Teachability

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one of the many surprises in my life since my first book was published is that i never imagined my book would be adopted for various courses throughout the u.s. and the pacific. the book was taught in two Reading and Composition courses at UC Berkeley this summer, and last thursday i had the pleasure of visiting one of these classes.

unfortunately, the class was at 930 am (which is early!) and i totally forgot to take a pic–so you will have to trust that this actually happened. so i did a short reading from the book, discussed the genesis and development of the book, and then took some questions. my favorite part of the visit was when we did a kind of ‘poetry juke-box’: the students chose a page for me to read and i read the poem/page and discussed its meaning with the class.

just this past week, the course instructor sent me the short responses that the students wrote. so i will post them below for you to enjoy (sans student names):

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Questions:

Are these poems written from a Guamanian perspective? How does the unique format of the writing (ex: spacing out of the words) demonstrate the theme of displacement? Did the unusual layout of the poems complicate the reading, or did it broaden your understanding of what the author was trying to convey? What is the symbolic significance of the changed last names of the Chamoru people? How does colonization perpetuate displacement throughout the poems?

Overall Theme:

The overall theme is the affect that colonization has on the island of Guam, with regard to the displacement of identity for the colonized inhabitants, witnessed through the colonizers’ mission to eradicate the native Chamoru language, culture, heritage, and politics.

Passage:

“Imagined territory ~ “a spanish baptismal name and” burnt villages archipelago of “chamoru last names drawn from the lexicon of everyday language” ~ bone carved word ~ “it is possible they changed their last names throughout their lives” ~ remade: sovereign ” (p. 16)

Brief Interpretation:

This part of the poem delves into the displacement of identity for the people of Guam. When looking at the concept of “imagined territory”, this term refers to the author’s mentioning about how Guam does not exist on some maps, which alludes to the geographic absence of recognition for this island in the western Pacific Ocean. With a number of cartographers not acknowledging Guam, the inhabitants of this unincorporated territory then become more imaginary as their homeland is left unidentified. The Guamanian people are losing visibility on a global stage, further perpetuating their displaced identity.

The poem then shifts to the Spanish colonization of Guam. The Chamoru last names being erased from the lexicon of everyday language demonstrates the Spanish eradication of their native cultural identity. The indigenous people’s last names symbolize the pride they have in their cherished heritage. By being forced to throw out their surnames, they are emblematically kissing their past goodbye. Their rich history is being systematically “burnt” out of their brains, through the Spanish colonization method of baptizing the people of Guam with new names that suit the colonizers. By successfully coercing the inhabitants of Guam into allowing Spanish naming, the hope for the colonizing force is that the natives would also accept Spanish lifestyle, values, ideals, and standards. With this social engineering, the Spanish then have a better shot at ensuring allegiance and loyalty from the colonized people. So, the seemingly simple name change actually serves as a representation for the loss of heritage for Guamanians, which further adds to their displaced identity.

The final part of the passage talks about the people of Guam being likely to have changed their family name throughout their lives. The name change here can symbolize the political

identity shift for the native people of Guam. As they adopt their new names, they are also adopting a new form of governance. This is exemplified through the statement “remade: sovereign,” as their rights are now determined by a foreign power. The term “sovereign” brings about a sense of irony as it normally means free and independent, but here describes Guamanian people who are now under the control of the colonizers, making them hardly autonomous. This political rearrangement is another embodiment of the displaced identity of the people of Guam, as their political status is then defined by a new territory.

Why I chose this Passage:

I chose this passage because of its fascinating use of symbols, which shined light upon the displacement of identity felt by the people of Guam socially, politically, and through their heritage. This passage also allowed me to refer back to the preface to describe Guam’s geographical lack of acknowledgment by cartographers, which provided another clear example of the theme of displacement.

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Questions:

How does the use of the author’s native language affect the reader’s understanding of the poem?

What is the significance of achiote in Santos Perez’s poetry?

What does “from Tidelands” or “from [name]” represent in the context of the poems?

Overall Theme:

Though the different structures of his poems, Craig Santos Perez reveals his personal story and the general history of Guam that addresses the emotional displacement that the inhabitants of Guam feel in regards to isolation and imperialism.

Passage:

“‘if/fires’ strangle this ‘forced tongue’ let/ wind—shield the culled—remains as [langet: sky, heaven]–/ an arrangement ‘of opening/language/among common’ debris”(62).

Brief Interpretation:

The poem begins with a singular word on the first line: if. The big pause between “if” and the rest of the poem implies an expectancy for a positive range of possibilities, which is ironic considering that the poem instead discusses more negative topics like inferiority and force.

This short poem is heavy on allusions to nature with fire, wind, and sky as conveyed by a native word. In this context, fire can also act as a metaphor for weapons, and by extension, the foreigners that came into Guam and forced the island inhabitants to adapt to their cultures. As a result, the native people are “strangled” or coerced to switch to an unfamiliar language. With the inclusion of the word tongue, the author directly references to language as his main focus of the poem.

The next line of the poem describes as the natives depending on the wind to protect themselves, but in this case they are referring to themselves as inferior with the use of the word “culled”. This single word conveys a lot of the author’s attitude; the native inhabitants of Guam consider the foreign invaders to be above them. It seems contradictory since the purpose of the project was to give voice to the original residents of Guam rather than leave it forgotten, ignored, and unimportant. Or, by using the word “culled”, Santos Perez could be injecting his own self-determination and giving new meaning to the word to fight against the oppression.

By using a native word to represent sky and heaven, Santos Perez could be implying that those who originally lived in Guam will not be able to seek retribution and satisfaction to hold onto their own culture and language until after death, in heaven. The overall allusions to nature in the poem could represent the respect the island inhabitants have toward the environment, and the resentment they have towards the foreigners (mainly the United States) for destroying the land and using it for destructive purposes such as the establishment of the military bases. The use of “debris” at the end emphasizes the destructive impact of the foreigners on Guam’s land.

Why I Chose This Passage:

The first time I read this poem, it struck me because I thought the theme that this poem addresses was very universal in how it depicts the consequences of colonialism of the territories being conquered. In this poem, language is emphasized but is portrayed on a more philosophical level rather than just loss of vocabulary.

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Questions:

What is the purpose for his use of poetic line breaks and quotation marks?

Why does Perez only choose to footnote some terms?

How does the visual aid of maps help contextualize his work?

Overall theme:

The theme of this poetic/artistic collection is the voicing of the silenced people of Guam by bringing to the surface its political existence as a United States territory. The concept of from is one of the most important themes of this collection as it brings the audience back to the roots of the people of Guam, reminiscent of where their sovereignty laid before being a “territory.”

Passage:

“On some maps, Guam doesn’t exist; I point to an empty space in the Pacific and say, “I’m from here.” On some maps, Guam is call, unnamed island; I say, “I’m from this unnamed place.” On some maps, Guam is named” Guam, U.S.A.” I say, “I’m from a territory of the United States.” On some maps, Guam is named, simple, “Guam”; I say, “I am from ‘Guam.’” (Perez, 7)

Why I chose this passage?

Reading this book, I had a very difficult time interpreting the passages. Often, it was because I didn’t understand/wasn’t able to contextualize the Chamorro language. This passage was taken from the preface, which I read before and after my reading. When I read it the second time, it was much deeper and clearer to me why Craig Santos Perex wrote this—to reclaim the unclaimed territories. .

Brief interpretation:

This passage speaks to the people of Guam and their lost country. It shows how their “oppressors,” a.k.a the United States have displaced them, their sovereignty, and identity as a people and as a country. This passage also shows the various existences of Guam to the outsider’s eye and how very few people are actually conscious of them being a territory and how they have been stripped of their rights on their own land. I also found the concept of being “an unincorporated territory” very intriguing as he broke it down term by term and even root by root. This political disenfranchisement that the US imposes on Guam and several other countries reveals to the uninformed audiences of US imperialism and the irony of their values of “freedom” and “democracy.” All in all, I think the preface does great work in providing a brief contextualization of Guam’s state of being and defining (objectively) what incorporated territory means. From that, I was able to interpret the title, from unincorporated territory to mean stories of the authentic.

Furthermore, this connects us to the Americanization of their language and culture as

All in all, I think the preface does great work in providing a brief contextualization of Guam’s state of being and defining (objectively) what incorporated territory means. From that, I was able to interpret the title, from Unincorporated territory to mean stories of the authentic.

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Short Response: from Unincorporated Territory

Questions:

Why are the poems divided into three section? And what do each represent?

How does the structure of the poems create a feeling of displacement?

What does the achiote plant symbolize throughout the poems?

Overall Theme: The dislocation of Guam is caused by the many countries that have colonized its territory, putting the country in a state of disorder.

Passage:

“taiguaha. taiguia

taihilon tailagua.

tailaya

tainini. taipati.

taipingot

taisong-

song ~

taimagong tainaan ~ taitano ~taitasi ~

taifino.” (36)

Brief Interpretation:

The poem represents the state of Guam and the island’s struggle to gain its independence. The repetition of words starting with “t” in the Chamoru language and the sudden word starting with “s” in English displays the United States slowing taking over their land. Guam as a territory of the United States is only given certain rights under the Constitution. As the title explains, it is an “unincorportated” territory, so the structure of the poem with random indentations and spaces in between words symbolizes the how Guam is left in a state of confusion after being colonized by many different countries.

Throughout the poem, the reader becomes lost in the words in Chamoru. The one English word in the middle of the poem represents the influence of the English language on the native language of Guam. The feeling of- confusion when reading the poem is how Guam feels towards the United States and how they’re not given full rights. Craig Santos Perez only gives us the definition of selected words that he must find to be important in order to understand the poem in English. The translations that he provides are words of emptiness and “having nothing”. Even the Chamoru language is being slowly erased and taken over by English. This poem is Perez’s attempt to preserve the language and make it known to Americans. The emptiness that is experienced by the reader signifies how Craig Santos Perez feels about Guam, being left with no language, no independent land, and no name of its own. Guam cannot be its own known island as many people don’t know where it is on a map.

Why I chose this passage?

The passage exemplifies the dislocation and language battle of Guam through its unique structure. The indentations and spaces is the moving of control in Guam, as countries take turns colonizing the land that in the end, they cannot have a language of their own because English takes over.

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Short Response: Craig Santos Perez

“from Unincorporated Territory”

Questions: How does the placement of words on the page add to the overall meaning of the poem? Do the words written in Chamorro help signify the significance of preserving the Guam culture, or do the words confuse the reader from understanding the meaning of the poem. Craig Santos’ poems don’t rhyme; why did he choose to leave out a rhythmic beat in place of choppy sentences and one worded statements?

Overall Theme: Even though Guam has been repeatedly captured by different countries, its people must preserve the roots and history of the land and culture.

Passage: “He was stationed in asan to construct machine gun encampments/first they made the forms/mixing salt water from the beach with cement and sand/he said ‘The quality of the concrete was not good because of the salt’/after they made the foundation and retaining wall they set the concrete/he said he never carved his initials into the concrete he said he even tried to avoid leaving his fingerprints” (82)

Brief Interpretation:

In this passage, a Chamorro man is forced into labor to construct machine gun encampments. He mentions that the first step was to mix “salt water” from the beach with cement and sand, but informs the readers that “salt” led to the poor quality of the concrete. Even though the main supply of the salt water came from the beach, salt water can also come from tears and sweat. The Chamorro man had to unwillingly contribute to the building of the machine gun encampments on Guam land. His tears and sweat are his methods of adding to the poor quality of the concrete, which is his form of rejecting the repeated capture of Guam for another country’s military use.

The Chamorro man also mentions that he never carved “his initials” into the concrete and even tried to avoid leaving “his fingerprints.” Normally, when people construct great objects, such as the Wall of China or the Transcontinental Railroad, they want recognition for their work. Initials and fingerprints represent a strong form of identifying a person but the Chamorro man did not want his identity remembered in the construction of the wall. He is ashamed of what he built because the wall does not belong to his people or to the land of Guam. The wall inhabits the land but it is the territory of another country for their military usage. The wall takes away a part of Guam land and erases what was once there. The Chamorro man does not willingly want to preserve the wall, but it is important to preserve the history of Guam.

Why I chose this passage:

I chose this passage because it was one of the few poems that I was able to quickly interpret without getting really confused. Craig’s other poems were definitely harder for me to interpret and identify its significance. His poetry style is definitely different from what I’m used to seeing.

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