Marianas Variety

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    Sunday, August 19, 2018-6:16:01A.M.






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When the Moon Waxes: War for Guam

HAGÅTÑA — I have been fortunate over the years to help in the production of various documentaries related to Guam.  I’ve been an interview subject in some films; other times I’ve worked as a consultant or advisor.

The first documentary I ever assisted with has been more than a decade in the making and is premiering this month across the U.S. and its territories. Titled “War for Guam,” it premiered locally on May 18 on KGTF. The film is directed by Puerto Rican scholar and filmmaker France Negron-Muntaner, who is currently based in New York. Over the years I worked on this film as a local producer, helping organize their shoots on island, arranging for locations and for interviews.

It is commonsensical on Guam to say that the war is the most important event in recent history. Although only lasting 32 months, it changed so much about Guam and its indigenous people. Even more than 70 years later, it still continues to have its impacts. It is the event that provides the basis for Chamorro identity in an American context today. It redrew the boundaries not just for Chamorro identity, but their island, destroying some villages and creating new ones, displacing more than 10,000. Guam prior to the war was a sleepy American colony; today it is one of its infamous “unsinkable aircraft carriers.”

However, this consensus over the war’s incredible impact does not mean that Guam has a comprehensive understanding of the effects of the war as a community. In fact, given the way our history has been written and the way the war continues to be represented in media such as newspapers, commemorative events and other documentary films, things appear to be tragic, but simplistic. The war is routinely highlighted as the origin of the Chamorro “emotionational” bond to the U.S. due to the island’s “liberation.” But this is only part of the war’s impact. What many fail to grasp is the role the war continues to play in being the source of so much Chamorro disaffection and discontentment. World War II isn’t only the origin story of contemporary Chamorro patriotism; it also holds the origins of Chamorro contemporary activism and discontent.

The film “War for Guam” takes this complicated nature of the war seriously, especially in the film’s conclusion. The war story of Chamorros is told primarily through what I call in my lectures “Duenas Avec Tweed,” or the divergent but connected experiences of two great symbols from I Tiempon Chapones – Pale’ Jesus Baza Duenas and Navy Radioman George R. Tweed. Duenas was killed by the Japanese in the closing days of the war, for reasons that are still debated up until today. He was, as I have written about elsewhere, an important local, religious symbol of strength at the time. Tweed, the only American holdout of the war, survived through the assistance of numerous Chamorro families, most notably that of Antonio Artero. Many other documentaries and histories of this period focus primarily on the war and the heroism and sacrifice involved. But “War for Guam” goes beyond this to also discuss how despite the heroism and courage of Artero in sheltering Tweed, they lost most of their land to the U.S. military in order to create the bases we now have in northern Guam.

The documentary delves into not only the nascent patriotism of Chamorros, but also the way many Chamorro lost their land to the U.S. military and how this wound within their families has not healed and still remains raw, a vivid part of their lore. The film does well what so many histories have trouble juxtaposing. The warm and tender liberations that occur in 1944 in places such as Mannengon are soon followed by years of displacement and land alienation, most of which occurred after the war with Japan was already over. Many writers and filmmakers in the past have felt compelled to make one of the liberations larger and more significant than the other. Even coming to the point where Chamorro poet Cecelia Perez once claimed that it almost seems like history ends with those liberations, as if legions of scholars and writers were telling us, “enao ha’ – that’s it, nothing else to see here.” As a result, the land-takings become marginalized in a way, not becoming something that affected all Chamorros or the very landscape of the island, but something that only certain families care about or take issue with.

It was good to see the director not diminish either of these moments in the film. It adds to the emotional and political power of the story, to see these long-cherished moments between Chamorros and American troops who had come to end the Japanese occupation, but also the feelings of confusion and fear when the land takings begin, which appear to be the opposite of what Chamorros had just felt a few years before. This contradiction is the truth of the war, and it is good to see a film tackle it. If you missed “War for Guam” earlier this week when it premiered, a second showing will take place on May 24 at 7 p.m. I am also working on organizing a screening at the University of Guam on June 15.