Sunday, July 15, 2012

History and Happiness

History is important because it holds the truth. The problem, like everything else dealing with the truth, is the uncertainty over what people should do with truths they don't like. History is filled with things you will like, things you won't really care about, and things you will hate hearing about. There are things that fill you with inspiration, love, hope and faith in the world around you, and things that make the world around you feel hollow, terrible, disgusting and make you wish you could leave it all behind, time travel or be sent to another universe.

One of my favorite quotes about history is the notion that "Happy people have no history." This is something that I don't agree with as something that produces happiness, but I do believe that many people relate to the concept and force of history with this in mind. The less you know or the narrower your knowledge is about history, the happier you might seem to be. If you come from a community with a violent past, one where the world today is built upon the systems of oppression that your ancestors engineered and then casually maintained for centuries than history is filled with stuff you’d probably rather forget. If you come from a community where your privilege today is clearly based on a historical oppression of others, than it would make sense that history would be your enemy. History would implicate your ancestors and it could implicate your identity and your comfort today. It would implicate you in so many ways and may make it difficult for you to enjoy your life and your position today.

But the problem is that there is no clear path for what to do about traumatic or unjust past events. It can be argued over whether they are truly past, whether they are ever really over, but none of that helps you deal with the issue of redress or restitution. If it can be proven that your privilege and place today was built on the oppression of others, what are you supposed to do? You can't turn back the clock, you don't want to do anything really since for you so much of this is behind you or never had anything to do with you. French Philosopher places Justice beside several other things that humans must attempt to reach and address, but nonetheless remain impossible concepts.

That is why most people choose to do nothing, and actively attempt to not know history. They work to know as little as possible so that a convenient fantasy can stand in place for their history. It is a fantasy that can fill in the gaps in the way that makes easier to digest and accept. That is the reason why for Chamorros today there is no holiday to celebrate the American takeover in 1898. There is no real way that Chamorros memorialize that moment despite it being the precise exchange that leads Guam to first becoming an American territory. Why is that?

Why is it that Chamorros work so hard to commemorate and memorialize World War II, and pretend that it is the moment Guam becomes really American, when Guam had been a US territory for more than 40 years already by that point? The reason is because World War II offers a plethora of moments that carve into your mind a great, desperate desire by Chamorros to have America close to them. This is a moment that is ideal for building patriotism to the US, and for crafting a historical argument that the second-class citizenship of Chamorros and the colonial status of Guam are just fine, since they allow us to be a part of the US!

1898 and the transfer of power offers no such opportunities. It is barely known about, rarely discussed and even less imagined. Everything we know about it indicates that most Chamorros were not enthusiastic about it and were worried about what American control would mean for the island. For the next 40 years they were absolutely right to worry as Chamorros would have less freedom and liberties than they had under the Spanish. It wasn’t until 1950 that Chamorros were afforded even the most basic rights as humans or even subjects attached to the US. For those today looking at the history of this island, it can cause problems understanding why this union might feel great now, but why Chamorros were treated so poorly for so long from the start? The rawness of Guam’s history at points might make patriotism feel strange, and so as a result you forget what complicates and remember what complements.
That's why July is so important in Guam. The spectacle of America saving and Chamorros sacrificing all help fill the complicating parts of Guam's history. It all helps to fill them in a way that is meant to result in less discomfort and more historically digestible happiness.

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