CHamoru activism in the 1970s

In the 1970s, several CHamoru activist groups organized to resist both local injustices and United States colonialism on Guam in general. PARA-PADA was formed from two activist groups that merged together and operated outside the traditional political leadership circles on Guam. The group was particularly vocal on matters involving the island’s political status and constitution, as well as issues of CHamoru culture, history and language.

The People’s Alliance for Responsive Alternatives

PARA, the People’s Alliance for Responsive Alternatives, was a group organized initially with specific local goals. This new activist organization initially emerged out of the desire of a group of young adult CHamorus to see a change in language policy at the Pacific Daily News (PDN), the island’s largest and most powerful newspaper. The PDN had a policy that restricted advertising and notices to the English language, and thereby refused to print anything written in CHamoru or any other language without an English translation.

PARA began in 1977 with Robert Underwood as its leader. As former Guam senator Hope Cristobal, one of the original members of PARA, said, it “was the issue of language that galvanized us together.” She explained that although there was anger towards the PDN, outrage changed into action when PARA member Lorraine Underwood, Robert Underwood’s wife at the time, tried to place a birthday notice in the PDN for her husband. They were barred from placing the birthday message because it was written in CHamoru and Spanish. To add an English translation to the ad, as was PDN’s policy, it would have required more space and cost. Robert Underwood then became PARA’s official spokesperson as well.

To emphasize CHamoru language struggles, and indeed CHamoru language phraseology itself, the word para, meaning “to stop,” in CHamoru, was worked into a slogan for the group—”PARA PDN,” literally meaning “stop the PDN.”  This slogan was utilized for their first protest rally on 26 March 1978. As was reported by the PDN, demonstrators first held a rally in Latte Stone Park with speeches and a symbolic burning of PDN subscriptions, then marched through Hagåtña, Guam’s capital, around the Agana Cathedral, and ended at the Pacific News Building, the location of the PDN’s offices. They waved placards and sang CHamoru songs. One by one, members of the protest canceled their subscriptions to the PDN. Speeches were given by leaders of PARA, as well as respected members of the community, such as long-time CHamoru language proponent Monsignor Oscar Calvo. As a flier from the protest states:

We appeal to the PDN’s sense of American justice and fair play. What could be so distressing about languages other than English on an island that has been speaking CHamoru for 4,000 years and which has a varied and multilingual community? We cannot go into competition because we do not have the resources of a great American Corporation. We can only hope to influence those who have even greater influence by reminding them that the American vision of fair play means understanding for those who are without power and compassion for the underdog. We ask that the Pacific Daily News recognize this tradition of fair play while it demonstrates its responsibility to this island. The PDN must open up its language policy and allow us the right of cultural expression and communication. To do anything less is to take part of a tradition of language oppression on Guam which we had all hoped had disappeared by now.

The PDN did eventually concede to PARA’s demands. The group later expanded its focus to such areas as the Guam Airport Authority, demanding that signs, already written in English and Japanese, be posted also in CHamoru throughout the airports on Guam and Saipan.

The People’s Alliance for Dignified Alternatives

Although PARA was originally designed around the issue of language, by 1979 it soon reorganized and refocused its attention on other issues confronting CHamorus. Talk of formulating a Guam Constitution had been circulating for a while, and between 1 June 1969 and 29 June 1970 the First Constitutional Convention (ConCon) met with 43 elected delegates. A Guam Constitution never reached fruition, however; rather, 34 changes to the Guam Organic Act were submitted by the first ConCon to the US Congress, of which only one was actually implemented.

The second Constitutional Convention met in 1977 with 32 elected delegates. The draft of the Guam Constitution was approved by President Jimmy Carter without any changes, but it had yet to be voted on for ratification by Guam’s people. Historian Robert Rogers states, “…the convention wrote an excellent, locally responsive constitution based on the latest models in the US states.”

Not all CHamorus agreed with Rogers’ assessment of the constitution, however, and it is this opposition that caused PARA to coalesce with another local CHamoru activist group, PADA. PADA—the People’s Alliance for Dignified Alternatives—was spearheaded by Marilyn Manibusan, Tony Leon Guerrero and Bill Colbert. Initially, they called themselves “The Committee for a More Informed Vote on the Constitution.”

The group soon earned a wide appeal among CHamorus throughout the island. As Hope Cristobal stated: “PADA was another group simultaneously that was responding to what was happening [with the Guam Constitution]. Then we realized, wait a minute…they were starting their own thing, and then we realized there was another group, so we decided to coalesce, put our forces together.” PARA and PADA joined together to form Para’Pada Y CHamorus, which literally means, “stop slapping the CHamorus.”

During the late 1970s, Para’Pada Y CHamorus—also known as PARA-PADA—became the most well-known indigenous activist group to make a name for itself on Guam’s political scene at the time. They contested the draft constitution because it did not address CHamoru political status and sovereignty. They believed that the chances of CHamorus being able to obtain other political status options might be closed from the perspective of the US if the constitution were ratified as it was then written. In addition, they were also wary of other deficiencies in the draft constitution. These shortfalls included the draft constitution’s lack of local control over immigration and the absence of any structure for the CHamoru people to resolve injustices with the US military and the Interior Department.

The Guam Legislature attempted to sway the public to vote positively for the constitution in August of 1979 through an educational campaign. PARA-PADA, however, initiated their own grassroots effort in Guam’s villages with the opposite message. Hope Cristobal remembered: “I got a pick-up [truck] and we got a speaker, and we just went village to village every night. We would park our car at a corner street and just talk to the people on the microphone…And then we went around the island, we had a good campaign. And the singular model at the time was ‘No Status, No Constitution.’ I think we really got to people.” Their efforts paid off and the draft of the Guam Constitution was voted down.

PARA-PADA was unique on Guam because it was an organization with an indigenous CHamoru point of view who were able to effectively communicate the complexities of political status, colonization, decolonization and self-determination as they pertained to indigenous CHamorus. Anthropologist Ronald Stade noted that: “They were thus the first with bringing together the issues of indigenous rights and Guam’s political status in a movement framework.”

The organization of CHamoru activist groups PARA and PADA also represented a new movement in local politics. This young generation of “Americanized” CHamorus held strong views about the political and cultural rights of the CHamoru people, and were willing to speak out and not be subservient to local and federal leaders. They promoted pride in CHamoru language and culture and were willing to take action even if it was disruptive. Their actions and positions brought a new sense of activism to the discussion of political status for Guam.

In 1981, PARA-PADA was again reorganized into an even more prominent activist group on Guam, the Organization of People for Indigenous Rights, or OPI-R. By this time, the focus of this newly reformulated activist group was specifically geared towards self-determination of the CHamoru people and Guam’s political status quandary.

By Laurel A. Monnig

For further reading

Ada, Joseph, and Leland Bettis. “The Quest for Commonwealth, the Quest for Change.” Kinalamten Pulitikåt: Siñenten I Chamorro (Issues in Guam’s Political Development: The Chamorro Perspective). The Hale’-ta Series. Hagåtña: Political Status Education Coordinating Commission, 1996.

Monnig, Laurel. “‘Proving Chamorro’: Indigenous Narratives of Race, Identity, and Decolonization in Guam.” PhD diss., University of Illinois, 2007.

Pangelinan, Lourdes T. “Rally Protests PDN Notice Rule.” Pacific Daily News, 26 March 1978.

Rogers, Robert. Destiny’s Landfall: A History of Guam. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 1995.

Stade, Ronald. Pacific Passages: World Cultures and Local Politics in Guam. Stockholm: Department of Social Anthropology, Stockholm University, 1998.