Craig Santos Perez: The Poetics of Mapping Diaspora, Navigating Culture, and Being From (Part 1)

[Editors’ note: We will be featuring “The Poetics of Mapping Diaspora, Navigating Culture, and Being From,” by Craig Santos Perez, in serial form.]

1

From indicates a particular time or place as a starting point; from refers to a specific location as the first of two limits; from imagines a cause, an agent, an instrument, a source, or an origin; from marks separation, removal, or exclusion; from differentiates borders.

“Where are you from?”

I started writing poetry after my family migrated from our home(is)land of Guahan (Guam) to the state of California. Poetry became a way for me to stay connected—to remember where I come from.

In the preface to my first book of poems, published by Tinfish Press in 2008, I wrote:  “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 a small, unnamed island; I say, ‘I’m from this unnamed place.’”

2

In 2009, a Chamorro writer who lived in Montana (she was born in Guam but had lived in the states since the age of four) wrote to me on Facebook:

Craig, When I read the first page of your book—the preface!—I stopped because I was literally brought to tears. I read, “On some maps, Guam doesn’t exist; I point to an empty space in the Pacific and say, ‘I am from here,'” and was immediately flung back to my fifth grade classroom, where in front of my classmates and teacher, I searched the outsized Map of the World, searching for the little fleck of Guam. When I could not find it where I knew it to be, my teacher said loudly, “If you can’t even point out where you say you are from, you shouldn’t be up here,” and angrily turned me away from the map back to my desk.”

In 2010, I co-edited and published an anthology, Chamoru Childhood, that featured contemporary Chamoru literature on the theme of childhood. In Helen Perez’s nonfiction story “Bittersweet Memories,” we witness:

One day in our geography class, my teacher taped several maps on the wall and asked each of us to stand in front of the class and mark where our parents and grandparents were born.  I tried to remember everything my mom told me about Guam.  I only remembered that she told me it would be hard to find on a map unless I looked very closely and carefully, because it was so small.  She said it’s in the Pacific Ocean, and it’s a tiny dot on the map, and find the Philippine Islands first because it’s not far from there…

I knelt down so I could see better and found the Philippine Islands. I still couldn’t find Guam and started crying because everyone was waiting for their turn, and I was taking so long. I only saw a cluster of islands called “Micronesian Islands,” but my mom never mentioned those islands to me. I looked at my teacher and said, “Please help me find Guam.”

This story takes place in 1960s Virginia; as we learn in the story, Perez’s father was in the U.S. military and stationed throughout the states. Many Chamorus who live in the diaspora have experienced this cartographic trauma.

This trauma has become intergenerational (Helen Perez is my mother).


Craig Santos Perez, a native Chamoru from the Pacific Island of Guahan (Guam), is the co-founder of Achiote Press and Ala Press, and the author of two poetry books: from unincorporated territory [hacha] (Tinfish Press, 2008) and from unincorporated territory [saina] (Omnidawn Publishing, 2010), recently noted as a finalist for the 2011 Los Angeles Times Book Prize in Poetry. Beginning Fall 2011, he will be an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing in the English Department at the University of Hawai’i, Manoa. Find him online at http://craigsantosperez.wordpress.com.

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3 Thoughts on “Craig Santos Perez: The Poetics of Mapping Diaspora, Navigating Culture, and Being From (Part 1)

  1. When Perez writes his memory of being a child and asking his teacher to please help him find Guam on a map, I cried. Interesting how even being born in a place that is on a map, and not leaving it, we can still feel a similar trauma because that is how we are taught by those who consider us “other.”

    Tlazo Craig and Doveglion, for your good work and energías.

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