I used to have a tradition on this blog of posting an article I wrote titled "Happy US Imperialism Day Guam!" each 8th of December in order to commemorate Chamorros being dragged into World War II by the United States and Japan. I start a similar tradition with this article for each September 11th.
Todu Dipende gi håfa ta hahasso
Chamorros on Guam and 9/11
by Michael Lujan Bevacqua
Published in Minagahet Zine
Fulu'Hugua: Volume 2 Issue 10
September 13, 2004
On September 9th 2001, the Pacific Daily News published a perspective piece by Benigno Palomo titled “Landmark Legislation, major events happened in Guam in September.” It contained of events in Guam’s history, all taking place in September, the majority of which focused on Guam’s political relationship with the United States. A few days later, the article would seem almost prophetic.
September 11th, 2001: Depending on what channel you were watching it was either an end to irony, the start of a new world, or a second day which will live in infamy. The attack on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington D.C. was indeed a horrific tragedy. A defining moment in which illusions are dispelled and ideals are thrown aside and only a harsh reality meets the eye.
In his examination of the global and American response (some people think they’re the same for some reason) to 9/11, Slavoj Zizek in his book Welcome to the Desert of the Real, comments on America and how it dealt with the tragedy. “On September 11th, the USA was given the opportunity to realize what kind of a world it was part of. It might have taken this opportunity – but it did not; instead it opted to reassert its traditional ideological commitments: out with feelings of responsibility and guilt towards the impoverished Third World, we are [all] the victims now!”
Makkat este, lao debi di hu konfotme na minagahet.
I awoke that morning to the TV, frantically showing over and over what film they had of the attack and the aftermath. Speculations abounded, as to who had done this and why. Everyone was frightened and scared, confused. What was happening? How could this happen to us? I found myself like most people, unable to pull away from the coverage, hanging on every new bit of info, no matter how insignificant.
For a few hours I was lost in that mindless world, which drives people to instinctively reach for something patriotic to wave, or something anti-American to beat the snot out of, without thinking of what they are doing. Biba AMERIKA! For a while I was mad as hell. For a while I wanted to yell to the island and the world that without justice there can be no peace! And those who dare shatter our peace must be brought to justice. A UOG student more than a week later would be quoted in the PDN saying “Kill them all. Turn Afghanistan into a parking lot.” I admit for a few moments the morning of the attack, I felt the same. Kill them all, and let their God sort them out.
But, soon realization formed somewhere behind the unthinking anger swelling within my mind. I began to listen to my own thoughts, my own statements and I began to realize that I was not speaking/thinking in a vacuum. That I was not alone. So many others were feeling the same, feeling so mortally different and confused as we were being pushed into this new world, built upon the charred remains of more than 3,000 people.
It was at that moment that I stopped listening to the media, that I refused to give in to the propaganda. The world was not truly any different, and if a new world was too be formed out of this, it was not the terrorists who would be doing the construction, but us. It would be us remodeling our world. And if everyone felt this intense anxiety and unreasonable anger, then the new world we were making would be one rooted in paranoia, worry and therefore the unreason of hatred.
For Chamorros, and for those linked to America, but not fully a part of the fold, the
confusion would be even greater. How were we to act with this? The circle of belonging for Chamorros is far from complete, and the relationship will most likely never be satisfactorily resolved for those who remain on Guam. Such is the nature of a colonial relationship, it is always fraught with confusion, as issues of belonging and identity, overlap, blend and mend, leaving no clear pictures.
With patriotism rushing about all, blinding and binding all with its producing propaganda and its oppressive prohibition of any dissent, I wondered what was being hidden by all this? The September 15th edition of the Pacific Daily News compounded my concern. In huge font across the front page were the words, LET FREEDOM ROAR. Nation embraces a surge of patriotism. Shaking my head in sad reservation I recalled a song lyric from the musical Chicago. In the musical while the players discuss how hype easily replaces truth in courts and in life, the lawyer Billy Flynn sings, How can they hear the truth above the roar?
In the September 14th PDN, Kongresu Robert Underwood prevailed upon the floor of Congress to “remember who we are a people.” But is exactly this point which must be questioned, this point which is obscured. After September 11th, the calls for unity, the calls for all to pull together as a people is the kind of bland rhetoric which must be resisted and critiqued. Because it dismisses and puts aside vital questions, such as “are we the same people?”
Para todu I Chamorro siha, Gefhasso pot este. Gi 9/11, kao mismo ma håtme hao, i manterrorists? Pat kao ma håhatme i passport-mu?
Are we the same? Culturally? Maybe, depends on who you ask. Historically? Perhaps, but only in a very dubious way. Politically? This is one that Chamorros always seem to get hung up on. People are always quick to pull their passports on this one, quick to quote history and deny reality. But all arguments fall because of one simple reason. Despite all the rhetoric anyone can muster in defense of the American blah blah blah way of life, rooted in yada yada yada democracy, Guam is still a colony. Military construction or cash infusion cannot destroy that. Citizenship cannot and has not destroyed that.
A little history lesson for all, Chamorros especially, is that the Chamorros under Spain, towards the end of their reign were considered Spanish citizens, with all the subsequent rights. And in an eerie parallel, they didn’t have to pay income taxes either. Also, any funding that went into Guam was primarily through the military, as Guam was nothing more to the Spanish than an outpost (which is the same as now with America) (By the way, this relationship, this continual exploitative aspect is drawn out in clear and concise form for all to see in the September 20th PDN article, “Guam’s Military role endures). One last thing that everyone should know is that in the last half of the 19th century, under Spain, Chamorros were allowed to elect their local leaders, just like we are able to do now.
So long as another country controls our destiny, politically or culturally, we are colonized in mind, body and soul. John Adams, one of the “founding dead white males” of America, was quoted this regarding British control of the colonies, “there is something very odious and unnatural about a government a thousand leagues off.” I bet he never envisioned his words would be used against the government he helped to spawn.
A significant problem with Chamorro perceptions is that much of what we think is colonialism derives from our history under Spain. But times change, and so must our ideas. Those modes of colonial control are outdates, and only work today if you have tacit US support, like in East Timor. Today’s new colonial missions are benevolent and chalked full of lip service regarding concern for human rights, self-determination and democracy. But the bottom line for colonialism has never changed.
Manmagofli’e yanggen manmano’osge’ hit, lao malamåña siha nu hita yanggen mananachu!
We are still a possession as long as we remain on Guam. We are not equals. We are not really Americans. And aside from the rhetoric that occasionally comes by the slow boat to China from the states, or that which we disperse ourselves, we are constantly reminded through our own wishful forgetfulness and the US’s convenient ignorance that we are not truly part of that big gaudy American dream.
In the months following September 11th, dozens of examples pop up here and there which intimate to Guam’s being outside the circle of belonging, outside the very scope of the United States. When the PDN would run photo pieces about the aftermath of the attack, with titles such as A NATION’S TRAGEDY. A NATION’S RESOVLE. There would always be an added page, an almost “oops” afterthought, which would include Guam, constantly created as separate, as different. AN ISLAND’S RESOVLE. When America would pray a local headline would read “Guam joins America in prayer,” As if somehow when America prays, it needs to be reminded that we are supposed to be a part of that prayer group.
Less than a month after September 11th, Guam had been left out of an economic stimulus package, as well as a new series of states entitled “Greetings from America.” The impetus behind the stamps was to boost patriotism as well as the national economy. Incidentally not just Guam was left out, but also the other Insular areas and territories such as Puerto Rico, CNMI, American Samoa, the Virgin Islands and others. Earlier Guam and the other territories had also been left out of the national coin program, which issued a special quarter for each of the 50 states.
In response to the federal snub, Guam’s Delegate Robert Underwood said that “this is a direct slap in the face at a time when we are trying to show national unity.” A Dededo resident added, “Guam is a part of the US. We can’t let them just forget us.”
Kao maolek ha’ este? Na i guatdia para demokrasia yan linibre taiguini? Hamaleffa?
Aside from the obvious colonial entrapments attached to the military and its presence and its conceptualization of Guam’s essence (perfect strategic location, too bad people live there), the primary colonial force we must deal with, ko’lo’lo’ña på’go despues di i hinatmen 9/11, is American patriotism.
Chamorros on Guam are caught in that terrible colonial contradiction, insisting that we are both the same and different, at the same time. For years Guam and Chamorros have been moving closer to and further away from the US. The jingoism and unthinking patriotism which has been wrenched from within or freely volunteered from every able-bodied citizen is dangerous enough in a country with the potential firepower and ability to wipe human existence from the face of this planet. But on Guam, it becomes the drug that every Chamorro longs for and secretly hates at the same time.
For every American, the tragedy of 9/11 gives each person a chance to feel new value. The attack was most likely caused because of meddling American imperial interventions in the Middle East, and their support of regimes that many Muslims feel are corrupt such as Saudi Arabia, but the media response and the political discourse which will be presented to the public will be something further from the truth and more propagandistic in nature.
In the first edition of the PDN following the attacks, an editorial was published covering what was known at that point. “Freedom itself was attacked this morning by a faceless coward,” were the words of the president. The day after the attack, Senådot Frank Aguon Jr. was quoted saying, “There are times when being the greatest and most powerful nation in the world has its risks.” In the September 16th issue of the New York Times, the lead analysis of the 9/11 crimes was that “the perpetrators acted out of hatred for the values cherished in the West, such as freedom, tolerance, prosperity, religious pluralism and universal suffrage.”
Ultimately the consensus in the media and in your everyday discourse was that we had been attacked because we are democratic, we are free, and they hate our way of life. It suddenly gives new life to lives around the country, as the way we live is something people are willing to die for, willing to kill for. The discourse of danger also is created. All of a sudden people want to kill me, kill us. All these thoughts, while rarely spoken out loud work inside each individual, feeding into their ego.
Yanggen un aksepta este na hinasso, pues insigidas gumof impottånte hao. Sa’ på’go malago-ña Si Osama Bin Laden pumuno’ hao. Hågu i enimigu-ña. Sa’ hågu rumepresesenta håfa mas ti ya-ña, freedom, liberty, justice, capitalism, modernism.
All this works within the Chamorro psyche, and the local bonus is that through the participation in the fervor of patriotism unfettered for the time being, we get to be part of the American fold. Through our empathy, our sympathy our unasked for support, our placing of the American flag in our front yards or on our cars, we get to be Americans, regardless of what history, what politics have kept us from reaching that point. In a September 15th PDN article, “Residents rally behind Old Glory,” A sales associate at a radio station comments on how “even though Guam is so far away from the sites [of the attack], they had much impact…the outpouring of people displaying flags here shows “how personal it is.”
In the September 22nd PDN, in an article entitled “Schools shine with patriotic pride,” school officials and students discuss their patriotic responses to the World Trade Center attacks. The principal of George Washington High School stated “It seemed like a good idea for the students…to give them a chance to be part of something big like this. Part of a whole.”
By wrapping ourselves up with the American flag, covering our eyes and mouths, we can suspend, not the colonial relationship, but our belief in that relationship. We can blind ourselves to the fact that we belong to a country that doesn’t care about us, that wants only our land and its strategic presence, that tried to destroy our culture and language, that says that democracy, freedom and justice are so vitally important but has denied us for so long, in large and small ways, those very things.
In a time of crisis these are exactly the things that must be questioned, before we react, before we reach for the flag we must remember, that that flag represents much more than freedom, liberty and justice. It represents colonialism, imperialism, militarism and ignorance. But Chamorro identity is so complex, that it is easily overwhelmed. The benevolence of the US, the fact that we are rarely confronted at gunpoint with American demands, or that the association with the colonizer has reaped us huge short term gains, make critiques of the US/Guam and Chamorro relationship difficult in the best of times, and impossible in the worst of times.
Former Kongresu Robert Underwood, speaking to a University of Guam class said that Guam is somewhat unique in the world because of the way it reacts to a crisis, such as the current economic one. In most places around the world, when things are as bad as they are on Guam right now in 2003, people begin to grumble, they being to mumble. They start to talk about the leadership, the government, the politics of their particular place and they probably start to demand change. Well, on Guam, ideas of culture, identity, political status, they can only be dealt with when things are fantastic, when the economy is wonderful. Only then can we afford to deal with issues such as our relationship to the United States. But when things are bad, then everyone screams and shouts, “DON’T TOUCH THE POLITICAL STATUS! We can’t afford to mess with that now!”
Enao i kustumbre-ña i gof makolonisa na tintanos. Yanggen todu maolek munga mafa’maolek. Yanggen todu dimalas, CHA-MU fafa’maolek! Mappot maeskapa este.
Anyone who wishes a more concrete analysis of my point need only look to the November 5th, 2001 PDN, and the revoltingly revealing editorial by Joe Murphy. Murphy, rambles about nostalgia, and how the Taliban regime in Afghanistan is still living in the past, and creates an odd almost baffling local connection to his thoughts. “Sometimes I think that the Chamorro activists yearn for those days of continuous fishing, sailing and fiestas. When everyone spoke the same language. That was before terrorists and airplanes and computers and television and shopping at Kmart and Gov Guam Layoffs.” How can we afford to be Chamorro when there are terrorists in the PI? Or how can we afford to be Chamorro when there is a K-Mart on the island and the Taliban oppresses women? When did Chamorro culture become a crime or a sin? When did finding value in simpler things become, or even in identifying with your culture and family become something we don’t have time for, or can’t safely do in this post 9/11 world?
After reading this I recalled during the 2002 races for the Legislature how candidates had been invited to come to my Chamorro class at UOG, and each pitch to us in Chamorro as best they could, the plans they had for Guam. It was for the most part an enlightening and inspiring experience, save for the speeches given by one candidate (who I shall leave nameless. But I’ll tell you his name if you ask). The candidate responding to a question about Chamorro culture and language responded oddly that “if you want to be a Chamorro then start wearing a g-string (I think he meant loin-cloth).” He also stated that people who want to speak Chamorro should go back to Inalåhan (I think he meant Humåtak). And as if he hadn’t dug a deep enough hole for himself, he said that his children were not Chamorro, because being Chamorro meant them living at the lancho and using outhouses.
I bring up these statements because they exhibit a fundamental symptom of many Chamorros today. And that is, an unforgiving discourse of self-depreciation, the constant marginalization of everything Chamorro, and attributing of most if not all progress, all intelligence, all positive notions to outside influences, in particular American influences. Where do the politicians statements above come from? They come from a psyche that feels that his own culture has nothing to offer the world. His ideas about Chamorro culture are so skewed that he can’t conceive of Chamorro language and culture as anything but antiquated, anachronistic or dead. His racist statements allude to an identity in which all he values, he believes comes from outside of Guam, outside of Chamorro.
I am reminded here of the words of South African activist Steve Biko, when he discussed ideas of inferiority and colonization for Africans in white controlled South Africa: [when studying to be accepted for a black job in South Africa] he suddenly realized that it wasn’t just all the good jobs that were white, but all the history everywhere, was the history of the white man, written by the white man. Television, cars, medicine all invented by the white man…In a world like that, it’s not hard to believe there’s something inferior about being black.
Where Chamorros, as a people find value for their existence needs to be redirected. At present, we derive most of our value from our relationship with United States, with its ideologies and institutions. We find self-merit from our strategic presence in the pacific, from our strange heritage of patriotism and loyalty. From our hospitality to tourists, to the way our education and economic systems are run, we derive most of our value from outsiders, from outside of us. Aside from the vast and fortunate resources of the US, what makes them an effective, even though fragmented people is that they are extremely self-centered, and obtain nearly all their value from themselves; the elementary school rhetoric taking myriad sound bytes from the Constitution and Declaration of Independence, though eventually meaningless later in life and in terms of US foreign policy, is constantly invoked to justify the United States as the greatest country in the world.
It is also impossible for colonized peoples to attain this level of taimamahlao as the term self-centered within this framework means the “focus on the Center” which means a focus on the colonizing body, in this case the United States. Even if colonies are self-centered, the term reveals literally, who is in control of the situation.
And if you don’t agree with the above paragraphs or even with the entire tone of this paper, then I congratulate you. Prove me wrong. Discussion, competition, disagreement and dissent are at the core of the vitality of any culture. Discussion of these issues should not be left to professors, anthropologists, psychologists, historians or would-be academics like me. We ultimately control where we get our worth from. When we speak of privatization of the Government, we need to think about why we want it so bad, why it seems so right, why it seems to necessary. When we conceive the military presence on island, we need to think about our responses to wars, to armed conflicts, to increased military presence. Think hard about the way we think about our economy and our culture in relation to that. All these issues are intertwined with our perceptions of the US and more importantly our perceptions of ourselves.
The energy of our culture must not be attached to military spending or construction projects for the National Guard. Our dreams should not be imported, especially not from America. Every time a Chamorro thinks about settling down, buying land, and building a house, raising a family, he or she should know that that dream is not solely an American one. For Chamorros it was a reality for generations, to own and work your land, raise a family and so on. It was American intervention which disrupted all that, their intrusion which suddenly made the life my grandparents speak of in pre-war Guam not just a fading memory, but a distant impossibility.
Returning at last to 9/11, I am not proposing that a Chamorro reaction to the 9/11 would be any different from an American one or indifferent to the tragedy. Notions of identity do not mean absolute or even limited uniqueness. America seems to feel that hard-working behavior is their traditional domain. Lao esta ta tungo’ na manmampos butmuchachu i mañainå-ta siha lokkue’, and so do many other cultures.
I am not saying that a Chamorro response to the attack would be radically different. I am not focusing on the anthropological or socio-political aspects. But I do know this; to respond to 9/11 as a Chamorro means to find value in your own response, in what your culture, the Chamorro culture recommends. And of course that response is one of sadness, of compassion or empathy, all the right things. But if you are to respond as an American, you just continue the terrible colonial cycle of abuse and exploitation which has been in effect for more than a century. Responding as an American means you have been duped, you have been fooled by the propaganda, taken in by the stirring orations and speeches designed to illicit an instinctive response for unity and acceptance.
You can see the cost of this “duping” or “responding as Americans,” in the way the Pearl Harbor analogy was articulated in discourse on Guam. The media in the United States used Pearl Harbor as an emotional parallel, calling the September 11th attack, “another day of infamy,” both attacks threatening the US homefront (even though Hawaii was a colony then, not really a part of the US). On Guam the response was no different, the analogy met with no criticism, qualification or exception, despite the fact that Guam should of responded differently. Pearl Harbor, and the entire World War II experience are vastly different for a Chamorro, then for your average statesider. For a Chamorro on Guam, Pearl Harbor was the prelude for two and a half years of Japanese oppression and then American destruction. A Chamorro representation of destruction, bombing, of Pearl Harbor itself, must be different, then your typical flag waving, Never Forget bumper sticker using, American disposable rhetoric patriot.
There are those who would say that Chamorro and American are the same thing. Or that one is political the other ethnic. All I can respond to that is that you must of left a lot behind, forgotten much to have successfully reconciled that in your mind.
Para I mamamaila, guaha chathinasso-ku, lao guaha esperansa lokkue’.
Despite the tone of my paper, I am not as depressed or as worried as it may seem. History can be a depressing and enraging thing, yet it can also be enlightening at the same time. For me, after reading, knowing and internalizing a history of the Chamorro people from 4,000 years to the present, I cannot see how anyone could doubt the authenticity, tenacity and vitality of our culture (myself included). Chamorros have gone through so much and someone maintained a sense of identity, of sense of themselves. It boggles my mind how much credit we give to the US in our daily lives. How much credit we give to others when we are deserving of so much more!
In the September 15th PDN, Tony Sanchez writes a very moving and yet puzzling editorial, “Tuesday, Sept. 11th, changed our world, won’t be forgotten.” The gist is typical patriotic propaganda, irrational calls for unity, inspiring speeches in order to dispel dissent. “So what do we do? We do what America and Guam have always done. We pull together. We do our jobs better. We raise our children better. We help our neighbor more. We argue less; we compromise more. We face the stark reality of the world we live in with eyes wide open. We cannot afford to be divisive. Not today.” And later Sanchez goes on to say that although we do not vote in national elections are governments and our people (us and the Americans) are one and the same. The disconcerting part for me of this article is the fact that America or our relationship with America is a vital part of us raising our children better, doing our jobs better. For Sanchez the whole of our improvement and progress is attached to America and our unity with them.
Who survived near extinction at the hands of Spanish guns and disease? Who maintained a semblance of continuity in the face of cultural vaporization by Spanish colonialism? Who survived the horrors of Japanese occupation and brutality? Why does America receive so much credit for our survival and endurance? Why is altruism, compassion, caring and kindness attributed to a country which could have cared less about our fates? All the value, all the inspiration you need can be found within these shores, or within the relative who has left it behind. Within our own families lie all the worth any Chamorro should want or need.
As I write this American imperialism is at “war” with the world around it. I am constantly reminded of our parents’ and grandparents’ war not too long ago. I think of Liberation Day, and what it celebrates, the re-occupation of Guam in 1944 by American troops. I think of all the patriotism, mixed and confused messages associated with that holiday. I hope the next time a Chamorro gets a sudden burst of patriotism and feels the urge to grab an American flag they think first, about what it truly represents. Liberation Day is where I think a re-focusing of Chamorro identity must begin, so much of what we feel and how we think today depends on how we interpret that event.
The PDN often places on its front page, a small American flag and beneath it the foreboding proclamation that “THESE COLORS DON’T RUN.”
Put fåbot, todu i Chamorro siha, fanhassuyi este…
Those colors ran like little school girls in 1941. Those colors made sure that all their relatives and military were evacuated before the Japanese attacked. They also made sure that only white dependents were evacuated, any non-white though still military dependents had to stay behind. They were also very careful not prepare the Chamorros for an invasion or an attack. And when they finally ran back to Guam, on their way to Tokyo, they made sure to bomb it continuously for three weeks, not really caring what they hit, and pleasantly surprised to find later that there were still people alive on the island after that barrage.
After September 11th, across the country people called for us all never to forget. Never forget this grave injustice which had been committed against the greatest nation in the world. I call on Chamorros as well, never forget the grave injustices which have been committed against us and this culture, that I feel is the greatest culture in the world (I admit, I’m biased). No matter how much money the Federal Government gives us, no matter how many times people say “my fellow Americans,” or how many free miniature American flags are distributed, Never forget.
Munga maleffa. Para i mamamaila na tiempo gi lina’la’-ta, todu dipende gi håfa ta hahasso, håfa ta kåkatga mo’na gi tiempo, minetgot pat minapedde’.