As Filipinos who grew up on and call Guåhan home, we are alarmed by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision to uphold U.S. District Court Chief Judge Frances Tydingco-Gatewood’s injunction against holding a plebiscite on the political status of Guåhan.
Thus, we would like to express our support for CHamorus’ right to hold a political-status plebiscite.
According to Article 3 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, “Indigenous peoples have the right to self-determination. By virtue of that right, they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.”
However, since the beginning of Spanish colonization in the 16th century, CHamorus have faced multiple waves of colonial invasions that implemented cultural assimilation policies and forcibly dispossessed CHamorus from their ancestral lands. As a result, CHamorus have been repeatedly prevented from deciding their own political fate.
Philippines shares a history of colonization
The Philippines, similarly, was colonized by the Spanish, Japanese, and U.S. However, while the Philippines gained eventual independence with the Tydings-McDuffie Act in 1934, Guåhan remains an unincorporated U.S. territory that must comply with the demands of the U.S. Congress. After the Philippines gained independence, economic and social transitions led to the migration of 16,000 Filipinos to Guåhan.
The mutual experiences of U.S. militarization in both Guåhan and the Philippines require that Filipinos and CHamorus think critically about their unequal relationships with the United States.
While Dave Davis claims that his legal actions have “accomplished something for all of the folks in Guam who were locked out of this vote, especially those of Filipino ethnic origin,” this statement of solidarity refutes Davis’ assumptions and instead argues that his case has undermined CHamorus’ right to self-determination. We respect CHamorus’ right to determine their own political status to address their histories of dispossession that are intertwined with, but also different from, Filipino histories of displacement to Guåhan.
Court ruling continues legacy of colonialism
As Jamela Santos said in a 2017 Pacific Daily News article, “As a person of Filipino ancestry who calls Guam home, I do not feel that my rights are being violated because I cannot participate in the political status plebiscite. This vote is not for me. It’s for my Chamorro brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, nanas and tatas.”
Thus, as Filipinos who call Guåhan home, we declare our support for CHamorus’ right to hold a plebiscite to decide their own political status. We feel that the 9th Circuit Court’s ruling continues the oppressive legacy of colonialism, rather than provide opportunities for better community relations, as Davis’s argument would suggest. We do not disregard our family’s own histories of migration and displacement to Guåhan, but instead acknowledge their connection to supporting CHamorus’ right to self-determination. Consequently, centuries of historical injustices can be addressed.
Kristin Oberiano is a doctoral candidate at the Department of History, Harvard University. She is joined in this letter by Tressa P. Diaz, Vicente M. Diaz, Christen Dimalanta, Tabitha Espina, Janelle Guiao, Joseph Rapirap Madlangbayan, Paul Maquera, Dominique Ong, Josephine Ong, Regine Ong, Hannah L. Rebadulla, Joanne L. Rondilla, Jamela Santos and Meta Sarmiento.