Surviving Our Fallen: Chamorros, Militarism, Religiosity, and 9/11 (Part 2)

Part 1 of this essay can be read here.

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“Surviving Our Fallen: Chamorros, Militarism, Religiosity, and 9/11″ (Part 2)

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“hu hongge

i lina’la’ tataotao

ta’lo åmen”

~

When the U.S. invaded Afghanistan on October 7, 2001, the tide of public opinion turned in Italy. American flags quickly disappeared. More police appeared at train stations and American fast food restaurants. Young Italians began protesting American imperialism.

It was a difficult time for many of my white classmates.  For me, I blended in because everyone thought I was Spanish. No one knew I carried an American passport. No one knew I was from an “unincorporated territory” of the United States. No one knew that the Guam Organic Act of 1950 granted U.S. citizenship to those born in Guam. Most Americans didn’t even know this!

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For my Italian Renaissance art class, I decided to write my final paper on the 16th century Venetian painter, Jacopo Comin, also known as Tintoretto. This inscription hung above his studio: Il disegno di Michelangelo ed il colorito di Tiziano. The design of Michelangelo and the color of Titian.

I fell in love with Tintoretto after our class took a field trip to Venice and we visited the Scuola Grande di San Rocco. Saint Rocco protected against the plague, which struck Venice hard. The Scuola was used to care for plague victims; in this haunting space, I encountered Tintoretto’s Crucifixion. What struck me about this work—besides its innovative perspective—is how Tintoretto draws our attention to those who make the religious moment possible, specifically the men who are pulling the rope to raise the cross. Their shoulders.

In my paper, I argued that this kind of realism is an ethical allegory: it takes human effort (like the effort of those caring for plague victims) to fulfill Christ’s promise of salvation. In a sense, there were other sacrifices made in service of the religious sacrifice.

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After the semester ended, I bought a Eurail pass and planned to backpack through Western Europe for two weeks before returning to California and my last semester in college. The war in Afghanistan was still raging and security was tight at the train stations.

In every country I traveled to (Switzerland, Germany, Austria, France, Amsterdam, England, and Spain), there were protests against America. I began to hate showing my passport on the trains because it always provoked comments from those around me. I explained that I am not American, even though I speak English like an American, even though I am a U.S. citizen. I explained, over and over, where and what Guam is. I insisted, over and over: I am not American.

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After spending Christmas at a hostel in the Swiss Alps, I took a train to the French Alps town of Chamonix. At a scheduled stop, a Muslim man who was departing the train looked at me, stopped, knelt down and speak to me. His words were kind, yet frantic. I asked, in French, if he spoke English (which was all the French I could speak). He took one more long look at me and left the train. Ten minutes after the train left the station, we stopped. There was a fire in the luggage car. We immediately exited and were stranded, in the cold and snow, until a new train arrived hours later.

~

“hu hongge

i lina’la’ tataotao

ta’lo åmen”

~

We arrived in Chamonix almost eight hours after our regularly scheduled time, around 10 pm. I walked about a mile to the hostel, exhausted and anxious. I didn’t make a reservation beforehand because I had planned to arrive early enough to reserve a bed.

They were completely booked by the time I arrived. I knew I couldn’t afford to stay anywhere else in the resort town, so I begged the hostel manager to let me sleep on a couch in the lobby, but she refused. I began walking back to the train station, stopping at every hotel on the way. No one had a room, and no one would let me sleep anywhere on the premises. After being rudely turned away from one hotel, I slipped on their icy entranceway and tore my pants and cut my hands. I gave up: I would sleep at the train station.

The last hotel before the train station was by far the nicest hotel in town. One last chance, I thought. I walked in and saw a huge world map behind the registration counter, with little marks of what I guessed were points of origin for their guests over the years. The receptionist was very friendly, and she asked me where I was from. She had never heard of Guam, so she began searching the Pacific Ocean. Guam was not there. I pointed to where Guam should’ve been on the map and explained it’s so small it’s often not on maps. She smiled and said they had a last minute cancellation: one of their nicest suites. Needless to say, I couldn’t afford it. I thanked her and said I would just sleep at the train station. Before I could pick up my backpack, she replied: “We’ve never had anyone from Guam stay here. Tell me how much you can afford to pay and you can stay the night.”

On my way out of the hotel the next morning, I noticed the blank space where Guam should’ve been was marked on the map.

~

I made it to Paris for the New Year’s Eve celebration. I huddled around the Eiffel Tower, with thousands of others, in the cold, waiting for the fireworks. When the year turned, the city exploded. People popped champagne, danced, and sang. A group of young Muslim men that I was standing near began dancing through the crowd in celebration. When they passed by me, one of them grabbed me into the group and gave me some fireworks. I began moving with them through the crowd, until we were right underneath the Eiffel Tower, lighting and throwing our fireworks. The smoke engulfed us, creating a screen that the exploding lights danced against and enlivened.

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6 thoughts on “Surviving Our Fallen: Chamorros, Militarism, Religiosity, and 9/11 (Part 2)

  1. Pingback: Craig Santos Perez

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