Friday, November 29, 2013

Chamorro Nationalism Revisited

Dipotsi sa' este i kustrumbre-ku.  In all my classes I teach at the University of Guam, whether it be English, Chamorro or History the issue of decolonization and independence for Guam always arises. Part of this is because of who I am and what I believe in. This affects how I teach and what I teach. Part of it is also how students see me and how many of them know that if you google Guam and Decolonization or Guam and a wide range of other topics you will end up with something involving me or written by me. I do not necessarily force this issue on students, but always remind them of the importance of this topic as they live on this island and in this world.

Part of the difficulty though in discussing these two topics is that while Guam is a colony and has been such for more than a century, the Chamorro experience of colonialism has changed so much since 1898, 1941, even 1968. The colonial difference between Guam and the United States is not as wide or as daunting or as disgusting as it used to be. In Guam in 1898, 1941, 1944 and even 1968 you could see where America ended and Chamorros and Guam began. You could see that America engaged with Chamorros only up to a certain point as human beings or as subjects worth anything, and then after that dismissed them. It is not that Chamorros saw themselves the same way that Chamorros in the 17th century saw themselves in relation to the Spanish. They did not see themselves as a pure indigenous race of people, but there was an understanding that 

The fact that the Americans were racist in how they treated Chamorros wasn't apalling or really that surprising in the same way in which people today react to that past. Most Chamorros today have a generally positive view of the United States and see its sins and crimes as something that are unfortunate or terrible mistakes, but don't really provide evidence of what the United States states for or supposed to be. When you hear about the racist and terrible ways were treated part of the outrage comes from the expectation that they should not have been treated like that not because of who they were, but because America is supposed to be better than that. 

For example, when Chamorros today read the quote below from the 1936 Guam Recorder, they feel mixed emotions. They are happy those racist times are over. They get outraged because they can't believe things used to be like that.
It is a fact that inasmuch as the united states governs here, the Chamorro people should make a determined effort to throw off the last remnants of customs, languages, and ideas which are detrimental to their advancement and to which they cannot be sentimentally attached as relic of their Government by another Nation. To assist in this process is the duty of every American on the Island.
 The problem however is that for Chamorros in 1936, most, but not all of them, racism and the United States were unified and there was no difference between them. It was not that racism was an offshoot or something that was errant and unexpected, the United States was seen by Chamorros as being racist. As something that fundamentally looked down on them and was reinforcing this in how they segregated life on the island and prohibited their language. This is why I often write that Chamorros at that time knew the United States was a colonizer, they understood and perceived clearly the colonial difference. 
Our history would be very different if World War II had not taken place, or if it had happened even just a little bit differently. In the period between World War I and World War II, the US government knew that Guam was a target and would no doubt be dragged rather violently into any conflict with Japan. The government however became deadlocked over what to do with Guam. Small attempts were made to fortify Guam in anticipation for the conflict the War Department knew was coming, but all serious moves to defend Guam or prepare Guam were abandoned. As a result Guam was "sacrificed" in the words of historian Don Farrell to the Japanese. When the Japanese invade, their tactics in dominating Guam are much more brutal and aggressive than those used by the US and so Chamorros pray for the US return and eagerly welcome them when they come back in 1944. Chamorros emerge from the war drastically different than in prior years. In 1944, they cannot imagine a world without the US at the center of it, whereas before, it really didn't matter to them if the US was at the center or not.

But what if history had happened differently. One of the things which has kept the colonial difference stark and real for some Chamorro families is the illegal land takings in postwar Guam for strategic military purposes. In the generations of Chamorro activists or fierce critics of US policy since World War II, their ranks have been filled primarily with those who lost pieces of land (maseha dikike' pat dangkolu) in order to create the many US military facilities that Guam hosts today.

What if, instead of abandoning Guam for the 20 years prior to World War II, what if the US had instead militarized it? And not just a tiny bit, but went full out and transformed Guam into the fortress some analysts imagine it could be? Strategists in the era between world wars claimed that Guam was indefensible and that it would cost far too much to attempt to defend it. What if Congressmen and Senators ignored these recommendations and instead pumped a huge amount of money and effort into Guam? What if the US used the powers they had at that time (and still have today) to take large tracts of land and build their bases and dredge the reefs and so on? What if the period of displacement had happened before war took place?

Things would be very different to say the least.

When Chamorros lose large pieces of land in postwar Guam, the loss of the land is explained and integrated into the logic of chenchule' and a great debt owed to the US for saving people from the Japanese. Chamorros felt indebted to the US for its return, and so when the prospect of giving up their land in order to help the US came up, most were grateful for the chance to give back, to do something to repay their debt. The land takings were seen as traumatic and terrible, especially by 1948 and 1949, when the war was long over and Chamorros could not understand why lands were not being returned or why lands were still being taken. But, they were not seen as something foreign. It was not something that arose in Chamorros such indignity or displeasure at how they were being mistreated that they organically created an oppositional consciousness in challenging it or explaining it. The logic of chenchule' held strong, and Chamorro understood the land takings as a greedy move on the part of the US, in the same way someone who once brought binadu to a fiesta, later assumes that this means he can borrow your car whenever he wants. Chamorros did not use the land takings as a reason to push away from the US, as others might have, because they already felt bound to them through this relationship, and so rather than breaking away, they instead sought to move closer and to hopefully cause the US to change its behavior and treat Chamorros better.

It was funny in 2009 when the dump issue (both Ordot's closing and the Layon opening) was all over the papers, and Federal judge Frances Tydingco-Gatewood was wielding much power in the name of the Federal government, a possible walkout of the Guam Legislature was discussed. For those who don't know, an infamous walkout was held in 1949 by the Guam Congress in response to the US Navy's actions in Guam. It received international attention and was a small part of why the US policies towards Guam changed and the US Navy was replaced with the civilian Government of Guam in 1950.

As the Feds were again seen as acting unfairly towards Guam, different activists (myself included) and local leaders were discussing holding another symbolic walkout in 2009. Nothing came from this, except for lots of discussion and several posts on this blog included one of my favorites "A Guam Legislature Walkout?" The Legislature, under the leadership of Speaker Judi Won Pat (whose father was speaker during the Guam Congress Walkout), held a laughable and very embarrassingly small "forum" in front of the Federal Courthouse in Anigua where they discussed the walkout and other issues of Federal Territorial Relations. The rhetoric for that forum were far more interesting than the event itself, which was planned at the very last minute with almost no one who didn't work at the Legislature knowing it was taking place.

The coverage for the event, claimed that there might be on Guam a "rise in nationalism." Government rhetoric, especially from the Legislature seemed to be more openly critical of the US government, and so one article from the Marianas Variety identified that as a sign of an emerging nationalism. I found this analysis cute but woefully incorrect. The expression of discontent in both 1949 and 2009 are not nationalistic in nature. They do not argue the primacy of a local nation or a Chamorro nation. They do not seek to establish the alterity of said nation.
In both cases, if you pay attention to the rhetoric it is still very much caught in the chenchule' dynamic. It is discontent that seeks a better deal from someone or something that it recognizes as being in charge or being better. Their discontent is expressed in terms of not being fairly, but as to what they invoke as the proper treatment, it is not human rights, it is not the rights of a people of Guam, but as people attached to the United States. They are not being treated the way people who are Americans or part of an American dependency is being treated. That is not nationalism. You can call it anti-Federalism or local antagonism, but not nationalism.

Part of the frustration of trying to push for decolonization in Guam today is that way that what should be nationalism is always entangled in Americanization. That even those who critique and challenge the US often do so from the stance of being American or not being treated as proper Americans. This means that seeing the truth of the relationship that Guam has with the US is always problematic, because even those who appear to be critical, may in many ways only be able to see the situation within an American context and nothing else. That means so many things, but in a fundamental sense it means that people on Guam will always have trouble dealing with the US, and never be able to see the relationship for what it is because of how they take their presence in the US as the basis for their ability to speak, to think, to exist and to have rights and be a possible subject.

Many activists, especially those who are young and looking to find a place amongst the different groups and ways of articulating a decolonial or anti-base agenda make this easy mistake. They assume that someone who criticizes the Federal Government or the United States must be on their side. Because Senator Fulanu or Tan Fulanu said something I agree with they must share the same nationalist sentiment. This is where the the power of rage in articulating a political project can be both powerful but dangerous. Those who make these critiques are upset, they feel offended, disrespected, mistreated.

As I often write the difference here is generally felt in terms of fina'taotao and fina'ga'ga'. To be treated like you are human, a real person, or to be treated like you are an animal and less than human. If you are interested in decolonization and looking for allies be wary. If someone makes an argument that you like especially about how people on Guam are being treated or that they deserve better, pay attention to the source of their rage.  Although it does sound as if they are claiming that they wish to be mafa'taotao or treated with dignity and respect, are they really seeking to be mafa'Amerikanu? To be treated like an American?

You could say that a Chamorro nationalism was formed in postwar Guam, but it is a minor and dependent nationalism. It is one that relies on the US for existence. This would have been very different however if the counterfactual that I mentioned above had taken place.

If the US had built up Guam prior to World War II with the same intensity that it did after the war, then Chamorros would have been given a less appetizing view of US militarization. They would have seen the negative aspects first, prior to seeing its liberating potential. They would have seen these acts of land taking and dispossession in a radically different light. They would have felt the sting of losing land not as something that they are doing to pay back the US, but something is unfair and unjust in their own light. It would be something that they would not make excuses for, but struggle to find a way to rationalize politely in their minds. They would look and think about what the US has and hasn't given them, and how the US has treated them up to that point. They would feel the colonial difference as a massive gulf between them and those who are not displacing them, and it would play a huge role in whether or not they can justify this as being something alright since the US is defending us and helping us, or that the US is taking advantage of us and oppressing us.

The key point here is that the suffering of World War II and the Americanizing aspects of it would not exist yet and so all the reasons that Chamorros used to justify that them being treatment with such disrespect in post war Guam couldn't easily be invoked here. As a result, the seeds of a Chamorro nationalism might have been sown. The loss of so much land and the bringing of so much military to Guam might have created a deeper rift between Chamorros and the US, and that rift would have then changed how they interpreted their occupation by the Japanese. It could have made them become more attached to the United States, it could have made them less attached.

I often wonder how my life and how Guam would be different if an strong nationalist spirit existed. As a historian it is an interesting exercise to consider and imagine how things might have happened differently, but ultimately we are still stuck with the way in which history ran its course. But thinking about those counterfactuals can still be helpful in giving you an insight into the way things did turn out, and what factors brought things there.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Stranger than Fiction

Si Yu'us Ma'ase to Mar-Vic Cagurangan for her mention of my column "When the Moon Waxes" and NaNoWriMo in her column earlier this month in The Marianas Variety.

For those who want to know more about NaNoWriMo from a Chamorro perspective or ChaNoWriMo, please check out the Chamorro Studies Facebook page. 


Stranger than Fiction
Mar-Vic Cagurangan
The Marianas Variety

THE hardest part of writing is coming up with the opening sentence.
With every new piece, you are a virgin – even if you have had this job all your adult life.

You embark on the process with nothing but a blank screen and frequent but unnecessary trips to the bathroom, hoping for the first atom of an idea to emerge. Writer’s block can be crippling.

For news writers, the challenge is to write a catchy lead with an interesting angle, coupled with the difficulty of digesting a 100-page document, a one-hour interview or a two-hour forum into a 500-word (or less) article. We are writers in a hurry, writing for readers in a hurry. We are not bound for fame and glory. We are as good as our last bylines.

For creative writers, the challenge is to come up with the best opening line that will be remembered and recited by generations of readers.

Among the best of the best opening lines of novels are:
  • “Maman died today. Or yesterday maybe, I don’t know.” ("The Stranger," Camus);
  • "Someone must have been telling lies about Josef K, for without having done anything wrong he was arrested one fine morning.” ("The Trial," Kafka);
  • “Call me Ishmael.” ("Moby Dick," Melville);
  • Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins.” ("Lolita," Nabokov); and
  • “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.” ("A Tale of Two Cities," Dickens).
This month may be the best season to talk about literature as the nation’s writers and wannabes compete at the novel-writing marathon called NaNoWriMo or National Novel Writing Month.

As Michael Bevacqua wrote in his Wednesday column, NaNoWriMo encourages those “who have a passion for writing ... to cast caution into the wind and blitz out the novel they have always dreamed of writing.”

Everyone has something to share. As the American author E.L. Doctorow said, “The moment you have nouns and verbs and prepositions, the moment you have subjects and objects, you have stories.”

And nothing is as good at fiction as fiction, Doctorow said. “Fiction is democratic, it reasserts the authority of the single mind to make and remake the world.”

Fiction writing, as in any other form of art, can be your best revenge on people who make your life miserable. You can turn them into whatever you picture them in your mind – a witch, a dictator, a zombie, or a cockroach.

Fiction writing is special specie. Unlike articles for regular publications that present current events as installments in a serial melodrama, fiction is a total and ultimate discourse, Doctorow said. “It excludes nothing. It will express from the depth and range of its sources truths that no sermon or experiment or news report can begin to apprehend.”

“It will tell you without shame what people do with their bodies and think with their minds. It will deal even-handedly with their microbes on their intuitions. It will know their nightmares and blinding moments of moral crises.”

I envy novelists. I don’t write fiction. Cranking up a pointless 600-word column to fill this space every week is my only playground. Newspaper columns are the distant cousin of creative writing.

But I am definitely a big fiction reader.

A couple of years ago, somebody asked me with a tinge of pity, “Why do you read mostly fiction?”

Because I write facts for a living and reading non-fiction can be imposing.

Because reading fiction gives a unique sensation; it feels like rolling pearls in your mouth.

“Fiction gives counsel. It connects the present with the past, and the visible with the invisible. It distributes the suffering. It says we must compose ourselves on out stories in order to exist. It says if we don’t do it, someone else will do it for us,” Doctorow said.

“You will experience love, if it so chooses, or starvation or drowning or dropping through space or holding a hot pistol on your hand with the police pounding on the door. This is the way it is, it will say, this is what it feels like.”

Facts are stranger than fiction.

Sunday, November 24, 2013


In the writing world, November is a special month, although a generally crazy month.

It is known as NaNoWriMo or National Novel Writing Month. During this month all of those who have a passion for writing are encouraged to cast caution into the wind and blitz out the novel they have always dreamed of writing. It is something anyone, from any walk of life can participate in. All it takes is commitment and time management. The link for the website where you can sign up is (

For those who take on the NaNoWriMo challenge, the number 50,000 signifies both a hated overseer and a inspiring target. As this process is about getting those who want to write, to write, everyone is given a target, 50,000 words, that they are to reach by the end of the month. Over the course of November you are to type out 50,000 words of your chosen story.

Since the target is all that matters you are not encouraged to edit and rewrite as you write, but simply charge forward until you finally scale that 50,000 word tall peak. The rest of the year can be spent tweaking and rethinking, but November is purely for writing. So you take your idea and see whether it can take you to 50,000 words or not.

I participated last year and used November as a chance to start a story I had always imagined but never gotten around to really fleshing out. My story was titled “The Legend of the Chamurai” and takes place over 600 years after a great warrior makahna or spiritual fighter receives a vision foretelling the doom of her people. Along the way, conquistadors and Japanese samurai make appearances. Ferdinand Magellan appears in a cameo at one point.

As Ancient Chamorros believed in ancestral worship as their religion, they saw the world around them as filled with the spirits of their ancestors. These spirits give guidance and good fortune, and so my story tries to give life to this possibility, placing the worlds of the living and the dead side by side. Makahnas (today known as suruhanus) have the ability to harness the power of the spiritual world and cast spells, summon monsters and create shields of protection.

Famous taotaomo’na figure such as the white lady and Gadao are there, as are less known spirits such as Anufat and Gamson. Even the infamous trickster spirit Ukudu plays a role in the story.

I reached my goal of 50,000 words and have been eagerly awaiting November to come again so that I can continue my story.

This year is different however, because I am currently the program coordinator for the Chamorro Studies major program at the University of Guam. The purpose of the program is to preserve, study and promote the knowledge, language and culture of Chamorros. So this year’s NaNoWriMo has a visibly local twist for me, and I am encouraging people to join me and participate in ChaNoWriMo, or “Chamorro Novel Writing Month.”

Participating in ChaNoWriMo is just as easy as NaNoWriMo, with one expected difference. For NaNoWriMo you can write about anything, for ChaNoWriMo, you have to take special care to weave throughout your story things that are representative of Chamorros. In other words, write a story that will use the Chamorro language, history and culture as core parts of how the plot unfolds.

This can mean that you write a story entirely in Chamorro, or it can mean just the dialogue is in Chamorro. Or it can just be a promise to use Chamorro words as much as possible in the dialogue or the text.

But these sorts of things can be spell and incidental. The inclusion of a minor character from Guam, the use of “Hafa Adai? here or there, or as most films and novels do it, you just mention Guam randomly at some point. For those who want to participate in ChaNoWriMO, you have to go a bit further. You have to really find a way to represent creatively Chamorros. This means finding a part of the Chamorro story or the Chamorro experience that doesn’t receive as much attention and highlighting it. Or it can mean taking something that people are already familiar with and writing about it in a completely new light.

For example, I am looking forward to someone updating the traditional “suruhanu/suruhana” figure. Suruhanus can help people in many ways. They have natural remedies, sometimes offer midwife service, can be experts at massage, and can also be our link to the spiritual world. When you are at a point where an illness seems to have no cure or where some supernatural mystery cannot be answered, you turn to a suruhanu to help you.

I can’t wait till someone writes a series titled, “CSI: Suruhanu.” In it, families and the police when faced with crimes or mysteries that cannot be solved or have some unfathomable dimension, they’ll call in the services of CSI: Suruhanu, who can use his mental fortitude to analyze clues, but also his connections to his “ga’chong” in the taotaomo’na world for finding the truth. If this concept doesn't interest you, take some other aspect and write a similar transformation for it.

The Chamorro Studies Program Facebook page will be offering more information on how to participate in ChaNoWriMo. To receive these updates please like it on Facebook. 

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Spear of the Nasion

“The Spear of the Nasion”
Michael Lujan Bevacqua
Marianas Variety

When I first began attending the University of Guam as an undergraduate, I had been off island for several years and so in a way, I was remembering and re-discovering Guam. When I had left Guam in middle school, I had never heard of Nasion Chamoru, but when I returned it was something that everyone seemed to have opinions about, mostly negative.

Byt this point, the first Maga’lahi of Nasion Chamoru, Angel Santos had already successfully transitioned from activist to politician and was running for governor under the Hita banner. The height of Nasion Chamoru’s notoriety, when they were camping in front of Adelup and blocking access to disputed properties and getting arrested had passed several years before. Despite these changes in the group, there was still plenty of hate and vitriol left in how people talked about them.

That first year I was at UOG, from parties, to the media, to classes, I heard Nasion Chamoru referred to as everything from Communists, radicals, taimamahlao, mental patients, racists and of course anti-American. These labels came from both Chamorros and non-Chamorros. Many people seemed to equate them with all that was wrong with the island, that they were tearing things apart and spreading hate.

No matter how much I spoke to people or learned about them I could not make sense of the level of hatred for Nasion Chamoru and their actual activities. Given the level of chinatli’e’ that people espoused, you might think that Nasion Chamoru was a group of puppy torturers and kitten killers.  

Nasion Chamoru grew out of a collection of Chamorros that were dissatisfied with the status quo of the island. Some were mad at the way Americanization was affecting Chamorro language and culture. Some were mad at how their family’s lands were taken after World War II. Some were veterans angry at how they had been treated during their service. Most were committed to Guam being an independent country. They all saw that the Chamorro people weren’t a minority, in the way that most Chamorros saw themselves, but rather a colonized people, a native nation with thousands of years of history behind it.

The actions of Nasion Chamoru were radical only in a local context, but not in a global context. Their activities ranged from consciousness raising, community organizing and civil disobedience. They created pamphlets, held demonstrations, organized teach in, but were more infamous for their protests, their occupying Chamorro lands, and their two sit ins that they held in front of Adelup. They were called anti-American but in truth sought to emulate America in a more ethical sense than the facile patriotism so many feel today. When Nasion Chamoru was first formed on July 21, 1991 their declarations were partially modeled after the founding documents of the United States. Nasion Chamoru was critical of American colonialism, but not necessarily critical of the ideals of democracy, freedom and independence that it is supposed to represent.
The community responded in very viscerally negative ways to Nasion Chamoru because of the way the group was forcing the island to confront issues that they would rather not deal with. Nasion Chamoru’s message in the early 1990s was more blunt than any other group previously in terms of talking about Chamorro rights, land issues, militarization and decolonization.

Ed Benavente, a founding member of Nasion Chamoru once told me a story of the village meetings that Nasion Chamoru would have in their early days. In order to try and make things such as colonization and oppression easier for people to understand they would try to break things down. Angel Santos he said would sometimes use an old Rolaids commercial in order to make his point:

Si Anghet fumaisen, “Kao en hasso nai manestaba famagu’on hit ya ta egga’ i telebishon ya guaha ayu commercial put Rolaids?” Pues todu ma sangan, hunggan, hunggan in hasso. Well Anghet would ask i manmatto, “How do you spell relief?” Ya todu ma oppe, “R-O-L-A-I-D-S.” And then we’d tell them, no, you spell relief, R-E-L-I-E-F. This is how we have been brainwashed by America, and why we don’t see things the way they are, even if they are right in front of us.”

These meetings would sometimes have a handful of people, sometimes have full rooms. According to Benavente, sometimes the only people who would show up would do so just to yell at members of Nasion Chamoru about how they were being disatento and tairespetu.

Although the path of activism, resistance and critique that Nasion Chamoru took was difficult at times, it has ultimately paid off. They helped change this island and the consciousness of the community (both Chamorro and non-Chamorro) in very profound ways. Movements that were started in the 1970s over Sella Bay, Self-Determination and Brown Power, they evolved and found grass roots and pubic expression through the acts of Nasion Chamoru.

Today, the Chamorro Studies program is proud to present our final speaker for the Chamorro Experience gi Fino’ Chamorro lecture series, Ed Leon Guerrero Benavente, currently a Chamoru teacher at JFK and a former Maga’lahi of Nasion Chamoru. He will discuss topics ranging from Chamorro activism, land rights and decolonization all in the Chamorro language. His talk will begin at 5:30 and take place in the CLASS Lecture Hall at UOG.  This event is free and open to the public.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Battle of Dragons and Eagles

The second installment of The Hobbit trilogy The Desolation of Smaug will be out soon. Manggof excited ham yan i famagu'on-hu. Hu konne' i dos-hu para in egga' i fine'nina na mubi gi i ma'pos na sakkan. Sen yan-mami! 

Esta kana un sakkan in nanaggan i nuebu. Gof magof Si Sumahi put este na nuebu sa' siempre u annok Si Smaug. Gi i fine'nina na mubi kalang nina'desganao i dos-hu nu i ti mismo umannok-na Si Smaug. Ilek-na Si Sumahi, ti ayugue Si Smaug ayu i anineng-na ha'!" pat "Ti ayugue Si Smaug, ayu i atadok-na!"

Para Si Akli'e' mas magof gui' sa' u taigue Si Gollum gi i nuebu na Hobbit na mobi. Sen ti ya-na Si Akli'e' Si Gollum. Kada ha hungok gui', kada ha li'e' gui', nina'fugu ya guaha nai malagu gui' lokkue'. Anai in egga' i fine'nina na mubi gi i fanegga'an, gigon ha ripara Si Gollum malagu para un otro luchan ta'chong yan umattok. Anai hu kombida gui' tatte, ilek-na, "Ahe', ma'a'nao!"

Put i inexcited-na Si Sumahi, ha yungga este gi i pisara gi che'cho'-hu gi UOG. Estague un gera, i geran i ryulong yan i agila siha. I agila hiningok-na na guaha tresoru gi este na fina'okso na lugat. Pues manhalom para u chule'. Lao este na lugat prinitetehi ni' i ryulong. Manmumu siha yan manggana' i ryulong! Sina un li'e' na maneskakapa i agila siha. Hafa i tresoru gi este na tano'? Ti oru, pat gems. Gaige i tresoru gi i rinkon. Un Hafa Adai Katu, or Hello Kitty. 


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Final Lecture

Maga'lahi Ed Benavente is our last speaker for the Chamorro Experience gi Fino' Chamorro series!

I am excited and honored to have him be our final presenter. I've been posting pictures of Nasion Chamoru and their actions all week on Facebook to help prepare people. Although Nasion Chamoru were reviled by many on Guam for years, their group nonetheless had a profound impact on Guam. I wrote extended essays on the impact of both Angel Santos and Nasion Chamoru for the website Guampedia this year.

His talk will be tonight at 5:30 at the CLASS Lecture Hall.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

NaNoWriMo Halfway Point

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Queen of Chamorro Music

This past Thursday, the Chamorro Studies Program was proud to feature a lecture by the Queen of Chamorro Music, Flora Baza Quan. She provided the second lecture for the Chamorro Experience gi Fino' Chamorro series. She spoke on topics ranging from her mentors, the stories behind some of her famous songs, what it takes to be a musician on Guam and how Chamorros need to take a stand and start to truly value their own cultural and creative artists in order to sustain them.

It was such an incredible honor to have someone like her who has done so much for the Chamorro community to come and share her experience gi Fino' Chamorro. 

Below is a short bio about her and her accomplishments. Photos and excerpts from her talk will be shared on the Chamorro Studies Facebook page. Head there to see them.


Flora Baza Quan is a renowned Chamorro singer and songwriter who has been performing and recording for more than thirty years. Known affectionately as the “Queen of Chamorro Music,” Baza Quan is a pioneer of contemporary Chamorro music, lending her signature sound and vocal talents to perpetuating Chamorro culture.  Some of her recognized favorites include “Hagu,” “Puti Tai Nobiu” and “Hinasso.”

Flora first achieved fame by being the first Chamorro to win an international beauty pageant, when she won the title of Miss Asia in 1971.  She then went on to team up with other noted musical pioneers such as Johnny Sablan, Tom Bejado, and the Charfauros Brothers to help build the Chamorro recording industry we have today.

One thing that Flora is less known for, but she should nonetheless receive recognition is the oral history project that she conducted for Department of Parks and Recreation. She focused on different themes such as Life in Sumay or Sports History, but provided in-depth interviews of many individuals from our recent history who have long since passed on. For those who want to read up on topics like this, you can find her transcripts and video at MARC or at Department of Parks and Recreation.

In her lecture today, Flora will discuss the mentors that helped shape who she is today, describe the genesis behind some of her songs and challenge the young people of today to learn and use the Chamorro language.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Protest Cycles

Social movements, protest movements, radical change movements always work in cycles. They can be difficult to sustain, especially when they operate primarily at an organic, grassroots level. There will be periods of great activity and then periods where nothing much seems to happen. Depending on how you see things, it can sometimes appear as if too much protesting is going on, because you don't perceive the gaps, or it can appear as if not enough is happening and something, some opportunity is being lost in the process. You can list the factors involved in order to better understand how this works, but part of it will always elude you. As they say in Chamorro, "Si Yu'us, Yu'us. I taotao, taotao ha'."

Each in their own way is a mystery. Si Yu'us and his/her mysterious ways, structurally incomprehensible to everyone. The impossibility of it is meant to be a test of faith, the ultimate pledge of loyalty without any guarantee that anything you do really matters.

The mystery of humanities takes on features of this in a smaller and more frustrating way. Humans have the uncanny ability to lie to themselves, on a level you could argue no other creature on the planet has. Humans and our ideologies. It allows us to impose our will not truly on the world, but how we see the world. It gives us a shred of sovereignty, in the same way someone who is crashing in a plane can panic and freak out or take the controls, ride the descent and imagine that they are choosing to die.

This is the frustration for everyone, but activists eat this everyday and it tastes like a mala'et and disgusting gruel. The issue you take up may feel so important and it may seem like everyone should believe what you believe and see the problems of the world aligned the way planets do in sci-fi movies. But people don't work like that, people don't respond like that. That shred of ideological sovereignty means that they can stab themselves in the neck and argue that it is a weight loss strategy. They can argue that they should have less power over their lives. They can argue that other more powerful people should be given the power. They can feel attached to a system that feeds off of them and exploits them because it makes them feel unique, special or better than everyone else.

While the activist may feel that an issue must be protested all the time, most may not see it this way, and so any activity will follow that cycle of ups and downs, ginaige yan tinaigue. One year the message you propose will be taken up eagerly by people. The next year no one might care.

In Guam on such source of frustration is the ability to organize people around militarization in the form of training in the Marianas Islands. The military buildup as outlined by the last EIS in 2010 was something that people easily organized against because the variables of loss involved connected strongly to people on an ideological level. Note, I said ideological level, not necessarily a knowledge-based level. Even if more people seemed to come to a position that I would agree with, that doesn't mean that they were becoming more informed or understanding the process of the buildup better. What happened was that the variables for talking about the buildup in the public square shifted, with new topics being added that people connected to differently.

Prior to the DEIS comment period, the discourse was dominated by empty positives, jobs, money, patriotism. People who knew little about the buildup supported it because of those empty positives, in the same way in which people who know nothing about children or our future, will say that children are it. When empty negatives began to mix it, things started to change. Traffic, land loss, disrespect, Pagat, colonization had all been part of the conversation, but more and more people began to form their ideological cocoon using those ideas. As a result, empty negatives started to brim with life and people soured on the buildup.

Training as in the construction of five live firing ranges, is something that people can get upset about, especially if you are going to build those ranges above places that people like to visit or think should be kept open to the public. But training in a more general sense is something that people don't see impacting them. Most of it in Guam happens not just behind fences, but out on the waters in the ocean. People don't see it being connected to them in the same way they don't see water connecting but instead cutting people off. What happens over water is less ideologically important than what happens on land that you are connected it. Hahasso, "Managges hit put i katen i paluma. Lao ni hayi tumangesi i hagga' i guihan. Manggaisuette ayu i manggaibos."

A prime example of this came in 2010. The year started off with a wild (by Guam standards) period of protest and public outcry around the military buildup and the comments over their DEIS for their planned buildup. People commented in the thousands, came out to testify by the hundreds. It was a remarkable period. Given that thousands of people signed up to learn more about militarization in Guam and what they could do about it, and that hundreds came out to testify, to hold signs and to make their opinions known, you might think that a coalition of protesting critical thinkers had been created. In some ways, a small cadre of new organizers had been created, some consciousness had been instilled in people. But this transformation was tested just a few months later when DOD asked for comments about the MIRC, Marianas Island Range Complex. It is something that exists primarily in the minds of the military, but it takes the space around the Marianas Islands and turns it into a massive interwoven complex of training areas.

After the large turnout for the DEIS military buildup hearings, there was some expectation that the momentum would carry forward and lead people against this MIRC as well. That did not happen. I attended one of the MIRC sessions at UOG and there was literally a handful of activists there. Even less concerned citizens. It was amazing and sobering to see the difference. I always remember Noam Chomsky talking about how social change is cyclical, but I had never realized the extent, to which a place can appear like a stark crazy anti buildup island one moment, and then seemingly could care less the next.

Had people fallen in love with the buildup again? Was that why no one came out to protest the MIRC, whereas so many had come out to protest the buildup? No not at all, but the variables, while both being about "militarization" were completely different. One happened outside of the realm of most people on Guam, far out in oceans, with ships and planes practicing war games. It didn't seem to touch or affect the soil where people build the castles of their lives. It didn't seem to affect the roads that people spend their angry moments in waiting to go to the jobs they most likely don't enjoy. It didn't seem to affect the length of the line at K-Mart or Ross. So the MIRC, with their training far out of sight, didn't really touch the ideological bubble.

Last night another public informational meeting this time for the MITT, Marianas Island Training and Testing took place at UOG. I had flashbacks to the MIRC hearing and imagined an empty room where the DOD personnel far outnumber the residents visiting, asking questions, sneaking free food or protesting. Thankfully that empty, depressing vision did not come true. A large group of largely young, budding activists and artists came out under the banner of "Our Islands Are Sacred." They put up signs outside the meeting room, asked questions, chanted and even organized a "Fanoghe Chamorro Flash Mob."

It was inspiring to see the energy come out, so much of it around the protecting the island of Pagan in the Northern Marianas. After several years of relative quiet over military buildup and militarism such, I hope that we are entering a new protect cycle.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

MITT Public Hearing

Tomorrow, the Department of Defense will be holding a public hearing in the LG Multipurpose Room in the SBPA Building at UOG, from 5 - 8 pm. The hearing is about the MITT or Marianas Islands Training and Testing Area, which is the largest training area the United States military has in the world. If you would like to make your voice heard please come out and testify or at least collect some information. 
Mariana Islands Training and Testing Area
From Draft EIS/OEIS Executive Summary
“The purpose of the Proposed Action is to conduct training and testing activities to ensure that the Navy meets its mission, which is to maintain, train, and equip combat-ready naval forces capable of winning wars, deterring aggression, and maintaining freedom of the seas. This mission is achieved in part by conducting training and testing within the Study Area.”
The No Action Alternative is required by regulations of the CEQ as a baseline against which the impacts of the Proposed Action are compared. The No Action Alternative continues baseline training and testing activities and force structure requirements as defined by existing Navy environmental planning documents.  The No Action Alternative represents the activities and events analyzed in previously completed documents. However, it would fail to meet the current purpose and need for the Navy’s Proposed Action because it would not allow the Navy to conduct the training and testing activities necessary to achieve and maintain Fleet readiness. For example, the baseline activities do not account for changes in force structure requirements, the introduction of weapons and platforms, and the training and testing required for proficiency with these systems.
Alternative 1 consists of the No Action Alternative, plus the expansion of Study Area boundaries and adjustments to location, type, and tempo of training activities, which includes the addition of platforms and systems.

Adjustment of the Study Area. This EIS/OEIS contains an analysis of areas where training and testing would continue as in the past, but were not considered in previous environmental analyses. Alternative 1 would expand the area that is to be analyzed as depicted in Figure ES-1 and described below.
o Expansion of the Northern and Western Boundary of the Study Area. The area to the north of the MIRC that is within the Exclusive Economic Zone of the Northern Mariana Islands and the areas to the west of the MIRC.
o Transit Corridor: An area not previously analyzed in the open ocean between the MIRC and the HRC. During transit within this area, U.S. Navy ships conduct limited training and testing. These activities would be included in this EIS/OEIS.
Adjustments to Locations and Tempo of Training and Testing Activities: This alternative also includes changes to training and testing requirements necessary to accommodate (a) the relocation of ships, aircraft, and personnel; (b) planned aircraft, vessels, and weapons systems; and (c) ongoing activities not addressed in previous documentation.
o Force Structure Changes: Force structure changes involve the relocation of ships, aircraft, and personnel. As forces are moved within the existing Navy structure, training needs will necessarily change as the location of forces change.
o Planned Aircraft, Vessels, and Weapons Systems: This EIS/OEIS will examine the training and testing requirements of planned vessels, aircraft, and weapons systems.
o Ongoing Activities: Current training and testing activities not addressed in previous documentation will be analyzed in this EIS/OEIS.
o Danger Zones: This EIS/OEIS will examine establishment of Title 33 C.F.R. Part 334 Danger Zones for existing shore-based small arms and explosive ordnance disposal ranges and a nearshore small arms training area.
o Net Explosive Weight Increases: An increase in net explosive weight for underwater detonations from 10 pounds (lb.) to 20 lb. at Agat Bay Mine Neutralization Site and Outer Apra Harbor Underwater Detonation Site.
Alternative 1 reflects adjustments to the baseline activities which are necessary to support all current and proposed training and testing activities through 2020.
Alternative 2 consists of all activities that would occur under Alternative 1 and adjustments to the type and tempo of training and testing. This alternative is contingent upon potential budget increases, strategic necessity, and future training and testing requirements.
Alternative 2 would include the following:
The addition of three major at-sea training activities (Fleet Strike Group Exercise, Integrated Anti- Submarine Warfare Exercise, and Ship Squadron Anti-Submarine Warfare Exercise) conducted in the Study Area.
• Adjustments to Alternative 1 for Naval Air Systems Command and Naval Sea Systems Command testing activities are proposed.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

LAX Shooting

The LAX Shooting, Domestic Terrorism, and the NRA


Gun violence in the U.S. has claimed more than a million lives over the past 50 years, and the problem is only getting worse. (Image: time a horrific shooting takes place, the nation pauses, politicians pay lip service and the country’s biggest gun lobby—the National Rifle Association—remains silent. After a suitable period has passed and public rage has receded, the NRA makes cynical pronouncements about activists abusing the memory of victims of the violence by calling for gun control. Americans, replete with lethal weaponry, move on without making any connections between the the cold metal in their holsters and the dead.

We tend to see gun violence not as a pattern that needs a strong and immediate response, but as a series of disconnected incidents that simply cannot be helped. But perhaps it is a matter of perspective.

Paul Ciancia, the 23-year-old accused of killing Gerardo Hernandez and wounding three others at the Los Angeles International Airport on Nov. 1, was immediately described as a “lone shooter,” a category that enables us to dismiss such incidents as aberrations rather than part of a larger spectrum.
Political commentator Rose Aguilar, in an interview with me about the LAX shooting, lamented, “I fear we’re becoming so numb to these events which are now happening on a regular basis. In fact, I was telling friends, ‘Oh, there was a shooting at LAX,’ and hardly anyone responded because it’s happening so regularly.”

But what if the killer had been brown skinned or Muslim? What if he had used a small homemade bomb rather than an assault rifle, killing and wounding just as many people? Would he have been described as a “lone shooter” or as “terrorist”? Would his actions have resulted in near-silence from politicians, or warranted a deep examination and systemic response?

When I asked Fred Clarkson, senior fellow with Political Research Associates, about the hypocrisy with which we treat violence depending on the shooter’s skin color or the manner of killing, he replied, “It is certainly true—there are many double standards at play in terms of race and religion and national identity. I mean a terrorist act is a terrorist act by any reasonable definition.”

Almost no pronouncements have been made in the media or on Capitol Hill casting Ciancia’s alleged actions as “terrorist.” The FBI defines a domestic terrorist as a person involved in “acts dangerous to human life” that “appear intended (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping.”

A “manifesto” allegedly written by Ciancia and left in his bag indicates that he may have targeted TSA agents to “instill fear into their traitorous minds.” Furthermore, according to authorities he identified himself in the letter as a “Patriot,” implying that he is influenced by the loose network of extremist right-wing Americans calling themselves part of the “Patriot Movement.”

Clarkson, who studies such movements, told me the Patriot Movement “really started out as an effort to form a coalition of a broad swath of the far right. The catalytic moment was when President George H. W. Bush used the phrase ‘New World Order’ in a speech rather inadvertently, talking about global cooperation. Well, this set off the conspiracy alarms in an awful lot of places and everybody from the neo-Nazi Aryan Nation, to various people who are “free men”—individualists who believe that they’re sovereign citizens—to Christian theocratic elements, and more, saw that they had common cause against the ‘creeping tyranny’ of government.”

But why target TSA agents? Clarkson speculated, it is “probably because it is part of the Department of Homeland Security primarily and a government security agency. The idea of the TSA as part of the ‘creeping government tyranny’ is widely perceived on the far right.” If the shooter indeed saw the TSA as representative of government overreach into the sovereign lives of Americans, his actions aimed at eliminating TSA agents could well be a message to the government and as such would qualify as a terrorist act as per the FBI’s definition.

In fact, there are many ideological similarities between Islamic fundamentalists—whom the U.S. government routinely designates as “international terrorists”—and the American extreme right. Muslim fundamentalists and the American far right are both motivated by extreme religious beliefs, tend to have antiquated ideas about the role of women, see themselves as “soldiers of God” (Ciancia wore military fatigues when he allegedly fired his weapon), and vigorously defend their way of life using violence if necessary. In addition, both groups tend to harbor strong homophobia—Ciancia reportedly used the derogatory term “bull dyke” in reference to former Homeland Security head Janet Napolitano in his “manifesto,” and Clarkson relayed that one reason he may have targeted the TSA is that “there is a belief on the far right that part of the TSA’s pat down process is really a bit of homosexual groping.”

It is in this context that the issue of gun violence becomes especially relevant. Ciancia allegedly used a Smith and Wesson M&P .223-caliber assault rifle, a weapon that can be easily and legally purchased precisely because of the efforts of the gun lobby and its primary base of support within the extreme right. The Patriot Movement, which strongly defends the Second Amendment, sees itself as a “militia necessary to the security of a free State.”

The American “Patriot Movement” is not insignificant. The Southern Poverty Law Center, which has been tracking the movement over the years, has found a sharp increase in the number of groups that identify under the umbrella of “patriots” since the election of the country’s first African-American president, Barack Obama. In 2008 there were 149 Patriot groups in the nation, but by 2012 the number increased to more than 1,300. For this reason, the attack on LAX should be considered within the spectrum of Timothy McVeigh’s 1995 bombing in Oklahoma City, Scott Roeder’s 2009 murder of abortion doctor George Tiller and Joseph Stack’s 2010 attack on an IRS building in Texas. The FBI’s definition of domestic terrorism applies to all of these cases.

The ubiquitous presence of TSA officials is the result of a few terrorist actions and attempted actions at airports and in airplanes. In response to these crimes, we have given authorities the mandate to keep weapons out of the sky. Why then, when gun violence in the U.S. has claimed more than a million lives over the past 50 years, does our society not put in place a similar mandate on the ground? 

The heavy proliferation of guns has made possible countless lethal incidents of gang-, domestic-, and drug- and alcohol-related violence. It has resulted in tragic accidents involving children, murder-suicides, and mass shootings by those suffering from mental illness. Sadly such fatalities, which form the majority of incidents involving gun violence, have not moved the needle closer toward regulating gun sales. But perhaps seeing gun violence as part of the pattern of domestic terrorism will.

Polls show that a majority of the public supports stricter gun laws, especially those restricting assault weapons. A whopping 87 percent of Americans favor stricter background checks on gun purchasers.
Aguilar reminisced to me about the one incident in the past year that most shocked the nation and held the greatest hope to curb gun proliferation. She said, “After the Sandy Hook shooting [in Connecticut] happened when 20 children and [six] adults were killed, I thought ‘if something’s going to happen, it’s going to happen now. We’re talking about children.’ Parents went to Capitol Hill begging for action. They got nothing. When we got nothing I thought, we’ve lost our way.”

Incredibly, the union that represents TSA workers has responded to the LAX shooting by calling for its agents to be armed. This echoes the NRA’s talking point in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting last year that the best way to prevent gun violence by a shooter entering a school is to arm teachers. The Los Angeles Times quoted Rand Corp. researcher Brian Jenkins who rightly pointed out that “Heaven forbid we end up in a situation where in the course of a gunfight [between a shooter and TSA agents] at a checkpoint, civilians were killed by friendly fire.”

Today it is harder to obtain a driver’s license than it is to obtain a gun. The NRA has undue influence on our laws and even the terms of debate on the issue. In a civilized country, the NRA would accept heavy regulation of guns just as the auto industry accepts rigorous driver’s license tests as a necessary safety precaution.

Bipasha Shom contributed research to this column.

Sonali Kolhatkar
Sonali Kolhatkar is Co-Director of the Afghan Women's Mission, a US-based non-profit that supports women's rights activists in Afghanistan. Sonali is also co-author of "Bleeding Afghanistan: Washington, Warlords, and the Propaganda of Silence." She is the host and producer of Uprising, a nationally syndicated radio program with the Pacifica Network.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Mensahi Ginnen i Gehilo' #8: Dos na Haligi

It is unfortunate that the formal movement for decolonization has stalled in recent years. At the formal level there is little to do and little to work towards. Informally the work continues. Independence for Guam is a notion that has been around for centuries, but it has taken different forms and been articulated in different ways. It is at some points been something direct and strong, at other times more a feeling of autonomy than political sovereignty. Independence in the modern era is a political status option for Guam that brings out alot of passion amongst people, but also fears. It is something which people speak about but often times through a bitterness that makes it seem unattractive or that supporting independence would mean living in the past.

Here is my take on independence for Guam. The movement here is small, but passionate.

The way I see it, the movement should be built around two basic principles.
#1 Chamorros were once an independent people, who sustained themselves and guided their own destiny. #2: Chamorros have the ability today to be independent again, and determine what happens in their lands for themselves. Centuries of colonization have obscured this fact, but those who believe in an independent Guam take these two principles to heart

Many who support independence do so out of a sense of righting historical wrongs. They are driven towards independence as the remedy for fixing centuries of mistreatment and discrimination. They remember wrongs that were committed in the past and more easily connect them to the injustices of the present.

This type of historical memory is important, since it can help build your argument by fanning the flames of colonial displeasure that many people feel in large and small ways. No one truly likes living in a colony, even if they convince themselves they have to remain in that position, they cannot truly accept it. Remembering those past wrongs can be helpful in pushing more people to tear down the fantasy of the colonial present, that helps them pretend that nothing needs to be changed or that everything is as good as it can be.

But you cannot build an independence movement based on these types of negative feelings alone. You cannot make a strong argument for independence by only reminding people of the sins committed against you.

Independence requires imagination and vision. You must inspire people to believe in themselves. Colonialism is a process that takes so much away from a people. High on the list of things it takes is the feeling of pride and self-confidence. Colonization creates the idea that the colonized cannot do anything for themselves and can never survive without their colonizer. In order to overcome these lies, you have to not only remind yourself of how you have been mistreated, but how you can do better. How you can be trusted and you should be trusted with your own destiny.


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