Guam to run all night, Guahan to run all day

This just in from the South Pacific…

To mark the beginning of his final year in office, Felix Camacho, the governor of Guam, issued an executive order changing the name of Micronesia’s largest island to Guahan — the original name of the island in the language of its indigenous people, the Chamorros.

Guam — begging your pardon, Guahan — has an interesting — and in many ways, tragic — history. Ferdinand Magellan made the first European pit stop on the island in 1521, during his famous (or infamous, depending on one’s perspective) circumnavigational voyage. The Spanish colonized Guam in 1668, and held control of it until 1898, when both Guam and the Philippines were passed to U.S. hands at the end of the Spanish-American War.

The Japanese captured Guam the day after after the Pearl Harbor attack and occupied it until American forces reestablished authority in July 1944. (Ironically, Guam’s primary source of income today — aside from the extensive U.S. military presence — is Japanese tourism.)

My own peregrinations as an Air Force brat took me to Guam once, albeit so briefly that it barely rates mention. On our way back to the States from our two-year tour in the Philippines, we had about a three-hour layover at Andersen Air Force Base on the island’s northern edge. Not that we saw much. As I recall, we spent the time between flights sitting in a tiny coffee shop in the air terminal, in stiflingly humid heat.

Since World War II, Guam has held a peculiar status as a United States territory. It has its own elected internal government, much like a full-fledged state of the Union, and its people are U.S. citizens. (Unlike, say, the people of American Samoa, who are U.S. nationals — meaning that they are entitled to travel with a United States passport — but not U.S. citizens.) Guamanians, however, do not vote formally in the U.S. presidential elections (Guam casts a straw poll vote for President, but has no standing in the Electoral College), and they have only token representation in Congress — a single delegate to the House of Representatives (a delegate without voting privileges) and no U.S. Senator.

Over the years, there have been a number of initiatives to elevate Guam to commonwealth status, like that of Puerto Rico, and more recently, Guam’s nearby neighbor, the Northern Mariana Islands. Thus far, none of these proposals has succeeded. Many Guamanians — with some justification — feel themselves second-class citizens, in that they have the title but lack two of the most significant benefits: a voice in the federal government, and a genuine say in the choice of President.

That status seems unlikely to change, regardless of what the island’s people call themselves.

Explore posts in the same categories: Aimless Riffing, Random Acts of Patriotism, Reminiscing, Ripped From the Headlines, The Body Politic

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