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Back Letter to the Editor All our generations

All our generations

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ABOUT a thousand Chamorus died during World War II, caught between the imperial violence of Japan and the Unites States. Of the 22,000 Chamorus who survived, less than a thousand are alive today. Guåhan's "greatest generation" will all pass away within the next decade, like the last set of waves breaking upon the shore. My grandparents will be upon those waves.

The generation most fluent in our native language will pass into silence. Our already endangered language will soon be an officially "dead language."

In "Saviors of Languages: Who Will Be the Real Messiah" (2003), Donald Topping (one of the editors of the 1975 Chamorro-English Dictionary) wrote: "It is only when the threat of cultural extinction becomes real, that is, when the children can no longer speak the heritage language, when native lands have been alienated, and when the indigenous population senses itself disenfranchised, that language and cultural retention becomes a serious matter of concern." Total language loss has become a real threat for the coming generations of young Chamorus.

Our language is worth more than any price it might cost to implement Public Law 31-45. Our language is worth saving. When Guåhan's greatest generation dies, they will be buried in the land, within Puntan's body. Sadly, thousands of acres of land were stolen from that generation by the U.S. military.

When he was alive, Angel Santos fought for the return of so-called military "excess lands" to the original landowners (which included his grandfather). In a 1999 Op-Ed, he reflected on the struggle: "Generations will come and generations will pass, but if no generation has the conscience, courage and moral conviction to right the wrongdoings of the past; then, the next generation will have to live with the same injustices in the future."

Our land is worth more than their eminent domain. Our land is worth saving.

In a speech titled "The Liberation of Guam Across the Generations" (1994), Robert Underwood commemorates Guåhan's greatest generation by reminding future generations of our obligation: "It remains to the next generation to determine how they wish to build on this vision of freedom. It remains for those who will grow to adulthood in the next century to interpret the meaning of liberation and freedom in their lives. If they draw on our current experiences and, more importantly, if they understand the heroism and the magnitude of the sufferings of the previous generation, then they will add their own imprint to the story of freedom on Guam."

Guåhan's greatest generation will pass without ever being truly liberated, without ever knowing the true meaning of freedom. Our sovereignty is worth more than a U.S. passport, more than commissary privileges. Our sovereignty is worth saving. The next century has turned to face us. Our ancestors – recent and distant – turn to face us. Each dead member of Guåhan's greatest generations turns to us. Our grandparents and our parents turn to us.

We have an obligation to all past, present and future Chamoru generations to strengthen our language and culture; to courageously fight for our land; to right the wrongs done against us; and to imprint an expansive vision of freedom onto our imaginations.

Craig Santos Perez,
Honolulu, Hawai'i

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