Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Håfa na Klasen Liberation? #25: The True Meaning of Liberation

It is so intriguing the way in which local media covers Liberation Day in Guam, the holiday meant to commemorate the American re-taking of the island from Japanese forces during World War II. Objectively, the American reoccupying of the island in 1944 was not a liberation, at least not in most senses of the word. It's level of "liberation" depends largely on whether or not you exclude the Chamorros, the indigenous people of Guam, who have called this island home for possible thousands of years. It is very bewildering how we predicate the idea of Liberation Day being a liberation on the experiences of the Chamorro people, because so many of them express it as being a liberation, but calling it a liberation requires suspending their human rights and reducing their to a mere colonial effect of the United States. You can refer to July 21st as a liberation from Japanese occupation, as a liberation of US territory from foreign clutches. Even if Chamorros themselves may call it a liberation, because of the joy and relief they felt by having the Japanese and the myriad of daily horrors they represented gone from their lives. But how can it be a liberation in an full formed or true sense if it meant a return to colonial control? If the Chamorro people were liberated from one master and then returned to the control of another? If you don't believe me and think I am just an ungrateful young person who didn't experience the horrors of Japanese occupation and don't understand why we must refer to it as a liberation, don't take my word for it. Take the words of one of the US soldiers who did the liberating, who hits the beaches and expelled the Japanese and partially freed the Chamorro people. Here are the words of Darrell Doss in 2003:
"Fifty-nine years ago, on July 21, 1944, I and more than 57,000 Marines, soldiers and sailors came ashore on the beaches of Asan and Agat, and were honored to be referred to as 'liberators.' But in the end, we failed to accomplish what we had come to do -- liberate you. More correctly, our government failed both of us by not granting the people of Guam full citizenship. Another injustice is not allowing Guam to have equal say, as we in the states do, in governing your island home. Please remember, we men who landed on your shores July 21, 1944, shall never be fully satisfied until you are fully liberated."
That is why it is so interesting when the media attempts to grapple or explore what the true meaning of the day is. Patriotism is constantly mentioned as being what the root of the event is meant to be. Patriotism to the United States and gratitude for what they did in freeing us from Japanese oppression. The problem though, as we look to the future and look to our postwar history, is that this traps us in a particular subservient relationship to the United States, and becomes a way of enthusiastically and patriotically explaining away our colonial present. The most common way in which patriotism or our potential attachment to the United States is articulated is not critical, does not move us forward, but pushes us to accept what we currently have, and that we should appreciate everything Uncle Sam is kind and generous enough to gift us.

Instead, we should re-imagine Liberation Day in a way that benefits us, provides the lessons for us looking to the future. Gratitude to the United States can be a part of this, but not patriotism to a country which is our colonizer and our most formal and fundamental connection is that they own our island and our rights. We can commemorate this event as it is so important in our recent history, but we should organize it in such a way that it pushes us forward, towards true liberation, self-determination or decolonization.

Below are some articles where the "true meaning" of Liberation Day are broached.


Remembering the true meaning of Liberation Day
by Sue Lee
Pacific Daily News
July 19, 2016

This year marks the 72nd anniversary of the liberation of Guam.

With more than seven decades passed, the significance of Liberation Day has been buried for some. For those like John Gerber, a former Marine sergeant and founder of Pacific War Museum, they strive to remind future generations of the meaning behind July 21, says Mel Gerber, president and managing director of Pacific War Museum Foundation.

The idea for the museum came when Mel Gerber’s late husband, John, was watching the news. When asked what Liberation Day meant to them, for the most part people said it was a day off or it was a day to go down and watch the parade with the family.

“He thought, ‘Wow, everyone is losing sight of what this day actually means,” Mel Gerber says.
Spurred by those comments, John Gerber made it a mission to remind others of what really happened on Liberation Day, and honor those that fought for the island in 1944. John Gerber had already collected a significant amount of artifacts and memorabilia to display in the Pacific War Museum. The rest came from military surplus and donated items. The museum officially opened right along with Liberation Day in 2008.

“Just this morning, we had a guy come in from the States to drop off a framed photo of his friend. The friend passed away 2015. He earned a purple heart from getting wounded in Guam back in 1944. He believes that was what also saved him. He would have moved on to the Battle of Iwo Jima, which also means he would have been in Japan when they dropped the nuclear bomb,” Gerber says.
Although it’s summertime, teachers still bring their students to the museum to supplement their lessons on Liberation Day.

In public schools, Guam history is emphasized at the fourth-grade level and is also a high school graduation requirement, says Jon Fernandez, Guam Department of Education superintendent.
“I remember being taught about it during Chamorro class, but we learn about it during Guam History classes in high school,” says Lovely Sejalbo, an incoming senior at Okkodo High School.

“In the district’s K-12 level … students learn about the systems of beliefs, knowledge, values and traditions of various cultures and how those aspects influence human behavior,” Fernandez says.
This leads up to the fourth-grade level Guam History, which includes the origins and significance of local celebrations, including Independence Day, Liberation Day and the Feast of Santa Marian Kamalen.

Fernandez says he wants to teach students about how historical events like Liberation Day have changed and affected lives. “We need to remind our young generation not only during our annual Liberation Day festivities, but every day by continuing to practice our cultural values,” he says.
However for some students that are not part of the Guam DOE system, they have to be proactive in order to learn the history behind July 21.

“We don’t touch on it because it’s not a requirement in the test that we do for home schooling,” says Stephanie Kohn, 17, who will be a senior this Fall. “We learn about world history and American history. They don’t really mention (Guam). I feel like it should be a requirement because we live here, but I do know about it and that the Japanese occupation was terrible. I learned about it at the Pacific Heritage Youth Summit that my mom sent me to.”

Exploring the history

The Pacific War Museum is another way kids and adults can learn about Guam history. At the entrance of the museum, visitors can sign a guestbook before touring the exterior, or walk into either of the two enclosed sections filled with photographs, memorabilia and artifacts – to the left is the American wing and to the right is the Japanese.

Included in the American wing is a red plaque listing the names of the 1,548 Marines, 226 Army and 110 Navy soldiers killed while liberating Guam from Japan in July 1944.

In the Japanese wing, among the weapons used during that time are stories of Japanese soldiers hiding in the jungle, even beyond the liberation. One of the most well known is Shoichi Yokoi, a Japanese sergeant who hid in the jungle from 1944 to 1972 before he was captured.

A Japanese flag and a plastic bag with a Japanese newspaper found in a cave by John Camacho in 1972 hang on the wall.

Outside, you will find over a dozen war vehicles, including one each from the Vietnam War and Korean War. A machine gun and the tail end of a Japanese bomber are also on display to remind visitors of tragedy.

Although Liberation Day is a time to celebrate, it’s a day of remembrance, Mel Gerber says. The right education and organizations such as the museum help ensure the significance of July 21 won’t be forgotten.

Content Coach Hannah Cho Iriarte contributed to this story.


Liberation Parade Changes Direction
by Allyson Chu
July 19, 2014
Guam - Liberation Day paradegoers will be treated to something a little different this year. Here's what you need to know when you head down to the annual celebration in the island's capitol.

Several changes are in store for this year's Liberation Parade. One, for instance, is the fact that it will now travel north to south. The parade will now start from the Paseo Loop and end at Adelup.  Liberation Parade chairperson, Dededo mayor Melissa Savares, told KUAM News, "If you're coming from the north and parts of central, you'll see that it's congested and most of those areas will be closed off. The main road from Routes 1 and 4 through Adelup will be open until 7am. The back streets in Hagatna are open. Another change that they will see different this year is that skinner plaza there's more vehicle flow or traffic flow at that place because the grandstand is not right in front of skinner's plaza. It's going to be in the front parking lot of Chamorro Village, so there'll be a little more space to move around that area, not to put up any canopies but for people to watch the parade."

As for the grandstand it will be now located in front of Chamorro Village, so instead of liberators and survivors of the Japanese occupation viewing the parade last - they will be first. "We're celebrating 70 years and one of the things I thought really hard in the committee, we brainstormed about this. We talked to many groups, especially public safety because you know it's going to be a safe area and a safe thing to do," the mayor added. "We have seven liberators who are 88 and 90, we want to let them see everything first. They usually see everything at the end when everything's melted down, the makeup's all smeared. This is our way of thanking the liberators but also honoring the survivors because we also have a survivors tent that is attached to the reviewing stand and the man'amkos are more than welcome to come and join and watch the parade from there."

Although the route changed, all other aspects of the Liberation Day festivities will remain the same. An early fireworks display will be set off Sunday night at 8 o'clock for the campers along the parade route in addition to the evening of liberation day at the Tiyan carnival grounds.  The Liberation Fireworks Family Show lights up at 7pm while the big show - the Platinum Fireworks Spectacular - kicks off at 10pm.

The theme of this year's liberation is generations of service and sacrifice. According to Savares it's exactly why we celebrate and commemorate this special day. "The people coming together and seeing our survivors that are still able to come out and participate because that's why we're celebrating liberation because of the hardship they went through during the hardship that they went through during the occupation of Japanese forces," she said. "But also the stories that they share, they don't only share it with their families but when they're all together you can hear the stories and that's the memorable part that's really the true meaning of our celebration."

Happy Liberation Day, Guam!


Guam Celebrates 69th Anniversary Of Liberation Day
Parades honor day the American military landed on Guam
By Frank Whitman 
Marianas Variety
July 22, 2013
HAGÅTÑA, Guam, Liberation Day – the celebration of the 21st of July 69 years ago when the American military landed on Guam to end two and a half years of brutal occupation by Japanese forces during World War II – has become a celebration of the island, its people and its heritage, and a day to honor those who suffered, sacrificed and died during that dark period of the island’s history. Like celebrations of similar days of national celebration elsewhere, Liberation Day festivities have special meaning for participants.

Yesterday, as usual, thousands of island residents and visitors lined the parade route from the Governor’s Complex at Adelup to the grandstand just past Skinner Plaza. Many who had reserved spots spent Saturday putting up canopies, preparing food and then spending the night to keep an eye on their site.

The parade was successful thanks to the hard work of the Mayors' Council of Guam and countless others who built floats, cleaned up along the parade route before and after the event, organized recycling bins, and maintained order. A fireworks show entertained those in Hagåtña on Saturday night and another was provided in the Liberation Carnival in Tiyan on Sunday night.

And while residents have come to expect rain as part of the Liberation Day tradition, yesterday’s parade took place under blue skies, though the temperature made the route uncomfortable at times.


Marching in the parade this year, as he has done for the past 32 years, was Sgt. 1st Class Jeff Santos of the Guam Army National Guard’s 1224th Engineer Company. Santos is the last active member of the Guard from the original group 32 years ago. "On July 21, 1981 there were 32 of us swearing in right in front of this grand stand," he said. "Gov. Paul Calvo was our governor at the time, and 30 years later I re-enlisted into the Guam National Guard."

Santos was deployed to Afghanistan for 18 months and to Arizona twice to participate in the construction of the border fence. He said being in the Liberation Day Parade is an honor. 

"[When I first joined] I never thought I’d still be here," he said. "I enjoy it and I challenge everybody in the Guam Guard to stay in as long as I did." He said he intends to stay in until he is forced out by age – on March 31, 2017. 

The parade was a not-common-enough family get-together for Larry Cruz, his wife Elaine, son Jeff and daughter Lauren. Larry Cruz is a civilian Navy employee who grew up in Barrigada but took federal employment elsewhere during the Navy downsizing of the 1990s. He currently works and lives in Okinawa. Elaine, also a Navy employee, was on Guam after recently relocating to a job in Italy, and Jeff, who has lived in San Diego since the 1990s, had extended a visit so he would be on island for yesterday’s celebration. 

Larry Cruz had arrived Saturday afternoon and is to return to Okinawa today. "I was in Okinawa and I was watching a DVD of a Jesse and Ruby concert," he said. "It made me think so much of the island. I knew that my son was here and I thought, ‘Even if it’s just for the weekend, I want to be here with family.'"

The family – Larry Cruz’s brothers, sisters and cousins – had a canopy on the parade route as they have done as long as he can remember, and several of the relatives had spent the previous night there. "We’re second and third cousins, but we’re still so close," he said "It’s just a good feeling – having family here – and these guys do this every year."


Alyssa Duenas, 23, also has personal tradition associated with the Liberation Day Parade since it falls on her birthday. "We try to come down here every year," she said. "My sister is here visiting, so this year we decided to do it big. ... It’s been on and off over the years, but we always have a sign [on our canopy] so people will know."

She remembers being told that the festivities were being held in her honor. "They tricked me," she laughed, "They even told me the fireworks and the whole island coming out was to celebrate my birthday."

The Aguon-Crisostomo family’s spot on the beach side of the route was particularly well-decorated with coconuts, leaves and other adornments, including a Guam Seal quilt made especially for the occasion. "We come to the parade every year, but this is the first year we got our own spot," said Abby Aguon Cruz. "It’s hard to get a spot by lining up [at the Department of Parks and Recreation to reserve a spot]. So we got a spot and we decorated."

While the quilt took a week to complete, the rest of the work was started the day before. "We had plans [to put up more items]," Cruz said. "But by 2 this morning, we were just tired. It was hard work, but this is for family."

A group of visiting students from Osaka Business Frontier High School enjoyed their first Liberation Day Parade. They are participants in the University of Guam’s English Adventure Program, in which they stay with local families, study English, and take part in business internships during their stay. The parade was a good opportunity for the students to experience a different aspect of culture and life on the island, said Carlos Taitano, program outreach coordinator. "The timing couldn’t have been better," he said.

Marianas Variety Guam: www.mvguam.com

Copyright © 2013 Marianas Variety. All Rights Reserved


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