This will be my second post about Guam since my trip to the island last June. In my last post (click here for the article), I focused on my experiences with Guam as a tourist destination. Having stayed in Guam for eight days, I’ve noticed how much similar it is to the Philippines. For one, Filipinos comprise 26% of Guam’s total population, second only to the native Chamorros who make up 37%. In fact, Tagalog is officially Guam’s second most spoken language, next to English. Guam and the Philippines also have common culinary specialties such as: lumpia, eskabeche, pancit, and so much more. Philippine independence day is also officially celebrated in Guam. You also can’t tell whether a person is Chamorro or Filipino as both look alike sharing the same anthropological roots. They also have similar sounding names – a Spanish last name, and an English or Spanish first name. Guam’s geography is also similar to the Philippines – a tropical biome whose urban and rural areas are much like a scaled down and compressed version of Luzon. For a Filipino, Guam is a good mixture of the foreign and the very familiar. I found it very fascinating how a tiny island somewhere in the pacific seems but like the American extension of our Philippine archipelago. So I did some research and learned about how far Guam and the Philippines’ common roots go back with their shared and intertwined history. That said, I’m writing this article to share my learnings about the two countries, and my sentiments about how one has become fully American and the other just almost American.
A QUICK HISTORY LESSON
About 4,000 years ago, people from mainland Asia travelled east, migrating to Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines. Certain groups that went further beyond the Philippines were able to settle in other pacific islands which include Micronesia, the Marianas, and Guam. Having common ancestry, these people had a common language and culture, which were then eventually diversified by geography and time.
The Spanish Colonization
The name Magellan is as common to Filipinos as it is with the Chamorros. Ferdinand Magellan’s travels to the South Pacific in 1521 has led to Spain’s colonization of both the Philippines and Guam. Both colonies were then converted to Catholicism, and both were considered important Spanish trading and military outposts. Being situated between Mexico and the Philippines, Guam became a stopover for the galleon trades. Spain sent many Filipinos to Guam, among whom were priests, professionals, laborers, and even political exiles. Many Filipinos deployed to Guam have stayed there ever since, along with other nationalities involved in the galleon trade. Some of the Filipinos who stayed in Guam started intermarrying with the Chamorros, creating a next generation of mixed descent.
The American Occupation and Post World War II
Spanish rule on both Guam and the Philippines ended when the two colonies were sold to the US under the Treaty of Paris in 1898. Both Guam and the Philippines then became US territories, with the Philippines still addressed as “The Philippine Islands”. Many Filipinos still continued moving to Guam at the turn of the century. Some ventured on their own, while others were deployed by the US as workers. After World War II, the Philippines proclaimed independence from the US in 1946, eventually being recognized as the “Republic of the Philippines”, while Guam officially received status of “Unincorporated and Organized US Territory”, of which Guamanians received US citizenship. More Filipinos kept being sent to Guam as contract workers for rebuilding Guam’s infrastructure that were destroyed during the war. Many of these Filipinos have opted to settle and live in Guam after finishing their contracts, eventually becoming naturalized US citizens.
I’ve felt so much at home in Guam during the eight days that I’ve spent there. With the strong Filipino presence, familiarity of the people, food, place, and weather, it’s literally like the Philippines, but on American soil. Of course it would not do justice to the native Chamorros labelling Guam as such, as they too have their own identity and take pride on their own unique heritage as the people of Guam. But speaking for the many Filipinos who call Guam as home, it is not so farfetched to view Guam as what would be the Americanized version of the Philippines.
Centuries of colonial occupation has left the Filipinos with lots of colonial mindset. The Spanish paints most of our known history, while American influence deeply permeates into our modern culture. There has always been mixed sentiments with regards to the Philippine-American relationship. Unlike Guam, the more established government of the Philippines back then have always pushed for total independence from the US. This eventually led to Philippine independence, making the Philippines a sovereign nation ruled only by the Filipino people. Conversely, Guam’s non-resistance and annexation with the US has made itself officially American.
Having conversed with many Filipinos in Guam, including those who were born there and those who have recently just moved, I can’t help but to compare and contrast in terms of what life is like for fellow Filipinos in both places. In my observation, the Filipinos who have just recently moved to Guam for work are very much happy with their jobs and their status. For them, Guam is the greener pasture and a dream come true. Some of them still have families in the Philippines which they are able to support beyond necessity, while others have already moved their entire families to Guam. Guam’s familiarity also does a good job of allowing them to settle with the least adjustment. Filipino-Guamanians, or those whose roots in Guam traces far back many generations, though still acknowledging their Filipino descent, are much more American than they are Filipino. As locals in Guam, much like their Chamorro counterparts, many of them aspire to move to the mainland US to work and settle. But what’s really interesting to see are the blue collar workers, such as those in construction, drivers, and fast food crew. These people are actually living comfortably with their families, and all within reasonable working hours. Plus, they get substantial benefits from the US government for healthcare and social welfare, including rights and privileges that come with being a US citizen (with certain limitations). All of the Filipinos I’ve talked to said that they can’t imagine doing the same type of jobs, or even just having a job in the Philippines, and keep the same living comforts they have in Guam.
In contrast, back in the Philippines, blue collar workers aspire to be able to work abroad just to be able to provide for their families or live a comfortable life. Some in the middle class pursue moving to greener pastures such as Canada, New Zealand, or the US. It is an undeniable fact that the Philippines has been gaining economic traction for the past decades, and it would not be unthinkable to see this country rise within this century. But just out of fascination and curiosity, it’s but natural to wonder – what if we had taken a different turn? What would the Philippines be like today if we had continued to be part of the US instead? This controversial issue has always had mixed, emotional, and contrasting opinions, but I think my trip to Guam may have painted a vague picture. Two places with intertwined history took different turns in the middle of the century, taking with them the destinies of their people. One now benefits from the status and economy of a first world country, and the other takes pride in sovereignty.
I look forward to the day when the Philippines becomes a first world country. Perhaps in the next generation, or the generations after. Only in those days can we be able to claim that choosing sovereignty was worth it, and that we as Filipinos have made it happen for ourselves. But while those days have not yet come, we can only be proud of our independence.