Saturday, February 22, 2020

[GUAM] Pacific Brothers from the Same Colonizers


Guam Museum has been the definitive highlight of this trip. I try to stay away from museums as much as I can unless the tidbits of history I am bound to get there are interesting enough. It’s a good thing that the Philippines and Guam have enough common history to amuse me. From the discovery of the islands by the Spaniards all the way to their being ceded to the United States in the aftermath of the Spanish-American War, we can say that these two really shared a parallel history on this side of the Pacific.


The adventure begins at Plaza de España where the unique façade of the museum shaped as two pages of a giant book will surely catch your attention. Cross the street and pay the $3 admission fee and you are good to go. At first, I thought this would just be a paid extension of the refuge I sought from the heat in the cathedral across the street, which it was, but at the end of the day it came with a lot of history lessons as a bonus. First, you enter a small salon where you will watch The Journey of the CHamoru People.


The video is a treasure trove of information which presents some of the islands’ folklore before segueing to the short trip down memory lane. The presentation serves as a concise getting to know you phase between you and Guam, before you exit to another hall where you will then be bombarded with more historical tidbits, not just colonial, but also prehistoric and geographical. The diversity of flora and fauna are also on full display if you are into nature. Most of these are then linked to the everyday life of the locals on the island.


Colorful drawings aside, you will also see some life size replicas of boats as well as artifacts that will help you understand the lifestyle of people back then. You will also find some info boards about the Chamorro language before you reach that depressing area of the museum that caters to the war history of the country. As I already mentioned probably a thousand times, the colonial history of Guam and the Philippines are linked no thanks to Spain. The common fate of these Pacific neighbors also means a parallel timeline from Spanish discovery to American turnover to Japanese occupation.


That’s where the common history ends. While Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines were all turned over to the US after the Spaniards lost the Spanish-American War, only the Philippines managed to become an independent nation-state. Whether that has been a good thing or a bad thing, it is important to note that both Guam and Puerto Rico have remained to be unincorporated territories of the United States up to this day, effectively putting the two island nations in a state of perpetual political limbo.


While their citizens transact in US dollars and enjoy the travel benefits of an American passport, neither one is a full-fledged US state. In the case of Guam, its strategic location right smack in the middle of the Pacific Ocean also means it’s a perpetual target of ‘Murica’s enemies on this side of the globe. Why do you think does Kim Jong Un always target Guam whenever he wants to test one of his missiles? With such an important geopolitical role to play, the island also plays host to a steady presence of US soldiers.


My Guam Museum journey ended with a number: 15,891. According to the info board, that’s the number of Guam locals who died or were injured due to the Second World War. It also reinforced the notion in my head that Filipinos and Chamorros belong to a common Pacific heritage shaped by the atrocities of war and colonialism. Add the similarities of the languages and you will find it hard to distinguish who is Filipino and who is Chamorro, given the abundance of Filipinos you can also find here.


Pacific islander identity. American twang. ‘Merican cultural hegemony. English first names. Spanish last names. This is perhaps the only country I’ve been to where it has been really hard to distinguish between a Chamorro and a Filipino. Suffice it to say, Guam has been a really pleasant surprise.

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