Saturday, May 31, 2014

"Micronesian" Solidarity

For "Sindalu" the Guam Humanities Council Exhibit that I am working on, one of the tasks I did was to collect as many of the articles about Chamorros that have died in Afghanistan and Iraq as possible. Part of the problem with collecting these articles is that many of the Chamorro soldiers who have died lived elsewhere and were recruited outside of the Marianas. Sometimes these soldiers will show up in lists of dead from the Marianas, sometimes they don't. These lists are also more complicated by the fact that some of them will include the deaths of soldiers who were deployed but not killed in combat and others will exclude them.

What makes it even more convoluted is that the metrics for counting the dead has changed as well. During Vietnam, the number was strictly Chamorros, even though there were a handful of soldiers from other islands in Micronesia who did serve. But in the Wars on Terror, the fights in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Horn of Africa, more and more non-Chamorros from the region are serving and dying.

Now it is common to say "the Fallen of Micronesia," something created primarily in the media in order to create a larger number of soldiers from the region who have been killed in order to create more patriotic sentiment and play up the sacrifice from those of these small fragments of American colonies and neocolonies. Those who wish to improve Micronesian relations and create more Micronesian pride in the region, and try to get Chamorros to see themselves as more Micronesia shouldn't use this cheap solidarity tactic. This creates a sense of solidarity for us not as Micronesians but all as places that are strategically important to the United States, as colonies of some sort. It does not draw from who we are and where we have come from, but rather who has laid claim to us.

I am all for Micronesian unity, but if it comes through a shared subordination to the United States and bewildering forms of patriotism, my mind cannot wrap itself around that. If you listen to some of the rhetoric that is created after someone from Palau or Chuuk is killed while fighting in the US military, they use the same discursive structures of patriotism that people from other places in the United States use. This may seem normal from an American exceptionalist perspective where one might feel that everyone should accept the awesomeness of the US, but the peoples in Micronesia are supposed to be from independent countries and cultures, how strange is it for them to have these expressions of loyalty and devotion? How does this help to make clear the neocolonialism of their statuses today?

In a rough cut for the documentary Island Soldier by Nathan Fitch, which talks about Micronesian experiences in the US military, he has a section where the family of a soldier that was killed is expressing their grief and at one point the father talks about how it may be necessary that the people of the FSM get a vote in the US Congress considering how they are sacrificing their sons to fight American wars.

I'll reiterate this point, Micronesian solidarity that takes us through the matrix of the United States teaches us less about each other instead of more. It means that what we value about each other that makes us want to to see and know and work with each other has nothing to do with us, but comes from our shared colonizer. It weakens us because it makes us devalue what little sovereignty we do have, and just like the sons and daughters who go to war, it becomes something that we offer up as a sacrifice on the altar of tokenistic American inclusion.

As I was out searching for these articles I came across one more interesting than all the rest. At least 29 Chamorros have died in the War on Terror. But surprisingly the articles that actually discuss their Chamorroness are from outside of the Marianas. Those inside the Marianas focus on their fighting for American freedom and ideals, patriotism and other things that are kind of silly to talk about when you live in a colony. But articles from across the US, such as this one from Washington State, focus on the Chamorroness of his identity and the funeral. I found that contrast to be very interesting.


"Pues Adios, Joe, Adios, Adios"
by Scott Fontaine
 The News Tribune

August 28, 2009

To fellow soldiers, Army 1st Sgt. Jose Crisostomo was a war-tested veteran who proudly served his country.

To Chamorros, he was a leader of the relocated Guam community who did everything from organizing fiestas to raising youth scholarship money.

To his family, he was Papa. And now, the man known to most everyone as Sinbad, is their “angel.”
“Papa, my heart hurts knowing you won’t be alive,” his teenage granddaughter Amalia said Friday during a tearful memorial service at Our Lady Queen of Heaven Church in Spanaway, her grandfather’s flag-draped casket a few pews away. “Hu guiya hao, papa. (I love you.)”

Crisostomo died Aug. 18 when a roadside bomb detonated near his vehicle in Kabul, Afghanistan, less than two weeks before his 60th birthday.

The veteran and native of Inarajan, Guam, re-enlisted for active service early last year, and had recently chosen to do another tour, his family said.

The longtime Spanaway resident first joined the Army in 1969 and had served almost 25 years before retiring in 1993. Most recently, he served with the International Security Assistance Force.
“My father loved the military,” said Tricia Crisostomo-Meyers, his daughter.

Friday’s gathering paid tribute to his military service and Chamorro heritage.

The church exterior was lined with Patriot Guard Riders holding American flags. By 9:30 a.m., a crowd of about 200 stood in silence waiting for the body to arrive. Another motorcycle group with the name “Che’Lu Riders” (Chamorro for “Brother Riders”) on their backs roared to the ceremony.
Crisostomo’s family wore white shirts with red, white and blue armbands. A group of men wearing black T-shirts saying “Grupun Minagof” carried the casket inside the church for viewing.

Grupun Minagof is a local service group of Chamorros. Crisostomo served much of the last decade as president.

Inside, a line of people stretched outside to view the body. By the time mass began, the crowd grew to about 400.

The kids talked about their stern but loving upbringing, as Crisostomo always encouraged them to lead a better life than his.

“It’s hard to miss my father because he left behind a family to be proud of,” recalled his son D.J.
His grandkids also recalled their time with their Papa ­ how he was a huge Mariners fan and how he used to catch birds with them.

Son Jay Crisostomo described how his dad, known as a handyman and a guy’s guy, would always request “one for the road” when drinking beer or barbecuing with his buddies.

During the traditional offertory of gifts, the family presented a toolbelt and an 18-pack of Budweiser, in addition to bread and water.

By early afternoon, the crowd made its way to Fir Lane Funeral Home. With Fort Lewis Brig. Gen. Jeff Mathis in the crowd with Crisostomo’s family, they said their final goodbyes. Some released balloons.

“See you, Joe!” said one member of Grupun Minagof, as a string of balloons resembling a rosary soared into the sky.

Army soldiers gave a rifle salute, as well as the traditional rendition of “Taps.”

Jay Crisostomo gave a sendoff his dad surely would have appreciated.

“I want you to know you’ve done your family proud, and the whole island of Guam,” he said.

“You can’t leave us yet, dad. You’ve still got one for the road,” his son added, before he and others in the audience cracked open a beer.

In the end, a group of singers strummed the Chamorro rendition of “Just a Closer Walk with Thee.”

The final line: “Pues adios, Joe, adios, adios.”

So goodbye, Joe, goodbye.

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