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