“The Spear of the Nasion”
Michael Lujan Bevacqua
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.