“Guam is not just a piece of real estate to be exploited for its money-making potential. Above all else, Guam is the homeland of the Chamorro people. That is a fundamental, undeniable truth. We are very profoundly “taotao tano’”—people of the land. This land, tiny as it is, belongs to us just as surely, just as inseparably, as we belong to it. No tragedy of history or declaration of conquest, no legalistic double-talk can change that fact. Guam is our legacy. Is it for sale? How can one sell a national birthright?”
—Governor Ricardo J. Bordallo
I woke up to the above image on my feed. It’s a provoking image with words that may not immediately resonate with younger generations of CHamorus. I think it struck me as powerful right away because I grew up within a family of Guam politicians. I spent a huge chunk of my life being dragged through the Guam political scene in ugly dresses, wishing I could somehow disappear. So, when I first saw it, I was pretty nervous. It’s more aggressive than many on Guam are used to. It seemed way too “American” a strategy for me. Do we do that kind of thing here on Guam? It accuses our congressional rep of betraying us and evokes the name of her controversial, but beloved by many, dead spouse, Governor Ricardo Bordallo.
We’re really comfortable with TAKING insult, scoldings, and aggressive comments against us. But we’re not very good at giving them. Some people say that this is what Chamorros are about: remaining calm and accepting in the face of horrible things. But we weren’t always that way. It took lots of time to put us here in this quiet, apathetic little corner.
I shied away from the image, but then started thinking about how profoundly disappointed I have been with her leadership. I started to think about how much more insulting it was of her to offer up the refuge without consulting the island. I started to think about how she consistently fails to speak on our behalf as she is supposed to. I decided that the things she does are more hurtful and disrespectful than this image could ever be.
While deciding, I thought about the first time I saw a colony of fanihi race against the pink sky when I was a little girl. I remember standing breathless on the beach, in awe of what was in front of me. I remember wondering where everyone else was, because they were missing something amazing! I remember feeling sad when it ended and they disappeared. I didn’t want it to end. As an adult, I am glad that I was alone when it happened. It makes it seem all the more special. I have never seen it again. I saw it once (and only once). I pray that with efforts from those at the refuge, I’ll get to experience it again.
I thought of the many visits I have made to Litekyan with people I love. I remembered my students standing in respectful, emotional silence over the graves of those before us after learning about different moments in CHamoru history. I thought of the endangered tree (named after my great great grandfather) that I can only see on the refuge. I thought of my niece standing with her eyes closed in an ancient cave decorated with hand prints, soaking in how unreal it was to be standing there. I thought of my son’s first visit to Ritidian and how he was wayyyy too excited about all the fallen lemmai on the ground. I thought of his chubby body, wobbling around in a Sesame Street pamper, trying to lift big pieces of fallen breadfruit.
I decided that giving up any more land on our islands would be way more hurtful, way more depressing, and way more disrespectful than letting our congress lady know I felt betrayed. I was also made braver when Kin Perez, a man who had worked for over twenty years with Madeline, posted an opinion piece that was critical of the build up and bill 4402. If he could come out and say it, I sure as hell could, right? I also saw a petition circulating that was really gaining momentum. Within just a day or two, hundreds were signing on to say they didn’t want to give up the refuge. That’s a big deal for Guam. I know that for some of you reading from far away, 665 people doesn’t sound like such a big deal. But for our island, it is. (Just ask the businessmen who tried to start an “I support the build up” petition and failed miserably.)
So, I posted it.
I found out later today that Bordallo has pulled her bill offering up Litekyan. She has decided that the people of Guam should weigh in and make their concerns heard (duh).
However, HR3687 still exists. It is a bill that would promulgate regulations to allow for expedited removal of Federal property listed on the National Register of Historic Places if the managing agency of that Federal property submits, to the Secretary, a written request to remove the land from the register for reasons of national security (which will include use of the property for military training or readiness purposes).
All of this stuff fills me with worry and frustration, but seeing how vocal our community has been lately really does inspire me and help me remember that there’s still hope for Guam.
And with that, I’ll leave you with this BEAUTIFUL video I saw floating around made through Sea Grant. I love how positive its message is. I love that its a reminder of what life on Guam can really be like. I love the song, whose title translates to “We are One.” Enjoy!