Tomorrow I'll be reading my poem "Ancient Chamorro Sexy Time" as part of the launch for the Chamorro Studies major at UOG. I am not much of a poet, but I do every once in a while, about once a year, enjoy writing some poetry. I usually end up writing one long piece, that takes several weeks to eventually finish. In it, I try to tackle some big huge issue going on in Chamorro history, culture or in the Chamorro present. In my most recent poem I dealt with issues of "nakedness" and our relationship to our ancient, pre-clothing past. I've also dealt with revolution, cultural purity, language politics and others.
With the starting of the Chamorro Studies program at UOG, we are moving into a new phase in terms of our place in this island and in the world. Chamorros have been working for decades to seek legitimization for their knowledge, language and culture. To have a major at the University of Guam that can provide that is a truly remarkable thing. As the program coordinator for Chamorro Studies, I've had lots of people talk to me about their ideas about what a Chamorro Studies program is supposed to do. Some people focus on the idea that a Chamorro Studies program will authenticate things, and tell everyone with definitive certainty what is and what isn't Chamorro.
This is not a goal for Chamorro Studies. Chamorro Studies is not about creating a singular sort of portrait of what Chamorros are or what they once were. It is meant to be viewed on a spectrum, with the different variations and possibilities for Chamorros mapped out, so that we can see ourselves not through a microscope, but through a macro lens. It is not about elevating the Ancient ones to be the true ones, or about making the argument that only Catholic Chamorros are real Chamorros or anything else. In my mind it is about analyzing the things that Chamorros define in their lives, but also the things that define them.
It is intriguing to come to this point, a point in my life that I have long dreamed of, and then reflect back. The sparodic nature of my poetry writing is most likely not random. I think in many ways it is tied to different watershed moments in my development of consciousness or ideological growth. As I have grappled with issues and tried to figure out my ways of talking or thinking about them, a poem as emerged helping me navigate things.
Like many Chamorros who undergo a shift of consciousness after going through the canons of Guam history and seeing the racism and obliviousness drip from the pages, I was once angry. The smugness of so many historians and academics as they wrote about Chamorros was amazing in an appalling sort of way. There was this sort of glib glee as people would write about Chamorros no longer existing and how they had all died out long ago, and all that were left today were the ghosts too stupid to know that they were dead. I remember feeling such incredible rage, poetry was one way I would seek to escape from that bleeding red haze.
I came across one of my poems that I wrote during those grad school days. One that I don't share very often. I'm not sure exactly why I don't share it very often. I think it might be that the language isn't particularly poetic. Or it might be that the first time I did read it, few people seemed to get what my point was. Regardless, I felt for some reason like sharing it here today.
It's titled is "Don't Give the Chamorro a Cigarette Just Yet."
Don’t Give the Chamorro a Cigarette Just Yet…
by Michael Lujan Bevacqua
In my readings of Guam’s history from the Spanish period to the present day, there always seems to be this one image that captures and dictates my imagining and imagination.
When I read our history, I always get this scene of Chamorros, standing before a firing squad, often blindfolded, each with an unlit cigarette in their mouths, just on the edge of non-existence.
Go through Spanish accounts and you’ll see discussions about Chamorros by priests and governors as if they don’t exist, or as if they are on the verge of oblivion. Read governors’ reports or medical articles from the American period and you get the same impression, Chamorros are dirty little impure creatures who without America and the English language would just drop dead and cease to be.
The intensity of this image became so ingrained in my ideas that I began to think of Guam’s history in terms of Chamorros being given metaphorical cigarettes of death.
Questions and scenarios began to pop into my head
Did the Spanish introduce tobacco to Guam just to give Chamorros that first whiff of genocide and extinction just before they nearly wiped them out?
After those wars, when some sources say all the Chamorro men were dead, and boatloads of Filipinos came to marry Chamorro women, thereby giving eager scholars the best evidence of Chamorro non-existence. Did these Filipinos hand cigarettes to their new brides as wedding gifts?
And what about the benevolent Americans who we tend to think of as the liberators of our culture?
Did they flick cigarettes at Chamorro farmers as they called them “niggers” or wrote articles that said, without civilizing and the destruction of their culture, they’ll just dissipate from history?
Or what about the American desperate, urgent almost pathological need to destroy the Chamorro language? They burnt books, they beat children, they fined people the wages of an entire month if a child so much as uttered a single Chamorro word.
Did they force open the mouths of these children, extinguish their sizzling and smoking cigarettes on the tongues of these children, and then demand that they smoke that same cigarette?
And how could we ever forget the war? When the Navy abandoned Guam in 1941 to the Japanese, leaving Chamorros the victims of empires and their inevitable conflicts. Did they leave behind crateloads of American brand cigarettes as well as the tune to Uncle Sam Won’t You Please Come Back to Guam?
Then there was the bombing, which was so sporadic and so careless it destroyed most of the villages of the island, and left unknown numbers of Chamorros dead, to be remembered as less than collateral damage. Did they drop bomb-loads of cigarettes from planes as they flew overhead?
As Marines landed on the beaches and discovered crowds of jubilant Chamorros, and gave eager young boys and girls candy bars, gum, and yes infamous cigarettes, they were often heard to exclaim, “You mean people live here?” or “I can’t believe anyone could have survived that bombing!”
And how could we ever forget the post war years. When the military thought it strategically important enough to steal almost every piece of land north of Inalahan. I remember hearing stories about farmers who were forced to give up their lands, or tricked into giving them up, and then died broken tragic deaths with little to offer their children. Their despair nothing more than tears in the pounding, requiem-sounding torrential downpour of war. Did Naval officers, in spotless and neatly pressed uniforms put cigarettes into the mouths of these men, and then their children, their wives, before they stole their land?
Even to this day, the extinction agenda is not complete.
In articles, in conversations, the discourse on cultural destruction persists. Chamorros themselves have taken up this habit, and begin to doubt their own existences, sometimes puffing the first whiff of death from that last cigarette as they board a Continental flight away from Guam, both in body and spirit.
Even I am sometimes offered that final metaphoric smoke.
By scholars reciting historical scholars.
Or by older Chamorros who are tired of GovGuam corruption or buying food for family gatherings, or thinking about how much easier life would be if their parents were in Saint Dominic’s.
Or by young Chamorros, some of which have never left Guam, who write poetry about snow in the voice of Brittney Spears and know more about Lord of the Rings Characters than their own grandparents.
But everytime the deadly addiction, the extinction affliction is offered.
Meaning someone is telling me it’s almost my time to go.
To go and meet my ancestors in whatever museum or tourist attraction houses the souls of lost and dead cultures.
My response is always the same,
I don’t smoke, and I’m not going anywhere.