Guam deserves more respect than it gets

On a map or a globe, Guam is so small that the lettering is bigger than the actual island. Not many people can actually find the island let alone give a one-sentence explanation as to what Guam is. For those who know that Guam is a U.S. territory, I applaud you. However, some people are stumped at what it means to be under the ownership of a larger nation. People often just ignore the fact the U.S. has 16 territories, four of them with established governments.

This is just disappointing to me. Guam, though small in size, is a melting pot of culture with a proud and welcoming indigenous people, the Chamorros. Being surrounded by beautiful beaches, Guam is a prime holiday destination for many people in Asian countries and recently, people from eastern Europe. The tropical jungles not only add a natural beauty to the island, but also adventurous hiking spots for locals and tourists.

Because of the fusion of cultures, the food in Guam is beyond delicious – possibly even better than the food in Washington. There are authentic cultural restaurants scattered across the island where the chefs don’t alter the spices and tastes so the majority of their customers don’t complain. The Wednesday Chamorro night market gives the community a taste of Chamorro barbeque and culture. There are Chamorro fiestas nearly every week and because of that, partygoers leave with food that can last them for days. Don’t even get me started with what the fiestas look like during Thanksgiving or Christmas.

It saddens me when Guam is treated as an attic for old items that will be brought out again during a celebration. A few years ago, the U.S. ordered that its military in Okinawa, Japan would be relocated to the U.S. territories, mainly Guam. Late last year, the U.S. Navy announced that 5,000 Marines and 1,300 dependents are planning to arrive by 2026.

For those who’ve lived in U.S. cities with millions of people, 6,300 additional bodies in a population do not seem significant. However, with an island that is 30 miles long and four to 12 miles wide, 6,300 new people will tighten the already limited space that the island has. There is already terrible road congestion and with more people being relocated to Guam, who knows what the traffic will look like in a few years.

The traffic is not the worst part. Guam has limited living space. In order to make more space, the government will have to clear jungles and destroy ancient Chamorro land for military housing. In addition to stripping the Chamorro culture, removing ancestral land destroys ecosystems and worsens spatial issues.

aircraft carrier by Guam

Yes, there are two military bases on the island, but they cannot sustain the influx of military personnel. Ravaging Chamorro land for military use has been a hot topic for many years. The most recent debate that I can remember was about Guam signing off with the Marine Corps to demolish ancestral land for a training range. Thankfully, this plan fell through after the military simply lost interest in that location.

Rehousing 6,300 military men and women can also cause social problems. One of the key reasons why the military is being relocated is because Okinawa cannot handle them anymore. Just last month, there were huge protests in Okinawa and across Japan to remove U.S. bases because of the rape and murder of a local woman by a U.S. contractor and former marine. This is not the only case of the U.S. military abusing their time as guests of another nation. Military bases in Japan have been causing havoc to its community since the U.S.-Japanese security agreement was signed. There have been protests time and time again to expel the U.S. military from Japan.

The U.S. has to show more respect and appreciation for its territories. No U.S. territory has a voice in who gets to be president. No representative from any of the territories under the Organic Act can vote on the floor at Congress. U.S. history classes in high school apparently doesn’t even teach the history of its U.S. territories, which is probably why not many people know what or where any of the territories are.

Although Guam is a property of the U.S., the island still carries a strong identity and it is wrong to push aside the interests and culture of the locals for military use. We are not barn animals that can be relocated into another pasture. We have a culture as diverse as any state in the U.S., and it is time that people in the mainland recognize that.