- Cultures of Commemoration: The Politics of War, Memory, and History in the Mariana Islands by Keith L Camacho
Only a fraction of the thousands of Chamorros who survived World War II remain alive today. This "greatest generation" will all pass within the next few decades, like the last set of waves breaking on the shores of the Mariana Islands. When my grandparents share their memories about the war with me, bombs and screams echo. Even in their silences, the war echoes. As Chamorro scholar Laura Torres Souder once wrote: "The war has not ended" (Psyche Under Siege: Uncle Sam, Look What You've Done to Us, 1991, 123).
I carry my grandparents' stories within me—their prayers and cries, their songs and whispers. I hear their voices woven into the pages of Keith L Camacho's Cultures of Commemoration: The Politics of War, Memory, and History in the Mariana Islands, the twenty-fifth volume in the landmark Pacific Islands Monograph Series. Recently, Cultures of Commemoration was awarded the Masayoshi Ohira Memorial Prize, and Camacho received the 2011-2012 Don T Nakanishi Award for Outstanding Engaged Scholarship in Asian American and Pacific Islander Studies from the University of California, Los Angeles.
Cultures of Commemoration is the "first sustained attempt by a Chamorro author to narrate a history of the Mariana Islands that considers Chamorro cross-cultural and intra-cultural relations throughout the archipelago" (3). Most histories of the region follow colonial partitions and focus on either the US Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands or the US Unincorporated Territory of Guåhan (Guam). The archipelagic bond between the Chamorro people had been "severred [sic]," to borrow Chamorro poet Cecilia C T Perez's poignant characterization (Signs of Being: A Chamoru Spiritual Journey, 1997, 4, 26). Camacho's comparative methodology weaves our severed histories into a symbolic reunification of the Chamorro archipelago.
To accomplish this comparative weaving, Camacho drew from various archives: the University of Guam's Micronesia Area Research Center, the University of Hawai'i's Pacific Collection, the Northern Marianas College's Pacific Collection, the US Library of Congress, the US Navy Historical Center, and the US National Archives and Records Administration. His primary materials range from commemorative brochures, newspaper articles, and autobiographical manuscripts to interviews that Camacho conducted with war survivors and their descendants.
While conventional histories of the war focus on narratives of soldiers, military strategies, triumph, and tragedy, Cultures of Commemoration is rooted in the diverse and complex range of Chamorro experiences and remembrances of the periods before, during, and after the war. Throughout, Camacho draws attention to [End Page 190] how commemorative acts express the "power and reach of local and national identity, collective and individual memory, and colonial and indigenous history" (11).
The first three chapters provide historical analysis of the colonial and military presence in the Marianas. Chapter 1, "Loyalty and Liberation," examines how prewar US colonialism in Guam and Japanese colonialism in the Northern Mariana Islands attempted to produce the "loyal Chamorro subject" through educational, propagandist, and commemorative activities; chapter 2, "World War II in the Mariana Islands," details the "wounds of profound magnitude" (58) inflicted on Chamorros during the war years; and chapter 3, "The War Aftermath," illuminates the "rehabilitation" period following the war. Camacho questions the colonial historiographies of these periods by foregrounding the ambivalent nature of Chamorro "loyalty," the false rhetoric of "liberation," and the exploitative aspects of "rehabilitation." Overall, these chapters detail the "key historical markers for the commemoration of World War II in the Mariana Islands" (60).
The second half of the book turns to war commemorations. Chapter 5 , "Processions to Parades," traces the history of "Liberation Day" in Guam, celebrated on 21 July to commemorate the return of US forces. At first, Liberation Day resembled Catholic rituals and focused on the themes of salvation, rebirth, forgiveness, and reconciliation, illustrating...