Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The G Word

(This image comes from Guam Zombie, click the link to see more).

For the past week everyone, their grandmother, second cousin and achakma' have been asking me to weigh in on the debate over Chamorro vs. Guamanian. I ended up writing a very quick column for the Marianas Variety about the issue. I spent some time in one of my classes discussing it and ended up emailing back and forth with many people who feel angry and confused about the issue. Part of the anger and confusion was from Chamorros who feel like they are being erased in the rhetoric of the new administration on Guam which loves using the term Guamanian to refer to everyone on Guam, including Chamorros, basically saying that they are a group just like any others on Guam. The other anger and confusion was from young Chamorros and non-Chamorros who like using the term Guamanian and don't like being told that it is wrong to use it. For them, the term doesn't erase Chamorros, but is just something meant to refer to all who call Guam home.

Amidst all the discusison I even got an email from a graduate student in Hong Kong, who as part of her dissertation is writing about the ways Filipinos construct a sense of home on Guam. She had read something on my blog from a few years ago about the term Guamanian and asked me to elaborate more on my thoughts. Here is part of the email I sent her below, you can see where I stand on the issue by my analysis of it:


For Chamorros the term Guamanian does have a varied colonial history and therefore sometimes distressful implications. It is important to remember that when I speak of Guam it is always through a colonial context. Even if Guam is a very fortunate or comfortable colony, it has still been a colony of the US for 112 years and so the experiences of Chamorros are always filtered through the US and through a fundamentally unequal relationship. After World War II, the term Guamanian was chosen by Chamorros to refer to themselves in order to 1, differentiate themselves from Chamorros from the northern Marianas Islands who had fought for the Japanese during World War II, 2. to pay tribute to the Americans who had saved them in World War II. There were even informal votes taken in the villages on Guam to decide what new name Chamorros would have and they chose Guamanian because it sounded the most American (or at least it was the most American sounding choice they were allowed to chose, supposedly Guamaerican was the #1 choice, but the Americans didn't want Chamorros calling themselves Guamericans). This choice should be considered in the context of post-World War II Guam where choosing an American name was only the surface, and in a multitude of ways Chamorros decided to rid themselves and their island of things which would conflict or contradict their perceived Americaness. The language was something which the US had instituted policies to eradicate prior to World War II and after the war in order to show their devotion to the US, Chamorros kept the anti-Chamorro language policies in place.
This is the colonial history of the term, although at this point Guamanian did not refer to anyone from Guam, but only Chamorros from Guam. Over the years the terms fell out of use with Chamorros, as it became a sign of "selling out" to refer to oneself as being a Guamanian, or as if you were whitewashing yourself and pretending to be a white American when in truth you weren't. Eventually the choices that Chamorros made to get rid of their language and culture had a huge backlash and so people began to regret what they had done before, and so one of the ways that people sought to balance the scales was to stop referring to themselves as a made up name, which in a way tried to deny that Guam was not an equal part of the United States and that Chamorros had been treated in terrible racist ways by the US since 1898. They began to revive the term Chamorro as a way of asserting their indigenous identity. Part of this was also because of the influx of non-Chamorros, who as they increased in number, sought to assert an owernship over Guam and thus began to try to refer to themselves as Guamanian. As of today, Guamanian does refer to anyone who is a resident of Guam, but there is a stigma for Chamorros to use the term, since by referring to themselves as Chamorro they are tying themselves to the island, there is no need to take on an extra social category in order to articulate your connection.
A further reason that I might call the term Guamanian neo-colonial is because of the way it works in favor of American multiculturalism as the means of addressing the political frameworks and systems of Guam. One of the longstanding problems that Guam faces as a colony is that "legally" the United States has argued that even though Guam is not a full and equal part of the United States, US laws and interests should determine what Guam can and can't do, and that everything in Guam should conform to how things are done in the US and what the US wants Guam to be like. Ideally you would think that if you are not an equal member then it would give you some freedom to determine yourself, but this is where you can clearly see Guam's colonialism, in that the US asserts itself as the end all of Guam. As such, Chamorros on Guam have run into regular problems when they try to assert themselves politically and assert their rights (such as for decolonization/self-determination), when the US responds that such actions are against US law and therefore illegal and unconstitutional.

More than a century under the US has led Guam into a legal deadend, where it has to remain within what the US accepts and go no further. This is manifested in a similar way in how American multiculturalism comes into Guam to help erase the position of the Chamorro. Given the ways in which the genesis of the term was built upon an overt attempt to Americanize the Chamorro, which in turn led to them seeking to erase their rights, language and culture in order to become more American, we can also see this in how Chamorros have come to accept their island as primarily a multicultural one. This does not mean multicultural in terms of the presence of many cultures, but multicultural in the sense that all are fundamentally equal in relation to one dominant (usually invisible or less tangible) culture. In the US for instance, multiculturalism often functions as a way of managing various cultures in subordination to a perceived American political culture. That multiculturalism is just a little bit of what everyone has, but is not meant to challenge the larger order or structure of things. In recent years in the US, in particular since the election of a "multicultural" president of the US, we can see the backlash, where even if a non-white person is in power, there is a feeling amongst a large group of white Americans, that he cannot be a legitimate holder of that power. Questions nag Obama about whether he is really American or really born in the United States, and these are a manifestation of that disconnect, where the system that he is at the helm of, is perceived by most (even unconsicously) to be a white system; one which was created by white men, managed by white men, which white men are the best at controlling.
So in Guam, multiculturalism is enacted through the idea that every culture is fundamentally the same on Guam, but that one culture, an American culture sits at the center of the island managing their differences and giving them a common point of reference through which they can interact and get along. Guamanian is a term which has emerged in order to try and capture that sense of not really all being from Guam, but rather all being from an American Guam. Part of this discourse is that all cultures are basically the same, and this has a tendency to erase the claims of Chamorros to being the indigenous people of Guam. When I say erase I meant it in the same way in which Native Americans in the US, or indigenous people in many countries can be pointed to as being indigenous, but not have any recognized, political claims to that land. In the case of Guam, the term Guamanian has helped to draw attention away from the fact that while all groups can claim Guam as their home, there is a single group/community which can claim Guam as theirs for longer, and claim to be the natives of that land. This is part of the reason why the rights of Chamorros often go completely unrecognized or respected or even hated in Guam, because they are seen as upsetting that multicultural balance, where all cultures are supposed to be equal beneath the United States. I am fine with the term Guamanian so long as it isn't meant to include Chamorros. Unfortunately in the past election, the term was revived, when a candidate for Governor argued that he represented "the Guamanian Dream" which was meant to include all people of Guam including Chamorros, leading many Chamorros to cringe at such pandering. The candidate won the election in November and just last month when he was discussed the transfer of close to 10,000 US Marines from Okinawa to Guam, he argued that when the first Marines get to Guam, he will be waiting on the tarmac to greet them as Guamanians. Here we can see the slippage in the label and why it is dangerous for Chamorros. The category is built upon residence, and it is something which even the political proponents of it (the Governor is a Chamorro) can bestow upon anyone who simply lives on Guam. So for some it is a good identity to distinguish themselves as disaporic or as having a primary identification with Guam, in contrast to any other place, but for Chamorros the term is dangerous. For Chamorros it can serve a neo-colonial purpose as further dispossessing them from their own island.

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