Friday, April 17, 2015

Identities Lost

It is intriguing when we see epochs of time shift and change and replace each other. These are like grand markers in time, like huge arches that delineate when everything was one way and when it all changed and became something else. On Guam we have antes di gera and despues di gera which draws a clear line of memory between what existed prior to World War II and after. World War II survivors will tell you the smells in the air, the sounds of the island were different in 1940 as they were in 1945. Most people in the United States and elsewhere in the world mark recent memory with "9/11" as if to say that things were fundamentally different before September 11th, 2001 than they were afterwards. All of this is a fiction of course, but there is still a way that communities tend to lay out the stretches of time behind them in certain blocks, to make them easier to manage, but propping up these important moments as providing the keys to understand all those temporal tectonic shifts. 

But those markers don't reflect human life, experience or time. There is nothing so neat as that in the world. Our lives overlap different times and as much as we might want to privilege one over the other, even the sense pastness is always evolving itself. Whether something is past all depends upon memory really. The realness, the presentness of something has less to do with time and more to do with how we organize that sense of time and that valuation of memory. For some on Guam the war is long over and ancient history. For others the impacts are still here. For a veteran their service in way may stay with them always, but for others it is a line in a history book.

To this day I remain sad that I didn't get to talk to more of those who straddled different epochs of Guam history. I never got to interview someone directly who lived during the Spanish period of our history, although I have collected many stories from archives and from descendants. I have interviewed hundreds of people whose lived were started before the war and lived afterwards. Seeing their discourse and following the structure, mapping the changes and the traces of times past, counterfactuals filling a haze behind their speech, the way their own divergent temporalities manifest in the sometimes contradictory voices of their own identity. But these are all people forged and broken and molded atop that the anvil of one primary watershed moment, that Japanese occupation, which changed close to everything about Guam's landscape and Chamorro consciousness. They are a group that were born from generations that lived very different lives and imagined the world in a radically different way politically. But through the course of history they became chained to a particular nation, a particular relationship to that nation, and that became the way they conceived the very flow and breath of life and possibility. That moment, what I have called the scene of liberation, is where the Chamorro as we know it today is born, wallowing in the muddy trails of Manenggon, screaming for American aid. Chamorros, with their consciousness dictated by the centrality of that moment, as an anchor for all possibilities and tendencies of meaning, see close to everything through their fidelity to that attachment.

The reason I wished I could have interviewed those older, those who say the Spanish flag being brought down and the American flag being raised, is to test whether their consciousness was different. They lived perhaps over the course of four flag changes in recent Guam History, whereas their children lived under just two, American to Japanese and back to American. How would their consciousness be different because their reality, their sense of time wasn't bookended by American flags and texts and limits. Was their sense of the Chamorro different because it didn't have that feverish desperate attachment born of war?

I am reminded of this after watching the video below of a man who was on television in 1956, talking about how when he was just a young boy, he witnessed the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.

1 comment:

Sappa Lama Gomso said...

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