A month ago, the Spanish ship Elcano came to Guam commemorating the 500th anniversary of Ferdinand Magellan’s circumnavigation around the world. This event provoked a rising sensitivity which was evident in some ceremonies which were held. Many people thought it was time to say something about the Spanish rule in the Marianas. In light of all of this, a surprising fact is that practically 90% of the extensive documentation of the 230 years of Spanish rule in the Marianas only exists in the Spanish language and has never been translated into a language that the current Guamanians, including local teachers, historians and researchers, can understand.
Ideally, knowledge should come first and opinions after. In addition, history cannot be presented as a simple story in which we judge the past according to present values: we run the risk of being unfair to many of our ancestors and not fully understanding our identity. The institutions and the administration should provide the tools to enable people to come to their own independent conclusions regarding the history of Guam.
Since I married a Chamorro, I have become deeply interested in the history of the Marianas during Spanish rule. My method of research has not consisted of going directly to history books but rather to the primary sources existing in the holdings of the Micronesian Area Research Center and hundreds of other sources in many archives all over the world. I have even done genealogical and historical research for a number of Chamorro families, some of them very well known on Guam.
After almost 20 years of doing research, I am convinced that the people of Guam are not aware of the treasures held in the Spanish documents. These old documents contain abundant information about the ancestors of the current Chamorro people. Furthermore, they show the strong ties Guam has with the Hispanic countries, and more importantly with the Philippines, Spain and Mexico: these countries are not identical, but they are related, which does not undermine Guam’s uniqueness but, in fact, enriches it. This represents a constructive opportunity that helps spread the name of Guam in a connected world this beautiful island is part of.
Most of the current Chamorros carry in their ancestry old Chamorro, Spanish and Filipino last names. It is their ancestors who made an impact on the daily life in the Marianas for hundreds of years. All ancestors count and deserve appreciation and the mission of any honest historian is to do justice to all of them. Definitely, the most beautiful aspect of Guam’s heritage is the combination of the strong sense of commitment the old native Chamorros had to their land, their family and their community together with the Christian faith brought by the Spaniards that has been nurtured by generations of Chamorro families. Unfortunately, I am afraid this inclusive and broad vision is not the trend that prevails in the public field.
We should give HISTORY a chance. All the Spanish documents should be translated to English so that everyone can read and interpret them and then be able to formulate their personal opinion of Guam's history. It is up to the Guamanians to decide if they want to open the treasure of their untold history.
Andres Perez-Martorell is a genealogist and independent researcher. He is living in Alicante, Spain.