website:
December 8th Remembrance Mass

November 18,2010


Remembering how the war began.

Forgiving what it became.

Hafa Adai!

Last year, our office embarked on a public awareness campaign that documented the stories of 30 of our island's World War II survivors. We published their stories in the newspaper, featured them in a traveling exhibit, created a website, and petitioned United States Congress for war reparations. As a result, thousands of people from Guam and all over the world have learned about this difficult moment in our island's history, and honored those who survived.

Because Liberation Day is in July, our survivors are typically only remembered during the summer, and the narrative tends to focus on the end of the war. But there is so much more to the story that needs to be told. Our office is organizing an event that we hope will deepen our community's understanding of the war, and continue our efforts to honor our war survivors.

We are asking for your support of this worthy project entitled "TAKE MY HAND: Remembering how the war began. Forgiving what it became." We plan to print ads in the newspaper leading up to our event that will include historical details, survivors' memories of the beginning of the war, and lessons on forgiveness and survival. Our event will begin with a Remembrance Mass on the morning of December 8, 2010 at the Dulce Nombre de Maria Cathedral-Basilica to be celebrated by Archbishop Anthony Apuron; followed by the Spirit of Ina'famauleg and breakfast reception at the Cathedral-Basilica Lanai; and the war survivors storytelling and exhibit at the Cathedral-Basilica Museum. The project has three goals: to continue to inform our community about this important moment in our island's history, honor our survivors and promote forgiveness and healing.

Would you or your company be interested in making a financial donation to help defray the costs of this December 8 event? If so, please contact Ms. Norma Aflague at 472-2527137 or email to her at normaaflague@hotmail.comThis e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
We look forward to your favorable participation.

Frank Blas Jr.
Click here to download the event flyer.


Strength to Go On
Senator Frank Blas Jr.
Marianas Variety

When I think about the struggles our island’s World War II survivors have overcome, and the need to pass War Reparations legislation as soon as possible to recognize them, I am reminded of a famous survivor from South Africa. A man who spent 27 years in prison for no other crime than fighting for equality and freedom for his people in their land. This man is Nelson Mandela, and the words that helped him endure his hardest times seem to perfectly capture the spirit of our manåmko’.

If you were to meet Nelson Mandela and ask him how he survived nearly three decades of his life in that tiny cell on Robben Island, or why when he was released he didn’t seek violent retribution against the people who had put him there, but instead became South Africa’s first black president and focused on healing his divided nation, he might recite for you some lines of poetry. According to Mandela, during the times in prison when he would find himself no longer able to go on, no longer able to stand strong, he would read the poem “Invictus” by a 19th century British poet named William Henley. This poem was something he held closely to his chest, and when he would recite it, the words would burn into his mind, and he would find iron again in his back, and steel in his will.
Here are a few lines from that poem that truly remind me of our own survivors:
“I thank whatever gods may be, for my unconquerable soul ... I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.”
When I say those lines to myself, inside my head, they conjure up images of what Guam must have been like during World War II, or I Tiempon Chapones as they used to call it. Our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents were caught in a terrible place during that time. Their island transformed for 32 months into a battlefield for two superpowers. One of these powers claimed that Asia and the Pacific was its domain and conquered Guam and many other places in order to turn itself into a modern empire. The other deemed that Guam could not be defended, and left our island to be sacrificed to their enemy.

Many historical accounts have shown how the Chamorro people, in order to endure the trauma of war, used the hope that the US would return to Guam. The song “Sam, Sam, My Dear Uncle Sam” is a testament to that. But to reduce our war stories to that narrative, or even to say that this is the idea that should define that experience does not do justice to our survivors.
As my team and I have been working on a public awareness campaign documenting our war survivors’ stories and pushing the United States Congress for War Reparations, we have found that survival requires not a belief in someone else, but a deep strength that can only be found within.

Our survivors’ stories have taught us that it was not Uncle Sam who worked in the rice fields. It was not Uncle Sam who was forced to watch as his or her relatives were beheaded. It was not Uncle Sam who was forced to “comfort” occupying soldiers and then remain quiet for decades about the abuse. It was our manåmko’ who did all that. And even if the hope that Uncle Sam would return helped them, it was the Chamorro people who endured and survived the War.

Although I doubt many of our manamko’ were aware of the poem Invictus during the war, and Nelson Mandela himself was just in his twenties, the spirit of that poem was something they brought to life in their own ways. Guam’s former delegate to Congress Ben Blaz once wrote, “The Chamorro spirit was not an abstraction; rather, it was demonstrably real during those years and I have drawn inspiration and sustenance from that reality my entire life.”

When faced with swords and bayonets during the war, and later American bombs and bulldozers, the Chamorro people did not lay down to die. They did not give up or give in. They held tightly to their families, their culture, and their unconquerable souls.

I imagine an island of 22,000 people – mothers, fathers, children, elders, each reaching deep within themselves to find that strength to go on, to endure and live another day. I can imagine each in their own way, whispering to themselves, “Estegue i taiå’ñao na ante-ku, ya put este, Guahu i ma’gas I lina’la’-hu.”

To learn more about Guam’s war survivors, please visit


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