Buenas yan hafa adai!
I have just completed my first semester of college, and it was an adventure! I loved a lot of things about it, and disliked things too, but overall, it was a learning experience that I’m grateful for. In a couple of weeks, I’m going to start my new adventure: Spring semester. Yayyyy. Well writing for my classes has taken up a lot of my personal writing time, as it may have shown throughout the last few months. However, I killed two birds with one atupat and wrote about things pertaining to our Chamoru culture, island, and current issues. Here is my final essay for Freshman Composition called In Dependence without all of the APA citations. I hope you enjoy…
Guam needs change. Guam is currently one of the last 16 colonized, non-self-governing nations with the longest colonial history in the world. Guam was colonized by Spain in the 1600s then given to the U.S. in 1898 as a spoil of the Spanish-American war. Although the native people of Guam, the Chamorus were forced to stop speaking their language, forced to convert from their indigenous spiritual practices to Christianity, forced out of their own land, suffered genocide in the Chamoru-Spanish War, and held as second-class citizens in their own home, they have remained resilient and managed to keep much of the culture and language alive.
Guam’s current political status is “unincorporated territory” of the United States of America, meaning that it is a possession of the U.S. that has limited self-government and is at the disposal of the U.S. According to Guampedia, the people of Guam are US Citizens and while they may acquire full political equality as individuals, if they move to any of the fifty states, they are in a subservient political condition if they remain on Guam. They are unable to vote for president, select members of US Congress with voting power and congress can overturn any law passed in Guam and decide which parts of the US Constitution apply to it” (Underwood 2014). Guam has no voting delegate in Congress or seat in the United Nations. This has and is still affecting our island’s infrastructure, culture, resources, and people in mostly negative ways. As an unincorporated territory, Guam is unable to manage immigration suitable for the island, therefore our infrastructure is not up to par for the amount of residents and visitors. Under the U.S. Department of Education and economy, Guam has become more “Americanized” with little to no Chamoru culture and language taught in schools and no use for Chamoru in everyday life. Guam is also dependent on the U.S. federal government monetarily, using thousands of federal dollars each fiscal year for programs such as food stamps, welfare, and even our tax refunds to name a few. As an unincorporated territory of the U.S., the federal government can take whatever land they want and is currently controlling one third of Guam’s landmass, not properly taking care of the resources within. Guam’s government and citizens have limited freedoms due to its political status which may be changed through decolonization. Decolonization is the freeing of a colony to become self-governing or independent.
In order for the indigenous Chamoru people of Guam and the migrated people who call Guam home to decolonize themselves, they must undergo the process of self-determination. Self-determination is the process in which the people of a colonial territory express their desire for a self-governing status. The people of Guam have three options of self-government: statehood, free association, and independence. If permitted by the U.S., in statehood, Guam will become the 51st (fifty-first) state of the United States of America in which residents abide to the laws and receive constitutional rights. Free association is in essence a bargain through which a degree of external sovereignty is freely exchanged in return for a defense commitment and the promise of significant economic assistance. Independence is becoming a sovereign nation. Each status will affect Guam’s land and resources, the residents’ rights, immigration, culture, legal system, education, and foreign affairs. Each status has its pros and cons, however, I believe that independence is the best status option for Guam. According to the Independence for Guam Task Force of the Guam Commission on Decolonization, “Independence is a chance for the people of Guam to truly determine our own destiny. For many centuries, Guam’s political course has been dictated for us—our people, our land, and our resources have been used to benefit other countries leaving us at a greater loss each time. Currently, Guam is stuck with a dependent and underdeveloped relationship with the United States. The colonial status of Guam keeps us trapped – economically, politically, mentally, and spiritually. Independence will allow us to work together as a community to grow into a more sustainable and regionally integrated people, who will no longer be stunted as a colony of the United States” (Hafa Ilek-mu Self-Determination, n.d.). The native and indigenous people of Guam should declare independence from the United States government because of its dictatorial history, to protect the Chamoru culture and language, and to manage the resources to sustain themselves and future generations.
The United States government has expressed no interest in the wellbeing of the Chamoru people and the perpetuation and protection of the Chamoru culture many times throughout their colonialism on Guam. As stated earlier, Guam was purchased by the U.S. in the Treaty of Paris in 1898 as a spoil of the Spanish-American War. The U.S. bought Guam, the Phillippines, and all inhabitants as if they were animals and not human beings. Following the Treaty of Paris, the Navy assumed the position of the government of Guam. According to one of the first appointed Naval governors Governor Dyer, the Chamorus were to be Americanized and, “…taught, at once, to help themselves in ways to make themselves useful to us . . .”. After Guam was seized by Japan in WWII, the military leveled the island with thousands of pounds of explosives regardless of the presence of the local people. The U.S. then reclaimed Guam in 1944 and seized one third of the island’s landmass without adequate compensation, leaving many Chamorus homeless and poor. According to my grandmother Engracia Pangelinan, WWII survivor, the schools established by the Navy discouraged the use of the Chamoru language and forced English upon them in hopes of Americanizing the Chamorus. The Chamoru people resented the way the government treated them and sought for a fair government and civil rights. They believed that becoming U.S. citizens would give them U.S. civil rights and fought for such. They were granted citizenship in the Organic Act of 1950 which was modeled after the U.S. Constitution, but were not granted all the constitutional rights including the right to vote for President. There have been many efforts by the Chamoru people to decolonize themselves, but due to the lack of support from the federal government and education amongst Chamorus, they have failed. Today, the U.S. still owns one third of Guam’s landmass and is continuing to take more. They have recently finalized the taking of Litekyan- a wildlife reserve, ancient village, and sacred place to the Chamoru people to be used as a firing range. The U.S. plans on taking more for the highly anticipated military buildup- the relocation of thousands of marines and their dependents to Guam. Some say the buildup will be good for Guam, but many native Chamorus feel that it will be further detrimental to the land, culture, language, and survival of the Chamoru people in their own home.
Choosing independence for Guam will better allow the preservation and perpetuation of the Chamoru culture and language. Guam’s educational system is and has always been parallel to that of the United States, in which students learn the same things as students in the continental U.S., and are compared to American standards and statistics. My father Rick Nauta, whom does not speak Chamoru but has Chamoru-speaking parents asked his mother why she did not teach him Chamoru. She said that she did not want it to affect his English and how well he did in school. As one can see, the U.S. has affectively devalued the importance of the Chamoru culture and language in Chamorus themselves. Today, there are few courses in high school that teach Chamoru language, dance, history, and practices, however in my experience, they seemed underfunded and unimportant to the education of a Guam student as a whole. Public elementary students are only allotted 20 minutes each day for learning Chamoru. What can possibly taught, learned, and comprehended in 20 minutes? The perpetuation of the culture is obviously not a priority for the Department of Education, so if our culture and language is not taught, it will die. In Decolonization Through the Self-Determination of a People- An Overview of Guam’s Status and Options by the Guam Commission on Decolonization, independence will engender the “continuation of existing standards with large resource allocation directed to long-term residents… the local school system empowered to develop locally/regionally relevant curriculum”. As an independent nation, not only will Guam be able to implement Chamoru values and language into the curriculum, but teach the curriculum in Chamoru. In An Analysis of the Economic Impact of Guam’s Political Status Options by Joseph Bradley, “it is anticipated that there will be a resurgence in the Chamorro language and culture in the independent nation of Guam. There is even the remote possibility that the use of the Chamorro language will be mandated for some of the island’s governmental activities”.
As an independent nation, Guam will regain access to all of its natural resources and manage them according to the needs of the people. As a small island with only 212 square miles of land, Guam is limited in resources including soil for agriculture and freshwater sources. The federal government currently owns land that has many resources including but not limited to the Mt. Santa Rosa Reservoir, Agana Springs, Tarague Natural Wells, the Tumon Bay Recreational area, and the Fena River Reservoir, totaling in over 43,000 acres. That land was taken from many Chamoru families whom were inadequately compensated, including my maternal grandmother Engracia Pangelinan. The military exploits the resources in those lands to benefit themselves and even sells the products back to the government of Guam. They do not properly care for the land as seen in their ownership of Tiyan. The military claimed it after the war, dumped biohazardous waste on it, and gave it back to the government when it was deemed toxic and inhabitable. There are actually 95 toxic sites on Guam alone, many results of mistreatment and disrespect. As an independent nation, Chamoru property rights will come first and local law will be redefined to accommodate local conditions and economic development. As an independent nation, Guam will also be able to control immigration and the use of public land to better stabilize infrastructure (Guam Commission on Decolonization, n.d.). All 43,000+ acres of land under the military’s control will be distributed back to their rightful owners, and the rest could be used for agricultural development or economic enhancement.
Many people believe that Guam is not ready for independence, however the longer we spend preparing and planning, the more land is taken away, the more our culture and language die, and the more our island becomes a big military base. It is going to be a drastic and difficult change, but it is possible. For guidance and reassurance, we can look to our sister island of Palau. With education of its people, government involvement, self-determination, and great effort, they have become their own sovereign nation where their culture and language thrive, their resources are loved and taken care of, and their people are interdependent on each other and their land. If Palau can do it, Guam can do it too. We must educate ourselves, join hand in hand, and vote for our right to be our own nation. “The foundation of Guåhan is the Chamoru culture in all its expressions. The ancients arrived thousands of years ago. The future generations will continue this journey in search of the expression of the human experience.” –Anthony J Ramirez. Guåhan is tano i man Chamoru—the land of the Chamoru people, and we should keep it that way. Together we can change our status from in dependence to independent.
Si Yu’us Ma’ase for reading.