Destination Chamorro Culture: Notes on Realignment, Rebranding, and Post-9/11 Militourism in Guam
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Destination Chamorro Culture:
Notes on Realignment, Rebranding, and Post-9/11 Militourism in Guam

Buried in the nine-volume, eleven-thousand-page 2009 Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) of the US realignment of eight thousand marines from Okinawa to Guam is an example of the insidiousness of US militarism and the harrowing symbiosis between militarism and tourism—the conjoining forces of power in Oceania that Teresia Teaiwa calls “militourism.”1 With the stated purpose to “mitigate” the buildup’s potential damage to Guam’s physical and social environments, the DEIS acknowledges and even appears to sympathize with a particular concern expressed by the local government’s “autonomous” agency tasked with overseeing the tourist industry. The Guam Visitors Bureau (GVB) worries, namely, that a “military base brand” of tourism will replace Guam’s image as a culturally exotic tropical paradise destination on which the island’s other “lifeblood”—tourism—depends. “The supplanting of a cultural tourism branding for one that is more militarized appears to be a strong possibility,” observed the DEIS, but a “maximum potential adverse outcome is not inevitable.”2 Despite the negative impact—restricted access to cultural landmarks, the closure of ocean-based tourist sites that would result in a $118 million annual loss in tourism revenues, and the compromising of the tourist landscape and “sense of place”—GVB did not oppose the buildup and concluded that the positives outweighed the negatives and that tourism could “work with the military to mitigate” damage.3 The DEIS mitigation is troubling: expose military personnel to indigenous Chamorro culture and history, require military police to be “visibly present” in tourist areas, and build a “stronger partnership” with the visitor industry. Even more disconcerting is the tourist industry’s response.

In this essay, I confront the “tandem thrust”—to appropriate the name of the joint US–Australia war-game exercises in Oceania—between militarism and tourism as they invoke indigenous Chamorro culture. In tracing militourist practices in Guam across a host of recent developments—GVB’s new marketing strategies, the military’s post-9/11 buildup, the construction of a new museum, [End Page 563] and the first eco theme-park—I also attend to Chamorro women’s responses and actions against these developments, in the interest of advancing a Chamorro feminist critique of culture in such milieus.4 As a Chamorro historian who researches the political and cultural histories of women in Guam and the Pacific in colonial contexts, and as a curator and museum studies scholar, I am interested in how indigenous history and culture can inform critiques of colonialism and how critical scholarship can help advance decolonization. More pointedly, what is it that Chamorro women in particular bring to critical analyses and practice? My broader interest in institutional invocations of “culture” and what Barbara Kirschenblatt-Gimblett calls the “agency of display” can also apply to indigenous cultures.5 Absent here, as in histories of colonialism and even indigenous histories, are indigenous feminist critiques.

The new brand of militourism that embraces and deploys Chamorro “culture” draws in troubling ways from vernacular (everyday, subaltern) Chamorro concerns and struggles over peoplehood and identity, environmental stewardship, livelihood and prosperity (or sheer survival). Dovetailing with local government and business activities—like special branding and marketing campaigns to attract American and foreign investment and capital, or efforts to build a world-class museum and restore and revitalize historic towns, and even a conspicuous upswing in ethnonationalist sentiments of cultural reawakening and anticolonial expression—the US military’s interest in Chamorro culture, coupled with the industry’s willingness to work with the military, reveals a more insidious form of hypermilitarization of an already heavily militarized island.

In 2014 GVB released Tourism 2020, its “roadmap” for “a U.S. island paradise with stunning ocean vistas … all in a safe, clean, family-friendly environment set amidst a unique 4,000-year old culture.” Plans include establishing the island as a first-tier destination, diversifying its market (roughly 80 percent of Guam’s tourists are Japanese), changing Guam’s image as a place that is simply “close and cheap” to Asia, and reaching the 2-million-visitor mark. GVB chairperson Mark Baldyga called Tourism 2020...