Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Typhoon Dependency

In this picture, former Governor of Guam Manuel Guerrero is seen talking to US Navy officers during the rehabilitation period following the devastation caused by Typhoon Karen in 1962. Typhoons Karen and Pamela were not only devastating in a physical sense, in that they caused a great deal of damage, they were also devastating and transformative in a social sense, in that the island that was rebuilt after them was very different than the one that had just been obliterated. After both of these typhoons, the US Federal government assisted in rebuilding, even to the point where not only did people start building concrete homes, but new division through new subdivisions were also formed. The days of wooden homes and tin roofing was over for many people after these storms as the reconstruction money allowed them to build new and sturdier homes.

But the changes from these typhoons goes even further. When Chamorros receive aid from the US, it helped to reaffirm a particular type of relationship that Chamorros felt they had and have to their colonizer, a wholly unequal one, where one suffers and the other liberates. Just as the Chamorro suffering in Mannengon in 1944 is liberated by the US Marine, the Chamorro suffering in the wake of Pamela or Karen is also liberated by Uncle Sam, albeit in primarily financial ways. The aid that the Federal government offered during the rebuilding of the island following these typhoons helped to both solidify this subordinated relationship, but also help it to evolve and take on new more relevant forms. It is not so much that Karen or Pamela were like the Japanese pummeling the poor Chamorros into submission. It was more that whatever particular problem Chamorros had, Uncle Sam had the answer, and the solution was always to be found through more dependency. 

In 1962, most of the programs people on Guam take for granted today were not offered to all people on Guam, including Chamorros. While a discourse already existed that insisted that the United States was responsible for the freedom of Chamorros, there wasn't yet that irritating idea of Chamorros constantly suckling on Uncle Sam's teat. The US Navy had loved to promote that idea prior to the war in right afterwards, but Chamorros themselves still saw themselves as being self-sufficient and robust. Typhoons and war changed all that and we have what we exist in today, pervasive, depressing notions of crippling Chamorro dependency. So much of it start in innocuous ways, with Chamorros getting help from the Federales after a typhoon, and then naturalizing this acceptance and naturalizing this relationship.

It is sort of strange to be talking about typhoons like this when we haven't had a very serious typhoon in 10 - 12 years depending on how you rank the most recent typhoons we've had. So many of my students have no conception of what a typhoon is or what it was capable of.

My students seem to think that typhoon means, you get a day off from school. They seem to think it is a day when their grandparents freak out and make everyone come over and put up shutter and taken down tarps. They seem to think that typhoon means the governor takes pictures talking to Naval officers while wearing a windbreaker.

I wonder everytime we get a scare like we did recently over Vongfong, how the island would handle having a typhoon nowadays. 

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