Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Hafa na Liberasion? #21: Liberation from Liberation

Liberation Day is here again. I'm not on island for it and so in most ways I am insulated from it. Facebook is one of the main ways that I'm experiencing it this year. My dash is inundated with images from the parade, pictures of manamko', food, flags, uniformed troops and village floats. There are also quite a few posts weighing on the issue of Liberation Day itself, contending with the political meanings involved. Some people referred to it as reoccupation day or dependence day. They called into question, quite rightly, whether it is right to call this day a real liberation. Others pushed back against these critiques, some of them whining about the comfortable generations of today not appreciating the sacrifices of the past. They argued that if the generation of war survivors doesn't question the liberation aspects of the day, who gives us the right to? So much of this discourse relies on the idea that the older generation never complained and always endured, but it also relies on conceiving our elders as being unable to understand the world around them, unable to make distinctions or understand finer points. It is something that doesn't do much justice to them because it is all based on the idea that they can't decipher the complicated levels of this holiday, and that in order to do it justice we must somehow understand it less and think about it less. That idea is based on a very superficial understanding of our elders and relationship to them. The idea that July 21st, 1944 is not a liberation comes from a variety of sources. It is something that war survivors themselves proposed. Because although they were grateful for the Japanese period coming to a close, they also had no illusions that the United States returned to save them. It is something that subsequent generations also came to question because of the simple mechanics involved. How does one celebrate their "liberation" in a colony? If it is just the simple matter of the American retaking of the island, why does it extend into such a larger ideological and emotionatioanl framework? Why is it filled with so much patriotism to the United States, so much glorification and militarisitic devotion, when even some of the liberators themselves have lamented that their job was clearly never completed since Guam remains a territory/colony?

Liberation Day, as I have argued in numerous writings and statements is the key to understanding the contemporary Chamorro and their relationship to the United States. We don't have a day to commemorate the American taking of the island in 1898. We don't have a day to commemorate the passage of the Organic Act in 1950. We don't have a day to commemorate the passage of the Mink Amendment. We have one to commemorates the American reoccupation of Guam in 1944, and that should be a clue to everything. That should help us understand why Liberation Day must be a should be discussed without a fear of offended the elders. So much of how we understand our relationship to the United States hinges on the way we interpret this event, to misunderstand it, to fantasize about it, to pretend it is one way instead of another, runs the risk of us misrecognizing so much more.

One person on Facebook was particularly contradictory in his defense of Liberation Day, it makes my points perfectly. The challenge to the liberation aspects of Liberation Day doesn't inherently challenge the experiences or the memories or the feelings of Chamorro war survivors. Few people who are critical of the day would dare to say that it was not a liberation from Japanese oppression, or that for those who lived through it is wasn't a liberation. But the effect and power of Liberation Day extends far beyond this. This individual on Facebook initial argued that the true meaning of Liberation Day is the celebration of the survivors of I Tiempon Chapones, and remembering what they went through. It will always be a liberation since it was in their minds and we shouldn't question things because it takes that day away from them. Later in the same paragraph this person then went on to argue that the meaning of Liberation Day today is actually celebration of the US military today, showing our support for them and what they do in the world. Few people, including those who detest the name "Liberation Day" itself would question the first point, but the second point is precisely the problem.

The sacredness of that moment, where destitute Chamorros thought that the Marines they encountered were Gods is something few question. The powerful bond that is formed by those who kicked out the Japanese and those who wished the Japanese gone is not the point. But where we go from there is. I always recall the power of a single passage from Chamorro poet Lee Perez, where she writes that the Liberation Day/war stories always end with those powerful moments, but history continues. Our memory, our thinking, our critical abilities end with those moments, but the island keeps going and certain things emerge which we should question. The problem is that we highlight those moments but don't consider or factor in what comes after. Chamorros were grateful for that American return, as Chamorro Studies scholar Evelyn S.M. Flores notes in the film War for Guam, the problem is what Americans did with that gratitude. In the years after the American return, the US Navy took advantage of that attitude in order to make the wholesale theft of Chamorro lands easier and smoother. It still caused problems, and most people don't understand the strain and pressure that Chamorros felt in those days, when bulldozers to tear apart farms and homes were just as frightening as Japanese stragglers.

Liberation Day, and how people feel we are supposed to celebrate it and not think about it, feeds into that ending of history and ending of critical thought. It leaves the Chamorro consciousness at a point where it feels helplessly dependent upon the United States, always looking for Uncle Sam to save, to liberate, always believing in the military power of the US, imagining that military power and strength is a core part of Chamorro culture, that Chamorros and their lands exist to be used by the US and its military for their ends, and that is our role in the American family. We are locked into a subordinate and hardly equal relationship to the United States and the lack of understanding about Liberation Day contributes to that. When we spend an entire day commemorating America and how awesome it is, powerful it is, how its military promotes democracy everywhere, how America saves us and takes care of us, how we exist in relation to it as a minor and small part of it and so it is ok if we are a colony or a territory. The resistance to Guam being decolonized is all tied to this. We valorize Liberation Day so much that even though its most basic contradictions are so obvious and clear even just from the terms we use, that people resist those discussions so fiercely. The question that we should ask ourselves each Liberation Day is "Kao magahet na manlibre hit?" If the answer is no, then our celebration should reflect that.

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