Resolution 294-34 : Testimony Against

Tonight, there is a hearing at the legislature on a resolution in support of the military Build-Up on Guam. I thought long and hard about whether or not I would go and read it in person, but can I be honest? I’m tired of showing up to formal hearings and scoping sessions and saying the same thing over and over again only to be ignored by our leaders and have the military politely nod, knowing they are going to do what they want anyway (because they can). I cannot count how many times I have rescheduled things with my family on special days to accommodate these dog and pony shows. Many of the mothers I am friends with have also experienced this struggle. Between picking up our children, working our full-time jobs, trying to learn our language, and maintain family traditions at home… we also need to do this; and we need to be ready to do it within a moment’s notice. It means testifying between funeral viewings and family parties. It means planning your kids birthday and grading papers, then rushing to the legislature to BEG your elected officials to please not destroy our island. I mean, it’s important; and it has to be done… but tonight I want to go to Mass with my children. This is what I want to do. I want to go to mass. I have committed to going to mass with my family tonight and I’m not going to cancel on them. I have submitted the testimony I planned to read to the legislature and am asking a friend to read it on my behalf. I am pasting it below because I wanted to share it. Please excuse any technical errors within it. I typed it during the 30 minute breaks between each of the classes I teach. I did not have time to review it or edit it, because I have children to pick up and papers to grade. It is the best I could do right now. I have so much more to say, but I’m going to be with my family.

I’m wishing you all a beautiful long weekend spent in thanks for all our families and island has to offer.

22 November 2017

Senator Michael San Nicolas
I Mina’trentai Kuåttro na Liheslaturan Guåhan
34th Guam Legislature
Guam Legislature Building
Hagåtña, Guåhan

RE: Non-support of Resolution 294-34

Håfa Adai Senator San Nicolas,

My name is Desiree Taimanglo Ventura and I am submitting written testimony in opposition to Resolution 294-34. Since the release of the DEIS in 2009, I have made it a point to study, read, and participate in as many formal processes as possible between my full-time job and raising a family in order to learn more about the ways in which the Military Build-Up will impact our home. I have attended public hearings in multiple villages, attended scoping sessions, worked with my students to submit formal comments in response to requests for public feedback, and followed build-up conversations closely. I have taken many hours out of my day, even, at times, told my family that things had to be postponed, because advocating for our home and learning how our home will be impacted is important; and it is. It’s extremely important. This endless dance is something you simply have to do if you care about Guam, even when it feels you are not being heard, even when your legislators ignore you while you are testifying, even when it’s just being done for the military to check off another box in the NEPA process and say that they did it.
But today, I resent being here. I resent having to come here and repeat what has been said so many times: that the Military Build-Up on Guam jeopardizes and destroys our island’s resources and further marginalizes the Chamoru people. I am, quite frankly, tired of having to respond to the only argument those in support of the build-up have to offer, which is that for a short period of time there will be extra jobs available on island, jobs that will vanish when the build-up is over, after our lime stone forests have been destroyed, after we have lost access to our sacred spaces, after we have further threatened endangered species, after we’ve exposed our water systems to contaminants, and after we further destabilize our infrastructure and make it harder for our own people to rent and own homes on their own island.

These are not things that I have made up, as some of our Pro Build- Up Activists would have you believe. These are all things the United States Department of Defense has said themselves, in their own documents released to the public. To be told, in plain language, that these things will happen, and have some of our local leaders stand up here and say the opposite is deeply lacking in integrity. I challenge you to look beyond your political agendas and personal dreams of attaining future office and listen to the many lawyers, economists, biologists, social workers, archeologists, students, professors, mothers, farmers, elders, and fishermen, who have contributed to this conversations. Surely we can’t all be wrong?

The first few pages of the resolution outline the NEPA process as if it somehow changes the fact that NEPA and NHO legislation are actively being reworked because of their many deficiencies that too easily allow the destruction of the environment. So much so that one of the attorneys who helped to author those NEPA laws (Yost) defended Pagat Pro Bono because it was so flawed. . DoD has violated federal laws over and over again and on several occasions, they have lost cases for not adhering to NEPA. Citing NEPA does nothing to support an argument in defense of the military build-up. The DoD has shown over and over again that NEPA means very little to them.

Our brothers and sisters in the NMI are truly blessed to have leaders that have been actively working to hold DoD accountable for its poor ability to comply with NEPA processes. Why can’t leaders on Guam do the same? Why do some of ours, instead, do everything possible to say they want the build-up at ANY cost? No matter what is destroyed in the process? Why do some of ours say that nothing is more important than some jobs over a short period of time? Not our land, not our political rights, not our culture, not our sacred spaces, not our water, not our endangered species…nothing.

We are ALREADY an unfortunate part of the Department of Defense’s legacy of contamination in the Pacific. We stand beside the Marshalls, Okinawa, Hawaii, and many other places that have suffered the long term impacts of military activity on their lands. There are Superfund sites and Formerly Used Defense Sites throughout our island that have been toxic for decades, and have yet to be cleaned up. We continue to find PCBs in the waters surround Cocos Island, where the ships that monitored the nuclear testing in the Marshalls were washed down. Veterans, who were stationed at Andersen and exposed to Agent Orange while there continue to report cancers and other illnesses that they not only suffer from, but have passed on to their decedents. Enough is enough.

What purpose does this resolution serve? The US Military clearly does not need a resolution from our local legislature to do as they please. Congress doesn’t need it. It surely does not help our local people. So why are we here today? Resolutions from our leaders become official statements on behalf of the people of Guam. The people of Guam have never been given the opportunity to consent to this build-up, and yet it has proceeded. It is irresponsible for our leaders to speak on behalf of the entire island, when thousands of informed people have spoken against this build-up for nearly a decade. There were 10,323 comments written by our people in response to the DEIS that was release in 2009. Nearly a thousand more left comments on the SEIS in 2010. A majority of these comments expressed valid and informed concerns that as leaders you have a responsibility to take seriously.

So I have come here, again, to say once more that the Build Up is not good for Guam and that this resolution is a huge insult to the thousands of people, both young and old, who have gone out of their way to express concern about these plans.

Sincerely,

Desiree Taimanglo Ventura

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Naming and Shaming

I’m a teacher; and like many teachers, it’s hard for me to look at mistakes kids make as black and white issues. I mean, they make mistakes so often! Literally every day, a kid or teenager is doing something terrible on this island; and when you see these kids constantly, you often learn enough about them and their stories to see the gray areas in between. You also end up kind of loving a lot of them, rough edges and all. Basically, what I am saying is that I love many of the young assholes who come through the classroom. 😛

With the rise of social media, naming and shaming people who do things we disagree with or are upset by has become commonplace. There is much of that happening on our tiny island; and being a small and connected community can sometimes make it intense. This past week, the Guam seal and a bunch of cars in local parking lots were tagged with graffiti. Graffiti is nothing new on our island. For as long as I can remember, bus stops were being painted and repainted to hide the restlessness and misdirection of local youth with nothing better to do, most of them from low income families or communities lacking activities and places for young people to productively spend their time with positive mentors. I can think of several people who have had their cars or property vandalized.

The difference is that now technology makes it possible for us to put these things in the forefront. It also allows us to more directly comment on and discuss the people who did it. This past week, the offenders included a middle school boy and a group of teenagers who had their photos plastered and shared all over the internet. I don’t agree (at all) with what they did; and hope they are held accountable for their actions; but man…our community responded in such an ugly and embarrassing way.

Beneath the pictures of these young people were ugly names, comments with racist undertones, public shaming of parents (none of whom anyone seemed to actually know), and even a local public figure suggesting that we should “start building a wall,” implying that people from neighboring islands are the root of the island’s graffiti problem. As a public school graduate and teacher of many public school graduates, I can definitely tell you that’s not true. Aimless kids of all backgrounds have been known to write something on the wall or vandalize things.

I remember a few of the boys in my high school classes identifying themselves by the names they would spray paint over the sides of buildings and bus stops. I also have a few local College students who have written about their “tagging days.” They weren’t making smart choices (that I always knew); but I was also aware of what homes they were coming out of and what they were working with in terms of adult guidance, love, and financial stability. Sometimes, they came from completely healthy homes with lots of love. Sometimes, kids just do dumb shit. It’s as simple as that.

Some of the boys I went to school with who did things like this never quite made it out of self-destructive cycles; many others did. One became a realtor (who is now probably annoyed when people tag properties he is trying to sell). Another is an officer in the United States Armed Forces, another is a teacher, and a couple of them have evolved into wonderful fathers or family men. I am certain they are glad social media wasn’t around to name and shame them during those years of misdirection. I can also tell you that some of them were Chamoru, some of them were Filipino, and yes, some of them were from the FSM. It was, and is, more of a poverty and lack of guidance problem than it is a race problem. Sometimes, it’s also just a “dumb and young” problem.

I get that it is irritating to have the Guam seal spray-painted on. It’s great that it was so quickly and so easily cleaned up after. I get how completely infuriating it is that cars have been spray-painted on. I would be livid if it were my car, too. What I don’t get is how our community was able to muster so much energy to shame, name call, and harass the kids who did it while remaining largely silent when our island is REALLY being contaminated and destroyed: Not a peep when soil had to be overturned or declared too sick to plant in within certain villages. Not a whisper when toxic chemicals are stored on the island. No real community effort when invasive species began attacking our trees. No voiced disappointment over the military’s role in endangering our birds, trees, or some of our animals. Not even a little outrage when it was confirmed that the history of contamination here is literally killing our people and linked to our disproportionate cancer rates. Silence when we learned that military contamination has made servicemen who were once stationed here sick. And now that there are plans on the table to further jeopardize our water sources, land, ocean, limestone forests, and native species…there is still an underwhelming amount of dissent from the general public. We give awards to (and even praise) people and institutions that are engaged in an even more insidious “vandalizing” of our island, but can find it in us to call a middle school child all sorts of racial slurs and accuse his parents, people we don’t know, of being horrible human beings. It just seems like we need to re-prioritize our outrage.

I am more furious that I have had to watch six people I love die within a span of six years, at far too young an age, because of cancers linked to their environment. I’m furious that so many of our families are still living on contaminated land that the military has failed to clean up. I’m more ready to shame the military for trying to say they are good stewards of the environment when they are clearly the biggest polluters of our island. Pollution is not just trash on the side of the road or spray-paint (that stuff is bad too though). Pollution is also putting lead in your water, burying mustard gas in your back yard, and spraying the place with agent orange. Pollution is also detonating things in our waters and letting lead get near our water aquifers. Vandalism is also servicemen who draw eagles in ancient caves near our burial sites.

I don’t think it’s okay to spray paint the Guam seal. I don’t think it’s okay to victimize other people in our community by spray-painting your name on their personal property; but I think that all of you claiming to shame these wayward kids because you care about Guam’s “environment” and the “beauty of our island” need to redirect some of your anger. The middle school boy with the stupid tag name is not as big a threat to our island’s beauty as the storing of nuclear weapons, bombs, toxic chemicals, and putting lead in our water.

Messages Delivered. Message Received.

Messages sent on Chamoru activism since childhood:

They do not like Chamoru activists that are uneducated and ignorant.
They do not like Chamoru activists that are “too academic and over educated.”

They do not like Chamoru activists that are messy, dark, and poor.
They do not like Chamoru activists that are bougie, light skinned, and wealthy.

They do not like Chamoru activists who are too loud, aggressive, and militant.
They will not bother with Chamoru activists if they are too passive, friendly, and quiet.

Chamoru activism through art is “not real”; do not waste your time doing it.
Chamorus have no real culture because they do not have enough art; you should take the time to create it.

Chamoru activists who speak inarticulately are jokes. They will be mocked.
Chamoru activists who speak too articulately are self-righteous and overly dramatic. They will be mocked.

Chamoru activists from off-island don’t count because they haven’t put in enough time on Guam.
Chamoru activists who have never left Guam can’t be taken seriously because they haven’t lived outside of Guam.

Chamoru activists with a lot of land should shut up and be grateful they still have land.
Chamoru activists without land should shut up because they already lost their land. Get over it.

Chamoru activists who are old should retire and “give it up already.”
Chamoru activists who are young should stop and “grow up.”

Chamoru activist-women should go home and take care of their kids instead of protesting.
Protests led by Chamoru activists should not be taken seriously because not enough people showed up.

They can’t take Chamorus seriously because they do not speak, read, or write in their language.
It’s pointless for Chamorus to keep trying to learn to read, speak, or write their language.

There are no Chamorus anymore.
There are too many Chamorus.

Message received:

They do not like Chamorus… be a Chamoru activist anyway.

Yes, I’m Bringing the Kids

Life here sometimes feels like an endless stream of funerals and birthdays. The quick transitions from celebrating a new life to mourning one ended can be overwhelming. This past month, I have gathered with family around loved ones taking their last breaths twice, stood over the coffins of relatives at four different funerals, and within the past two years, my young child has seen five dead bodies. One of my girlfriends (who is not from here) expressed deep worry over this: the volume of death we’ve witnessed and the constant exposure of our young children to death and death rituals. We tried to explain to her that for most people here, death is truly a part of life and these things are not uncommon within our culture. From early ages, we are brought to nightly rosaries for the dead, to family viewings, and brought before open caskets. This struck my girlfriend as ghoulish. She shook her head and covered her mouth at the idea of babies being brought before open caskets and people on their death beds. We laughed a little, because strangely, some of our most happy childhood memories are at funerals. They also serve as a time when the entire family is together. Relatives who have been away for years come home and we hang on to this special time wherein we can eat, laugh, and cry together. Some of my happiest death memories include:

– Getting in trouble from our elderly aunts for creating a “Chamoru ABC” rap song outside of the church social hall.
– The old lady who had to swallow back phlegm singing Gogue Yu’us.
– The kids fighting over chips outside of the ICU.
– The completely inappropriate, and sometimes bitingly funny things relatives allow themselves to say when they are approaching death.
– My grandmother throwing a banana peel at a priest who entered her hospital room trying to give her communion.
– My uncles swinging around brown tree snakes at the finakpo’ to entertain and scare the children.
– A cousin snorting loudly while crying as a casket closed… which led us all into hysterical laughter (and left us with pictures of us erupting in laughter over my grandfather’s dead body, which we are certain he will appreciate).
– Reuniting with cousins and their children who have been away for years.

Obviously, it’s a death and these happy memories are placed alongside the deep pain of losing someone; but these rituals that some find “ghoulish” are also what helps us to find peace of mind through difficulty.

I guess it would seem ghoulish…or morbid if it were something you are not used to, if you have been raised with the idea that death is a rare occurrence (or if where you live, death in your circles is so rare that when it happens…you are confused and afraid of the things that surround a loss of life). That’s not the case here. You are introduced to death in early childhood, and as you get older, you begin to look at it differently. The rituals that surround death here are oddly comforting, because during a confusing time, they keep you busy and surround you with support. You are swept away for nine to nineteen days welcoming relatives, attending nightly rosaries, planning, and serving those who come to pay their respects. By the time it’s all over, you often reach a new level of inner peace and exhaustion that helps you to confront the loss on your own with new resolve.

Because we are a small interconnected community, it might seem to happen with an intensity and frequency that people from larger communities might not be used to, that they might be overwhelmed by. My husband is not from Guam; but after several years here, he is now beginning to understand the process, even coming to appreciate its value.

The most frequently accessed part of our island’s local newspaper is the obituary section. My relatives only ever bother with the publication for the death announcements. When free papers are offered at local coffee shops, I’ve seen them skip straight to the death announcements, tearing out obituaries as reminders. My grandmother used to have a constant collection of newspaper obituaries strewn around her nightstand and tables. She needed to plan her week around which funerals she would be attending (and dragging me to). In all honesty, I cannot count the amount of funerals I have been to since childhood. I cannot count the amount of open caskets I have seen. There are too many; and I do not view these memories as trauma. I view them with quite a bit of pride, pride in our people for the beautiful way they come together to support families during a time of loss, pride in the closeness of our families and the amount of love that is shown.

In particular, I am always struck by the beauty of how many people that did not get along well with the deceased show up to offer themselves and their sincere condolences. At quite a few funerals I’ve been to, I’ve seen people with long running feuds set their differences aside to focus on the ways in which they appreciated the person who passed. This has always been an important reminder of the power of death; and that power is not limited to a devastating humbling of those in mourning. Death can also be uplifting, unifying, and beautiful. Our island has taught me this. Our people have taught me this.

I have been taught that when death gets close to my loved ones, I shouldn’t panic and turn away. I have been taught that I should not hide death from my children. I should include them and talk to them about it openly, answering their questions and allowing them to question the world around them. I have learned that it’s important to approach death head on and with love and strength, because it transforms you. I love that when someone is dying or sickly, we do not hide it in hospice centers where only immediate relatives come by to stand vigil. Here, in our families, we literally bring it home. Relatives, close and distant, come into the home to visit those passing; and we laugh and we let our children run wild outside of the sickroom as we keep our loved ones company.

When someone takes their last breath, they do it surrounded by up to twenty relatives, all whispering their love and offering them support as they slip away. Of course it’s painful, of course we cry, and maybe you do not understand the rosaries whispered or why we do it; but doing it so many times has helped me to realize something: there is nowhere else I would rather live or die than Guam. And yes, I will most definitely be bringing my children to every part of the services. Do not worry about them. Watching their families display their unity during a time of loss is a great gift that I know they will take with them into adulthood, something they will come to find great beauty in, in the same way so many of our people have done from generation to generation.

Tihu

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Tihu
You came into my life with hair falling down your back
Emerging from Northern waters with
a fish in one hand.
Braiding my hair
With red dirt on your feet,
Carving flowers of Karabao bone
to hang ’round my neck.

With thick arms, you held hilitai still
For tiny hands to wander over black and yellow skin.
And pursed your lips together,
Calling deer to our doorstep.

Tihu
You came into our lives with salt water
And smiles, guiding us over limestone cliffs,
Teaching us to holler at the ocean and watch it yell back.
You whittled baby hagan from ifit
Shoving them in our pockets,
Teaching us to suck the sweet tips of hibiscus.

Tihu
You left us with wind whipping through sick niyok
and your head bare
You slipped away, leaving us breathless on your latte benches,
your acho’ atupat laying lonely on mildewed shelves as
we twist lisåyu beads, whispering your name.

Tihu
You will come back
In every star over the Yigo sky,
And with every ayuyu creeping across a dirt road.
We will hear you in sharp whistles, sending babui running,
and in sounds of chiba hooves pounding down rocky hills.
We will feel you with barefoot steps over wet grass and in each unexpected spray of salt water to our faces

As we search the water for you, from where you came.

Si Yu’us Ma’åse, Tihu. Mahålang nu hågu.

Just A Few Questions

Today was my eldest child’s first day of school. He’s in first grade! We woke up excited and eager to escort him to his classroom, so much so that my husband even took the morning off so we could both meet there to see him start his first day of elementary. When I entered his little Guam Public School, I could not help but grin. I love our island’s children. The Pacific is stamped all over them, in the way they walk, talk, and joke with each other. They’re a particular brand of sneaky, happy, and funny that I have never seen anywhere else; and I love it. It makes me grateful to be a daughter of Guam. I waved to friends who were happily dropping their children and loved the happy back-to-school buzz filling the humid hallways. I loved the sound of chickens making noise in the grassy areas around the school. I loved the kids talking to a boonie dog through a chain link fence, and I even loved the scared little faces of students with tear-streaked faces resisting their first day of school.

As I guided my child up the stairs toward his new classroom, a woman with a camera crew stopped me. I’m wary of the media. You never know how they’re going to frame and edit you to fit their narrative. I am still bruised from past interviews with media about family land issues and the possible use of ancestral land for military buffer zones. Everyone wants our stories. Everyone wants to help us “tell the world what’s happening here.”

“Excuse me! Can I ask you a few questions about the first day of school?” the woman asked.

I paused, knowing much is happening on our island and not feeling like talking about it.

“About the kids? And the first day of school?” I asked, double checking.

My son was excited about the camera and looking up with curiosity. The woman gave me a friendly smile and affirmed that “yes,” it was just “questions about the children and their first day of school.”

I smiled and agreed. She asked me about the grade my child was entering and if he was excited. We proudly announced that it was first grade and we were excited because he’s officially in elementary school. She was warm and friendly and I was starting to have fun sharing about my son’s first day of school, even thinking how cool it would be to have this moment captured.

Then I froze, unprepared and stunned by her next question.

“With the threats from North Korea, have you spoke to your son about what to do if there is an attack?”

My heart raced. I stared blankly at the camera, smiling like a Stepford wife. “How to prepare?” I asked again, nervous. “Yes. Are you prepared? Is your son prepared?” I looked down at my son, who I haven’t discussed a possible bomb on the first day of school with. Why would I ruin his first day by bringing up the possibility of a Nuclear attack while away from his parents?

“No. No I did not talk to him.”

Desperate and reaching for words, I eeked out something about having faith and just trying to have a normal day. I said something about our island being threatened many times before and just doing our best, about how there was no real way to “prepare” for a Nuclear attack, about it not being like a typhoon or an earthquake. A nuclear attack…what could we possibly do that would really protect us?

The woman nodded, still smiling. I looked up the stairs at my husband, who had somehow escaped the reporter and was looking down at us. I suddenly felt like bolting. The hallway looked so long.

“What about the school? Do you feel the school is equipped and prepared in the case of an attack from North Korea? Has anything been done to help prepare you to leave your child here? Is the school ready?”

My mind was racing. I had no real answers.  I looked at the school.  It was a small village school with happy, but old classrooms. I thought about the “comfort kit” his teacher asked for. I have sent him with a “comfort kit” containing a favorite snack and extra water. I remind myself not to say that, because I will sound like an idiot.

“Ummm no.”

“What do you think should be done to prepare?”

I am no expert on Nuclear attacks. I was literally just trying to get my kid to the first grade.

“I don’t think we can prepare,” I say nervously. I tell her, while sweating profusely, that I just hope these threats force us to look at why we are in this position in the first place and that we look at our relationship with the United States. My son was holding my hand, confused.  He has heard people talking about North Korea, but I have never mentioned an actual Nuclear attack to him; and now that we were being asked about it, I felt as if I were hiding some dirty secret from him. The woman thanks me and asks how to spell my name. She asked how long I have lived on Guam.

“All my life. I am Chamoru,” I tell her awkwardly, trying to remember if I had just said anything embarrassing and struggling to recall the words I had blurted out only seconds ago. I ask her if that is all and she thanks me. I walked up the stairs to my husband, overwhelmed and suddenly anxious. “What was that about?” he asked.

“It was weird. Just awkward.”

I brushed it off, trying to focus on why we were there: my son’s first day. We sat in front of his classroom, talking to other parents. I watched my boy closely, hoping the conversation with the reporter did not plant any worrisome thoughts in his head. When his teacher opened the door, he rushed in with excitement. He claimed a blue chair, happily approached friends from the last school year, and we took pictures in a Dr. Seuss “selfie frame” the teacher had made. I stayed as long as possible before my son gently reminded me I could go. I gave him a hug, reminded him to be good, and took one last glance at him while exiting the classroom.

While leaving, I saw the principal. I asked where the news crew was from and why they were here, she tried to respond before the explanation emerged in front of me. It was our Governor, smiling happily and escorting his grand child to the first day of school. Another parent whispered in my ear from the side “he arranged for the foreign news team to come film today. Media opportunity to show that we’re all fine and everything is business as usual.” I nod quietly, staring at him waving and making a spectacle in the hallway. I quickly wiggle past the news team and our Governor, thinking of my son and turning around to look down the hallway again. The reporter’s questions kept replaying in my mind: “Are you prepared? What will you do if there is an attack at school? Have you talked to him? Do you feel safe leaving him?”

I didn’t have any of the answers for those questions. Didn’t North Korea say they would back off if the American President chilled out? Did he chill out? I don’t know. They’re all entrenched in the Nazi racist stuff over there. Are we okay now? Were we ever okay? Isn’t Guam always in danger as long as the U.S is here? I didn’t know the answers to some of those questions.  I still don’t. All I know is that I left my son. I left him there without any of those answers, and when I see him after school, I cannot wait to find out what his first day was like and hug him. I hope he gets through a single day at school without having to hear talk of war and possible danger. I hope he reads lots of books, plays lots of games, and gets into a healthy amount of trouble; and this is my wish for all our island’s children. I wish all our children a day without war hanging over them.

Go Fund Me

Two days ago, an image of a military spouse and her children on a gofundme site went viral on island.  I would post the picture here, but I’ve been thinking a lot about the woman in the picture and I felt gross doing that.  I mean, she’s a mother with two beautiful children who (like me) just really wants to do whatever she can to keep her babies out of harm’s way.  I get that; but my immediate response to the picture circulating wasn’t as generous.  I had to stop and reflect on my initial reaction. I came to realize that my feelings are not about her; they are about the way her reaction to Guam’s situation highlighted the huge disconnect between Stateside military families and those who are from here.  She reminded us of an ugly history we don’t like to talk about. The image reminded everyone of everything that sits just beneath the surface of our “Military Welcome” signs hanging in small storefronts and our insistence (at least publicly) that we have no bitterness toward the United States. This, you might have seen, is quickly changing on island.

I was not alone in my reaction.  Many made it clear that they were rubbed the wrong way by this cry for money and a way back “home” from a military wife, a woman who has access to better schools, homes, beaches, grocery stores, recreational facilities, parks, and gets discounts all over the island.  Our island struggles to provide these things to the general public because the resources that allow us to be truly sustainable are largely controlled by the United States.  I mean, if she lives on base, she’s literally living on land taken from people here unfairly, which impacted the financial stability of quite a few families for generations.  People told her to “start swimming.”  Others reminded her that as a military dependent, she gets discounts on airfare and low cost (sometimes free) military flights (unlike Guam’s regular residents who are charged exorbitant rates on commercial airlines and have no other options to leave). Most telling were the tons of comments reminding her that if anything truly terrible were to happen on Guam, the military would evacuate people like her FIRST.  One man pointed out that she had nothing to worry about, because “America would get all of your kind off the island and come back if there’s anything they still want here after it has been blown to hell.” People kept reminding her about the “last time” our island was threatened and the US knew about it.

To add fuel to the fire, other military spouses started shaming her for not having faith in the military her husband was part of.  I mean, this poor woman got it hard; and at a certain point, I really started to think about whether it was this person as an individual we were irritated with or the completely shit situation ALL of us are in because of our local, national, and international leaders.  We can’t really be mad or offended by this lady wanting to leave a place that is not her home and that was just told it might be bombed.  We can’t really fault her for being scared and wanting to protect her children.  It’s also really not her fault that she isn’t attached enough to the island to want to stay and “have faith.”  Our home is where our home is.  Guam is simply not this lady’s home.  Why did this make people so upset?

It upset them because for years, our local and military leaders on island have tried to convince us that we are ONE.  That we are the SAME, that there are no differences between stateside military and local families. We’re all equal. They have told us that the military is “just like us” and that we need to be thankful for them, even when they aren’t being very nice guests on the island.  They keep telling us they love Guam and care about Guam the same way we do;  but no matter how many ribbon cutting ceremonies our island invites military officials to, it doesn’t change the fact that it’s simply not true.  If it were, they wouldn’t have to work so damned hard to prove it.  We wouldn’t have to shove it down people’s throats with constant articles, parades, and community engagement projects.  If we were the same and everything was fair and just, you wouldn’t need to keep telling us.

This lady did nothing but remind people of feelings sitting deep inside them, feelings about our ugly history and complicated relationship with the United States, about our fears and lack of options when it comes to doing what’s best for our family, and most of all…of how our home is seen by Americans in the Continental US (something many people here are in denial of).

So, to this young mother and her two children, I hope you DO get home. I hope you and your babies feel safe and that your heart isn’t too wounded by all the things said about you this past week.  It really isn’t about you.  It really isn’t your fault.  You are just one more person hurt by the United States’ insistence on keeping Colonial possessions.

 

*Now let’s talk about that viral thread detailing the conversations of military personnel bashing the island and its people at the Naval hospital.  ;P