Craig Santos Perez: The Poetics of Mapping Diaspora, Navigating Culture, and Being From (Part 5)

[Previous installments of Craig Santos Perez’s “The Poetics of Mapping Diaspora, Navigating Culture, and Being From,” are here: Part 1Part 2Part 3 | Part 4]


The imagination is an Oceania of possibilities. The blank page is an excerpt of the Pacific, a blank map haunted by story. Each word is an island. The visible part of the word—its textual body—is where we live. The invisible part of the word is the submerged mountain of meaning. Words emerging from the silence are islands forming—phrases are archipelagos. The space between is defined by waves and currents.

My poem, “from lisiensan ga’lago,” (in [hacha]) was an attempt to embody this kind of Oceanic poetics.

The first page of “from lisiensan ga’lago” (page 15) presents many of the names that the place called “Guam” has been given over the last four centuries. A history is told through names—a map of names.

For example, you can read many names that contain a “gua” sound, perhaps approximations of what my ancestors named the island. Then you can read the names given the island by Spanish colonialists: “Isles de las Velas Latinas” (Island of Lateen Sails) and “Islas de los Ladrones” (Island of the Thieves). Then there’s the World War II Japanese Occupation renaming of the island: “Omiya Jima” (Great Shrine Island). Finally, you read “Guam” which became the official name for the island after U.S. Reoccupation and the passage of the Guam Organic Act in 1950. In 2010, Guam was officially renamed “Guahan,” what many believe is our homeland’s indigenous name—an echo of our origin.

“Guahan” means “we have.”

According to historian Robert Rogers, some referred to the name tag that the occupying Japanese military forced Chamorros to wear as “lisiensan ga’lago,” or “dog tag.”

The second page of “from lisiensan ga’lago” (page 16) quotes from Brenna Lorenz’s essay “Baby Names of the Pacific and Asia: 1) Names of the Sea and 2) A Tragedy Told in Names: Chamoru Names from Early 18th century Guam.” Lorenz examines two early census records taken on Guam (1728 & 1759) by Spanish colonial authorities. Lorenz suggests that Chamorro names were drawn from the lexicon of everyday language; for example, one common name was Tasi, meaning sea/ocean. Lorenz also deduces that Chamorros changed their names throughout their lives, often to reflect a life change.

from lisiensan ga’lago” continues on page 36 of [hacha], in which all words begin with the prefix “tai-.” All these words are listed as actual Chamorro names in the Spanish census records. As you can see from the map key (to help readers navigate the multilingual currents), all these names are negations. “Taitano” (still a common Chamorro last name) means “no land.”

Our names map trauma. And we have many names.


from lisiensan ga’lago” ends with a map that reads “8,000?*” “*8,000?” refers to the number of  Marines that will be transferred to Guahan from Okinawa by 2014 through a joint effort of the United States and Japan—one of the largest military build-ups in US history—which will also include 9,000 military dependents, 7,000 transient Navy personnel, 600-1,000 Army personnel, and 20,000 foreign workers.

“8,000?*” was also a political slogan used on Guam to encourage the community to question the environmental, social, cultural, political, and economic impacts of this buildup. For me, poetry became another space to question the militarization of our home.

New infrastructure and construction will desecrate ancient burial sites, eliminate hundreds of acres of jungles, trees, and medicinal plants, and deny access to sacred sites and fishing grounds. A limestone forest that stretches across an ancestral village of Pagat will be used as a firing and bombing range. Additionally, the planned dredging of Guahan’s main harbor will rip 2.3 million square feet of living coral reef from the ocean floor, killing various species of fish, turtle, shark and dolphin. You can read my testimony to the United Nations, embedded in my second book, from unincorporated territory [saina] to learn more about the buildup (you can also visit the Dept of the Navy buildup website here:

Every map poses multiple questions. Every question must be unfolded like a map.

In 2006, the military buildup on Guam was referred to as the “U.S.-Japan Roadmap for Realignment Implementation.”

How will we navigate this violent re-mapping?

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


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