This past weekend, our island reflected upon 69 years of US occupation. It is an important day in our island’s history. It is a day that we want to make sure our children understand is significant. Like many other CHamoru families on island, I took some time to think about and honor my grandparents, who were released from Japanese concentration camps to move forward into continued US occupation (which is celebrated for being less violent than Japanese occupation).
My son is still young, but he has begun attending nursery school. At the end of each week, he brings home a collection of weekly assignments he has completed. Because he is so small, they are mostly coloring sheets that deal with his class’s theme of the week. This month’s weekly bundles of coloring sheets have been interesting to look at. It has made me think about the way in which many children on Guam, including myself, are (were) indoctrinated into American culture very young, without ever being aware of our inequality. Most children on Guam grow into adulthood never realizing that they are a “different kind” of American citizen. Most of them don’t realize that the constitution doesn’t entirely apply to them and they don’t think twice about the fact that they are living their “government for and by the people” vicariously through US History lessons, CNN, and random television shows.
During the week of July 4th, my son brought home a little stack of coloring sheets filled with stars and American flags. He also made a little Uncle Sam hat that touted the beauty of America’s freedom. I think everything he makes is cute, regardless of how politically ironic it is. So, I put up all his little stars, tacked his little American flag on our fridge, and tried to force him to wear his little Uncle Sam hat for pictures. Vicente must have somehow, deep in his little toddler body, picked up on the fact that I thought it was kind of kitschy, because he pulled the hat off and tore it into three pieces. He refused to be my cute little Amerikånu.
Two weeks later, after learning about freedom, he was sent home with his July 21st coloring sheets and a new hat. This time, the hat was in the shape of an Uncle Sam hat, but it had the colors of the Guam flag on it. I guess it was his colonization hat or something. I tried to make him wear this hat too, but he attempted to tear it. I quickly took it away before he destroyed it. His coloring sheets this week were of latte stones and our Guam flag. As I added his new coloring sheets to our collection, I thought about how interesting we are as a people. Two weeks earlier, we were teaching our kids about how beautiful American freedom is and celebrating the ideal of a government for and by the people. This week, our local media and some of our people send them the message that because occupation by another country was so traumatic, we should just go ahead and celebrate our reoccupation by a friendlier colonizer by calling it freedom and forget about that whole “government for and by the people” thing (because thinking about it might seem a little “ungrateful.”)
When our manamko emerged from such a violent Japanese occupation, their intention and deepest wish was for their descendants to live a truly free and liberated life on their island home. We have definitely been made more comfortable by US occupation and I hope that one day, those wishes for true liberation and freedom on this island will fully materialize. Recently, I watched my grandmother pass away without seeing this happen for her children and great grandchildren. Toward the end of her death, she was still witnessing the ways in which our continued occupation and the delay of self-determination is problematic for her CHamoru descendants. She did not live to see her people’s self-determination and she left continuing to fight for the integrity of our land’s historical significance in the wake of continued military expansion.
This week, we honor the memory of our elders; acknowledge their sacrifices; and remember the many CHamoru, Japanese, and American lives lost during a war that made a profound impact on the collective consciousness of our CHamoru people. As my son gets older, I plan to teach him to respect this day and the memory and intentions of his elders. But for now, he can keep coloring stars and latte stones.
I hope that all of you Guahan Mommies enjoyed your three day weekend. Biba Guahan! Biba Lina’la CHamoru!