A Few Words on the Beauty and Limitations of CHamoru Restraint

By: Simone Efigenia Perez Bollinger
Understanding Unincorporated Status
Angel Santos and other members of Nasion Chamoru (CHamoru Nation) climb a fence at Naval Air Station (NAS) in Tiyan, 1992. Photo by Joyce Tainter, The Guam Tribune. 

When I was a kid I remember my elders shaking their heads in disapproval at the news that Angel Santos jumped the fence at Naval Air Station in Tiyan to protest on behalf of CHamoru rights and sovereignty. At that time there was a clear lesson in their reaction: don’t take your protest too far. But as I grow older and return to the event in my mind, I believe that Angel Santos understood something about the U.S. military’s refusal to hear CHamoru dissent. He dared to cross that boundary because he knew that refusal to protest on our part as CHamorus would be taken as acceptance. He knew we needed to be loud. 

On Guam we grow up very aware of the United States’ military, economic, and political might. We’re made to believe that the U.S. protects us, sustains us, and has our best interests at heart. As I grow older I see how dangerous this belief is, how toxic it is to believe your very existence depends on someone else.  But the darker side to these conversations is so often locked up, either in our own minds as we continue to believe the myth of U.S. philanthropy or in our homes as we seek to respect our family members and friends serving in the military. Our subtle avoidance of such sensitive topics equals lost opportunities to debunk myths or seek truth. We can’t avoid these conversations or stand by silently as our limestone forests are cut down, our waters polluted, our futures decided. 

As a people, we’ve always practiced restraint. In the 1670s, when CHamorus began to protest Spanish efforts to baptize babies, they didn’t seek to immediately kill off the Spaniards. What else could explain the relatively small number of Spanish deaths when they were greatly outnumbered by warriors who could sling a stone so hard and with such accuracy that it would get wedged into a tree trunk? They, whose lethal spears were tipped with bone, didn’t want to murder; they wanted to send a message, establish a boundary. But this message went unrecognized by the Spaniards who believed that it was by the grace of God that their lives were spared rather than by CHamoru beliefs and their abhorrence of murder.  

There is beauty in our restraint, a beauty that defines us as CHamoru people centered around respect. We should work to maintain it, to honor the dignity of others when appropriate. But we must also recognize when our values taken out of context do us a disservice. The subtlety with which we approach delicate situations is not aligned with American negotiations of political matters and national defense. Due to our political status, we’re so often left out of those discussions; our only way in is to clamor at the doors and insist upon being present. It’s uncomfortable, but necessary. We must continue to adapt and speak about the truth of our reality.  And we must ensure that our messages are heard.
Understanding Unincorporated Status