On some maps, […] doesn’t exist.
I point to an empty space in the Pacific and say:
I am from […]
My home island has been inscribed by many names over the last four centuries :
from the Spanish colonialists : “Islas de las Velas Latinas” (Island of Lateen Sails) and “Islas
de los Ladrones” (Island of the Thieves)—
from the Japanese occupation of World War II: “Omiya Jima” (Great Shrine Island)—
from America’s territorialization beginning in 1898 : “Guam.”
We have many names. Yet these names erased our native name […]
In our Chamoru language, the prefix “tai-” signals erasure. In eighteenth century Spanish census records of Guam, the names of my ancestors narrate the past: Taiguaha (having nothing), Taigualo (without a farm), Tailagua (no net), Tailayag (no sail), Taimagong (not healed), Taimanglo (no wind), Tainini (no light), Taipati (no shore), Taisongsong (no village), Tainaan (no name), Taitano (no land), Taitasi (no sea), Taifino (no language).
The Spanish called it “redúccion” : the subjugation, conversion, and control of the people through the establishment of missions and the stationing of soldiers. The erasure of our governing, spiritual, navigational, and naming practices. The erasure of our traditions, customs, and bloodlines. We have the scars of erasure.
As a result of the 1898 war between Spain and the US, Guam became a territory of the US. The past century of American colonialism has brought devastating erasure. The US military, which occupies a third of the islands landmass, erased the original custodians from their lands. The US wage economy erased subsistence living. Urbanization and tourism development erased housing practices and family structures. English-only political and education policies have pushed our native language to the brink of extinction. In desperation, many Chamorros began enlisting in the US military; today, Guam has one of the highest enlistment rates in all the states and territories.
These enlistments, along with the lack of economic opportunities and affordable land and housing have created several migration routes and a diasporic Chamorro population that almost equals the Chamorros who have remained on island. The island is being erased of its native people.
We have left. What do we have left?
from indicates a particular time or place as a starting point
ginen refers to a specific location as the first of two limits
from imagines a cause, an agent, an instrument, a source, or an origin
ginen marks separation, removal, or exclusion
from differentiates borders
When my family migrated to California in 1995, I felt like I was being erased from […] and it was being erased from my memory. To live as an excerpt, in territorial erasure.
Poetry became a way for me to stay connected to […] Poetry was the only way for me to resist being fully erased from […] Poetry was one way that I was able to hold onto elements of my culture, geography, language, before it was completely erased by distance.
Erasure is a violent, colonial act. I look in the mirror, at this page, at these English words, at the scattering of my people. I look across the ocean at the erasure of Pacific peoples, the erasure of our dignity and humanity.
Through these continuous erasures, we can see traces of resistance. We can feel the heartbeat of those who refuse to be erased. The echo of an endangered native language struggling to be heard. We have our voices and our stories.
I write from a continuous space of erasure. And even though poetry is a way for me to write against erasure, it is painful to write in English because each word signifies the erasure of my native language.
In 2008, I was a part of a delegation of Chamoru activists who testified about US colonialism in Guam to the United Nations Special Committee on Decolonization. My testimony focused on the devastating environmental and cultural impacts of the US military in the context of US plans to further militarize our island to support America’s “Pacific Pivot.” My testimony begins:
During and immediately after World War Two, brown tree snakes invaded Guam as stowaways on U.S. naval cargo ships. By 1968, the snakes colonized the entire island, their population reaching a density of 13,000 per square mile. As a result, Guam’s seabirds, 10 of 13 endemic species of forest birds, 2 of 3 native mammals, and 6 of 10 native species of lizards have all gone extinct.
The U.S. plans to introduce—this time intentionally—a more familiar breed of predators to Guam: an estimated 19,000 military personnel and 20,000 of their dependents, along with numerous overseas businesses and 20,000 contract workers to support the military build-up. Add this to the 14,000 military personnel already on Guam, and that’s a combined total of 73,000—outnumbering the entire Chamoru population on Guam, which is roughly 62,900.
When the first petitioner from Guam took the stand at the United Nations, the representative from the US decided to walk out of the room.
He refuses to listen to what we have to say.
In my second book of poems, from unincorporated territory [saina], I recast my UN testimony into five different sections and included each section as a footnote to a five-part poem titled “from tidelands.” I then decided to strikethrough the entire testimony. Even though the testimony is crossed out, it is still readable. To me, the strikethrough embodies that feeling of not being heard, that feeling of being erased. Yes, we are a footnote to American history and politics. Yes, no one is willing to listen to us. Yes, we are crossed out. Despite all this, the testimony can still be read and we will continue to protest and speak, even if our voices are forced to emerge from the margins.
from Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s Dictée:
From another epic another history. From the missing narrative.
From the multitude of narratives. Missing. From the chronicles.
For another telling another recitation.
Many stories are missing because they have been erased. Their telling resists complete erasure, despite the fact that the telling exists within various kinds of erasures. My poetry exists as continuous presence against continuous erasure.
In 2010, the original name of our island, Guåhan, was officially restored. The name translates as “we have.”