During the summer of 2019, I went to a 3-weeks summer camp at Stanford University. It is there that I realized how fortunate I was to be living in America and getting an elite American education.

A 21st Century Colony

A group of protestors hold a “Fanoghe” banner and yell, “Biba Guahan! Biba CHamorus.” The message is clear. Stand up. Long live Guam. Long live the indigenous people of Guam. The indigenous people of Guam are still here and demanding to be heard. 

Guam has been a part of the United States in some capacity since 1898 when it was annexed after the Spanish American War. Its people were then subjected to half a century of Naval military rule. This meant that the Naval Governor was appointed rather than elected, and they exercised complete legislative, judicial, and executive power over the indigenous population. This put people like William Wirt Gilmore in charge, who banned whistling, smoking, and interracial marriages. Or Roy Cambell Smith who banned CHamorus from speaking their native language on their native land.   

It wasn’t until 1950, after a long fight for civil rights from indigenous people, that America would grant CHamorus citizenship and a civil government. It wouldn’t be until another eighteen years when they would get the right to vote for their governor. Even still, the citizens of Guam, largely Asian Pacific Islander, cannot vote in federal elections despite being American citizens – a scary thought considering our current political climate. 

Why is that?

Simply because of Guam’s status as an unincorporated territory and not a state. This means Guam is not a sovereign entity. In Attorney General of Guam v. United States, the court ruled that the Constitution does not give American citizens the right to vote for the President directly, but the right to vote for a state elector who then elects the President (1984). Hence, because Guam, and America’s other territories, are not states, their people cannot vote in federal elections. 

The thing is, the indigenous people of Guam have never had a say in their relationship with or status within the United States. Guam was simply passed over from one colonial power to another. In fact, when the US first acquired Guam and other territories, they decided that because these possessions “are inhabited by alien races, differing from us in religion, customs, laws, methods of taxation and modes of thought, the administration of government and justice according to Anglo-Saxon principles may for a time be impossible (Downes v. Bidwell, 1901).” This has been the government’s justification for 122 years of American colonialism

But the Chamorro people, as well as other citizens of Guam, have clearly had enough, and the community organized the Fanohge March for Chamoru Self-Determination back in September. “Fanohge” in the Chamoru language means to stand up. CHamorus and other allies marched to demand a change in their political status and to fully exercise their right to self-determination. Self-determination is a very meaningful term for many indigenous peoples around the world. For CHamorus, it would mean finally being able to fully participate in the democratic process and influence their future politically, socially, culturally, and economically. 

There are three options: statehood, independence, and free association. The march endorsed none of them. Instead, it demanded a voice and focused on the right to influence the island’s relationship with the United States. It cemented the idea that the citizens of Guam will not accept the status quo. 

But self-determination would mean more beyond the right to vote and deciding their political status. It would also mean having a say in the military presence on Guam. The military occupies more than a quarter of indigenous land. It threatens to encroach further, even wanting to build a gun range on sacred, ancestral lands despite appeals from indigenous citizens. Self-determination would mean protecting land and preserving the environment in the face of American pollution and development. Unfortunately, this story is all too familiar for indigenous peoples across the globe. 

The CHamoru fight for self-determination has been a long one. In 1901, CHamorus signed a petition protesting the institution of military rule, citing the inequality of power between Americans and CHamorus. Similar petitions were sent to the American government in 1917, 1925, 1929, 1933, 1947, 1949, and 1950. Unsurprisingly, these pleas were largely ignored by Congress, and the issue went unsolved until 1950. CHamorus even caught national attention as they protested the naval government through a walkout, which eventually led to Truman signing the Organic Act. And the movement continues today. Hundreds of citizens showed up last September, marching from Adelup Point to the US District Courts. The same spirit that pushed CHamorus to sign those petitions over and over again burns brightly within the citizens that showed up to the Fanohge March. Guam’s fight for self-determination has been long and is not yet over, but her people are ready to fight for what is right. The United States needs to stop pretending that this problem does not exist. A threat to freedom on Guam is a threat to freedom across the country. And in a time when we are trying to dismantle systems of inequality, we must stand with the CHamoru people and other indigenous populations as they continue to decolonize and fight for self-determination. Fanohge CHamoru. Biba CHamoru. 

Attorney General of Guam v. United States, 738 F.2nd 1017 (9th Cir. 1984)

Downes v. Bidwell, 182 US 244 (1901)

Coogan, D. (2008, Mar 25) We fought the Navy and won: Guam’s quest for democracy. Latitude 20. 

Kaur, A. (2019, Aug. 15). ‘The largest political demonstration’: Plans for a march for self-determination. Pacific Daily News. 


Rogers, R. Destiny’s landfall: A history of Guam. University of Hawai’i Press. 

Sablan, J. (2019, Sep. 2) Hundreds march for CHamoru self-determination. Pacific Daily News. https://www.guampdn.com/story/news/2019/09/02/hundreds-march-chamoru-self-determination/2189704001/

Tolentina, D. CHamoru quest for self-determination. https://www.guampedia.com/politics_and_government/chamorro-quest-for-self-determination/#Guampedia8217s_CHamoru_Quest_for_Self-Determination_entries

Overachiever Magazine was started by Rehana Paul in October of 2018 to give a platform to all Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities.

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