Essays

The Roles in Guam’s Future Political Status

Johnathan Borja

Håfa Adai!

Last week (3/12-3/18), I read an article by Dylan Kioshi where he responded to an article written by Rebekah Garrison. After reading both articles, I thought hard about the questions they both posed. From my understanding, Miss Garrison supports the idea of Guam becoming an independent nation. The other two options for Guam are to become a State or for Guam to get cozy with free association. I will try my bestI’m going to try and do my best to get my thoughts in order.

First off, I’m going to address Miss Garrison’s article and her suggestion that settlers learn about the land they walk on. Miss Garrison brought up Haunani-Kay Trask. This woman is fierce. She is the epitome of what it means to be an indigenous person angry about colonization. Her words are moving, true and everything I would love to be. He words inspire me to fight for the island that, as Miss Garrison mentioned, is constantly written out of American History textbooks. When I tell people at Marquette I’m from Guam, they think we’re located near Barbados or Cuba. They always have a bewildered look on their face. Maybe a year ago, I would have let it slide, but I really shouldn’t. There is no reason why they shouldn’t know Guam. They know Puerto Rico, French Polynesia, Samoa, etc. Guam is a victim in American History and what do we get in a history textbook? Nothing. I recall in my history class the part of the book where Guam should be mentioned. Guam was stated to be a U.S. Territory and that’s all.

Let’s forget the fact that after Pearl Harbor was bombed, the Japanese attacked us on one of our most holy days. You read that right. Holy. We are Catholic, thanks to colonization. Let’s not forget the Chamorro men that lost their lives fighting in hopes that the Americans would show up. Let’s not forget the women that were raped and killed. Let’s not forget the people that were piled into caves and shot. Or the people that were lined up along ditches and shot. Let’s not forget my grandma who told me stories of how her family walked for miles and miles to camps (hey, America, the Japanese did to us what you did to them in the mainland). Let’s not forget my grandma telling me how her aunt shed tears at how skinny my grandma was getting from lack of nutrition and all the walking.

We have a history. A long, arduous, amazing history. But we are not valued for it. Instead, our cultures were pushed aside. Our heritage was deemed second-rate. My blood was labeled as the Other. The U.S. took away our language by banning it from being spoken in schools. The result? I’m not fluent in it. I’m slowly learning and actively trying to do my best to absorb more of my culture. I have no pride in the fact that I was born American. Being American isn’t something to be proud of in my eyes, as if the current situation our nation is in isn’t proof enough. I have pride in the fact that I was born Chamorro. My people—God bless them—they are my strength. They are the reason I’ve traveled thousands of miles to be where I am right now. Truthfully, Marquette is not the ideal college for an island boy. In fact, I’d suggest that anyone from Guam looking for higher education choose somewhere on either coast. Both have much more accepting people as well as Guamanians and Chamorros.

In short, I agree that it is the duty of people not of Chamorro descent to educate themselves about my culture. You’re living on land that Chamorro families may have claims to. We, the natives, have to learn American History and American values like individualism and capitalism. I feel it’s only right that if you stay on Guam you learn about Puntan and Fu’una, Sirena, Inafa’maolek, Respetu, etc.Ms. Garrison wrote, “…I support an independent Guåhan even without the “right” to vote for Guåhan’s self-determination for many reasons, but especially, because I believe none of us, growing up on the continent or Guåhan, have ever received an elementary or high school education that values indigenous histories and possibilities for decolonization.”I could not agree more. This quote encompasses what I wish for Guam. Finally, as a Chamorro, I’d like to thank all the settlers—no—my Guamanian brothers and sisters who are actively vouching for my people and decolonization. I’m not entirely sold on any of the directions Guam could go as of now, but independence sounds pretty darn good to me.

Now, Mr. Kioshi had questions for the indigenous people of Guam. I will now proceed to answer them myself.

What are native Chamorros responsibilities to the land and people?

What are my responsibilities? To me, my responsibilities are to educate my school on the fact that they’re not the only ones in this world. Americans rejoice in their freedom, by oppressing others. People travel to Pacific Islands to partake in the warm climates, the culture and then they return without a second glance at what they experienced. They always look at the surface level of things. Don’t bother asking the man’åmko (elders) about their lives as POWs. No, instead, enjoy food, dancing and a rich culture that has gone through hell to remain on this earth. My responsibility to the land is to make sure people know what’s going on in the first place. It’s to ensure that people not from Guam understand that when they decide to settle on our island and choose to turn a blind eye from the problems we face, that they are also a part of that exact problem.

What are my responsibilities to the people? I honestly have no idea and I don’t know what I’m doing. At my age, kids are still trying to figure themselves out and I am no exception. However, one thing that remains constant since I’ve left Guam is, everything I’ve done and will do has always been done with Guam on my mind. I constantly think, “But if I do this, will it help Grandma? Will it make my ancestors proud? Will it make an easier life for my family?” My responsibility to the people of Guam is to shape myself in my own image in a way that could best serve the Chamorros and Guamanians. Maybe as a lawyer, I can represent the island and challenge everything the U.S. has done. It might be a stupid thing to do, but I’d rather do something stupid than nothing at all. I have the duty of being a catalyst for younger generations to push back against the U.S. and the colonialism that comes with them.

But again, I have no idea what I’m doing and how I’m going to ever bring about change for my island. I can run for governor or I can be an activist, but what will that do? I can be a Speech Language Pathologist and provide my services to everyone on Guam. I could be a teacher and instil a fire in my students so that they will not be apathetic when things go awry for our island. Minorities are always at odds with the world. We can only do so much and it gets so tiring combatting all the injustices like colonization. This past election has revealed a lot about people. It’s allowed people intolerant of others to come forward and criticize or verbally assault those who are different because the President does it too. Sometimes, it makes me weak and I can’t help but feel like there really is no point to anything I do. Which brings me to Mr. Kioshi’s other questions.

“Who are we to each other? What does that mean for each of us in the future of Guam?”

Who are we to each other? If you’re not of native blood, but you call Guam home, then you’re my brother or sister. Che’lu. That’s what you are. You look out for me, my island, my people and I’ll make sure that you’re well taken care of. Guamanian or Chamorro, you’ve decided to settle on my island and if you’ve chosen to learn my culture and learn more about who I am, then you are an ally. I’m not some Chamorro that boasts pure-blood, because no one really is. Rather, I’m a Chamorro that does what the U.S. is failing to do: accept people. The world may be against us, but as long as there are people of all walks of life that stand together, anything can be done.

What does this mean for the future of Guam? It’s my ancestors land and now you have a part of it. For the future of Guam, I hope it means that people will stop settling in complacency. I hope people will be aggressive and intent on letting the U.S. know that we are tired of being labeled as unimportant. We’ve lost just as much, if not more than we have gained from being under American colonial rule. You gave us an American education, so maybe it’s time we introduce the Americans to the Chamorro lesson plan of respetu (respect). Just respect the land, the people, the culture and everything. Having no culture does not give one permission to buff out a culture that has already been established. I’m tired of feeling like I have no control over what happens on my island and if any non-native people of Guam are willing to help me, then I think we can move forward with a new political status.

We have been historically underestimated and constantly told that we’re not much and that island life is where it’s at. The Guam Congress can be used as an example. People thought we had power with the Guam Congress, but really it was to satiate the desire for our people to govern ourselves. The Guam Congress had no power. It was a joke. It was the U.S. saying, “Hey, we don’t think you need rights right now, so let’s give you this fake body to make it seem like you could govern yourselves. But really we’ll continue to place naval governors as your governors, because you don’t understand anything that’s outside of your little island and your coconut heads cannot comprehend it.” I used to always pray to God for patience and strength, but now that I no longer have a religious affiliation (blasphemy, I know Guam, but not everyone enjoys Catholicism), I rely on myself for those two things. However, I think it’s about damn time I don’t ask for patience, because we’ve waited for over a hundred years to be free from colonization and I’ll be damned if I don’t see Guam free of the U.S. before I die.

So what does this mean for us? For my family, for their families and for anyone that calls Guam home, I hope it means we can work in tandem to see to a culturally enriched Guam. My island isn’t for those who would disrespect it and the culture. I hope it means any non-natives will gladly saddle up their carabaos (water buffalo) with me and we’ll ride into a better Guam.

This article was originally published at The Odyssey Online.